French President Jacques Chirac ended his last full day in
office yesterday with a farewell address to a nation he has led for
12 years, and that he left in a state of malaise about its place in
the global economy and world affairs.
France's President Jacques
Chirac (L) looks on as Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin leaves
the Elysee Palace in Paris after his resignation May 15,
It's a poignant moment for Chirac, closing out four decades as a
fixture in French politics without leaving an obvious heir. One of
his most die-hard loyalists, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin,
submitted his resignation yesterday after a bruising two years as
premier that saw his own presidential ambitions shrivel.
The debonair 74-year-old Chirac turns over power to
tough-talking fellow conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, a
protege-turned-rival who won election on pledges of a break with
the past. After that, Chirac's attentions will turn to a new
Aides say the foundation, similar to that of former US President
Bill Clinton, would focus on sustainable development and dialogue
between cultures, with a particular emphasis on Africa. It is to be
launched later this year.
Chirac sought to bring environmental issues into the spotlight
during his presidency, though critics say he had more words than
action on the subject.
He often stressed cultural understanding over exporting Western
values -- a stance that Sarkozy distanced himself from in an
election-night speech in which he said France would stand beside
those oppressed by fundamentalism.
France's relations with Africa are likely to be less close with
the departure of Chirac, who nurtured ties with former French
colonies in Africa -- and was criticized for cozying up to some
authoritarian African leaders. Sarkozy has few such
Chirac often shone brighter on the world stage than at home,
where he failed to push through many of his promised reforms.
His farewell also opens Chirac up to possible questioning by
investigators probing corruption allegations that have gathered
dust while he enjoyed presidential immunity.
Chirac founded the neo-Gaullist Rally for the Republic party,
today transformed into the Union for a Popular Movement, or UMP,
that Sarkozy headed before being elected president on May 6.
The outgoing president built up the mainstream right into a
powerful political machine that, along with the Socialist Party,
are the dominating forces in French politics. His ambitious search
for funds for his party is at the heart of the corruption
allegations, involving illegal party financing.
Chirac said his goodbye to Europe on a visit to Berlin on May 3.
At his last big EU gathering in March, he insisted on the need for
a strong role for Europe in a "multipolar" world -- an issue that
was a mainstay of foreign policy under Chirac. He most famously
pressed the idea in leading opposition to the 2003 US-led invasion
Chirac also famously misjudged French voters by staging a
referendum on the European constitution that he had championed in
2005. The French and Dutch rejections of the treaty have stalled
European integration efforts since.
French newspapers published testimonials yesterday to Chirac's
mixed legacy. The cover of left-leaning Liberation, long
critical of conservative Chirac, showed his hand waving from car
window under the headline "Chirac Gets Away."
The only other president to issue a televized farewell to the
nation was Valery Giscard d'Estaing, on May 19, 1981, before
turning over power to Socialist President Francois Mitterrand. With
a much remembered final "au revoir," Giscard stood, made an exit
and left an empty chair in the spotlight.
(China Daily May 16, 2007)