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Cablegate: Giscard D'estaing On French Political Scene,

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 03 PARIS 007195

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/18/2015
TAGS: FR PREL EUN POLINT
SUBJECT: GISCARD D'ESTAING ON FRENCH POLITICAL SCENE,
EUROPE, TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONS

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

SUMMARY
--------
1. (C) On October 18 former President Giscard d'Estaing
hosted Ambassador Stapleton to breakfast -- and to a
magisterial presentation of French history and the current
political scene, along with trenchant observations on Europe
and transatlantic relations. Giscard said he believes that
post-Iraq strains in the bilateral relationship are behind
us, due in large part to President Bush's and Secretary
Rice's visits earlier this year. Europe's future evolution
remains clouded as a result the failed French referendum on
the constitution. Much will depend on the French
Presidential elections of 2007. Giscard believes that the
unfolding rivalry between Prime Minister de Villepin and
Interior Minister Sarkozy is the main front in the battle for
France's future leadership; the left is in "complete
disarray," and very unlikely to produce a winning candidate.
Of the two center-right contenders, Sarkozy is more
"European," i.e. more likely to lead a French effort to
re-launch the politically-integrated, globally influential
Europe that the Constitution sought to institutionalize.
Villepin, by contrast, is more of a "nationalist," interested
in using ad hoc partnerships to bolster French industries and
interests. Giscard described the French people as
pro-American on a personal level, but counseled that his
country -- now of medium rank -- should be handled with the
deference due its history as a great power. Above all,
France does not want to appear to be submissive to the will
of the U.S. End Summary.

2. (C) Giscard took obvious pleasure in using an
introductory get-together with Ambassador Stapleton to impart
some fundamentals for understanding France, along with
observations on the current political scene. Giscard
affirmed that a key to understanding his, "an old country,"
is an appreciation of the continuity with its past. It is a
country whose institutions, structures and habits of mind
derive from a past which the French revolution did not
succeed in cutting off. In fact, the Revolution was a
relatively short-lived affair which had a significant but not
exclusive impact on subsequent French history. He observed
that the left in France is a product of the social divide
that developed during the period of France's
industrialization beginning in the 1870s and lasting through
the years just preceding World War I. It is a left still
informed by the bitterness and alienation of the working
class of those years, reacting to the short-sighted,
self-centered policies of the ruling bourgeoisie.

3. (4) Giscard cited de Gaulle's historic contribution of
containing the Communists after the Second World War,
preventing them from taking control of the governmental
structures -- thereby permitting France to escape the
experience of an American occupation regime which might
otherwise have been its fate in the developing Cold War.
Noting that, while not a Gaullist, he had served under de
Gaulle, Giscard offered a vignette from a later episode --
when de Gaulle decided to withdraw France from NATO's
integrated military structures and to evict the Alliance from
France. Giscard quoted De Gaulle, explaining to him why he
had moved against NATO: "Do you know why I've asked the
Americans to leave? Here's why: An American official has
asked to see me. I inquired when and how the American
official was arriving in France, and was told he, and other
U.S. officials, fly in to Evreux (a U.S. military base
outside of Paris) without any knowledge of French
authorities." France was not exercising control over its own
airspace, a fundamental attribute of a sovereign state.

4. (C) Giscard observed that relations over the past year
with the U.S. have largely returned to normal, following the
strained period dating to the break over Iraq. President
Bush's visit to Europe early in the year and the Secretary's
visit to Paris early in the year had succeeded in launching
this rapprochement. The French, observed Giscard, are
basically well-disposed to the American people; they are
interested in the U.S., they visit it in great numbers, and
they find themselves naturally drawn to Americans. However,
the political relationship is a sensitive one given France's
history as an erstwhile great power. Because of its
relatively recent fall in the geopolitical standings, France
can not be seen as submissive to the U.S.; it will always err
on the side of keeping up appearances as an independent
actor. Responding to the Ambassador's question with regard
to French perceptions of U.S. attitudes towards Europe,
Giscard referred to the "permanent ambiguity" of the U.S.
position. He offered his own first-hand observations of
recent U.S. presidents. He cited Ford and George H.W. Bush
as favorable to Europe's political evolution, while Nixon,
Carter, and Clinton were less clear in their approach. He
characterized the U.S. during President Bush's first term as
unfriendly to the idea of Europe as a strong political actor
on the international stage -- but the strains over Iraq had
obviously contributed to this result.

5. (C) Giscard noted that there are three conceptions of
Europe: a free-trade zone, a la NAFTA; a core Europe of 6-10
countries; and, a politically structured Europe comprising
the entire, enlarged EU membership. Tony Blair certainly
favors the first option; some, including some in France, are
tempted by the second; the constitution had been an attempt
to institutionalize the third. Giscard stated that he did
foresee significant movement in any direction in the
immediate future, and that much would depend on the outcome
of the French Presidential elections in 2007.

6. (C) Giscard willingly pronounced on the current array of
Presidential contenders, their prospects, and their attitudes
towards Europe. There are no statesmen in the political
offing, he opined. The real political story in France today,
Giscard added, is the rivalry between de Villepin and
Sarkozy. The left, he said, is in "total disarray." He does
not see Socialist Party leader Hollande as exercising
control, and none of the announced or probable Socialist Pary
candidates are credible contenders. Jospin, while an honest
man and a competent Prime Minister ("who made several big
mistakes, beginning with the imposition of the 35-hour work
week, whence our current economic difficulties...") will not
likely emerge as a rallying point for the left; his return
would in fact announce the failure of the left. There is a
significant difference between Villepin and Sarkozy, as far
as Giscard is concerned. Villepin is a "nationalist,"
Sarkozy more a classic pro-European. Villepin, who doesn't
know a whit about economics, is attracted to ideas such as
"national champions" and to reaching out selectively across
Europe for economic, commercial and political partnerships.
Sarkozy is more wedded to the traditional French concept of
multiplying France's influence through its support for and
leadership of a politically integrated Europe. Assessing the
rivals, Giscard pronounced Villepin as brilliant and
attractive but without a political machine at his disposal,
while Sarkozy is energetic and smart enough -- and in control
of the main party of the center-right. Villepin is currently
enjoying the advantage of "novelty," but that will dissipate
over time. The period remaining until the April 2007
elections is sufficiently long to render any predictions
chancy.

7. (C) Stressing he is not "obsessed" with the failure of
the European Constitutional Treaty, despite his pride of
authorship, Giscard faulted Chirac -- never really committed
to Europe, in his view -- for having misused it for his own
political purposes. In Chirac's calculation, the
constitution had offered the possibility of a referendum,
which was to be his vehicle to re-election in 2007. Giscard
said he had warned Chirac against instrumentalizing the
Constitution in this way; a referendum was not needed, and
risked turning into a losing plebiscite. The referendum
defeat was resulted from a number of factors -- in particular
lack of confidence in Chirac and the Raffarin Government,
unease over past EU enlargements, and opposition to future
enlargements. What it did not measure was popular feelings
about the constitution itself, which continues to be
supported by a strong majority of the French public (Giscard
cited a figure of 60 per cent support as measured in a poll
just after the referendum.) Giscard noted that the
referendum was not Chirac's first political miscalculation,
and cited the dissolution of the National Assembly (following
de Villepin's advice) in 1997, which had led to five years of
forced co-habitation with the Socialists under Lionel Jospin.
In 2002 Chirac received the lowest score ever for an
incumbent president in the first round of the elections --
well below 20 per cent. But he then made the mistake of
interpreting the 80 per cent rejection of the Front
Nationale's Jean-Marie Le Pen in the second round as a
landslide in his own favor.

8. (C) Comment: Giscard clearly enjoyed his opportunity to
pronounce on the current scene and its context --
particularly for the benefit of the Ambassador of a country
he admires and whose pre-eminence in international affairs he
willingly acknowledges. The 79-year old former President
said he intends to continue to visit the U.S., citing
specifically an outstanding invitation to Stanford -- and
looks forward to receiving American visitors and maintaining
an ongoing conversation with Ambassador Stapleton. Giscard's
low esteem for Chirac, with whom he has a long, tortured
relationship, is not a surprise. His apparent preference for
Sarkozy over Villepin likely derives from his own historic
rivalry with Villepin's mentor -- but is notable, given
Giscard's standing as France's senior statesman and his
continuing influence within at least a portion of the
center-right. Finally, Giscard's sense of European drift, at
least over the short term, is striking, coming from France's
leading proponent of a politically empowered EU.

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

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