Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Denouement

France will finally be governed by someone who is not named Chirac or Mitterrand.

March 13, 2007

PERHAPS THE BEST thing that can be said about whoever ends up winning the French presidency this spring is that it won't be Jacques Chirac. The second best thing is that it won't be anybody from the ossified political establishment that has governed France for more than a quarter of a century, first under the 14-year term of Francois Mitterrand and then the 12-year grind of Chirac.

After months of speculation, Chirac finally announced Sunday that he won't appear on the ballot when voters go to the polls April 22. About the nicest political obituary the European media could come up with was that he has been a persistent thorn in the side of President Bush. Chirac was a stubborn and outspoken opponent of the Iraq invasion who turned out to be entirely correct on one prediction: He warned that it would be a quagmire, and indeed it is. He hasn't been right about much else.

Chirac leaves office with his country enjoying a slightly lower unemployment rate than it had when he took over in 1995, though it is still among the highest in Europe. Economic growth has been sluggish, and the French national debt has ballooned. His ferocious opposition to meaningful change in Europe's notoriously wasteful agricultural supports has helped stall progress in global trade liberalization, helping keep the developing world mired in poverty.

Chirac's lack of discernible foreign policy convictions beyond needling the U.S. "hyper-power" has damaged France's international reputation and hampered critical peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan and Lebanon. Even his major accomplishments -- helping with the creation and expansion of the European Union -- were besmirched by his political bullying of new Central European members, his insistence on turning Brussels governance into a French patronage system and his resounding failure to persuade his citizens to approve the EU Constitution in 2005. As former Socialist Prime Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday: "In relation to the major problems facing France and Europe, it was a presidency of wasted time."

The changing of the guard in France, while encouraging, may yet be more about style than substance. Front-runner Nicolas Sarkozy's free-trade rhetoric and tough-on-crime bona fides sound encouraging, but there are questions about his authoritarianism and real ability to pare back the sclerotic state. Segolene Royal paints herself as a political outsider, yet if not for the novelty of her gender, she's a prototypical Socialist bureaucrat. The dark-horse candidate, fast-rising Francois Bayrou, has positioned himself as the non-establishment centrist.

None of the three candidates are Chirac's anointed successor, though the president is expected to eventually give his grudging support to Sarkozy. But any one of them would almost certainly be an improvement.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|