Obituary: Maurice Schumann

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Maurice Schumann, writer and politician: born Paris 10 April 1911; Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs 1951-54, Minister for Foreign Affairs 1969-73; married 1944 Lucie Daniel (three daughters); died Paris 10 February 1998.

Maurice Schumann was a long-standing friend to Britain whose desire to enlist British energies in the shaping of Europe stretched from his pro-Eden, anti-Munich writings of the 1930s to his active support of Britain's entry into the EEC when he was French Foreign Minister in 1969-73.

For the four years of the German occupation of France, he was the familiar radio voice of de Gaulle's London team, daily reminding his countrymen that, despite Petain's armistice, there was a France, based in Britain, that was still at war with Hitler. After the Second World War he was to be a leading proponent of greater European integration, seeing it as an essential condition of preserving peace and a guarantee against a disgruntled and isolated Germany's becoming a threat once more to French security. Significantly, it was disagreement over the nature and degree of European integration that led to his serious rift with de Gaulle in 1962-65, despite their strong mutual regard.

Schumann's career reflects several of the most significant developments in 20th-century French political life. It also mirrors their tensions, in that his attempts to remain loyal to his principles ironically highlighted their disparate nature and the contortions needed to keep them capable of yielding results. This was particularly evident in his attempts to reconcile his fidelity to Christian Democracy with his admiration for de Gaulle and firm government.

Schumann, a Jewish convert to Catholicism, was an enthusiastic member of the pre-war Jeune Republique, a small Christian Democratic group and one of the progenitors of the Mouvement Republicain Populaire (MRP) which was to emerge at the Liberation in 1944. He wrote extensively for Francisque Gay's Christian Democrat newspaper L'Aube, of which he was the political editor from 1944 to 1951, and also for various Catholic reviews. This he did under diverse pseudonyms, so as not to impinge upon his professional duties with the Havas Press Agency.

His journalism in London in 1933-35 made him an obvious choice for liaison work with the British army when he voluntarily enlisted for military service in 1939. Captured by the Germans, he escaped and made his way to London, where he combined his daily broadcasts for de Gaulle with the co-editorship of a monthly periodical, Volontaire pour la Cite Chretienne.

After returning with de Gaulle to France in 1944, he became a founder member of the MRP, whose professed aim was to reconcile the Church with the Republic and the working class with the Church. He was elected national president of the party a few months later.

But the euphoria and camaraderie of the Liberation soon gave way to bitter divisions between the MRP and de Gaulle. As a Deputy of the Nord department from 1945 to 1958, Schumann witnessed at close quarters de Gaulle's resignation from the premiership in January 1946 and his subsequent opposition to the Fourth Republic.

Schumann played a major part in the successful campaign of 1946 to establish a two- chamber parliament, instead of the single one favoured by the Communists and Socialists, and he tried hard to dissuade de Gaulle from a hostile crusade in favour of a stronger executive. The systematic wrecking tactics of de Gaulle's Rassemblement du Peuple Francais in parliament, in 1947- 53, soured relations between the two men for much of the Fourth Republic and the rift was further widened by Schumann's involvement in the tentative moves towards greater European integration while junior minister for Foreign Affairs, from 1951 to 1954.

These were difficult years for Schumann since he found himself increasingly left by his superiors to deal with the worsening situation in the French protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco. He was especially incensed by what he saw as the cynicism of the Foreign Minister, Georges Bidault, who turned a blind eye to the irresponsible initiatives taken by French officials in the Maghreb, intent on frustrating progress towards greater autonomy. Although Bidault was a fellow founder of the MRP in 1944, Schumann predicted as early as 1947 that he would move steadily towards the far right.

The collapse of the Fourth Republic in 1958 convinced Schumann that a return to power of de Gaulle was the only viable option; and, following the example of several of his MRP colleagues, he entered government four years later as minister for regional development. Within a month, however, withering public comments by de Gaulle on European integration resulted in the resignation en bloc of the five MRP ministers, and it seemed to many that Schumann's links with de Gaulle were now irrevocably broken.

Yet the rapid decline of the MRP, following Jean Lecanuet's ineffective challenge to de Gaulle in the 1965 presidential election, persuaded Schumann once more that de Gaulle was the best guarantee of French political stability; and 1967 was to see him back in government as Minister for Scientific Research, and then as Minister for Social Affairs, following the violent upheavals of May 1968. However it took the resignation of de Gaulle and the election of the benignly pro-European Pompidou in 1969 to give Schumann his chance of the long-coveted prize of the Quai d'Orsay.

His four-year tenure was characterised by greatly improved French relations with Britain and America, and his rapport with Edward Heath was particularly cordial. Unexpected defeat in the parliamentary elections of 1973 brought an end to his ministerial career.

It was paradoxically at this juncture, in 1974, that he formally joined the Gaullist party - four years after the death of the man he so admired, and in the year that the presidency moved from the Gaullists into the hands of the more overtly pro-European Giscardians. It was also the year Schumann was elected to the Academie Francaise, as well as to the Senate where he combined two more decades of active political life with continued literary productivity.

His literary output included numerous books of political and religious comment, and two of his novels were adapted for television. Perhaps appropriately for a Jewish convert who contributed much to Christian thought, his last book was Bergson ou le retour de Dieu (1995).