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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05PARIS7195 2005-10-20 13:01 2011-02-10 08:08 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Paris
Appears in these articles:
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 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/18/2015 

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

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 

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: fm