I heard today of the death of the former French Foreign Minister and European Commission member, Claude Cheysson, at the ripe old age of 92 (there’s a good obituary here). He was François Mitterrand’s first choice to become President of the European Commission in 1984 but his candidature was vetoed by Margaret Thatcher and so Mitterrand’s second candidate (at the time the larger member states had two Commission members), Jacques Delors, got the job instead – and the rest, as they say, is history. Working in the Secretariat General of the Commission in that period, I knew just a little the post-1984 Cheysson (he was in charge of Mediterranean policy and north-south relations). In an illustrious career he had already been a European Commissioner several times, and he was, understandably, treated with kid gloves by the administration, which was empathetically aware of the difficult and strange situation in which he found himself (though he was absolutely loyal to Delors and the Monnet tradition of collegiality). One of our duties was to handle the organisation of oral questions to the Commission in the European Parliament’s plenary sessions. A special session would be organised in Strasbourg, generally late on the Wednesday night, and Commissioners, understandably, were not always able to be present to field questions that fell within their competences. Sometimes these absences were, because of events elsewhere, sudden. So it was that, late one Wednesday night, Claude Cheysson found himself suddenly fielding a question about milk quotas. Disaster! We had the background file but the speaking note had gone missing. Cheysson was a decorated war hero, noted, it was said, for his calmness under fire, and it showed. We told him what had happened and handed him the large background file that he couldn’t possibly even begin to read. The question was called and Cheysson got calmly to his feet. ‘Un quota laitier,‘ he began, looking slowly around the hemicycle, ‘qu’est-ce, un quota laitier?’ He went on to give a brilliant philosophical analysis of milk quotas until finally a breathless colleague was able to hand him the re-found speaking note, whereupon Cheysson brought his magisterial analysis to a close and then said ‘And now, to come to the specific question that has been asked…’ Ever after that episode – not a word of anger or reproach to the staff, a brilliant action to gain time – I regarded Cheysson with fond admiration. He was a true pro.