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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Putain, quarante ans !

by Marc de Miramon

Damn it, 40 Years of Chirac are Enough!

Translated Thursday 22 March 2007, by Emma Paulay

In announcing that he does not aspire to a third term, Jacques Chirac brings an end to his steadfastly right-wing political life, which has been marked by betrayals.

“A tough young politician […], extremely ambitious […], unencumbered by the Gaullist rhetoric…” When an American diplomat wrote this fairly true to life portrait (1) of Jacques Chirac in 1974, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing had just become Prime Minister. His dazzling career path and his precocious talent for political manoeuvring, including against his own political family (2), fascinated the diplomatic services. At only 41, the so-called “bulldozer” had already held two positions of Secretary of State (for Employment and the Economy), had been Agriculture Minister in 1972 and Home Secretary in 1974.

From 1967 onwards he also benefited from strong local ties in his stronghold in Corrèze where he was systematically re-elected thanks to Pierre Juillet’s - he was Georges Pompidou’s “éminence grise” - well-informed adviceand Marcel Dassault’s large fortune which “greased” his election campaigns.

With Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, however, the idyll was cut short and the relationship between the two heads of state turned into a wrestle. Flanked by anti-Gaullist ministers like Michel Poniatowski or Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, who disagreed with his reforms which were seen as going against the ideals of the right-wing electorate (3), his two advisors, Pierre Juillet and Marie-France Garaud, urged him to resign. He did so on 25 August 1976. Raymond Barre succeeded him and a certain Maurice Papon took over the Budget…

Two years later, having become the first Mayor of Paris since Jules Ferry, as well as president of the Republican party (RPR) in the meantime, he made the famous “appel de Cochin” from his hospital bed, denouncing Giscard’s UDF as the “foreign party” two months before the European elections. This strategy was a failure : in 1979, his list only obtained 16.3%, way behind Simone Veil’s UDF list which obtained 27.6%.

But with the 16 billion franc budget of the City of Paris and the RPR’s secret financing system, the cash was flowing. This formidable war machine, entirely devoted to his cause, lined Chirac up for the presidential elections of 1981. Drawing strength from his majority in the National Assembly, he was sure that the presence of Communist ministers would dissuade the French from voting for Mitterand and would bring about a landslide Gaullist victory. The disillusion was harsh: he was put out of the running from the first round. He announced his intention to vote for Giscard, whilst giving out discrete instructions to favour the socialist candidate. For Jacques Chirac, betrayal had become a real art…

Weakened by his defeat, the RPR won only 83 seats in the subsequent legislative elections, but paradoxically he became more and more popular among right-wing voters. Thanks, in particular, to his term in Paris, where the working class was beginning to leave the capital. Paris was now attracting more and more companies and had started to became a museum city.

In 1986, he benefited from the disillusion brought about by François Mitterand’s “tournant de la rigueur” option. Having won by a slim majority, the right were back in power and Jacques Chirac returned to Matignon until 1988 when he once again failed in his conquest for the highest office. Against all expectations, consecration came seven years later when, “betrayed” by his “friend” Edouard Balladur who was supposed to be doing the groundwork for him during the second "cohabitation" (the right controling the National Assembly, the socialist Mitterand still president - 1993-1995), he managed to force his way through at the cost of a merciless blood-letting (4).

Alas, his well-known call for breaking down the “social divide” remained a mere campaign slogan and the failure of the Juppé government which had been weakened by mass strike action in the winter of 1995-1996 urged him to call a dissolution of the house of commons. Lionel Jospin became Prime Minister after the legislative elections, until the upheaval of April 21 2002 (5), which enabled Chirac to reap the bulk of the left-wing vote as people turned out in their masses to counter the threat of Le Pen in the second round.

In the twilight of a particularly long political career, Jacques Chirac has recently attempted to add a little sheen to his term of office of which the only sparkle remains the “Non” to the war in Iraq. In the recent official portrait published by Pierre Péan (6), he attempts to highlight his aversion to racism and Jean-Marie Le Pen in making himself out to be the spokesperson for friendship between nations and the defender of cultures. To make up for his declarations on “the noise and the smell’ of foreigners, maybe?

After five years of “social damage” led by the Raffarin and Villepin governments, he also professes an aversion to neoliberalism, which he says is a “deviancy” of human thinking. A preposterous confession? One last serpent’s kiss more likely, for Nicolas Sarkozy, whom he sees as “spontaneously more neoliberal than me”.

(1) Unclassified document, published by the magazine "Jeune Afrique" in May 2006

(2) By favouring a single candidate, he "shoots down" Jacques Chalban-Delmas, who was considered too left-wing and who was trying to build an anti-Giscard front

(3) Abortion law, legal age at 18, extending Social Security coverage

(4) See "Chirac, mon ami de trente ans", Jean-François Probst, Denoël

(5) When Jospin was knocked out in the first round of the presidential elections, leaving voters with the choice between Chirac and Le Pen.

(6) "Chirac, l’inconnu de l’Elysée", Fayard

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