Thoughtful opponent who charmed the Iron Lady

Francois Mitterrand 1916-1996
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Political Editor

There was a curiously touching coda to the long and often stormy relationship that Margaret Thatcher and Francois Mitterrand enjoyed between his election as President in May1981 and her fall in November 1990.

When on that day in Paris, during the Conference on Security and Co- operation in Europe, the Prime Minister heard she had failed to see off Michael Heseltine's challenge, she faced the prospect of a banquet at the Palace of Versailles and a ballet. Needing time to compose herself, she sent a message that she would be late and that the banquet should start. When she finally arrived she found Mr Mitterrand waiting at the palace doors. "Of course we would never have started without you," the President said - and then, as she wrote later, "with the considerable charm at his command, he accompanied me inside as if I had just won an election instead of half-losing one."

Mitterrand's remark that Baroness Thatcher had the eyes of Caligula and the lips of Marilyn Monroe does only partial justice to a complex and intense relationship. It was as much characterised by the mutual respect of two big politicians as by the genuinely fundamental differences between their domestic and European political goals.

In the end, they could never agree about the future of the European Union and the President's active participation in Helmut Kohl's project of an integrated Europe. Indeed, Lady Thatcher's main disappointment was that he did not have a more Gaullist adherence to a Europe des nations. But they agreed about some important aspects of foreign policy - not least on the Soviet Union.