Chirac refuses to let sleeping Euro dogs lie

The French parliamentary elections are supposed to be all about Europe. But Europe is a dog which has stubbornly refused to bark during the campaign.

In the past couple of days, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Alain Juppe have gone out of their way to try to wake the ungrateful beast. They have warned that a victory for the left, in the two rounds of voting over the next two Sundays, will leave France with a weak and muddled position in the European Union, especially on the single currency.

President Chirac, who is theoretically uninvolved in the campaign, made his comments, flanked by French and European flags, during a visit by Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany. France would only be able to defend its European interests if it "spoke with one voice" he said, not with a right-wing President (himself) and a left-of-centre parliamentary majority and government.

Mr Juppe followed up with a prediction that a victory by the French left would plunge the EU into an "economic and financial crisis". The Socialist leader, Lionel Jospin, has said that, as prime minister, he would try to soften some of the budgetary and economic conditions for the single currency, as now rigorously interpreted by the Germans, French and others.

Judging by the lack of interest in EU issues around the country, the belated warnings suggest a certain anxiety, even desperation, in the government camp. Although the last publishable polls forecast that the present centre- right coalition will win narrowly in the second round on 1 June, the advantage is fragile and based on uncertain arithmetic.

President Chirac's decision to call the election nine months early was intended to be a smash-and-grab raid which gave the government, led by his Gaullist party, a relatively easy victory. It may still turn out to have been an inspired gamble but, three days before the first round, the governing camp is clearly edgy.

Le Monde yesterday reported a private conversation in which the education minister, Francois Bayrou, leader of Force Democrate, one of the centrist parties in the governing coalition, said: "For the last three days, I've had a bad feeling about this campaign. I don't know why, but I have a bad feeling."

Five weeks ago President Chirac gave Europe, and the need to take difficult decisions on the single currency, as one of his principal reasons for calling an early poll. With public opinion in France broadly pro-Emu, the President hoped the coming European challenges would help to marshal a majority behind the existing, unpopular government.

In reality, neither Mr Juppe, nor Mr Jospin, has been confident enough of his European ground to make European monetary union (Emu) a central part of his campaign. The voters, if interested in the election at all, have focused on purely national issues, such as unemployment, and the government's state-dismantling reforms, without making the connections with European policy. Only the political extremes - the National Front on the right and the Communists on the left - have made Emu, and their virulent opposition to it, an important part of their platforms.

Even the belated interventions by President Chirac and Mr Juppe seemed unlikely to start a European debate as such. Mr Jospin chose to see their remarks as an attack on his ability, if he wins, to operate in "co-habitation" with President Chirac. He said France had managed to speak with "one voice" on EU affairs during previous "co-habitations" in 1986-88 and 1993-95 between a Socialist president and a centre-right government. It would do so again, with the political colours reversed, he said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)