The history of New Caledonia’s institutions is complex, as the islands have had multiple changes in status. A French colony from 1853 to 1946, New Caledonia then became an Overseas Territory from 1946 till 1999 and finally an Overseas Collectivity specifically governed by Title XIII of the French Constitution. At present, New Caledonia’s institutions are defined by Organic Law No 99-209 of 19 March 1999 relating to New Caledonia. Note that this status is original and unique, specially conceived for a gentle emancipation of New Caledonia.
New Caledonia is divided into three entities called provinces, created by the Decree of 24 July 1989 with a view to rebalancing the decision-making powers in favour of the regions outside Noumea :
- the South Province
- the North Province
- the Loyalty Islands Province
The members of the Province Assemblies are elected by proportional representation at a single-round ballot. Each Province Assembly elects its president and three vice-presidents.
Each province has jurisdiction in all matters that have not been vested in the French State, in New Caledonia or in the communes (the local municipalities or districts) by the legislation applicable in New Caledonia. They are at the centre of the institutional system following the signing of the Matignon Accords in 1988, as Article 2 of the text clearly declares.
The provincial powers include, by fields of action:
- The economy and agriculture
- Financial assistance
- Youth, sport and leisure
- Health and social action
The province representatives who will sit in the New Caledonian Congress, the local deliberative assembly, are designated in the ballot for the provincial elections. The Congress elects the members of the government by proportional representation. The Congress legislates on areas of jurisdiction vested in the territory by voting lois de pays, country laws. The Congress is also authorised to manage the transfer of powers from France to New Caledonia.
New Caledonia’s executive is the Government. It is elected by the Congress and is accountable to it. It is a collegial government, in which the main political forces represented in Congress must get on together in order to run New Caledonia.
The Customary Senate
A Customary Council is instituted in each custom area. The composition of this council is fixed according to the practice in the custom area. There are eight custom areas.
The Customary Senate is made up of 16 members appointed by each Customary Council, according to the practices acknowledged by custom, with two representatives for each custom area in New Caledonia. The Customary Senate is invited to take an active part in all political and social debates and its powers are basically advisory.
The Economic and Social Council
The Economic and Social Council is consulted on government and private member’s bills and draft Congress resolutions of an economic or social character. For this purpose, government bills are referred to it by the President of the Government and private member’s bills by the President of the Congress.
The French High Commissioner
The French State is represented in New Caledonia by a High Commissioner of the Republic, who has the rank of prefect and is appointed by decree of the French President. He or she is mainly responsible for organising and running the departments that fall under the State’s prerogative powers: external relations, control of immigration and foreigners present in the territory, currency and thus the Treasury and foreign exchange, defence and especially justice, the State’s public function, as well as maintenance of order and civil security.
New Caledonia is a member of two main regional organisations: the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC, which has its head office in Noumea) and the Pacific Islands Forum (as an associate member, with French Polynesia). It is also a member of the Pacific Games Council (PGC). While external relations remain under the jurisdiction of the French State, New Caledonia can conduct cooperation activities directly with neighbouring Pacific countries.