OBITUARY : Christian Pineau

D.s. Bell
Sunday 23 April 1995 23:02

Christian Pineau was a trade-union activist, writer, Resistance leader, and a socialist deputy and minister under the Fourth Republic (playing leading roles in the Suez crisis of 1956 and the development of the Common Market).

Pineau was born in 1904 in Chaumont-en-Basigny (Haute Marne) and attended the Ecole Alsacienne in Paris. He graduated with degrees in law and in political science before starting work for the Banque de France in 1931 and then joining the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas. He founded the banking journal Banque et Bourse in 1937, but had also become secretary general of the bank union in 1934. In 1938 he quit the bank to become full-time secretary of the economic council of the union federation (Confdration gnrale du travail) and editor of its bulletin Le Peuple.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Pineau was head of the private office of his stepfather, the playwright Jean Giraudoux, who was Minister of Information in Edouard Dal- adier's government. Pineau was among the first figures to join the Resistance. In November 1940 he started publishing the newspaper Libration and issued a Resistance manifesto with other trade unionists. He started a network called Phalanx and was an emissary to London to General Charles de Gaulle. The Resistance was suspicious of de Gaulle's democratic credentials and Pineau succeeded in persuading de Gaulle of the need to make a declaration. One was forthcoming: enough to permit the socialists to back de Gaulle, and to get union backing.

Pineau was arrested by the Gestapo in September 1942, escaped, but was arrested again in Lyons in 1943 and fell into the hands of Klaus Barbie. He was the last to see Jean Moulin, the head of the Resistance, alive. He was some four hours with Moulin after he had been tortured by the Gestapo and was able to give him a shave, but Moulin died later on the train to Metz. Pineau himself was deported to Buchenwald and freed by American troops in 1945.

Under the Fourth Republic Pineau had an active career at the top level (although he failed, just, to become Prime Minister) and was a supporter of the socialist leader Guy Mollet. In the Constituent Assembly he instigated the nationalisation of the banks and was de Gaulle's Minister of Food in 1945. In the waltz of ministerial posts in the 1946-58 Assemblies he was Minister of Public Works (1946 and 1949) and Minister of Foreign Affairs (1956-57 and 1958).

As Minister of Foreign Affairs he favoured the attempts to set Morocco and Tunisia on the road to independence but he was involved in plotting the Suez escapade as a go-between and as co-conspirator. However, Pineau refused to return to Anthony Eden a copy of the plan for the Israelis to attack Egypt on 29 October and for Britain and France to invade the Suez Canal Zone (ostensibly to protect it). Diplomats were sent to demand Pineau's copy and were locked in a room for several hours before being sent away empty-handed.

Always a pro-European, Pineau had supported the European Defence Community, and it was he who signed the Treaty of Rome on behalf of France in 1957. Although he favoured de Gaulle's return to power in 1958, Pineau opposed the new Republic. He was not returned to the Assembly in 1958 but was a general councillor in the Sarthe and a member of the Socialist Party leadership until 1966. He withdrew from politics over subsequent years but was still active in many campaigns (European unity and human rights for example).

Christian Pineau had a diverse career and excelled on many fronts. He was, however, extraordinarily modest and a decent, kindly man. He was also the author of several books of memoirs (including a harrowing account of Buchenwald) and of children's books and novels.

D.S. Bell

Christian Pineau, politician: born Chaumont-en-Basigny, Haute Marne 14 October 1904; Secretary, Confdration Gnrale du Travail 1934-36; deputy to Constituent Assemblies 1945-46; deputy for Sarthe, National Assembly 1946-58, Minister of Food 1945, Minister of Public Works 1948 and 1949, Minister of Finance 1948, Minister of Foreign Affairs 1956-58; general councillor, canton de Grand-Luce 1955-79; married first Nadine Desaunais de Guermarquer (four sons; marriage dissolved), secondly Arlette Bonamour du Tartre (deceased; one daughter, and one son deceased), thirdly 1963 Blanche Bloys (one daughter); died Paris 5 April 1995.

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