Chirac: Emotional departure from world stage
26 March 2007, Berlin (dpa) - The French president was determined his final act on the European political stage would be conducted with customary imperturbability, but there was a brief moment when Jacques Chirac's lips quivered. "Things are the way they are," he said softly, turning quickly to the departing gift from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a beer mug dating to 1710 with its lid from 1799. "It's well known that I'm a beer drinker, even if I do of course have the greatest respect for France's wine
26 March 2007
Berlin (dpa) - The French president was determined his final act on the European political stage would be conducted with customary imperturbability, but there was a brief moment when Jacques Chirac's lips quivered.
"Things are the way they are," he said softly, turning quickly to the departing gift from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a beer mug dating to 1710 with its lid from 1799.
"It's well known that I'm a beer drinker, even if I do of course have the greatest respect for France's winemakers," Chirac told journalists in Berlin Sunday, as celebrations to mark 50 years of the European Union drew to a close.
Chirac related how the chancellor had found "hearty and friendly words" in his honour at the summit lunch, and that the applause had been long.
Asked about his feelings at his last EU summit, Chirac said: "It is always moving when one is praised. These were pleasant moments that I experienced here. All my colleagues gave me a friendly handshake."
The emotions felt within the EU can only have been mixed, not only because it is unclear whether better times are ahead. This depends on the course taken by Chirac's successor - Segolene Royal, Nicolas Sarkozy or Francois Bayrou.
In the years since Chirac moved into the Elysee Palace in 1995, he has not always spread happiness within the union.
The "Non" delivered by French voters to the European Constitution two years ago that precipitated the EU's constitutional crisis is not the only reason.
When Chirac formally announced in mid-March that he would not be standing for a third term, he warned: "Nationalism, which has caused so much that was wrong on our continent, could arise again at any time."
This has not always been his political tone. In his famous Cochin Call of 1978, Chirac attacked the extension of power to the then European Economic Community in colourful and forthright terms.
Chirac was referring to the first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979 and expressing the fear that France could be "extinguished" from the international stage.
The great nation of France would become an economic serf, he predicted, calling the party of the French president of the day, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, a "party of foreigners."
The same Giscard was to chair the convention that drew up the stalled European Constitution, even though he remains high on the long list of Chirac's political enemies.
Chirac's European policies were always subservient to French interests.
He strenuously rejected all reforms aimed at cutting the benefits French farmer receive from the Common Agricultural Policy, a problem that is destined to provide grounds for strife within the EU by 2009 at the latest.
He also forced through a reduction in the term of office of the first head of the European Central Bank, the Dutchman Wim Duisenberg, in favour of France's Jean-Claude Trichet.
Chirac was in the chair during the four days of hard talks about EU voting rights in Nice in 2000, when he sought to delay the eastward expansion of the union.
The result was the Nice Treaty. The current constitutional battle is aimed at securing a successor to Nice, which is now seen as an inadequate legal base for the union.
Chirac bid Europe farewell with a call to both French and Germans.
"Without German-French agreement, there would have been no European Union. And if this agreement is lacking, then the EU is blocked."
Paris and Berlin had to stand together in the future, he said.
Recalling three German chancellors he had worked with, Chirac said he had always developed a relationship of trust.
"I always had the feeling I could speak freely and say what I thought."
Subject: German news