Mother country shows reluctance to lend support

In the weeks running up to yesterday's referendum, French television news repeatedly included grainy black-and-white film of General de Gaulle's 1967 trip to Quebec and the ecstatic cheering that greeted his "Vive le Quebec libre!" But the clips were never left to stand as propaganda for the independence campaign: they were carefully placed in their historical context, and the emotive words "Quebec libre" scarcely crossed a French commentator's lips.

Despite the presence of a determined Gaullist at the Elysee and the possibility of victory for the Quebec independence campaign, the mother country consistently showed a strange reluctance to lend support. As referendum day approached, French comment was far more likely to couple the word "libre" with "choice" than with Quebec.

France's official position was described by the foreign ministry in the traditional and convenient phrase as "neither indifference, nor interference". President Chirac said nothing on the subject while the campaign was in progress, except once, and this was not to a French audience, but in answer to a phone-in caller during his appearance on CNN in New York last week, saying: "If Quebec votes 'yes', we shall recognise that fact."

He was widely interpreted, especially by supporters of independence, as meaning that France would immediately recognise an independent Quebec. But his words fell far short of a ringing endorsement, and some believe they were deliberately phrased to allow France a possible mediating role, should Quebec vote "yes".

Mr Chirac's phrasing contrasted sharply with the definite promise he gave to Quebec's Premier, Jacques Parizeau, during his visit to Paris in January. Then, as mayor of Paris and presidential candidate, Mr Chirac pledged that France would be "the first country to recognise an independent Quebec". Since becoming president and taking on responsibility for foreign policy, he has been more cautious.

France has good relations with Canada, and Mr Chirac has clearly concluded that they should not be jeopardised needlessly. Such advice may well have been the result of an extended visit to Canada made in September by Philippe Seguin, chairman of the French National Assembly and close confidant of Mr Chirac.

Any enthusiasm for the Quebec cause in France has come from predictable quarters: language and culture activists, the National Assembly's Paris- Quebec friendship group, and others. One of their concerns is that without independence for Quebec, French language and culture in Canada will not survive.

Some of the campaigners professed themselves disappointed by the lack of official support, especially after Mr Chirac declined to counter President Bill Clinton's call for Canada to remain united. Others, including some Quebeckers resident in France, said they were shocked at the French public's lack of interest. A recent poll showed 56 per cent of those asked to be in favour of independence for Quebec, but only 23 per cent said they knew about the referendum.

French press comment has been deliberately even-handed, on both right and left. The right-of-centre daily Figaro, for instance, yesterday published a front-page commentary by Alain Peyrefitte, the paper's chairman and De Gaulle's biographer, headed Un choix libre. "Quebec," Mr Peyrefitte said, "is free today. Free to cut the Gordian knot of its links with Canada. Free to choose to go on playing out its destiny inside the federation."

He concluded: "We should accompany the Quebeckers on the road they choose - whichever it is to be."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
News
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
News
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
News
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments