Obituary: Jean de Lipkowski

Jean-Noel de Lipkowski, diplomat and politician: born Paris 25 December 1920; Deputy for Seine-et-Oise 1956-58, for Charente-Maritime 1962-97; Mayor of Rohan 1965-77, 1983-89; Secretary of State, Foreign Affairs 1968-72, 1973-74; MEP 1980-81; married 1963 Nadine Hecquet d'Orval (one son, one daughter); died Paris 20 September 1997.

More than 6,300 candidates stood in the French general election earlier this year. Amongst those registered for the first ballot on 25 May was Jean de Lipkowski. He was standing in the fifth circonscription of Charente- Maritime, Royan-ouest. He had been the Gaullist deputy for this seat since 1962 and Mayor of Royan from 1965 to 1977, then from 1983 to 1989. He had lived in the region for many years, between the oyster beds and the vineyards. Could anyone have been more strongly placed?

But he had been told that, at the age of 76, he was over the party-imposed age limit of 75. When he persisted in standing he was expelled from the party and was forced to stand as dissident RPR (Rassemblement Pour la Republique) against an official RPR candidate. Inevitably he was defeated.

This was surely an ignominious end to the career of this loyal associate of General de Gaulle. He had been in the Resistance, as a Free French parachutist he had taken part in the liberation of France, he had worked for de Gaulle in his political organisations and he had then served him in diplomatic and governmental posts.

But, whilst he had been somewhat bitter over his defeat and had suggested that it was high time that President Chirac proved his Gaullism, the end of his career demonstrated his outstanding characteristic: that of independence. During the campaign he had not hesitated to attack the official RPR candidate, comparing him to Brutus, and he had poured scorn on "the apparatchiks of the rue de Lille" (then the RPR headquarters). For him the aim of Gaullism was not to found a party, but to found a regime. The essence of Gaullism was loyalty to the General rather than to the party, to believe in the nation and in social progress.

Jean de Lipkowski was from a family distinguished by its patriotism. His father died as a hostage in the Second World War, and his mother, Irene de Lipkowski, was in the Resistance and was deported, returning to France to become the president of an organisation for families whose members had been killed as hostages or fighters in the Resistance. She subsequently became an independent deputy and lived until the age of 96.

Lipkowski entered the diplomatic service and represented France particularly in the Far East and in different parts of North Africa. He became good friends with Chiang Kai-shek and with President Sadat of Egypt. But at the same time he was attracted by politics, and since the General was immured in Colombey-les-deux-Eglises he turned to Pierre Mendes France (whom he knew through his mother). He was elected on the Mendes France programme for Seine-et-Oise in 1956. But in December of that year he and Valery d'Estaing headed a deputation to President Coty urging him to make de Gaulle Prime Minister. The President pointed out that de Gaulle would want to be more than Prime Minister.

In 1958 Lipkowski was one of the founders of the Centre de Reforme Republicaine, a left-wing Gaullist organisation (which at one time hoped to gain the support of Mendes France). It was two years later that he was first elected as an official Gaullist in the Charente-Maritime.

During this period Soviet diplomats showed a particular interest in Lipkowski, who told them how de Gaulle was opposed to the creation of Nato (and it is relevant to note that last May one of the tests that he posed for President Chirac was how hostile was he to Nato). The Communists claimed to have an affinity with "Lip", as they called him, and at the height of the 1968 student "revolution" they asked him to convey to de Gaulle the assurance that they were opposed to the "revolutionaries" and an offer of possible co-operation.

In 1968 Lipkowski became Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and with his Minister, Michel Debre, decided on a new approach to Britain and the Common Market. The result was the "Soames affair", arising from a lunch between the General and the British ambassador, when it appeared that de Gaulle wished to inaugurate a new Europe, governed by four powers, France, Britain, Germany and Italy. Lipkowski, and others, believed that all the ill-feeling and misunderstanding that arose from this confusion was caused by the British desire to rush matters.

Lipkowski continued to serve in the same office under Pompidou and became an experienced diplomatic traveller. He was a great source of international knowledge: Chou en-Lai identified one French politician as "the man who does not pay his income tax"; it was unwise to mention ballet to Brezhnev, since he would then talk for hours about it; Edward Heath at Chequers served tea made from tea-bags. He officially retired from the diplomatic service in 1986.