A Brussels legend
Pierre de Boissieu is a Brussels legend. To some he is the epitome of all that is worst about the Eurocracy-a highly intelligent, secretive, scheming, know-it-all French bureaucrat who has managed to make the transition from being his country’s ambassador to the EU, to being the deputy secretary-general (top man, basically) at the council of ministers. At least he is just as hard on his own team as everyone else’s. As France’s ambassador he was famous for his ill-disguised contempt for some of the pathetic politicians sent from Paris.
When Europe’s leaders met a few years ago to decide who should get the plum job at the Council, 13 of the 15 leaders wanted to give it to a Danish candidate-but somehow De Boissieu prevailed. “I’m still wondering how that happened,” says a senior Brit in Brussels. (Clue: the two countries that wanted De B were Germany and France.) From his lofty perch at the council, he is now in a perfect position to shape the agenda of the EU-but in a much less visible way than his counterparts at the commission.
Given his rather sinister reputation, meeting the great man can be a bit of a surprise. He is not a snappy dresser-he favours slightly grubby pullovers. He is not particularly stuffy and has a rather teasing sense of humour. But in one respect, De Boissieu does conform to the tradition of the French ?narque. Whereas Sir Humphrey prides himself on being to the point, de Boissieu has a tendency to give long answers, laced with historical references, culminating in blunt assertions that the way forward is “absolument clair,” and that anything else is “totalement absurde.”
The final contributory factor to the De Boissieu legend is that he is a relative of De Gaulle’s. Some say a grand-son; others a nephew by marriage. Unfortunately, there is a real Charles de Gaulle junior-an undisputed grandson-who is also knocking about Brussels. Embarrassingly enough, he is an MEP for the National Front.
De Boissieu has no formal role in the constitutional convention on the future of Europe. He is, however, a rather important string-puller. It was he who recommended to Valery Giscard d’Estaing-the convention’s chairman-that John Kerr, a former British ambassador to the EU, should be appointed as the head of Giscard’s secretariat. De Boissieu also played a key role in selecting the more junior members of Giscard’s…