Former French prime minister stuns in revealing which country tried to influence him

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS — The topic of foreign interference is all the rage, yet again. Both France and Canada are investigating it, and Washington is constantly in hysterics over it. But blaming other countries for it is kind of like blaming your husband’s mistresses for his infidelity. It’s certainly easier, but not very effective — particularly in the case where the seducer doesn’t fit the stereotype of a heavily accented Bond girl vixen.

Former French Prime Minister François Fillon, testifying at a parliamentary inquiry this month into foreign interference, made an apparently shocking revelation about his nation-state seductress.

“Foreign interference, yes, I encountered it. Most of the time, it came from a friendly and allied country called the United States. I was listened to with President Sarkozy for five years by the NSA", said Sarkozy’s former prime minister.

But what about Russia, Russia, Russia? “I was not directly affected by Russian interference", Fillon reiterated. Fillon noted that like all great powers, Russia tries to “assert its point of view”, but that didn’t happen with him personally when he was in office. It was the US, he said, that was breathing down his neck. Not really surprising for anyone who followed Julian Assange and WikiLeaks’ publications of US intercepts, which asserted in 2015 that the National Security Agency was conducting electronic surveillance of French officials from the American embassy in Paris. Or that it was listening in on conversations of German allies at the highest level, including those of then Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Fillon’s remarks raise two interesting points. First, why shouldn’t all foreign countries be able to advocate for themselves — whether it’s the US, Iran, China, or Russia? That’s basically the role of diplomats — to act as public relations agents for their country. Besides, what else can one expect other countries to do when US policies impact the entire world? The implied notion that when friendly countries try to influence a nation’s policies or agenda it’s just business as usual, but when less friendly ones do, it’s “interference” that warrants hysteria, is childish and dangerous in that it can be selectively leveraged by political actors to the detriment of the nation. If all of the interference-related hysteria constantly tilts in the same direction, using fear as dissuasion — even though, in reality, all countries do it — it risks impeding on the diversity of a country’s interests. And putting all your eggs in a limited number of baskets ultimately makes a nation more vulnerable.

Then there’s the issue of spying, which is quite separate from mere foreign advocacy — even though the former can be used to shape the latter. We’re talking here about the second-oldest profession, which apparently still shocks some people as much as the oldest one. If those who are still surprised by such things could come to terms with it, then they’d be much less susceptible to manipulation.

And how exactly does that manipulation play out? Washington can barely manage a shrug when it gets caught out stalking its closest allies, so all the pearl-clutching that sometimes occurs when they catch another country doing it is just to reinforce a specific desired narrative. Perhaps feeding these trolls by playing along serves special interests more than those of the average citizen.

The French parliamentary inquiry commission on foreign interference in French politics was spearheaded by Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party. The idea first emerged last October when the current chairman of the commission, National Rally parliamentarian Jean-Philippe Tanguy, who sits on permanent finance and budgetary commissions of the French National Assembly, got into a heated exchange with finance minister Bruno Le Maire, as he bashed the opposition to Macron’s fiscal agenda using Russian President Vladimir Putin. As though the French government needs foreign interference to mess up their spending when the French establishment is already doing a great job of that all on its own. Le Maire kept bringing up the “submission” of the National Rally party to Putin. So Tanguy said, look, it’s time for these guys to stop bringing up Russia and Putin to discredit the opposition and keep themselves in power, so let’s get to the bottom of this and settle the issue once and for all — and also see what other countries might be involved. Like how did Qatar, which owns the Paris Saint Germain football team, get so influential in football, Tanguy wondered.

Or how about how Europe ultimately lost its independence and became overly dependent on US energy at exorbitant prices, driving inflation and deindustrialization? Miss American Pie has moved right in and no one in Europe or Canada or any other Western allied nation seems to be batting an eye — unless it’s to flirt. Perhaps because she looks nothing like the stereotypical femme fatale.