Still not French after 74 years in France

Anyone who has applied for any form of official document in France will sympathise with the sad, but ultimately happy, story of Angeline Le Leyour.

A great-grandmother, aged 83, she has lived for 74 years in Morlaix, a small town in Brittany, believing herself to be French. One day last March, she applied for a new identity card and was told she was not French, or at least could not prove she was French.

Mrs Le Leyour had become French (or so she thought) when she married 66 years ago. She had voted in every French election over seven decades, had had French children, French grandchildren and French great-grandchildren. She had owned a succession of French identity cards and passports.

When her identity card expired last year, she applied for a new, computerised one. She was asked to produce a Certificate of French Nationality, which had never been required before and which, as far as she knew, she had never possessed. (The rules for automatic renewal of French identity cards have been changed as part of the switch to computerised cards. But many suspect identity and immigration procedures are being tightened in response to criticisms from Jean-Marie Le Pen's far-right Front National).

In any event, Mrs Le Leyour was refused a new card. She appealed to the local courts and was again refused. The court said she must "justify her possession of French citizenship". For the last 11 months she has been technically stateless.

This week, her lawyer, Gilles Caroff, appealed to the government, to publicise her case nationally. Yesterday, the Interior Minister, Jean- Louis Debre sent her a personal letter promising he would waive the rules. By early afternoon, Mrs Le Leyour was French again and had the card to prove it.

Mr Caroff said yesterday itwas a case of "bureaucratic lunacy". He had brought a string of witnesses to attest to Mrs Le Leyour's Frenchness but it was not judged sufficient. "At least it has ended happily," he said.

The story coincides with a row over immigration rules. A law proposed by Mr Debre to "streamline" the procedures was stiffened by the National Assembly and then softened by the Senate last week. The suspicion is that the government wishes to play both sides of the fence, to deflect attacks from Mr Le Pen's Front National.

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