GISCARD RESPONSE:The former French president dismisses the idea of permanent EU commissioners, writes Lara Marlowein Paris
FORMER FRENCH president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing says he is angry about misuse by Irish opponents of the Lisbon Treaty of a quotation by him.
"One should never use a quote out of context," he told The Irish Times. "It's dishonest."
Moreover, Mr Giscard was dismissive of suggestions that the Irish could see a permanent entitlement to a European commissioner restored. That, he said, was "not negotiable".
He said he felt no antipathy towards Ireland. "I like Ireland a lot, I understand them. The Irish are anxious Europeans; we have to reassure them instead of threatening them."
He had been unaware that a passage from an opinion piece he wrote for Le Mondenewspaper on June 15th, 2007, and later in The Irish Times, was widely quoted on posters, and by No campaigners.
Mr Giscard's article was published five days before the EU summit where leaders decided to draw up a "simplified treaty".
Here is the excerpt in question, which was Mr Giscard's warning of what should notbe done, as published in this newspaper on June 20th, 2007: "The latest brainwave is to preserve part of the innovations of the constitutional treaty, but hide them by breaking them up into several texts. The most innovative provisions would become simple amendments to the treaties of Maastricht and Nice. The technical improvements would be regrouped in a colourless, harmless treaty.
"The texts would be sent to national parliaments, which would vote separately. Thus public opinion would be led to adopt, without knowing it, the provisions that we dare not present directly."
The last sentence was quoted by No campaigners Declan Ganley and Patricia McKenna in this newspaper during the referendum campaign and has appeared on No posters. None, however, quoted the subsequent two sentences: "This process of 'dividing to ratify' is obviously unworthy of the challenge at stake. It may be a good magician's act. But it will confirm European citizens in the idea that the construction of Europe is organised behind their backs by lawyers and diplomats."
Ms McKenna added a quotation that is not in Mr Giscard's article: ". . . all the earlier proposals will be in a new text, but will be hidden and disguised in some way . . . what was difficult to understand will become utterly incomprehensible, but the substance has been retained".
Mr Giscard insists that the passage quoted widely by the No camp pertained only to France. "The French had voted on a first treaty, and there was talk of a new one. [The government] wanted to tell them, 'it's not the same', when in reality the content was the same. So [my] argumentation was for the French. It had no meaning for people who had not voted on the text, like the Irish."
Mr Giscard (82), was president of France from 1974 until 1981. His last important public function was as president of the convention that drafted the constitutional treaty which became the Lisbon Treaty. A member of the Académie Francaise, he submitted the original text to its "immortals" to ensure it was written in flawless French.
Does he bear some responsibility for what he now calls the "unreadable" character of the treaty?
"Not at all," Mr Giscard said. "The first part of the treaty was about institutions. It was perfectly readable. A student or a housewife could understand it. Then there was the second part, the charter, which was done before and was not by us. The third part was the accumulation of previous treaties."
Despite his annoyance with the No camp, Mr Giscard's distaste for the fate of "his" original treaty echoes their analysis: "What was done in the [Lisbon] treaty, and deliberately, was to mix everything up. If you look for the passages on institutions, they're in different places, on different pages. Someone who wanted to understand how the thing worked could with the constitutional treaty, but not with this one."
Mr Giscard says "there is no alternative" to a second Irish vote. But demands by the No camp for a permanent Irish commissioner are out of the question: "Everyone decided that there would no longer be permanent commissioners. It's not negotiable, for anyone," he said.
"Ireland is 1 per cent of the EU. You're not going to have your own commissioner. It isn't reasonable. There will be Irish commissioners, but by rotation."
There are, however, written remedies to Irish concerns about defence, neutrality, and abortion, Mr Giscard says. As for fiscal policy, "They can worry all they want to, but there is nothing on taxation."
And what if, despite reassurance on specific Irish issues, Ireland voted No again? "In that case, it would be a problem for Ireland," Mr Giscard predicted. "Because the other Europeans will be in agreement on this text, and the Irish will have to say what they want their relationship with Europe to be.
"We have to respect the Irish vote, but we have to respect the others' vote as well."
But surely the EU is founded on unanimity?
" Wasfounded on the basis of unanimity," he counters. "We are evolving towards majority voting because if we stay with unanimity, we will do nothing. . . . It is impossible to function by unanimity with 27 members. This time it's Ireland; the next time it will be somebody else."