Anti-independence politicians in New Caledonia say the three provincial governments should be given more power in a new arrangement under French control as another independence referendum is due.
The idea, raised in the French Senate by Pierre Frogier, has been echoed by Sonia Backes, who is the president of the economically dominant Southern Province.
Mr Frogier said a new arrangement had to be found because neither the pro- nor the anti-independence side will accept the outcome of the next referendum on independence from France, due before October next year.
He said this would also guarantee the different identities of the mainly Kanak Northern Province and the Loyalty Islands Province.
Ms Backes told local television that strong provincial governments would be closer to the people, noting that the system with the collegial New Caledonian government works poorly.
She said it has come to its end, as there have been 17 administrations in 22 years.
Another anti-independence, Gerard Poadja of Caledonia Together, strongly rejected the proposal, saying it was a partition in disguise and geographic apartheid wiping out 150 years of common history.
He told local media that the third independence referendum should be replaced with a referendum which unites.
New Caledonia's leaders have been invited by the French prime minister Jean Castex for week-long discussions in Paris in late May for comprehensive consultations.
The overseas minister Sebastien Lecornu said unprecedented questions lay ahead and there was an urgent need to establish what the outcome of the referendum would mean.
He said 20 years have gone by trying to find a referendum question, a referendum date and drawing up electoral rolls.
Now, he said, the question needed to asked what full sovereignty will mean and what link New Caledonia wanted to have with the French republic.
Last month, the pro-independence invoked the 1998 Noumea Accord, which provides for a third referendum by October next year after the previous two votes - in 2018 and 2020 - saw a majority opt for the status quo.
A date will be set by Paris, which won't clash with next year's campaign for the election of the French president.