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courage is contagious

Viewing cable 06PARIS1251, FORMER PRIME MINISTER RAYMOND BARRE SHARES

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06PARIS1251 2006-02-28 17:05 2011-02-10 08:08 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Paris
Appears in these articles:
http://abonnes.lemonde.fr/documents-wikileaks/article/2011/02/09/wikileaks-les-visiteurs-de-l-ambassade_1477418_1446239.htm
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 PARIS 001251 

SIPDIS 

DEPT ALSO FOR EUR/WE, DRL/IL, INR/EUC, EUR/ERA, EUR/PPD, 
AND EB 
DEPT OF COMMERCE FOR ITA 
DEPT OF LABOR FOR ILAB 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/07/2015 
TAGS: PGOV ELAB EU FR PINR SOCI ECON
SUBJECT: FORMER PRIME MINISTER RAYMOND BARRE SHARES 
INSIGHTS FROM A HALF-CENTURY IN POLITICS 

REF: A. (A) PARIS 1113 
B. (B) EMBASSY PARIS DAILY REPORT FOR FEBRUARY 17 
C. 2006 
D. (C) PARIS 953 

Classified By: Ambassador Craig Stapleton for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 

SUMMARY 
------- 
1. (C) In a February 21 meeting with Ambassador Stapleton, 
former prime minister Raymond Barre cautioned against any 
overconfidence that right-wing, nativist and xenophobic 
sentiment in France might be something of the past. If 
anything, in Barre's view, popular reaction to urban unrest 
and other recent events may have strengthened this current in 
public opinion. Barre said President Chirac's avidity for 
power was such that Chirac, circumstances permitting, might 
yet decide to pursue a third term in office. Barre called 
Interior Minister Sarkozy "courageous" in his willingness to 
confront -- and articulate -- the hard choices facing France. 
Barre discounted PM de Villepin's chances of winning the 
center-right nomination, and criticized the Socialist Party's 
"unrealistic ideology" on tax policy, labor market reform and 
economic growth. He thought Segolene Royal could win the 
Socialist Party nomination if "the French are really fed up 
and intent on something new," viewed former PM Jospin has her 
most likely rival, and excoriated former PM Fabius's decision 
to advocate rejection of the proposed EU constitution to 
further his presidential ambitions. Barre was confident that 
Europe would overcome its current crisis "like all the 
others" because economic interests had always proved stronger 
than the "political disagreements of the moment," although he 
faulted lack of British devotion to the European idea, 
blaming it on the UK's attachment to its privileged 
relationship with the U.S. End summary. 


KEEPING THE EXTREMES AT BAY, ESPECIALLY THE FAR RIGHT 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
2. (C) Over lunch with Ambassador Stapleton on February 21 
former prime minister Raymond Barre articulated a vision for 
governing France from the center, keeping policy pragmatic 
and on an even keel managing -- indeed, manipulating -- the 
ever-present extremes so they don't become powerful enough to 
skew policy in ideologically driven, vindictive directions. 
He called these extremes -- both the "ideological left" and 
the "extreme right" -- "permanent currents in French public 
opinion." Barre was particularly firm in cautioning against 
the latent strength of the extreme right. Suggesting that 
the current of opinion driven by nativist fears and 
xenophobic reaction could be catalyzed "around immigration," 
he said these sentiments could boost support for National 
Front (FN) leader Jean-Marie Le Pen notwithstanding Le Pen's 
advancing age and the fading of his ability as a populist 
firebrand. 

DON'T WRITE OFF PRESIDENT CHIRAC 
-------------------------------- 
3. (C) Barre said he had known Chirac for "forty years" and 
that the intensity of Chirac's desire for power was such that 
"it would not surprise me if Chirac decided to run again." 
In Barre's view, for Chirac -- as for others, like 
Mitterrand, who climb to the top and stay there -- "politics 
is combat," and succeeding requires "equipping oneself with 
whatever it takes." As an example, Barre pointed to Chirac's 
"equipping himself" with the mayoralty of Paris and 
transforming it into a powerful engine for generating support 
for the political machine that was key to Chirac's successful 
first election to the presidency in 1995. (Note: Chirac 
served as mayor of Paris from 1977 - 1995. End Note.) Barre 
added that Chirac's tremendous talent for projecting himself 
as a regular guy with whom everyday French people identify 
could, under the right circumstances, keep drawing 
significant electoral support. 

4. (C) As unlikely as such a stab at a third term might 
seem, Barre said he detected that Chirac was carefully 
positioning himself in case. Barre noted the uncommon 
prominence in the media recently of Bernadette Chirac, who, 
Barre said, "has long enjoyed strong popularity." He also 
mentioned a series of articles and video reports that have 
appeared lately with details about the Chiracs' adopted 
(Vietnamese refugee) daughter and other, positive, aspects of 
the presidential couple's private life. Most interestingly, 
Barre pointed to Chirac's electoral base in France's rural 
and agricultural sector, and observed how Chirac had 
carefully engineered an agreement with France's EU partners 
that would keep intact the EU's Common Agricultural Policy 
(and therefore also the subsidy regime so beneficial to 
French farmers) until 2012 -- the very year he would leave 
office after a third term. 

CHIRAC AND IRAQ -- CHOOSING THE POPULAR 
--------------------------------------- 
OVER THE RESPONSIBLE 
-------------------- 
5. (C) Barre was scathing in his criticism of President 
Chirac and then Foreign Minister de Villepin's handling of 
France's opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Irak in early 
2003. Barre said that Chirac, sensing the popularity of 
"going against" the U.S., irresponsibly overplayed France's 
opposition to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) "just to benefit 
from public opinion." In retrospect, Barre implied, the 
damage done to the trust that must obtain between two allies 
if they are to confront differences and work together 
effectively was clearly not worth the temporary lift in 
approval ratings Chirac (and Villepin) achieved for 
themselves. Barre, adding that he believed the U.S. had 
acted precipitously and made a serious strategic error in 
undertaking OIF, underlined that France could well have 
firmly registered its misgivings as a concerned ally, without 
the grandstanding, veto-wielding opposition indulged in by 
Chirac and Villepin. Barre speculated that President 
Mitterrand would have handled France's misgivings about OIF 
in such a subtler, more responsible way. The Ambassador and 
Barre agreed that in recent months, U.S.-France relations had 
returned to "normal," as a result of careful cooperation 
across a range of continuing issues, along with the emergence 
of new, shared challenges, particularly in the greater Middle 
East. 

SARKOZY AND VILLEPIN 
-------------------- 
6. (C) Barre placed the current vying among would-be 
presidential contenders in the context of what he called "the 
problem of France's political class," specifically "their 
inability to enlighten public opinion." He excepted only 
Interior Minister Sarkozy from what seemed his blanket 
pessimism about the political elite's obsessive electoral 
competitiveness and lack of talent for leading public opinion 
to a better understanding of the challenges and options 
facing the country. Even as he called Sarkozy "courageous" 
-- in the sense of being willing to confront the hard choices 
facing France and un-varnishedly presenting them to the 
French public -- he also cautioned that public opinion had 
best not be led too brusquely, however honestly. His advice 
to Sarkozy would be to "tone down the 'rupture' rhetoric" 
lest he frighten away potential support. 

7. (C) Barre (like most experienced politicians who have 
commented to us on the matter) discounts the chances of Prime 
Minister de Villepin prevailing in his rivalry with Sarkozy, 
unless Sarkozy grievously stumbles -- or is tripped. Very 
much tracking with the conventional wisdom, Barre observed 
that Sarkozy's control of the ruling Union for a Popular 
Movement (UMP) party, and the firm support for Sarkozy among 
party members make it difficult for any center-right 
presidential hopeful to dislodge Sarkozy as the UMP standard 
bearer. However, Barre also added that "people just run on 
their own" -- there is nothing preventing someone like 
Villepin, if his ambitions should drive him to it, from 
putting together an organization and launching himself as 
another candidate in the first round of the 2007 election. 
Barre also commented that the political enmity between Chirac 
(and Villepin) and Sarkozy is of the sort that brooks no 
quarter, and implied that Chirac was, as intently as ever, 
watching for the opportunity to torpedo Sarkozy's chances of 
succeeding him. 

ROYAL AND JOSPIN 
---------------- 
8. (C) Barre observed that Socialist Party (PS) First 
Secretary Francois Hollande was "in a bit of a pickle" -- 

SIPDIS 
caught between the presidential ambitions of his longtime 
domestic partner, Poitou-Charentes Region President Segolene 
Royal, and his longtime patron in PS, former prime minister 
Lionel Jospin. In recent weeks, Jospin has been ever more 
overtly "running on the sidelines," alongside the pack of 
declared contenders for the PS presidential nomination (ref 
B). Barre speculated that "Segolene against Jospin" might be 
a face-off the PS might not be able to avoid come its 
presidential primary next November. Barre (unlike most 
experienced politicians who have discussed Segolene Royal's 
presidential prospects with us (refs A and C)) did not 
dismiss her chances of staying in the race and winning 
election as France's first woman president. Barre said, "if 
the French are really fed up and intent on something new, 
they could very well vote for her." Barre, however, also 
raised the possibility of "the reprise of the 2002 election 
that should have been," and indicated that the French 
political system's insular inertias and murky deal-making 
could produce a "Jospin versus Chirac" second round in 2007. 

IDEOLOGY, OPPORTUNISM, AND REASON ON THE LEFT 
--------------------------------------------- 
9. (C) Turning his attention to the difficulties that the 
center-left PS is having declaring itself a normal, 
social-democratic governing party, Barre contrasted the 
"reason" of former socialist finance minister Dominique 
Strauss-Kahn with the "opportunism" of former socialist prime 
minister Laurent Fabius. (Note: Both Strauss-Kahn and 
Fabius are among the declared candidates for the PS's 
presidential nomination. End Note.) Barre spoke highly of 
Strauss-Kahn, insisting on, in Barre's view, the admirable 
realism of what would be Strauss-Kahn's economic 
policy-making, notwithstanding Stauss-Kahn's "socialist" 
political orientation. 

10. (C) By contrast, Barre was unsparing in his criticism of 
Fabius for opportunistically pandering to the ideologically 
motivated left of party. (Note: In a transparent effort at 
building a base in the left of the party, Fabius was the only 
center-left heavyweight to advocate rejection of the proposed 
EU Constitution last May. End Note.) Barre reviled Fabius' 
decision to "betray his own convictions against the interests 
of his country," and advocate rejection of the proposed EU 
Constitution in order to further his own presidential 
ambitions. Returning to his theme of the importance of 
keeping extremes under control, Barre lamented the damage 
done to France by economic policies driven "by the 
ideological left." In particular, Barre identified misguided 
soak-the-rich tax policies and "hyper-Keynesian" fiscal 
policies as having stunted business investment and led to 
"excessive" -- debt-fueled and unsustainable -- state 
investment in social services and infrastructure. 

THE BRITISH ARE NOT EUROPEAN AT HEART 
------------------------------------- 
11. (C) Observing that he had been "personally involved in 
European affairs since 1959," Barre said that he was 
confident that Europe's current crisis over rejection of the 
proposed constitution would also be overcome "like all the 
others." Barre said that, at each of the regularly occurring 
crises that have marked the history of the European 
construction, "everybody says Europe is finished." "Not at 
all," exclaimed Barre. Notwithstanding the political 
differences driving these crises, he averred, the underlying 
dynamic of "ever more closely intertwined" economic and 
commercial interests always trumps the "disagreements of the 
moment." Barre however, added that differences with the 
British might make the exception to this rule, observing that 
"the British will never be wholeheartedly European." He 
suggested that a key part of this lack of genuine commitment 
to a political Europe on the part of the British was due to 
their wanting to "privilege" their special relationship with 
the U.S. 


MITTERRAND --"GREAT ADVENTURER" OF FRENCH POLITICS 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
12. (C) Recalling his political battles against Socialist 
President Francois Mitterrand -- and returning to his theme 
of "politics is combat" that requires "equipping oneself with 
whatever it takes" -- Barre called Mitterrand a "great 
political adventurer," who commandeered the socialist party 
"because he had tried everything else, and this was the only 
means" for him to achieve power. Barre, while admitting that 
getting to the top and staying there "requires compromising 
with financial interests," made a point nonetheless of 
insisting on Mitterrand's fundamental integrity. Barre made 
clear that he believed Mitterrand (and Chirac) -- while 
definitely not personally enriching themselves -- had 
knowingly allowed serious financial impropriety aimed at 
keeping politically damaging secrets secret and at keeping 
campaign war chests full. Even so, Barre said that 
Mitterrand remained admirably true to one or two core 
convictions, such as his patriotism with regard to France and 
his commitment to European integration and its promise of 
lasting peace. Mitterrand, according to Barre, subjected all 
else to the exigencies of getting into power and staying 
there, including his political convictions. "He was a 
socialist like I'm the Pope," said Barre of Mitterrand, who 
led France's Socialist Party for over a quarter century. 

NOTE AND COMMENT 
---------------- 
13. (C) Barre is an economist by training who served as 
prime minister under President Valery Giscard d'Estaing from 
1976 - 1981. Barre unsuccessfully ran for the presidency in 
1988, coming very close to edging out Chirac as the 
center-right's candidate against Mitterrand. Though 
associated with the centrist Union for French Democracy 
(UDF), Barre never joined any political party. Barre served 
as mayor of Lyon from 1995 - 2001. He eloquently evoked the 
"Radical Socialist" (i.e. moderate socialist) civic spirit 
that animates the inhabitants of the city, and contributes to 
the high quality of life enjoyed by city residents. He also 
evoked the city's centuries-long history as a trading and 
banking center due to its silk industry, and suggested that 
Lyon's success attracting European and globally oriented 
companies was in part due to its outward-looking, commercial 
heritage. Throughout his discussion with Ambassador 
Stapleton, Barre exemplified the realism and probity that 
almost made him president notwithstanding his rejection of 
political partisanship. End note and comment. 

Please visit Paris' Classified Website at: 
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/paris/index.c fm 

Stapleton