French mavericks attack free trade

SITTING on a platform with Charles de Gaulle, Jimmy Goldsmith yesterday denounced the developed world's campaign for free trade as 'a totally mad idea'.

The Charles de Gaulle in question was the 45-year-old grandson of the founder of France's Fifth Republic and the third name, after Sir James' - 'Jimmy Goldsmith' on the election posters in republican France - on a maverick conservative French ticket for the European Parliament elections in June.

First is Philippe de Villiers, a staunchly Catholic, pro-royalist National Assembly deputy for the Parti Republicain (PR), a component of the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF). The UDF and the Gaullist RPR make up the government coalition.

Mr de Villiers, 45, has long been out of step with the mainstream of his party and, after campaigning against ratification of the Maastricht treaty in 1992, said last month he would have his own European Parliament list independently of the UDF and RPR which are combining forces for France's 87 seats in the assembly.

Adding Mr de Gaulle, a lawyer, is sure to grate with the RPR as they see the namesake of their guiding light used against them. Never, said Mr de Gaulle, would his grandfather have agreed to Maastricht and let France 'disappear into a vast supranational entity'.

Opposing Maastricht, the Gatt trade agreement and the Schengen treaty allowing open internal European Union borders, the de Villiers candidates hope to take five or six seats. They need 5 per cent to qualify in an election by proportional representation which allocates each list a number of MEPs corresponding to its national total.

Sir James proved a voluble speaker at the launch of the campaign for 'the other Europe'. So much so that Mr de Villiers asked the millionaire and one-time Private Eye target to save his explanations for another time.

Sir James, 61, with dual French and British nationality by virtue of a French mother and British father, said Britain, in its efforts to attract foreign industry, was 'proud of being the Mexico of Europe'. He said the rush towards free trade was 'a totally mad idea which can only create social divisions which are going to tear France apart'.

Although the de Villiers list originally looked marginal, it is helped by divisions in the rest of the conservative camp. Last week, the UDF announced that Dominique Baudis, the centrist mayor of Toulouse, would head the combined UDF-RPR list, a choice which annoyed many in the RPR.

It also upset members of the PR, prompting talk that the party might split from the other members of the UDF, a coalition of centrists and non-Gaullist conservatives, to form a separate group in the national parliament. Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former president, and Francois Leotard, the Defence Minister, are leaders of the PR.

Philippe Vasseur, the PR secretary-general, said other PR parliamentarians felt like 'victims of ridiculous little manoeuvres' when Mr Baudis was named. Against this background, a number of voter defections can be expected to the de Villiers list, making the election of Jimmy Goldsmith a virtual certainty.

(Photograph omitted)

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