Riots broke out on the French island of Reunion last month over oil prices and the cost of living. In an email interview, William Miles, a professor of political science at Northeastern University, discussed the political and economic status of France’s overseas departments and territories, known as DOM-TOM.
WPR: What is the administrative and political status of France's overseas departments and territories, and how contested is that both in the DOM-TOM and in France?
William Miles: Although both the departments and territories are juridically part of France, there is an important distinction between the two. A French department is the equivalent of a U.S. state. The fact that a department is overseas, thousands of miles away from Europe, is irrelevant from a legal and administrative point of view. The inhabitants are full citizens: They can vote and can travel without legal hindrance between where they are and the capital. Think of Hawaii or Alaska. Just because they are not attached to the U.S. mainland does not make them any lesser than the other 48 states. Americans don’t think of Hawaii as an “overseas state,” but that’s precisely what it is. So it is with the French overseas departments, including Reunion.