One’s identity is a crazily complex thing. Among other factors, it is invariably linked to your family, where you grew up and where you find yourself now. To grasp just how abstract and undefinable the concept of identity is, try to provide a concise answer to the question “Who am I?” While this may prove an impossible task for some, in terms of your national identity, the government prefers to keep things simple. At least, simple for them that is….extremely difficult for you. Below, Jean-Tacquet recounts his experience of trying to get a part of his identity that he had always taken for granted officially recognized.
Does being French mean one is French enough? : The bitter polemic about difficulties getting a French passport or ID
For nearly three years, there has been a polemic that has ended up being widely covered in the media. Several pieces of a puzzle have suddenly fit together for the worse and created a nightmare: some French people who were born French could not get their ID card and/or passport renewed because they could not prove they were French enough. To an American, this statement may sound totally absurd, since the USA never questions American citizenship once it is granted or acknowledged. This is especially true for people who were born American.
My own story illustrates quite well the problems that started to appear about two and a half years ago. As many of you know, I was born French in France of one French parent. My mother was born Danish and moved to France after marrying. My father was born French in France of one French parent; his mother was born Spanish. In 1995 I started the paperwork to get my American wife French nationality, putting together the documents on a list issued by the authorities.
However, for me, the normal documents were not enough. To make a long and painful story short, the officials wanted the birth certificates of my French-born grandfather and his parents, as well as their marriage license. This was very complicated: the documents were difficult to get, mainly because I am not a genealogist and therefore I do not know where these great-grandparents were born, married and died. I asked if my French military papers would satisfy their demands, as I graduated from the Coëtquidan division of the French military academy called Saint-Cyr and was in those days an Army reserve officer. One can hardly imagine how condescending the civil servant was, answering that my rank meant nothing and that serving in the Army in those conditions did not prove that I was French enough. While I might have fooled the academy and the French army, he made clear, I was not going to fool him.
Words cannot describe the pain and anger I felt, being negated that much and that deeply. They had robbed me of a good part of my identity, although I had never been overly patriotic. I had thought until then that I had served my country and that it was the right thing to do; I had never questioned my allegiance to my country in relation to my citizenship. Even though I felt like half of Europe met through me, that was never a reason to feel any less French once I became an adult.
I left the man’s office, and this project was put on the back burner for years. Nevertheless, out of rage or for revenge, I filed a petition to have my French citizenship ascertained through the Tribunal d’Instance, the French small claims court. It did not cancel the crazy requirements but at least the court decree would clarify the situation if necessary. I got a positive decision rather quickly, which soothed the pain, if only a little.
When biometric passports and the new high-tech ID card, the Carte Nationale d’Identité (C.N.I), were introduced, the French administration thought it would be a good idea to thoroughly check each request for them, in case any errors had been errors made. When Nicolas Sarkozy became president, the screening became even stricter.
To sum up: anyone who was born French outside of France, including those born in what were then French colonies, as well the French children of naturalized parents, were asked to provide documents that were nearly impossible to obtain. People with my profile also had increasing problems.
This crazy process picked up momentum as more and more French people had documents expire and could not get them renewed. Then Anne Sinclair got caught up in the mess. One of the best-known female journalists in France, she is also the wife of former Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn, now managing director of the International Monetary Fund. Her position drew French media to this scandal in such a way that in a few months the interior minister admitted that the requirements were outrageous and degrading. The Figaro newspaper published Sinclair’s testimony on January 22, 2010, and on March 3 new guidelines were issued.
There has been nothing in the media since then. Judging by what I hear from my network, the scrutiny remains, but at a reasonable level. The key difference is that when renewing an existing passport or C.N.I., you no longer need to present your birth certificate or marriage license. Those are only needed if the document was lost or stolen, or you are requesting it for the first time.
The tightening of legislation or procedures to ensure that nobody can cheat the system is in itself a good thing. Such measures always have tremendous popular support because people want to feel safe. The American founding fathers in their wisdom created a system of checks and balances to make sure that citizens were protected from government interference by unalterable rights. After 9/11, new laws and policies increased the scrutiny of anyone entering the country, as well as its citizens, in the name of improved security. These measures led to nightmarish situations for numerous legal immigrants, candidates for American citizenship, and many others. For such people, the new laws and policies decreased their security, often leaving them close to powerless against the administration. This aspect of American policy has been mentioned in the American media and throughout the world. It is pretty clear now that France has just as bad a track record, but fewer people know about it.
For further information, see these official websites:
If you too have an opinion to share on raising children abroad, we’ll be glad to publish your contribution.