Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Representation for Overseas Citizens - It Just Got Better for French Expats

I'm not sure if French citizens abroad are aware of this but, from my standpoint, they benefit from extraordinary support from their home country - support that this American abroad can only regard with envy.

For starters there is the something called the DFAE (direction des Français à l’étranger et de l’administration consulaire).  This service has over 500 people in France dedicated to expatriate issues and concerns as well as 2,700 people abroad.  Their mission?
La DFAE se distingue des autres services du ministère en ce sens qu’elle traite pour l’essentiel de cas individuels, d’affaires concernant les personnes privées. Lorsqu’elle négocie une convention ou un accord, celui-ci porte toujours sur des sujets intéressant les particuliers. C’est ce qui fait la spécificité du métier consulaire et le distingue du métier diplomatique, les deux étant et devant rester intimement liés. L’activité de la direction des Français à l’étranger et de l’administration consulaire, très diverse, touche à quasiment tous les domaines de la vie, de l’acte de naissance au certificat de décès.
(The DFAE distinguishes itself from other ministries in the sense that it mostly manages individual cases, matters concerning private citizens. Whenever a treaty or convention is negotiated [with other countries] it always has an impact on topics of interest to private citizens. This is what makes the consular mission different from the diplomatic one though the two remain closely linked. The activities of the DFAE are diverse and touch all aspects of a citizen's life, from birth to death....)
And then there is the Secrétaire d’État aux Français de l’étranger (Secretary of State to the French Abroad).  Yes, there is actually a government minister whose sole purpose is to travel and actually talk to French expatriates and hear their concerns.  Hughes Serraf's rather tongue-in-cheek comments notwithstanding, at least he exists.  The Secretary of State to the French Abroad, Edouard Courtial,  visited the United States back in November of 2011 and this is what he had to say in an interview with France-Amérique :

France-Amérique : Quel est le rôle du secrétaire d'Etat aux Français de l'étranger ?
(What is the role of the Secretary of State to the French Abroad?)
Edouard Courtial : Ce poste, qui a été créé en juin dernier, est une réponse à l'évolution de la population française à l'étranger, qui a augmenté de 50 % en dix ans. Et elle continue d'augmenter de 4 % par an. Il fallait donc une adaptation institutionnelle à cette tendance.
(This post was created last June and was a response to the evolution of the French population abroad which has grown 50% in ten years.  It is continuing to grow 4% every year.  It was necessary that our institutions adapt to this phenomenon.)

France-Amérique :  Pourquoi avez-vous décidé de vous rendre aux Etats-Unis ?
(Why did you decide to come to the United States?)
Edouard Courtial :  Pour mieux comprendre les gens, il faut aller sur le terrain. Je n'ai pas besoin de théoriciens dans mon bureau à Paris qui m'expliquent les problèmes des expatriés. Cela fait 45 jours que je suis à ce poste et je suis déjà allé en Corée du Sud, en Chine, en Espagne, en Allemagne, en Haïti ou encore au Japon. Il était normal que je vienne en Amérique du Nord. Je n'apporterai des réponses qu'en écoutant les questions adressées directement par des expatriés.
(To better understand the people, it was necessary to go to them.  I don't need theoreticians in my office in Paris explaining the problems of expatriates to me. After 45 days in this position I have visited South Korea, China, Spain, Germany, Haiti and Japan.  So it was quite normal that I now visit the United States.  I will only be able to provide answers back home if I listen to questions asked directly by expatriates.)

After reading this I had a question for Mr. Courtial - would he be willing to take on another job?  Say, representing American expatriates in France before the U.S. government?

And finally, Article 24 of the 1958 Constitution establishes the right of the French living outside of France to have direct representatives in the French Senate. On the Senate website http://www.expatries.senat.fr/ I count no fewer than 12 Senators representing 1.5 million Frenchmen and women outside of France.

And if all that wasn't enough to make me green with envy, believe it or not, it just got even better for the French diaspora.  In addition to the existing representation in the French Senate, this year (for the first time) French expatriates will also be electing 11 députés (representatives) to the National Assembly.

I am in awe.  To my French friends who grumble a bit (especially the ones in Japan who were a bit critical of the French Embassy after the earthquake):   I am sorry, mes amis, but I will take those complaints in the same spirit as I take all your criticisms of the French healthcare system.  These things may not be perfect but at least they exist and, believe me, I am painfully aware of how fortunate you are to have them.

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