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Cablegate: Former Prime Minister Raffarin: Chirac Should Rein

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

261640Z Jun 06

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 PARIS 004411

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 RAFFARIN: CHIRAC SHOULD REIN
IN VILLEPIN AND SARKOZY SHOULD QUIT THE GOVERNMENT


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

SUMMARY
--------
1. (C) Former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin confided
to Ambassador Stapleton during a June 15 lunch that he was
worried by President Chirac's waning authority. Raffarin
said he had advised the president on the importance of
restoring the respective roles of the presidency, prime
minister and government, and parliament. Raffarin said that
Prime Minister de Villepin was overstepping the prerogatives
of his office and needed to be reminded of President
Chirac,s ultimate authority. Raffarin also said he was
advising Nicolas Sarkozy to withdraw from the government to
focus on his presidential campaign. Noting that he would be
actively supporting Sarkozy in 2007, Raffarin said Sarkozy
had both the "image and mettle" to needed to succeed --
campaign to victory and thereafter successfully wield power.
He doubted this was the case for Socialist Party (PS)
front-runner Segolene Royal. Raffarin envisioned U.S.-Europe
relations as an equal partnership, working in parallel
towards common goals. Raffarin worried that, although the
U.S. and French governments may understand each other well,
American and French society are growing farther apart, and
that there were no government figures or public intellectuals
able to explain America to France with media presence to make
a difference. END SUMMARY.

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CHIRAC'S WANING AUTHORITY
-------------------------
2. (C) Over lunch with Ambassador Stapleton on June 15,
former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin confided that
President's Chirac's continuing "absence" from the political
scene was worrisome. Raffarin lamented Chirac's waning
authority during the president's last full year in office.
He said Chirac's diminished stature, along with Villepin's
excesses, had upset the balanced functioning of the
institutions of the Fifth Republic.

REPAIRING "INSTITUTIONAL DYSFUNCTIONALISM"
----------------------------------------
3. (C) Repairing what Raffarin termed "institutional
dysfunctionalism" would require making sure the prime
minister respects the authority of the president. He said
the role of the prime minister was to protect the president
during political crises. Raffarin compared this function to
that of an air bag in a car accident -- and "not vice versa."
In Raffarin,s view, Villepin has managed to use the
Presidency to protect himself from the consequences of his
own failure in managing the First Employment Contract (CPE)
last Spring.

CHIRAC AND VILLEPIN -- "A PAINFUL RELATIONSHIP"
--------------------------------------------- --
4. (C) Raffarin mused that making it clear to Villepin that
&the prime minister works for the president8 would
nonetheless be difficult, because &Chirac and Villepin know
each other so well." (Note: Villepin was Chirac's Chief of
Staff from 1995 - 2002. End note.) Raffarin underlined
Villepin's attractive qualities, his intelligence and
preference for action, while also noting that Chirac
mistrusted Villepin's ambition, impetuousness and
histrionics. "It must be a painful relationship," summarized
Raffarin.

CHIRAC SHOULD CHANGE PRIME MINISTER
-----------------------------------
5. (C) Raffarin said that "the prime minister should change
or Chirac should change prime ministers." Elaborating on his
vision of the proper functioning of the institutions of the
Fifth Republic, Raffarin described the prime minister as the
implementer of policy and manager of relations with the
parliamentary majority, while the president occupies the
heights of power "alone." Raffarin said that the prime
minister "needs to be a team player," and that Villepin's
unsuitableness for the job stems from "the professional
deformation" of having worked too long at the Elysee.
Raffarin suggested Jacques Barrot, EU Commissioner for
Transport or, alternatively, Jean-Louis Borloo, Minister for
Social Cohesion, as currently suitable replacements, were
Villepin to go.

THE PROBLEM IS VILLEPIN, NOT THE INSTITUTIONS
---------------------------------------------
6. (C) Raffarin was adamant that the institutions of the
Fifth Republic were not the problem, describing at some
length how those institutions had shown themselves to be
flexible and effective. The problem, he said, was Villepin's
character, "which doesn't change." Raffarin opined that
Villepin's blind spot stems from his not being a politician
-- he has no experience with the constant constraint of an
electorate looking over his shoulder. That said, Raffarin
noted that he did favor certain limited institutional reforms.

FAVORS A MORE REPRESENTATIVE PARLIAMENT
---------------------------------------
7. (C) Raffarin remarked that the majority Union for a
Popular Movement (UMP) party and the minority Socialist Party
(PS), in aggregate, represent less than half the electorate
(yet dominate the National Assembly (about 500 of 577
members)). Raffarin said he therefore favored some element
of proportionality in the apportionment of National Assembly
seats. He said it would be better to have people "like Le
Pen and Bove" represented in parliament than to allow them to
posture from the sidelines. (Note: Jean-Marie Le Pen is the
leader of the extreme right National Front (FN) party; Jose
Bove, famous for bombing a McDonald's in 1999, is a leading
anti-globalization radical. End Note.)

SARKOZY SHOULD QUIT THE GOVERNMENT
----------------------------------
8. (C) Raffarin, who stressed that he would actively support
Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential race, said that he believed
that Sarkozy would be well advised to quit the Villepin
government soon. Raffarin gave three reasons. First, since
Chirac could not keep Sarkozy and fire Villepin because that
would imply that Villepin was the one most at fault in the
Clearstream Affair, Sarkozy would do well to make the move to
leave himself. Second, Sarkozy needs a respite from the
rigors of being in power in order to get ready for his
campaign for the presidency. As Raffarin put it, "being in
power uses people up," and was not conducive to the calm
reflection required for preparing oneself to lead the nation
into the future. Third, Sarkozy needed to break out of the
world of motorcades, photo ops and tightly scripted events to
meet with people on a more relaxed and equal basis. Pressed
on when Sarkozy would have the best opportunity to leave the
government, Raffarin insisted that it should be as soon as
possible, that is, before the summer break rather than in the
Fall -- in any event, well before the January date that
Sarkozy has cited publicly.

CLEARSTREAM
-----------
9. (C) Raffarin summed up the Clearstream Affair as a
complex matter of "he said, she said." Raffarin didn't
believe there would ever be "a smoking gun" since the
perpetration stemmed from "orders that were orally conveyed,
if at all." He said that the judges had been mistreated in
the affair by the politicians, and would take their revenge
eventually -- but that this would take time. Raffarin
admitted that voters appeared not to care about the affair
itself, while averring that they were sensitive to the enmity
between Villepin and Sarkozy, which could lessen their
support for the UMP. Public opinion would inevitably fault
both for not finding a way to work together in the interest
of the greater good.

SARKOZY IS UP TO THE JOB
------------------------
10. (C) Raffarin believes Sarkozy has the right mix of
talent and strengths to be a successful President. Raffarin
stressed that Sarkozy "has the political experience to know
what is possible." Citing the importance of both "message"
and "mettle," Raffarin said Sarkozy's strong suit was the
latter, and so would have to take care that his message/image
is in sync with the French electorate's expectations at
election time. Raffarin said he had no doubt that Sarkozy
would be the UMP's presidential candidate, and added that he
did not believe there would be any other candidate from the
majority in the first round of the presidential election.
Raffarin said he hoped to help Sarkozy "re-center" his
message in advance of the elections, and commented that what
was "American" about Sarkozy was his pragmatism and
results-oriented outlook. Asked if Sarkozy knows how to
listen, Raffarin said that Sarkozy listened as a professional
politician, "sensitive to power relations and with an eye on
results." Raffarin added that Sarkozy knew the political
system inside and out and was very responsible. Raffarin
summed up by describing Sarkozy as "what the French would
like to be, rather than what they are."

ROYAL
-----
11. (C) Raffarin's portrait of Royal was less flattering.
He said that her message/image seems to be in sync with
public expectations, but that she lacked the "force of
character" to bear the responsibilities of power at the top.
He said that as the electoral campaign gets underway in
earnest, the focus will move from "message" to "character,"
the area where Sarkozy was much more tested. Raffarin said
that the intense scrutiny generated by a presidential
campaign would bring to light Royal's character flaws.
Raffarin opined that Royal would fall out of the race before
the PS nomination primary in November, and the party would
turn to former prime minister Lionel Jospin as the only
candidate capable of uniting the left. Raffarin said Jospin
was the only PS figure whose nomination would not be
perceived as "humiliating" by all the other PS aspirants.
Raffarin judged that Jospin would also prove a more daunting
challenger for the center-right than Royal.

12. (C) Raffarin recounted that, although Royal beat his
designated successor in the race for president of the
Poitou-Charentes Regional Council (in 2004), she had earlier
been defeated in a re-election bid as mayor of a small town
in the region. Raffarin pointed out that incumbent mayors in
small towns in rural France are rarely run out of office,
unless they have a talent for rubbing people the wrong way.
Raffarin characterized Royal as someone who generated
tensions, and described her as "seductive from afar, but
irritating up close." He added that her focus on image
tended to make her think only about the short term. In all,
Raffarin judged that Royal was too divisive a figure to play
the role of "unifier" that the PS needs to make it into the
second round. Raffarin said he feared "a repeat of 2002," in
which Le Pen received around 15 percent of the vote to get to
the second round. According to Raffarin, even many who vote
for him don't want Le Pen as president, but Le Pen continues
to profit from the protest vote.

CHIRAC'S LEGACY
--------------
13. (C) Raffarin expressed the hope that President Chirac
would find some high notes on which to end his presidency.
Raffarin defined finishing well as wrapping up ongoing reform
efforts and calming some of the current social turmoil and
mistrust of the political class. He also projected that
Chirac might manage two or three foreign policy achievements
as capstones to his dozen years as president. Specifically,
Raffarin mentioned contributing to progress reining in Iran's
nuclear weapons ambitions, bringing further improvement to
France's relations with Israel and "getting Europe back on
track." Raffarin suggested Chirac might also do something to
decrease France's worrisome isolation both on the European
scene and on the larger world scene beyond Europe.

EUROPE
------
14. (C) Raffarin said that, to get the European project back
on track, the focus should be on "defining Europe as a
political project for its citizens," and on providing for a
"peace and security" role for Europe commensurate with its
wealth and historical weight. Raffarin suggested that France
had gone about promoting the EU constitutional treaty in the
wrong way, trumpeting the constitution as a work of
legislative compromise -- something "mechanical" to make the
EU work better. Raffarin saw a need to define Europe for its
citizens, focusing on the way European social solidarity and
social protections makes being a citizen of Europe different.

15. (C) Raffarin stressed that in a multipolar world it was
important that Europe have &a role of consequence in the
concert of powers." He said Europe should not be a
counterweight to the U.S., but should be seen as another
voice, alongside the U.S., for the West. On a foundation of
"firm friendship" between the U.S. and Europe, Raffarin
suggested that Europe could work separately but in parallel
with the U.S., supporting progress towards peace in the
Middle East and attenuating tensions with the Islamic world
by presenting a secular, Western alternative. Raffarin also
said Europe could also contribute to ensuring that China
emerges as a force for balance and peace.

U.S - FRANCE
------------
16. (C) Raffarin said he worried most about the potential
for a drifting apart of the American and French peoples, and
not the periodic disputes between the governments. He joked
that France always knew when to call on the U.S. when in
need, and understood that the U.S. would never be a danger
for France. That said, citing France's penchant for seeing
relationships through a "Marxist" lens, it was important that
the U.S. never be seen as the "boss" in the relationship, as
this provoked French resistance to U.S. leadership. In the
end, the French people felt close to their American
counterparts -- closer than to their UK and German
counterparts in particular. The Franco-German friendship was
unshakable "because we have decided it should be thus," but
the French preferred to travel or study in the U.S., rather
than Germany. Raffarin stressed the need for more exchange
and dialogue, so that the French could get beyond the
stereotypes of American religiosity and violence disseminated
by the media. Raffarin said that there was a lack of public
figures "able to explain the societies to each other." He
focused on the dearth of public intellectuals able to provide
the French public with an informed interpretation of American
society and U.S. policies, as did -- Raffarin's example --
Pierre Salinger, President Kennedy's press secretary and U.S.
network newsman who went on become a fixture of French public
affairs talk shows. Raffarin lamented this absence of
American officials and public intellectuals with enough media
presence to make a difference in guiding public perceptions
in France away from simplistic preconceptions about the U.S.
Raffarin said the U.S.-France economic relationship was good,
although he believed France could do much more to improve his
attractiveness as a destination for investment.

COMMENT
-------
17. (C) Raffarin took full advantage of the opportunity to
share some thoughtful, and surprisingly detached commentary
on the current French political scene. He hardly mentioned
himself, his record in office or his own political ambitions.
He made clear he thought Villepin was the wrong man, with
the wrong experience, doing the wrong job at the wrong time.
Raffarin's evident enthusiasm for Sarkozy and his
presidential ambitions appeared genuine and was not expected.
Raffarin continues to be seen as the odds-on favorite to
replace Christian Poncelet as president of the French Senate
in 2008. End Comment.
Please visit Paris' Classified Website at:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/paris/index.c fm

STAPLETON

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