PARIS - French President Jacques Chirac ends his last full day in office
Tuesday with a farewell address to a nation he has led for 12 years, and that he
leaves in a state of malaise about its place in the global economy and world
The debonair 74-year-old turns over power Wednesday to tough-talking fellow
conservative Nicolas Sarkozy, a protege-turned-rival who won election on pledges
of a break with the past.
France's President Jacques Chirac (L) shakes hands with Prime
Minister Dominique de Villepin at the Elysee Palace in Paris after his
resignation May 15, 2007. [Reuters]
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
Tuesday after a bruising two years as premier that saw his own presidential
After he hands the reins to Sarkozy, Chirac's attentions will turn to a new
foundation aimed at capitalizing on his international reputation.
Aides say the foundation, similar to that of former U.S. 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.
France's incumbent President Jacques Chirac (L) shakes hands
with Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin at the Elysee Palace in Paris
after his resignation May 15, 2007. [Reuters]
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 and more pragmatic
with the departure of Chirac, who nurtured ties with former French colonies in
Africa _ and was criticized for cozying up to authoritarian African leaders.
Sarkozy has few of those connections.
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
French President-elect Sarkozy escorts French union FO
general secretary Mailly after a meeting in Paris.
Stepping down from the presidency, Chirac will be closing out a rich
political career. 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 implicating him, involving illegal party
Chirac said his goodbye to Europe on a visit to Berlin 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
U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
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 Tuesday to Chirac's mixed legacy.
The cover of left-leaning Liberation, long critical of the conservative
president, showed Chirac's hand waving from car window under the headline
"Chirac Gets Away."
The only other president to issue a televised 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.