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French MPs told of ‘omnipresent’ threat of interference from Russia and China

From espionage to information manipulation, France faces an "omnipresent and lasting threat" of foreign interference, with Russia and China seen as the main perpetrators, the French parliamentary intelligence committee said on Thursday.

French MPs told of 'omnipresent' threat of interference from Russia and China
French former prime minister Francois Fillon is one of several former European leaders later employed by Russian companies. Photo by Jean-Francois MONIER / AFP

The committee said in its annual report that in the “tense” current international situation the threat of foreign interference is “high”.

The report called for new legislation, saying the current tools at the disposal of intelligence services were not sufficient to counter threats in the long term.

The French lawmakers called for a bill along the lines of US legislation to counter foreign interference. The legislation would allow the freezing of assets of any individual or structure engaged “in actions detrimental to the maintenance of national cohesion or intended to promote the interests of a foreign power,” the report said.

They also called for a “European response,” noting that new measures could be spelled out in a bill dedicated to the fight against foreign interference.

The committee said that threat had taken on “a new dimension in recent years”, primarily due to a “radical change in the geopolitical context”.

“We have suddenly moved from a world of competition to a world of confrontation with authoritarian regimes on one side and Western democracies on the other,” the authors of the report said.

“This divide between the West and the rest of the world is emerging as the dominant marker of the current period,” they said.

The intelligence committee pointed to large-scale information manipulation campaigns, saying they amounted to a “new form of foreign interference” and stressing their “unprecedented scale”.

“Fake news is a weapon of war against the West,” said the report, citing the 2016 United States presidential election or the Brexit vote in the UK as examples of “foreign digital interference”.

The lawmakers singled out Russia, which invaded neighbouring Ukraine in February 2022, sparking the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II, as a major threat.

The report said that among Moscow’s preferred methods were infiltration, manipulation of information, or the appointment of former European leaders, such as former French prime minister François Fillon and German ex chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, to senior posts at top Russian companies.

The committee said that suspending the broadcasting of RT/Russia Today and Sputnik in France had “helped reduce the scope” of Russia’s information war.

In February, the head of France’s domestic intelligence service the DGSI, Nicolas Lerner, warned members of parliament that foreign intelligence agents – especially from Russia – were using diplomatic cover to infiltrate the country’s political circles.

The lawmakers pointed to China as another major actor, saying it relies on “a network of public and private institutions and key individuals” under the control of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Chinese diaspora in France is estimated at 600,000 people.

The intelligence committee also singled out Turkey, saying Ankara has been relying on its diaspora and religious practices – “a powerful lever to promote a political ideology”.

The report referred to various tactics including the financing of places of worship in France and the secondment of imams to French mosques.

The intelligence committee lamented what it called the “naivety” of elected officials, civil servants, businesses and academic circles in the face of foreign interference.

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POLITICS

GAME: Build your own coalition in France’s parliament

As France's political deadlock continues, the French newspaper Le Monde has developed a tool that allows people to attempt to build their own coalition majority in the Assemblée Nationale.

GAME: Build your own coalition in France's parliament

More than a week after France’s snap elections the parliament is still deadlocked and politicians seem more interested in fighting each other than building alliances.

Therefore France’s newspaper of record Le Monde has suggested that its readers might like to have go instead, creating a ‘build your own coalition’ game.

Following the snap parliamentary elections on July 7th, the left-wing coalition, Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP) got the largest number of seats (193) but fell far short of an absolute majority (289 seats out of 577). They were followed by the centrist bloc with 164 seats and the far-right Rassemblement National and allies in third place with 143. 

Moving forward, there are a few options for how parliament could be governed, with a broad coalition being one of them. However, this possibility remains complicated, as the three major blocs (the left, the centre and the far-right) seem disinterested in working with one another.

READ MORE: Does France have a government right now?

Le Monde has developed a tool that allows users to attempt to build their own coalition, piecing together the individual parties and groups in order to try to create an absolute majority.

Maybe one of their readers will find the solution that is evading the politicians. 

You can test it out for yourself HERE.

When playing, you will be given the option to click on several parties, watching them populate the chamber until you reach (or fail to reach) an absolute majority.  

Once you have reached a majority, you will see a green tick and the message ‘majorité atteinte‘ – you can then begin governing France (we think that’s how it works anyway).

Example of a successful coalition in the French parliament.

Key

In order to play, you will need to know each of the different groups and their political positions

The left

On the left of the political spectrum we have the various members of the Nouveau Front Populaire (NFP), coloured purple in the game. 

NFP – PC: The communist party. Greatly diminished from its heyday in the 1950s and 60s, the party remains a force at a local level, but only won 9 seats in the Assemblée. Led by Fabien Roussel.

NFP – LFI: The largest party within the group is La France Insoumise, with 74 seats. Translating as ‘France unbowed’ this is the party furthest to the left in the NFP. Founded by Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

NFP – EELV: The green party, part of NFP. Previously Europe Ecologie Les Verts, sometimes still referred to as EELV or Les Verts. They hold 28 seats.

NFP – Géneration.s: Formed in 2017, a splinter party from the original Parti Socialiste. They hold 5 seats, and are part of NFP.

NFP – PS: The centre-left party. One of two that dominated French politics in the post-war period, producing presidents François Mitterand and François Hollande, these days it is much reduced. Current leader – Olivier Faure. They hold 59 seats.

NFP – Rég: MPs representing primarily individual French regions and identities, left-leaning. They have two seats.

NFP – Divers gauche: Other left-wing MPs aligned with NFP. 13 seats, including people like Danielle Simonnet and Alexis Corbière who were previously members of the LFI group.

The rest of the left

Although almost all of the left-wing MPs are part of the Nouveau Front Populaire group (at least for now), but there are some exceptions.

Divers gauche: Non-affiliated left-wing MPs, coloured red in the game;

The centre

Centrist candidates are mostly part of the Ensemble group, which includes Emmanuel Macron’s party and which is coloured yellow in the game.

Ensemble Modem: The original centrist party headed by François Bayrou, now part of the Ensemble alliance with Macron’s party. They hold 33 seats.

Ensemble Horizons: The new centrists founded by Macron’s former prime minister Edouard Philippe, who is strongly tipped to be the centrist candidate in the 2027 presidential elections when Macron himself cannot stand again. Also part of the Ensemble alliance, for now. They hold 25 seats.

Ensemble Renaissance: Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party, spearheading the Ensemble coalition. They were previously named La république en marche (LREM) and before that En Marche. For the sake of convenience, they’re often referred to simply as Macronistes. They hold 102 seats.

Ensemble UDI: Members of the centre-right group that chose to join with the Macronists. Two seats.

Ensemble Divers: Other centrist MPs in the Ensemble group. Six seats.

The rest of the centre

UDI et divers centre: Members of the centre-right group founded in 2012, as well as non-affiliated centrists. Six seats.

The right

The politicians on the right of the political spectrum have not, so far, managed to create any kind of unified alliance so remain within individual parties.

Divers droite: Non-affiliated right-wing MPs. 14 seats.

LR: Les Républicains are the second of the two parties that dominated post war politics (party of Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac and political heirs of Charles de Gaulle) this party too is greatly diminished. Originally centre right, it has moved sharply to the right in recent years under leader Eric Ciotti. Ciotti created an electoral alliance with the far-right Rassemblement National which horrified many party members and resulted in a split. The LR designation denotes the part of the party which is not affiliated with far-right Rassemblement National. They hold 46 seats.

LR-RN: The group that is part of the Ciotti/RN alliance is known as Les Républicains à droite or Les amis de Ciotti. 17 seats.

RN: The far-right Rassemblement National. Founded in 1972 by Jean-Marie Le Pen under the name Front National, the party changed its name to Rassemblement National (national rally) after Le Pen’s daughter Marine took over. She remains the party’s presidential candidate but the party leader – and RN prime minister if the party wins a majority – is Jordan Bardella. They were expected to win a majority of seats, but instead came in third place with 126.

READ MORE: Ask the experts: How far-right is France’s Rassemblement National?

Régionalistes, autres: Other non-affiliated MPs and members of regionalist parties.

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