With his diplomacy Prince Rainier III ensured that Monaco as an independent country was taken more and more seriously and was not considered an anachronism in modern society. Thanks to the good relationship that the Monegasque monarch maintained with French President François Mitterrand, Monaco officially became a member State of the United Nations in 1993, the 183rd. This meant the global recognition of the country’s independence. Prince Rainier was delighted when the time came.
“This is an important day in the long history of our country, because there is now certainty about the future of Monaco because we can count on the solidarity of the countries around us. We will now become more concerned with our environment than before and cooperate even more with our neighbours. I hope Monaco can contribute to world peace in the future,” the Prince said in his maiden speech in New York. In the event of a possible conflict with France, Monaco could count on the support of other member states, which would fight for the independence of the country. But the Prince immediately made it clear that this was not the reason behind Monaco’s wish to be admitted to the UN.
At about the same time, Monaco was also involved in discussions for a currency union in the EU (Maastricht) and free movement within the EU (Schengen) because of the customs union with France. Monaco was also admitted to the eurozone, although of course it was not a member of the EU. This meant that Monaco had to comply with international agreements in the field of tax evasion, crime and financial malpractice, such as money laundering.
“This membership immediately puts an end to the myth that Monaco is a fiscal paradise, which does not want to adhere to the standards of the rest of the world,” Prince Rainier opined. Internationally Monaco was often put in a bad light for laundering contaminated capital. Prince Rainier therefore immediately announced that he would do everything to combat these practices in his country. “No one should abuse the favourable rules of the banking system in my country. We cannot afford any risk in this area,” the Monarch said in a live interview on a French TV channel.
Not much later, a special institute (SICCFIN) was set up to combat the laundering of black money in the Principality. Nevertheless, the Monegasque financial world was involved in a scandal a few times during that period. For example, during the bankruptcy of the Banque Industriel de Monaco, where many rich French people had put their, often black, money and saw it disappear like snow in the sun. But from 1995 onwards, the rules for banks to trace the origin of money became increasingly strict. In addition, according to the 1963 treaty, the French Ministry of Finance maintained permanent control over the banking system in Monaco.
Around the turn of the millennium, criticism of the Principality from Paris increased again, when the socialist government commissioned a report on the financial world in Monaco. “The country is still extremely vulnerable to money laundering,” was the conclusion of the researchers Vincent Peillon and Arnaud Montebourg. In Monaco, people reacted indignantly to this report, while Prime Minister Lionel Jospin wanted to announce measures against Monaco. After 37 years, there seemed to be a new crisis between the dwarf state and its protector. The Monaco government mainly tried to debunk the accusations as much as possible by pointing out that Monaco’s financial world was supervised by the French Finance Minister, Laurent Fabius, and therefore could hardly be blamed itself.
In doing so, the Monegasque authorities had cooperated fully with the requests made by France. “That’s all we can do. It is silly to claim that Monaco are not cooperating. The French investigators apparently aim to falsely portray our country in a bad light,” said the director of the Monegasque court, Patrick Davost. Remarkably, President Jacques Chirac distanced himself from all criticism of Monaco by the French Government.
Fabius was a little taken aback by the sober, and yet fierce, reaction from the Palace. And finally, Prince Rainier put himself on the scene by indicating in an interview with the daily Le Figaro, on October 31, 2000, that Monaco wanted to break with France if necessary. “I find the French accusations against us very disappointing, especially because they were made by a friendly country in an unkind tone, which is offensive to Monaco. I think it would have been better if Paris had gone down the diplomatic route of pointing out possible failures… The accusations are not justified. As far as the fight against money laundering is concerned, we are working here with stricter means than most countries. I would also like to point out that every vulnerable position in our political, legal and financial system includes a Frenchman appointed by Paris. I can’t imagine those people making mistakes on purpose.”
In Monaco people were very surprised and delighted with this stance by Prince Rainier. He sought to attack when many people thought he would crawl into his shell. But it was precisely the older and fragile Prince who once again showed his strength as head of state. Within a day, the French government responded with a statement saying that the treaty between the two countries could best be revised. Some negotiations followed that, as in 1963, yielded little, but this time France could not impose its will on Monaco as a full member of the United Nations.
When the Socialists also painfully lost the presidential elections, when Le Pen made it to the second round at the expense of Jospin, the French government quickly made peace with the Monegasque government and a new treaty was signed on June 22, 2004. “The friendship between the two countries is the basis of these agreements,” was the message from both governments.
From this moment on, the monarch of Monaco was again allowed to choose the Minister of State from a list of five candidates provided by France. Once again, Prince Rainier had shown that he was not to be messed with.
PHOTO: Prince Rainier on November 19, 2000 Reuters