Chirac enjoys his victory over UK rebate deal

19th December 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Dec 18 (AFP) - It's been a tough year for the French president, but his victory at the EU summit over British Prime Minister Tony Blair has given Jacques Chirac a moment of recovered prestige at home and a chance to off-set an impressive tally of domestic problems, media said Sunday.

PARIS, Dec 18 (AFP) - It's been a tough year for the French president, but his victory at the EU summit over British Prime Minister Tony Blair has given Jacques Chirac a moment of recovered prestige at home and a chance to off-set an impressive tally of domestic problems, media said Sunday.

"European rebound" was how Le Monde summed up the marathon Brussels negotiations, which ended Saturday with Britain giving up EUR 10.5 billion of a jealously guarded rebate from the EU's 2007-2013 budget.

Chirac, who had led the assault on the rebate, managed to fend off Blair's counter-attack on EU agricultural subsidies from which French farmers benefit. Those subsidies -- which account for a third of EU spending -- will remain, though will be subject to a later review.

"This summit permitted Chirac, weakened at home and abroad, to take charge of his preferred area, foreign policy," said the Sunday edition of Le Parisien newspaper.

The president "won the match against Tony Blair on the British rebate without yielding on the (EU) common agriculture policy," it said.

In a rare address broadcast on radio and television Saturday, Chirac called the budget accord "a good agreement" and sought to keep the momentum up by saying Europe "must go on to the next phase... we must have more democratic and more efficient EU bodies."

He added that "I will have the opportunity to make ambitious proposals for tomorrow's Europe which should be political, socially just and show solidarity ... so that it can become one of the main players in tomorrow's world."

Chirac did not elaborate on what measures he envisaged before the end of current mandate in 2007.

The EU glow Chirac is basking in was precious redemption after a 2005 mired in failure, ill-health and plummeting popularity.

The failure of a referendum he sponsored in May on an EU constitution dealt him one of the harshest blows in his decade as France's head of state, and forced him to reshape his government and put it under the leadership of Dominique de Villepin.

Constant sniping and insubordination from his Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who aims to replace him in 2007 elections, have contributed to a perception of Chirac being a political dinosaur, out of touch with the electorate and unable to keep up with the changes in the world.

In September, a minor stroke left the president -- who turned 73 last month -- looking noticeably more feeble.

The perception of declining authority was reinforced in November when Chirac took two weeks to publicly respond to nightly rioting that erupted in impoverished, high-immigrant suburbs across France, and was even then overshadowed by the more vigorous action of Villepin and Sarkozy, who implemented a state of emergency.

Recent polls show Chirac plumbing the depths of voter support.

An IFOP survey published a week ago showed that only one percent of French people want him to stand for a third term, with most preferring Sarkozy, 50, or Villepin, 52, as the right's candidate.

A new IFOP poll published in Le Journal du Dimanche on Sunday credited Chirac with a two-point drop in support.

Sixty-five percent of the electorate are unhappy with his reign, it said, compared with 33 percent in favour -- a low score approaching the 28-percent nadir recorded in June, immediately after the failed EU referendum.

Villepin, in contrast, had 51 percent support, and only 45 percent of respondants unhappy, even though he, too, suffered a two-point drop.

The latest survey was conducted Decmber 8-16, just before the EU summit.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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