Rebel who says no to Mitterrand

WHEN the mayor of Epinal met Francois Mitterrand, it was clear who was in charge. Philippe Seguin may be leader of the campaign against the Maastricht treaty in France and a man who has caused President Mitterrand endless problems, but he does not have an office in the Elysee Palace. 'I am President of all the French, including Mr Seguin,' Mr Mitterrand said loftily. 'I have no enemies among the French.'

Mr Seguin was courteous to the point of correctness when he debated the President on television last week. But he left Mr Mitterrand in no doubt that he does have enemies: those who believe that the Maastricht treaty, negotiated by him and the other 11 European heads of government last year, is detrimental to France. Mr Seguin is the main figure in the 'no' campaign, which threatens to bring down the President and the treaty when France holds its referendum on 20 September.

According to opinion polls, he helped to bring the level of opposition above the 50 per cent mark. But the latest survey last week indicated opposition support is falling back again. Now it is Mr Seguin who has a fight on his hands.

Mr Seguin, a 59-year-old deputy from the Vosges, is, superficially at least, another of the insurgent politicians who have stuck pins in the balloon of established authority over the past year. Like the leaders of regional parties in Italy who deflated the ruling Christian Democrats, like Pat Buchanan in the United States, he emerged to kick out the rascals. He has some of the props of a rebel: he is a chain-smoker, a point on which every profile picks (unfiltered Gitanes, naturally). He appears dishevelled, not the smooth type that characterises the highest levels of French politics. He talks about the Rolling Stones.

Yet he is in most respects a quintessentially establishment figure, with more than a decade in politics, including a spell as social affairs minister under Mr Mitterrand. He was educated at ENA, the elite school for French technocrats. He spent eight years in the civil service as an adviser, including a spell in the Elysee Palace. Yet now it is the technocrats and the Establishment against whom he rails in his attacks on Maastricht.

'I am not denouncing bureaucracy, it exists everywhere. Technocracy is a system where political power is wielded by technicians. It is completely different,' Mr Seguin said last week.

He was born and brought up in Tunisia before independence. His father died fighting for the Free French during the war and the young Philippe received his posthumous Croix de Guerre. He is a historian who has written several books, including a work on Napoleonic history. All of this gives him a deep affinity for France, its institutions and traditions.

As a man to lead a grassroots campaign, Mr Seguin has certain advantages. He is built like a pantechnicon, literally a heavyweight. When he trailed around France during the summer addressing rallies, he dominated each meeting with his physical presence and his quiet, confident delivery.

He has a hangdog expression and reminds some people of the French comedian Fernandel. His lugubrious manner, which is deliberate and measured, stood him in good stead when he faced Mr Mitterrand.

Mr Seguin is capitalising on a wave of anger that has built up in France over the past decade, years when long-term unemployment surged, farmers' incomes collapsed, and one man held power: Mr Mitterrand.

Populist movements like the 'no' campaign have arisen before against governments in France, a country that is deeply ambiguous about its ruling classes. Yet this is not purely a reaction by the lower-middle classes against the failures of the republic. Although it includes the two anti-regime parties, the National Front and the Communists, it also includes many solid citizens who would not dream of these extremes.

Opinion polls show that the Maastricht opponents tend to be older, and lower down the social scale. But there are plenty of counter-examples. Opposition to Maastricht cuts across class and age barriers. Butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, but also assistant analysts, doctors and accountants. 'We had always doubted this treaty,' a young lawyer said last week, 'but I think we would probably have voted 'yes' before the campaign began.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
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

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links