HIS family had long worked as bankers in the Ottoman empire, and "Eddy" (a teenage nickname) was born in Smyrna (Izmir). He has a love of pomp and circumstance, a predilection for dining with duchesses and a penchant for the aristocratic life. He likes anice piece of cake at five o'clock, with a cup of tea. He dresses conservatively, his sole concession to frivolity being a preference for red socks.
Edouard Balladur, the Prime Minister of France, has a date with destiny this week. The man widely expected to win the presidential election in April will finally declare himself a candidate, confirming what everyone knows already: that he wants the job and that it is easily within his grasp. The consequences, if he wins, could be enormous for France, for the French party system, for Europe - and for Britain.
Mr Balladur's ascendancy has produced a rather supercilious attitude among the French media, used to the splendours of Francois Mitterrand for the past 14 years. "Why him?" asks L'Express magazine this week, concluding that France wants a return to tranquillity and solidity. "After the grand fugues of Mitterrandism, the French seem to prefer, to enter into the third millenium, the little night music of Balladurism."
It is rather as if Douglas Hurd had won the succession to Margaret Thatcher. But there are also many similarities with the man who did succeed her. Mr Balladur has a highly utlilitarian view of Europe, one that is marked neither by the aversion to integration of parts of the French right, nor the Euro- enthusiasm of Francois Mitterrand and Valery Giscard D'Estaing, the last two presidents.
Balladur's critics accuse him of being indecisive, but his friends say rather that he is pragmatic, careful and empiricist. A series of articles in Le Monde last week on the man and his history show a prime minister who has a distaste for grand and emptygestures, and a preference for the particular. A former member of his personal cabinet is quoted as saying that "he tends always to think that, in all truths, there is an element of error. It's because of that that he has a real aversion to grand programmes." This stable, bourgeois, settled manner seems to set the style for the election.
And yet this quiet election campaign - even before it begins in earnest - has sent a tremor through French politics, which could be the precursor of an earthquake. The candidacy of Mr Balladur is pitched against that of Jacques Chirac, the mayor of Parisand the founder of the neo-Gaullist RPR, the party of which the Prime Minister is also a member. …