Richard North, 08/05/2004  

Despite being Giscard’s favoured candidate, and Blair’s secret weapon for the “yes” campaign, it appears that sentiment in Paris is turning against Christopher Patten as the Commission’s next president. Quite simply, they say, his French is not good enough.

According to the Financial Times’ account, "He is not able to have a professional conversation on the phone with President Chirac or take part in a French political radio or TV programme." Said one French official, "It is still of the utmost importance for France that the next president of the Commission speaks really good French. Mr Patten is definitely not yet in that position."

Paris now seems to be turning to Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian premier, and close ally of Chirac. Needless to say, he is a fluent French speaker. Bertie Ahern, when he can take time out from stitching up the constitution, is said to be considering Verhofstadt as a compromise candidate.

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