Charles Grant talks to Jacques Delors about Europe and what he plans to do with the rest of his lifeby Charles Grant / October 20, 1995 / Leave a comment
As president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors was a workaholic who drove his colleagues as hard as he drove himself. Peter Sutherland, the former commissioner, found Delors as tense as a “coiled spring.” Since Delors left the commission last January his spring has begun to unwind. He recently took his first holiday in 15 years and now looks much younger than he did during his last years in Brussels. Delors and his wife Marie-to whom he is extremely close-live in a modest flat on the Rue St Jacques, on Paris’s Left Bank. Despite having refused to run for the French presidency, Delors remains the most popular politician in France. So far as he is concerned, he has not retired. In his first extended interview since leaving office, he stresses his need to remain useful. Surrounded by books on economics and sociology, Delors is still the bustling autodidact who believes that ideas can change the world. His thoughts, often incomplete, tend to run with intuitive leaps. One of Delors’ abiding concerns is that the European model of society is under threat-not only from economic liberals, but also from those on the left who ignore personal responsibility. Delors has defined the European model thus: “It is different from the Japanese model in that it doesn’t exert so much pressure on the individual, and allows a bit more space for self-fulfillment. But society is more present than it is in the US. The Europeans have always found a balance between the individual and society. That goes back to the base of their civilisation: Christianity, Roman law, the Greek civitas, and more recently, social democracy.” For Delors, the European model has a strong ethical base. His faith in it stems from “personalism,” a philosophy of Christian communitarianism which has inspired him since the 1950s. Emmanuel Mounier, the Catholic philosopher who developed personalism, remains Delors’s intellectual godfather. Personalists seek a middle way between communism, which denies the individual, and liberalism, which denies the community. Charles Grant, author of Delors: Inside the House that Jacques Built, interviewed Delors in his Paris flat.
Q Now that you have left the European Commission, do you hope to influence European Union politics discreetly, from behind the scenes, as Jean Monnet did in his later years?
A Yes, though these days you can’t just fix things with a quick meeting of ministers, party leaders and trade unionists, like Monnet…