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Chirac, translated

John Rentoul

chirac Chirac, translatedAnother new book, published in English today, is Jacques Chirac’s memoir, My Life in Politics. It was first published as Chacque pas doit etre un but in 2009.

I am most interested in the parts detailing his relationship with Tony Blair, which I had not seen before.

Chirac patronises him from the start. Bill Clinton at the G7 in Denver in 1997 gave his guests cowboy outfits:

While Tony Blair, newly arrived in our midst, greeted the idea with juvenile enthusiasm, Helmut Kohl was dubious about dressing up like John Wayne and asked me what I thought about it. I supported him resolutely: “Helmut, I agree with you.”

Chirac’s account of the Kosovo conflict is idiosyncratic. He says that Blair “continually put pressure on the other allied leaders” to reinforce the aerial bombardment with troops on the ground:

I tried to explain to him, in vain, that a land offensive would only worsen the conflict by giving the Serbs, who were seasoned soldiers, the opportunity of fierce resistance and would lead the two sides into an endless war that would be enormously costly in terms of human lives. He would not listen and launched into a veritable crusade to achieve his ends.

That is certainly what Blair and Chirac argued at the time. But Chirac is on his own in suggesting that Blair refusal to “let go” eventually “dissuaded” Bill Clinton from the plan, and that it was the air strikes, combined with “France’s efforts to involve Russia and the [UN] Security Council”, that produced Slobodan Milosevic’s capitulation.

It was President Clinton apparent willingness to consider ground troops – albeit reluctantly, at Blair’s insistent urging – that was surely decisive.

On Iraq, the material is familiar. There is no hint, unsurprisingly, of the feelers Chirac put out towards the US around the turn of 2002/03, suggesting that France might take part in military action after all.

But there is, which I had not seen before, a frank admission that he was bounced by Blair into holding the referendum that killed off the Constitution of the European Union:

What convinced me to take the referendum route, other than the fact that I personally found it more democratic to consult the people directly on great subjects involving their future, was the initiative taken by Tony Blair in May 2004 to hold a referendum in the United Kingdom. By making this abrupt announcement, without first taking the trouble to alert his European partners, the British prime minister created a precedent that was difficult for those who, like France, had this procedure available in their constitution.

So it was that the Constitution, a document that was according to Chirac “said to be dense, complex and unreadable – which was not totally false”, was defeated by 54 per cent of the French electorate in May 2005.

Chirac comments: “I was not really surprised.”

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  • porkfright

    ” Chirac patronises him from the start.” . Chirac can patronise whom he likes as far as I am concerned-that is his prerogative.

  • greggf

    “….was the initiative taken by Tony Blair in May 2004 to hold a referendum in the United Kingdom.”

    Chirac is probably entitled to believe some chicanery was afoot when Blair cancelled, er sorry, “shelved” the planned referendum in the UK.

  • Kippers

    Spelling. “Chaque pas doit etre un but”.

    “On Iraq, the material is familiar. There is no hint, unsurprisingly, of the feelers Chirac put out towards the US around the turn of 2002/03, suggesting that France might take part in military action after all.” And the implications of that are ………….?

  • Kippers

    The question I was posed was a serious one, Mr Rentoul. What do you mean by that sentence? Chirac didn’t mention something that didn’t happen: so?


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