Gift for Balladur proves a turkey

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The Independent Online
WHEN Edouard Balladur unwraps the parcels under his Christmas tree, there should be a particularly sumptuous gift from his subordinates.

The daily Liberation yesterday published a letter from Simone Veil, the centrist Minister of Social Affairs, to her 28 colleagues suggesting they each chip in 1,000 francs to buy a present for France's Prime Minister to 'demonstrate our admiration for the way he has run our team'.

If they agreed, this would make a kitty of 29,000 francs (pounds 3,350). Mrs Veil said she was sure Mr Balladur's office would help choose something suitable. Liberation provided its own suggestions for a gift, including 2,900 camembert cheeses of the 'President' brand.

Mrs Veil's letter was dated 17 December, four days before she received a mild rebuke from the Gaullist Prime Minister for ignoring a cabinet rule that ministers should not get involved in the campaign for the next presidential elections in May 1995.

Mrs Veil and Francois Leotard, the Defence Minister and a leader of the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF), said in separate interviews on Sunday that they had chosen their candidate for the presidentials: Mr Balladur.

The statements caused a mild furore in the conservative right, particularly in the Gaullist RPR party, most of whose parliamentarians back Jacques Chirac, the party president, as their candidate. When Mr Balladur imposed the rule of discretion on his ministers, it was mainly seen as a device to keep cabinet members, particularly Mr Leotard, out of the presidential race. Mr Leotard said on Sunday that he did not intend to stand.

Mr Balladur, Mr Leotard said, 'has all the qualities to go by himself to the people and say 'I wish to continue what I have started'. I hope for such an announcement.' Mrs Veil said: 'Many of us think his qualities would make him a wonderful president of the Republic'.

While the support of the two ministers for Mr Balladur might upset Mr Chirac's chances, it also appeared aimed at stopping Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the UDF founder and president from 1974 until Francois Mitterrand defeated him in 1981.

Now Mr Balladur has a new problem: to find out who leaked Mrs Veil's letter to Liberation.