Claude Cheysson


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The Independent Online

Further to yesterday's obituary of Claude Cheysson, in one phase of our lives, from 1976 to 1979, Cheysson and I came to know each other extremely well, writes Tam Dalyell.

Cheysson was the dynamic member of the European Commission responsible for relations with developing countries, while I was one of two British Labour members - the other was the formidable accountant, Lord Bruce of Donington – of the Budget Commission of the indirectly elected European Parliament.

Within not weeks but days of the arrival of the first delegation from the Labour Party, Cheysson invited Bruce and me, along with Michael Stewart, the former Foreign Secretary, who led the delegation, to dinner. Cheysson, who had escaped to London in 1940 and fought as a tank commander with the Free French, was genuinely deighted that at last British Labour had arrived. As we returned to our Strasbourg hotel, Michael Stewart - first class honours in Greats at St John's College, Oxford – observed, "I thought I had the most rigorous intellectual education in Europe; but our host has top honours from the Ecole Polytechnique, the Ecole Normale Superieure and the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, and it shows!"

Cheysson was a superb performer in English when appropriate when he appeared before committees of the European Parliament, but more important, he was instrumental in securing Community funding for ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) countries. His success was partly due to his skill in cultivating the goodwill of his powerful colleagues, the Dutch Commissioner for Agriculture Petrus Lardinois, the German trade unionist Willy Haferkamp and Sir Christopher Soames, then responsible for the Community's foreign relations. Equally important was Cheysson's influence with the President of the Commission, François-Xavier Ortoli; and above all his acceptability as a left-winger to the aristocratic President, Valery Giscard-D'Estaing.

My abiding memory of Cheysson was the ease and charm with which he moved among his multitude of old friends from both Francophone and English-speaking Africa and the Pacific countries. He was the architect of the first Lomé convention which came into force in 1976, in which 60 developing countries were given guarantees for stable prices for exports of raw materials. Cheysson kept his vast array of friendships in good repair until he reached great old age. No man could have despatched more cards between those of us with whom he had worked, wishing a "Joyeux Noel".