Chirac dons mantle of de Gaulle for poll

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The Independent Online
Cloaking himself in the mantle of General de Gaulle, Jacques Chirac has made a fresh attempt to revitalise his campaign to be elected President of France.

Mr Chirac, who is trailing in the opinion polls, yesterday published a new book, France For All. Accompanied by a front-page article in Le Monde, it seeks to portray the 62-year-old Mayor of Paris as a leader opposed to old ways of thinking and intent onrising above factional struggles to reunite a divided nation.

The irony is that the book is aimed at his rival, Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, a fellow member of the neo-Gaullist party that Mr Chirac founded.

Mr Chirac has also said he would like a television debate with Mr Balladur, who is riding high in the polls after the successful end to the siege of an Air France airliner hijacked by Algerian terrorists. Mr Balladur is expected to announce his candidacynext week, according to a statement on Sunday, but is unlikely to face Mr Chirac on television as he has little to gain.

With the entry of Philippe de Villiers, the arch opponent of the Maastricht treaty, as a presidential candidate, Mr Chirac no longer seems to be targeting the anti-European vote. The exit of the former European Commission President Jacques Delors from the campaign before it had even begun means that Europe will be less of a polarising issue than expected. Instead, Mr Chirac puts himself alongside the general as a figure who can bring the country together and restore social cohesion.

Mr Chirac attacks the "moral weakness" of the outgoing Socialists and says the country faces "a crisis of French society without equivalent since the end of the Fourth Republic". The nation's elite "tacitly consents to decline." He says that: "It is a revolt against the spirit which has driven me to write France For All," adding that "more than ever the principles enunciated by de Gaulle in 1958 must be reaffirmed." The problems which General de Gaulle faced did not dissuade him from "restoring the orde r of the republic, relaunching the economy and imposing progress for all on the elites who had long been reticent or sceptical."

The message is short on specifics. By targeting the elites and technocrats, and those who have done well out in the past few years, Mr Chirac seems to be aiming for the gap in the market left by the Christian Socialist Mr Delors. France has just sufferedthe deepest recession since the war, but new figures show that investors did relatively well.

Both Mr Chirac and Mr Balladur are members of the neo-Gaullist RPR party which, with its centre-right allies, seized control of the national assembly in landslide elections last year. The RPR, which was formed by Mr Chirac as a Gaullist vehicle in 1976, is now deeply split over European integration and the presidential election seems likely to split it further. Mr Chirac has the support of only four members of the government, Mr Balladur of 13, with 11 uncommitted.