Monday, June 20, 2005

Chirac in Freefall

Having married his political fortunes to the creation of a US-rivaling United States of Europe, Jaques Chirac finds himself caught in a downward spiral of credibility at home after the disastrous French vote against the proposed European Union constitution and this weekend's failed Brussels talks over the EU budget. The French press was uncharacteristically harsh in its criticism of Mr. Chirac as he limped home to Paris after a bruising confrontation with Tony Blair.
As he awoke to a summer heatwave on Saturday morning, after a dawn flight from Brussels, Mr Chirac was instead greeted with headlines depicting him as the principal loser of the summit.

Le Monde, the grand old tribune of France's intelligentsia, declared the summit a "double victory" for Tony Blair. Downing Street officials could barely believe their luck as they read that Britain had buried the EU constitution and succeeded in highlighting the "anomaly" of how the EU spends seven times more on farmers than it does on "future" projects, such as science and research.

"This new failure on Europe risks affecting his credibility in the world arena and having the ricochet effect of further weakening him on the domestic scene," Le Monde said.

Such powerful language shows how profoundly Europe has been shaken by the double blow over the past month of the rejection of the EU constitution and the failure by leaders to agree a new budget.

The days when the French elite would automatically rally behind their president in a row with a British prime minister have ended as the establishment ponders the emphatic no in the referendum.

Mr. Chirac's failure to sieze the initiative in Brussels, coupled with France's loud and embarassing "NON!" vote led many in the French press to declare Tony Blair as the man now steering Europe's fate.

The consensus of most French press commentary over the weekend was that the British Prime Minister had "won" the Battle of Brussels (on the eve of the 190th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo). President Chirac was presented as a double loser, on the future of the EU constitution and the future of the EU budget. The centre-left newspaper Le Monde, in an editorial headed "Blair prend la main" (Blair takes over) pointed to the paradoxical consequences of the French non to the European constitution three weeks ago. Left-wing campaigners for the "no" vote in France had promised a plan B in which Paris would be able to impose a more "social", protectionist, anti-free-market Europe. In fact, the "champion of social-liberalism", Tony Blair, had been placed in the driving seat, Le Monde said. "The only plan B which exists ... is the plan Blair," the newspaper said.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home