Inside File: Why top Paris team likes to play away

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The Independent Online
QUESTION: How many Frenchmen can you fit into a summit? Answer: four - the President, the Foreign Minister, the Finance Minister and Jacques Delors. Both Mr Mitterrand and Mr Delors have been clamouring for the Group of Seven leading industrial nations to hold an emergency meeting of heads of state as soon as it can possibly be managed. The motive is not only a noble desire to help Russia - Mr Mitterrand's argument - or fight unemployment - as Mr Mitterrand previously argued and Mr Delors still does. Why both men want a summit - rather than a mere ministerial meeting as is the plan at the moment - is that neither of them will get to attend otherwise.

This would leave their right-wing countrymen (Alain Juppe, appointed Foreign Minister on Tuesday, and Edmond Alphandery, named Economy Minister the same day) to bask in the glory that attends exposure at such gatherings. G7 tradition dictates that the EC Commission goes only to summits. The same, incidentally, applies to the EC presidency; unsurprisingly, one of the few governments to back the call for an emergency summit is the Danish one - which currently holds the EC presidency. As one diplomat put it: 'Don't you think the Danish government would love to appear at a summit and impress their voters before the second referendum on Maastricht in May?'

Even before the second round of the election, Jacques Chirac, eyes firmly on the French presidency in 1995, foresaw the benefits which a high international profile could bring to his likely Socialist rival, Jacques Delors. Mr Chirac realised that with Michel Rocard, the Socialist front-runner, certain to lose his Assembly seat, the logical person to lead the left into the 1995 election would be Mr Delors, Mr Rocard's traditional rival on the left. Thus it was that Mr Chirac wasted no time in going on the radio to denounce the powers of the European Commission headed by Mr Delors - including its automatic right to attend summits. Asked if this was a way of attacking the free PR Mr Delors would enjoy in the run-up to his presidential bid, Mr Chirac retorted: 'Personal attacks on Mr Delors? Moi?'

The speculation is that Mr Delors will now fire his first shot in the race by heading the French Socialist ballot in the European parliamentary elections next year.

French prime ministers do not traditionally attend summits. Few have forgotten Mr Chirac's disastrous attempts to do so as prime minister in the last cohabitation: only the President of the Republic has the right to speak at French end-of- summit press conferences, and the sight of Mr Chirac sitting dumbly at Mr Mitterrand's side was tantamount to political suicide. Mr Balladur, however, has other things to learn. He sought to get off to a heady start on the international arena yesterday by making an urgent announcement that he would go to see Helmut Kohl next week. His office had to retract when it emerged the Chancellor would be on his annual weight-losing holiday in Austria.

Roland Dumas yesterday handed over to Mr Juppe in a public hand- shaking ceremony at the Quai d'Orsay. He will probably keep his hand in by acting as foreign policy adviser to the President. The spectre looms of two parallel foreign policies - one run by Mr Juppe at the Quai d'Orsay, the other by the old twin horses, Dumas and Mitterrand at the Elysee. Mr Dumas had the knack of sometimes irritating his foreign counterparts. But at 70, he still cuts one of the most striking figures at any summit. He has a confidence not shared by all Frenchmen of his generation - that of impeccable wartime credentials as a Resistance fighter. A lawyer fluent in English, German, Spanish and Russian, he was awarded the Spanish Grand Cross of Isabella for negotiating on behalf of Picasso the return of Guernica to Spain.

The others will miss him now. One diplomat gave him the following eulogy: 'He was such an impressive character, those roue good looks, a sort of panache. It was marvellous to hear him defend an argument for France which he knew he couldn't possibly win. He had a lawyer's ability to defend an argument, and a politician's ability to distance himself from it.'

With the departure of Roland le roue, only two of the 12 foreign ministers who signed the Maastricht treaty remain in their posts - Jacques Poos of Luxembourg and Douglas Hurd. As for Elisabeth Guigou, the equally striking outgoing minister for European affairs, she is certain to be missed too. She vowed privately a few days ago that if the Socialist Party had not rejuvenated itself by the end of the year, she will leave politics altogether.

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