Obituary: Andre Giraud

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The Independent Online
It is one of the advantages of the Fifth Republic that a high- ranking technician can become a government minister without having to be elected either as a deputy or senator. In this way, Andre Giraud was able to serve in different governments.

On the first occasion, from 1978 to 1981, it was as Minister for Industry; on the second occasion, from 1986 to 1988, as Minister for Defence. He was twice considered to be a possible prime minister. Yet he never sought political office and he never stood for election in any capacity. He was France's leading expert on fuel. He was France's supreme "nucleocrate", who worked with and then succeeded Pierre Guillamat, the man who created the French nuclear industry. The essential part of his life was spent as an administrator, a technician and a teacher.

Being distant from politics he was able to allow himself to be an admirer of General de Gaulle and also an admirer and a friend of Valery Giscard d'Estaing. He had met the future president when he was a student at Polytechnique. He demonstrated his Gaullism in the Second World War when he joined the French forces fighting in the Vosges, at the age of 17. He always considered himself to be a life-long Gaullist.

Further education at the Ecole des Mines and at the Ecole Nationale du Petrole et des Moteurs was accompanied by a visit to Texas, and it was as an expert on this fuel that he became Director des Carburants at the Ministry for Industry. His first conspicious success was to see to it that Paris was supplied with petrol during the events of May 1968, so that although a revolution was supposed to be taking place and Paris to be in the hands of students and strikers, Parisians were nevertheless able to spend the weekends at their "residences secondaires".

It was after this that the newly elected President Pompidou appointed him Administrateur General of the Commissariat for Atomic Energy. There he found considerable confusion, with disunited military chiefs at odds with the researchers, whilst industrialists and the Electricite de France fought over future developments. Giraud brought order into this quarrelsome organisation. He used to say, with more seriousness than humour, "I am the first ecologist of France. It is I who have developed the energy that is the cleanest."

In 1978 the Prime Minister, Raymond Barre, had won the elections, but nevertheless was in a difficult situation. The economic crisis was taking place at a time when the Socialists under Francois Mitterrand were making progress, and the President, Giscard d'Estaing, was only too aware that presidential elections were due in 1981. Therefore he advised the Prime Minister to strengthen his government by appointing Giraud as Minister for Industry. This meant that a new minister had to face a crisis which, as he described it, was not only deep but also long term. New products from new producers (such as Japan) had changed the perspectives of world trade, and it was necessary to restore the competitiveness and the productivity of French industry. The plans for modernisation led to unemployment and to strikes. Giraud was obliged to negotiate with unions, especially the steel workers from Lorraine. He was a hard negotiator but was always anxious to explain. When he received a letter from an unemployed worker from Lorraine he published his reply in Le Figaro.

He had to deal with petrol and urged motorists to be economical by using the advertising sign of "Gaspi". He inaugurated stations for creating solar energy. He was reassuring about nuclear energy, especially after the incident on Three Mile Island. But he was not interested in the gossip of politics. We do not know what he thought about having Maurice Papon, shortly to be tried yet again for crimes against humanity committed during the occupation, as a ministerial colleague. Nor did he comment on the Prime Minister deliberately leaving the chamber when the Communist leader Georges Marchais rose to speak.

However he might have been forced to take an interest in such matters. Giscard d'Estaing, confident of being re-elected president, hinted strongly that he wanted him to be prime minister. But it was Mitterrand who was elected.

He had earned the respect of the new President. When the Socialists lost the parliamentary elections of 1986, the first co-habitation began and Mitterrand was forced to have Jacques Chirac as Prime Minister. When Chirac submitted to the President his proposed nominations to key ministerial posts there was only one that he approved of. That of Giraud as Minister for Defence.

But Giraud remained independent. An affair that he inherited from the previous socialist government concerned the Societe Luchaire, which had illicitly been selling arms to Iran. The complication was that this had taken place with the approval of certain socialist ministers including Charles Hernu (before he was forced to resign over Greenpeace). Giraud refused to make the matter secret. The Societe Luchaire was defended by Lionel Jospin, but Giraud simply said that it was up to the President to explain the matter. On another occasion both Mitterrand and Chirac were agreed that they should accept a proposal from Gorbachev in favour of a mutual reduction of nuclear missiles. Giraud did not think it would be in French interests.

Giraud produced a military law, reforming the military budget and equipment. He co- operated with the President on certain military interventions in Africa. And it was a mark of his success that the same scenario as in 1981 was repeated. Chirac would have taken him as prime minister had he been elected president in 1988. This time Giraud thought of being elected to a constituency and he made some approaches in the Yvelines department. But he found it disagreeable. When Giscard d'Estaing had failed to be re-elected he had gone to teach geo-politics at the University of Paris-Dauphine.

When Chirac failed to be elected he turned to various business interests, including GEC, where he acted as an adviser. In 1994 he was appointed President of the Societific Council to the Ministry of Defence, but soon after this he began to suffer from what was to be a long illness.

He shrank from the idle talk essential to politicians, "les parlottes" as he called them. His favourite pastime was painting, where conversation is absent. Gaullism was once sentimental. But it became rational, with men like Giraud.

Douglas Johnson

Andre Louis Yves Giraud, scientist, administrator, politician: born Bordeaux 3 April 1925; Minister for Industry, France 1978-81; Minister for Defence 1986-88; married 1945 Claudine Mathurin-Edie (two sons, one daughter); died Levallors-Perre, France 27 July 1997.