Bunhill: Big ideas began at the Elysee

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IT'S EASY to tell where Jacques Attali, the much- scorned head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, acquired his taste for pomp and circumstance: it was from his years as assistant to President Mitterrand. At the Elysee, according to the author Franz- Olivier Giesbert, he was feared - and disliked - for the many roles he played. 'He behaved like a possessive, exclusive and pathetic concierge, as a guru . . . or economics professor,' he wrote in a sardonic book, Le President, painting Attali as 'a man of ideas, but these are rarely his'.

In the first months of his presidency, Mitterrand relied heavily on him, and it was Attali who convinced his boss to transform the 1982 summit into a lavish festival at Versailles, complete with fireworks. But the President is not known for his loyalty, and the European banking job provided a solution to two problems: to get rid of an over- protective member of his staff and ensure that the bank was in safe (ie French) hands.

The potential for grandeur in the new role was naturally fully exploited by Attali.

But sadly for him, the Brits will never learn to appreciate the French sense of grandeur, especially when they have to pay part of the bill.

(Photograph omitted)