And it’s goodbye from him.
Last night, Chirac confirmed what most of France had been waiting to hear for a long time. At 74, he’s finally decided to give someone else a shot at running France. His television address, billed as a declaration of love, was more formal than the Queen’s speech.
‘The moment has come for me to serve in another way,’ he said solemnly. ‘I won’t be seeking your votes for another mandate.’
Then, without revealing who he’d prefer to continue his work, he gave a list of instructions. ‘Believe in yourselves and in France.’
‘Seize this new world… without ever selling our French model short.’
‘There is no other country quite like France.’
Finally, he revealed stiffly that ‘it’s with much emotion that I speak to you tonight.’
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was that. Ten minutes and it was over. No tears. No awkward questions. His stiff upper lip would have done any British politician proud.
The spectacle served only to highlight the distance between a president and his people instilled in the French model that Chirac has wholeheartedly supported. He spoke at France rather than to France, in a pre-recorded message filmed from his bolthole at the Elysee palace.
Waiting in the wings were his potential successors. TF1 showed a montage of four faces ready to react to his speech. A smiling Segolene in the top left hand corner; below her a scowling Le Pen; next to him the eager Bayrou; and above him the sacked prime minister Raffarin heaping praise on his old boss en directe from the Senate. Apart from Le Pen, who qualified Chirac as the worst French president in history, there was almost universal acclaim for Chirac’s vision of France. Segolene contented herself with saying ‘it’s time to move to the action phase.’ Bayrou, riding high in the opinion polls, typecast himself as Chirac’s successor, saying what makes France’s more special than any other country is that ‘we have a project of society.’
Less enthusiastic was Liberation the next day. `Je vous aime, nous non plus,’ proclaimed the front page, a play on a famous Serge Gainsbourg song. It’s time to pack your bags Jacques….