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The beautiful little island that ‘belongs’ to France but is nowhere near Europe

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The beautiful island with its tropical climate and a favourite tourist destination is actually 9,800 miles away from France, despite technically being part of the European country.

French Polynesia in the middle of the South Pacific only has a total land area roughly equivalent to Paris but is spread across an area five times as large as France. 

Mo-orea, 12 miles from Tahiti and the second largest of the Windward Islands, is only 51 square miles and is known for being a tourist paradise.

It is known for its rugged volcanic mountains, showcasing the remains of an ancient, half-eroded volcano. Its highest peak is Mount Tohieva, at 3,960 feet.

The temperatures remain at a pleasant 26 to 33°C year-round, with humidity at about 80 to 90 percent and it has turquoise lagoons, white sandy beaches and multi-colored coral reefs. 

Tourism is the region’s main source of economic activity, however they also export vanilla, copra and coffee. 

But how and why is this tropical paradise part of France when it is 9,800 miles away? The French Polynesia are officially an overseas collectivity of France, which it earned in 2003. It was proclaimed as a Protectorate and then a territory in 1842 and 1946 respectively.

The Franco-Tahitian War took place from 1844 to 1847, ending only when Queen Pōmpare IV agreed to return from exile and rule under the French protectorate. This ultimately forestalled the end of Tahitian independence until the 1880s. 

In 1885, France appointed a governor and established a general council, giving it the proper colonial administration. Partial internal autonomy was granted in 1977 and then extended in 1984.

French Polynesia has greater autonomy than many other French possessions, such as Guadeloupe which uses the French flag, whereas French Polynesia has its own. However, it is not a free association with France like the Cook Islands and New Zealand, which are not fully constitutionally independent, but act as independent countries.

Local government has no input in justice, university education, security and defence, the latter of which is the responsibility of the French Armed Forces. However, it does have control over primary and secondary education, health and environment. 

The Head of State is the French President, currently Emmanuel Macron, but French Polynesia does have a legislature and its own president. It is also represented in the French Parliament by two deputies and two senators. 

Calls for independence, however, have been steadily growing. In 1958, the vice president of the Council of Government announced a plan to secede from France and form an independent Tahitian republic. However, he was soon arrested, the movement collapsed and local powers were curtailed. 

Use of the Tahitian language has been increasing so consistently that it was elevated to an official language in the late 20th-century. 

Last year, independence calls made a huge leap when in May, a pro-independence party,  Tāvini Huiraʻatira, won a landslide 38 of 57 seats in the legislative elections. This gave fresh impetus to calls for a referendum, but the president, Oscar Temaru, warned that it could still take ten to 15 years. The first step, he said, was to work out who is eligible to vote in such a referendum.

It is unlikely, therefore, that French Polynesia will gain independence any time soon, but it remains a beautiful holiday destination for those willing to make the trip. 

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