Quelle horreur – getting a digital identity

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By David Gow

Emmanuel Macron is a great European – or so he and his ‘proches’ say of him. Repeatedly. Favouring a special eurozone budget. Proposing an EU unemployment reinsurance scheme. Imposing a new Commission president. Toying with a European ‘grande armée’. All in the name of asserting European values and promoting Europe as a whole against the power-plays of Trump’s Great Again America, Putin’s New Russia, Xi’s Chinese imperium et al…

Well, as a Francophile Scot who has been coming to l’Hexagone for 60 years and bought a secondary home in the Languedoc six years ago in fulfilment of a lifetime dream, I harbour serious doubts after a recent experience. Nothing to do with the all-consuming issue of Brexit this time. All about connecting with Digital France and, via it, the authorities.

Getting a digital identity (identité numérique) via FranceConnect is essential for communicating, say, with the taxman/le fisc or, in my case, obtaining a carte grise for our latest second-hand car. Until the end of February this year I did this happily through La Poste after acquiring a digital identity online and proving who I was by showing my Brit passport to Georges, our postman. Then I got an email saying that a new system was coming that would provide heightened security/personal data protection. Pas de problème. Cliquez ici pour se connecter sur notre nouveau site.

I thought little of it until applying for that carte grise and set about creating my new digital identity via La Poste with FranceConnect: it recognised the old digital me ok but demanded a pièce d’identité (permis, carte vitale, passeport etc). As a Remain-supporting, anti-Brexit campaigner, I duly uploaded my UK passport and, then, when that proved dodgy, my shiny new Irish one. Quelle horreur: you cannot be born in Edinburgh; you have to be born in a French commune. Erreur 010014.

Ok Monsieur le Président, je vais corriger cette erreur comme bon citoyen européen – and Support FranceConnect insisted they would help. After a few email exchanges with them, I asked: is the real error the fact I’m a foreigner? Ah, non, monsieur, more to do with the fact that you inputted your personal data badly…Call this number.

I did. After going to Montpellier for one of those special Brexit sessions given by the UK Embassy on its grand tour around France to reassure Brits Theresa May/Boris Johnson are doing all they can to ensure you can keep your rights post-B-Day (October 31 do and die). The political counsellor hadn’t a clue what I was talking about…’send me an email’.

So, le crunch came. A charming male fonctionnaire at La Poste swiftly disabused me after some mild jousting: impossible de créer une identité numérique sans identité française. We’re all Europeans of course and so are you, cher monsieur, and I hope Scotland goes independent and (re)joins the EU and/or you beat England in the Rugby World Cup and you don’t suffer too much in la canicule but…désolé, I cannot help you. EU identity ne fait pas le poids.

Voilà Manu: all those grands mots about being super-European/standing up for Europe – c’est du baratin. Ask the true Europeans: Angela, Ursula…or Nicola.