PARIS — In a quintessentially French move, key French lawmakers are refusing to side with the United States and are choosing Chinese TikTok.
This week, senior members of France’s National Assembly strongly encouraged fellow MPs to “limit” their use of social media apps and messaging services, according to a damning internal email seen by POLITICO. The recommendation includes Chinese company TikTok – in the midst of a storm on both sides of the Atlantic – but also includes US platforms such as Snap and Meta’s WhatsApp and Instagram, alongside Telegram, founded by brothers born in Russia, and Signal.
“Given the particular risks to which the exercise of their mandate exposes the deputies using these applications, we wish to appeal to your extreme vigilance and recommend that you limit their use”, wrote Marie Guévenoux and Eric Woerth of the Renaissance party. by Emmanuel Macron and Eric Ciotti of the conservative Les Républicains.
France’s narrative of lumping Chinese and American companies together stands in stark contrast to moves by other European countries, including the Dutch government, which has moved to target apps from countries that are conducting a “cyber agenda”. offensive” against the Netherlands, like China. , Russia, North Korea and Iran.
But refusing to choose sides and follow the geopolitical advance of the United States is a long political tradition in France, often accused of anti-American bias. During the Cold War, French President Charles de Gaulle tried to position his country as an alternative between American capitalism and Soviet communism.
“France has not mourned the loss of its power and is trying to resurrect the so-called third way, also carried by (European Commissioner) Thierry Breton,” said Asma Mhalla, lecturer in technological geopolitics at the Columbia University and Sciences Po. “This will serve as a political argument to put French sovereignty and French technology back on the table,” she added, arguing that the next step is likely to be to promote French apps at home. place.
And indeed, the letter from senior legislators encourages parliamentarians to use the French software WIMI for project management and collaborative work.
Their main problem with foreign social media apps is that Chinese and American laws are extraterritorial. Personal data collected through the platforms – including contacts, photos, videos and professional and personal documents – could be used by foreign intelligence services, they argued in their email.
During Macron’s tenure, France fought tooth and nail against the US Cloud Act, a law that allows US authorities to seize data stored on US servers even if they are located overseas. Paris has even come up with a specific set of rules for cloud services to try to protect European data from Washington’s extraterritorial reach.
In China, an intelligence law also requires domestic tech companies to hand over data to state authorities on topics anywhere in the world.
“The United States is well aware that all of its arguments used against TikTok – namely that Chinese law is extraterritorial – clumsily echo what the Europeans have been accusing of them for some time,” said Mathilde Velliet, geopolitics researcher of the technologies at the French Institute for International Research. relationships (IFRI).
“On the other hand,” she added, “the United States also thinks that it cannot be put on the same footing as China, because it is a European ally with a political and different security, and because it is a democracy”.
Washington and EU capitals, including Paris and Brussels, are also engaging in dialogue on data security issues and cyber espionage, which Beijing is not.
In the halls of the National Assembly, however, the decision by key lawmakers to call in foreign platforms from the United States and China was widely welcomed. “Everything is starting to look like a third way, which would be European sovereignty,” said Philippe Latombe, a deputy from Macron’s allied party, the Modem. “And that’s good news.”
Océane Herrero contributed to the report.
This article has been updated.