Peace has broken out between Madame Edith Cresson and Monsieur Yves-Thibault de Silguy, the two French commissioners. A pity. Their palace intrigues were straight out of 17th century Versailles. Cresson, the coquette in the Mitterrand entourage who thinks most Englishmen are closet homosexuals; de Silguy, the smug ?narque who switched from Chirac to Balladur and back to Chirac. The couple’s scheming and mutual loathing has provided rich entertainment here; but it has damaged the French cause inside the Commission, on the slide since the departure of Jacques Delors. Now comes the ultimate test of French strength.
The Commission must soon decide whether to cave in to French industry’s demands for “compensation” to cover the effects of competitive currency devaluations by neighbouring Britain, Italy and Spain. No matter that special assistance for French exporters would flout the principle of a single market. No matter that the French government has only itself to blame for pursuing a franc fort policy which defies economic logic.
In a rare declaration of independence, de Silguy’s economics directorate produced a draft report last month which trashed the French case. Its authors pointed out, unhelpfully, that France’s hard currency policy had actually boosted long-term French competitiveness by means of low inflation, low import costs and wage restraint which, lest we all forget, is the pre-condition for monetary union with Germany.
Like the French government, de Silguy and Cresson are caught in a bind by this commitment to the franc fort. But if they fail to come up with sweeteners or something like a political pay-off, the explosion from Paris will be as big as anything detonated in the South Pacific. And when the smoke clears, the French opponents of franc fort may be the only ones left standing.
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Europe’s travelling circus-a.k.a. the EU’s forward-planning Reflection Group-really must sharpen up its act. In little more than a month this grandly-named assortment of ministers, MEPs and former Brussels fonctionnaires is supposed to deliver a report on the constitutional future of Europe, ahead of next year’s IGC. So far they’ve produced little more than a case-study in national rivalries.
Most of the vitriol is reserved for HMG’s man in the group, a former SAS officer who has fought his way up from Tory whip to Foreign Office minister. David Davis speaks at machine-gun speed, and loves shooting down ideas floated by colleagues such as Manfred Scheich,…