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Viewing cable 05PARIS6576, AMBASSADOR'S MEETING WITH NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
05PARIS6576 2005-09-26 14:02 2011-02-10 08:08 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Paris
Appears in these articles:
http://abonnes.lemonde.fr/documents-wikileaks/article/2011/02/09/wikileaks-les-visiteurs-de-l-ambassade_1477418_1446239.htm
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 006576 

SIPDIS 

DEPT ALSO FOR EUR/WE, DRL/IL, INR/EUC, EUR/ERA, EUR/PPD, 
AND EB 
DEPT OF COMMERCE FOR ITA 
DEPT OF LABOR FOR ILAB 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/07/2015 
TAGS: PGOV ELAB EU FR GM SOCI PINR ECON
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR'S MEETING WITH NATIONAL ASSEMBLY 
PRESIDENT JEAN-LOUIS DEBRE -- AN UNRECONSTRUCTED GAULLIST 
AND WRY OBSERVER OF THE CURRENT DOMESTIC POLITICAL SCENE 


Classified By: Ambassador Craig Stapleton for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 

1. (C) Summary: At a September 21 meeting with Ambassador 
Stapleton, President of the National Assembly and leader of 
the Gaullist faction in the ruling Union for a Popular 
Movement (UMP) party Jean-Louis Debre brushed aside 
assertions that U.S.-French relations are on the mend and 
foresaw, instead of increasing cooperation in the Middle East 
and Africa, growing tensions over the putative U.S. 
intentions -- he had in mind more U.S. corporations than the 
USG -- to supplant French (and European) influence. In the 
same vein, he insinuated that U.S. supplanting of French 
economic interests in Turkey was sapping French support for 
Turkish EU membership and described an enlarged EU as one 
that no one (in France) wanted. In general, Debre warned 
that French economic woes and loss of markets were reducing 
its political options. 

2. (C) Turning to the recent elections in Germany, Debre 
suggested that the gridlocked election results were of less 
concern to the French than the stagnation of the German 
economy. He interpreted Merkel's slim victory as a rejection 
of "ultraliberalism" that would not be lost on the French 
domestic political players, while worrying that a grand 
coalition would produce ever more radical opposition in 
Germany on the extreme left and extreme right. Debre called 
France's upcoming 2007 presidential election "the end of a 
cycle" for the country, but cautioned that disarray and 
divisions across the board on the political scene made it 
difficult to foresee how the transition from one political 
era to another would play out, or who would win the next 
elections. He explained the bitter competition to succeed 
President Chirac largely as an older generation of 
politicians' last and desperate chance -- given Chirac's long 
domination of the political scene -- to run for high office. 
End Summary. 

Worried about Putative U.S. Inroads 
----------------------------------- 

3. (C) The Ambassador commenced the meeting by noting that 
U.S.-French relations appeared to be back on track following 
past differences over Iraq. Debre commented that he had 
studied carefully A/S Fried's recent interview in Le Monde 
but -- in what set the tone for the remainder of the 
discussion -- responded that the bilateral relationship 
historically had always been difficult and no doubt would be 
so again soon, although France had always stood by the U.S. 
in times of true need. It remained to be seen, he said, 
whether the recent terrorist attacks in the UK would also be 
repeated in France. He noted that terrorists were using 
their opposition to the Iraq war to justify their attacks, 
and predicted that any attack in France would make use of 
similar slogans, notwithstanding GOF opposition to the Iraq 
war. 

4. (C) Broadening his sights, Debre posited a "struggle for 
influence" between the U.S. and Europe in the Mediterranean 
and Africa and complained that Africans were increasingly 
citing what the U.S. was doing to try to exact more 
concessions from France. Terming the Mediterranean region 
essential to French interests, he warned of growing 
U.S.-French tensions over Morocco and Tunisia. Under 
questioning by a skeptical Ambassador, Debre complained in 
particular that U.S. businesses were supplanting their French 
counterparts in these two key regions, which he said was 
leading also to increased competition for political 
influence. Debre focused on Turkey in particular, stating 
that France had long had a privileged situation there that 
was being undermined by the U.S.; this partly explained 
declining French support for eventual Turkish EU membership. 

5. (C) Debre cautioned that "economic competition, while 
natural," risked leading to serious political tensions unless 
kept in check. Confronted with the argument that the U.S. 
and France needed to work together in the Middle East and 
Africa to address the larger challenges of promoting 
democratization, good governance, and prosperity, and 
confronting the threat of terrorism, Debre responded that 
these were "reasonable" arguments, but that political 
considerations needed to take economic concerns more into 
account. Otherwise, he warned, politics would yield to 
emotionalism and demagogy. 

6. (C) The Ambassador questioned Debre's depiction of the 
extent and nature of U.S. influence and wondered aloud why 
Debre was more focused on the Mediterranean than on Europe, 
where its traditional interests lay. Debre disagreed, saying 
that France's future challenges were in the Mediterranean, 
given the demographics of the region (especially among the 
young) and Europe's declining energy. Europe was essential, 
he said, but its historical dynamism had ended with the fall 
of the Soviet Union. It had lost its raison d'etre and 
changed in essence. No one (in France) wanted the enlarged 
Europe that had emerged in recent years; Europe had worked 
well only when its members were small in number. It was now 
too difficult to come to common understandings on foreign 
policy and other issues. Only France, Spain, Germany, and 
Italy thought alike. When the Ambassador cited his 
experience in the Czech Republic to argue that Europe's new 
members were very attached to the EU, Debre complained that 
they had taken advantage of others' largesse only to join the 
ranks of France's economic competitors. 
German Elections and the "End of Ideology" 
------------------------------------------ 

7. (C) Asked for his assessment of the inconclusive results 
of the German elections, Debre described the Franco-German 
entente in familiar terms as of critical importance and as 
the indispensable engine of the European project. He viewed 
CDU leader Merkel as someone perhaps less dedicated to the 
centrality of the France-Germany alliance, who favored a 
vision of Europe "closer to that of the British." That said, 
he judged that the ideological differences between left and 
right had, as a practical matter, disappeared in Germany and 
in France, citing the French government's current emphasis on 
reducing unemployment "socially." 

8. (C) Contending that the French were much more conscious 
of German economic performance than political orientation (he 
said the French were "obsessed" with German economic 
performance), Debre drew the conclusion that what will 
ultimately carry the day in France are German economic 
policies that work, not whether it is a free-market or 
statist oriented party that implements the policies. 
However, Debre said that Merkel's failure to win a clear-cut 
victory represented a clear rejection of "ultra-liberalism", 
the importance of which would not be lost on French 
politicians. He expressed concern that a grand coalition 
between the center-left and center-right in Germany could 
encourage the growth of radicalism on both wings. 

The Domestic Political Scene 
---------------------------- 

9. (C) Asked how French politicians were interpreting the 
results of the German elections, Debre explained that, "we 
have arrived at the end of a cycle." In Debre's view, the 
political era dominated by Francois Mitterrand and Jacques 
Chirac -- and the kind of left/right differences they stood 
for -- was coming to an end. Moreover, "the only important 
election in France is the presidential election; all the 
others are merely trivial commentary." This, in Debre's 
view, explained why so much was being invested by so many in 
pursuing the presidency so far ahead of time (the first round 
of the election is in April 2007). "Many ambitions were 
emerging" as a result of divisions in the political parties, 
a changing electorate, and what Debre called "the coming to 
an end" of Chirac's leading role in French politics (although 
he later denied that he was ruling out a third term for 
Chirac). In addition, France's two-round electoral system 
(the first round of which, in effect, is an election with two 
winners), was tempting even fairly marginal candidates to 
believe that under the right circumstances, they could be 
winners. 

10. (C) Debre also noted that the successor generation was 
relatively old. The all-or-nothing intensity of rivalries on 
both the left (for example, Fabius vs. Strauss-Kahn) and the 
right (for example, Sarkozy vs. Villepin) were exacerbated by 
the fact that "it's their last shot, or second to the last at 
best". (Comment: This is particularly true on the 
center-left; almost all the heirs to Mitterrand (former prime 
minister Laurent Fabius, former Finance Minister Dominique 
Strauss-Kahn, and former Culture Minister Jacques Lang) are 
approaching sixty. On the center-right, Villepin and Sarkozy 
are both only in their early fifties. Sarkozy, however, has 
thirty years of experience in politics and has already served 
three times in key ministries and sees no reason why he 
should have to "wait his turn" any longer. End Comment.) 

11. (C) Finally, Debre commented that real ideological 
debate was a thing of the past. Returning to his theme that 
policy results were more important to voters than a political 
credo, Debre lamented the demise of ideological clarity -- 
left vs. right, Socialists vs. Gaullists -- that had 
structured French politics during the cycle now reaching its 
end. He said that "things were much simpler then," adding 
that the disintegration of this ideological structuring of 
the political landscape made it very difficult to foresee how 
the current transition would play out over the longer term. 

Comment 
------- 

12. (C) We have reported Debre's remarks in detail not 
because they represent official GOF policy, but because they 
are typical of the persistence of a certain strain of 
traditional French thinking and because Debre is so close to 
Chirac and now PM de Villepin. That Debre would come across 
as an unreconstructed Gaullist, as evidenced by giant 
cardboard caricatures of Charles de Gaulle and Chirac 
standing in the corner of his office (after all, his father 
-- de Gaulle's first Prime Minister, also wrote the 1958 
French constitution) was hardly surprising. But his 
unvarnished, zero-sum portrayal of U.S.-French relations was 
sobering, and illustrates the difficulties the U.S. often 
faces in overcoming reflexive French suspicions about U.S. 
intentions. His focus on market share as the measure of 
international influence and, indeed, politics in general, was 
also striking. 

13. (C) Debre might have added that his observation about 
"many ambitions emerging" applies equally to himself and to 
his tireless behind-the-scenes efforts in support of 
Villepin's goal of displacing Sarkozy as leader of 
center-right and the successor to Chirac in 2007. Debre 
seemed buoyant and energetic -- a seasoned politician who was 
relishing the prospect of upcoming political battles -- 
specifically, the factional infighting for control of the UMP 
between "Gaullists and "Liberals" which is the intra-party 
dimension of the Villepin vs. Sarkozy rivalry. 

Please visit Paris' Classified Website at: 
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/paris/index.c fm 
STAPLETON