How TotalEnergies and French diplomacy work hand in hand

How TotalEnergies and French diplomacy work hand in hand
How TotalEnergies and French diplomacy work hand in hand

Sabetta Airport, in the Russian Far North, in December 2017. Temperature: –30 degrees Celsius. The site only welcomes very special travelers: those who are going to one of the most spectacular gas sites in the world, Yamal LNG, owned by the French company Total and its Russian partner Novatek. On the tarmac swept by an icy wind, the boss of Novatek, Leonid Mikhelson, warmly welcomes Patrick Pouyanné, the CEO of Total – which is not yet called TotalEnergies.

Among the passengers of the company’s private jet, alongside the leaders of the oil and gas giant, is a traveler like no other: Jean-Pierre Chevènement. The former minister was then France’s representative for Russia, in the name of economic diplomacy. After Vladimir Putin’s inauguration speech, he went to the stage and brought the president of Total and the Russian president face to face, who exchanged a few words. A few meters away, the French ambassador to Moscow wildly applauds the launch of a project under American sanctions and financed mainly by Chinese banks.

The scene illustrates the ambiguities of France’s economic diplomacy when it comes to supporting TotalEnergies in its conquest of markets abroad. The highest peak of the State and one of the largest French companies have maintained a close relationship for a long time. At the cost of increasingly visible contradictions, while France presents itself as a champion in the fight against climate change.

“Companionship”

The world was able to interview more than forty diplomats, former ministers and company executives to understand the extent to which this “companionship”according to the term used by ambassadors, plays on the strategic choices of the executive – all requested anonymity to respect their duty of confidentiality.

TotalEnergies is not a company like any other: present in more than 120 countries, it deploys a network of influence sometimes equivalent to that of the Quai d’Orsay. And to do this, it knows how to recruit the best experts. A large part of Total’s international affairs management is carried out… by diplomats or former diplomats. Among the group’s 300 managers are around thirty former senior civil servants who have held leading positions, the company itself estimates. Over the past ten years, more than fifty former senior officials in state services have held management positions at TotalEnergies, identified Aria, an NGO specializing in investigations into energy and the environment.

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