The sun goes down over Paris

29th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

The appearance of a French version of The Sun could have been funny. In the event, it was sad in the extreme.


Rupert Murdoch's ragged publicity stunt — the one-off freebee was grotesquely headlined 'Chirac est un ver' — comes at the further expense of understanding between peoples, in this case between Britain and France. It would be nice if one could laugh it off, but this sort of nonsense regretably has an effect - just as it would in Britain if France-Soir crossed the Channel with an English language version screaming 'Blair is a maggot!'

Whatever the French public may think about Chirac — and let's not forget that many think very little of him — there's nothing more certain to rally blind support for him than this type of daft and insulting stunt, which prompted French radio stations to open phone-in ripostes to the 'English attack' on France.

Many expats will have groaned at the news, all too aware of how this type of nationalistic hysteria whipped up by the Iraq crisis is poisonous and embarassing in the extreme.

But of course, advancing the debate on the Iraq crisis was not the intention, publicising The Sun was. In the event, it is equally disserving for those who support a war on Iraq as for those non-French who don't.

On top of that - what a missed opportunity! A paper known for carrying some of the funniest and cleverist headlines just became about as drole and smart as a Scud missile.

It was obvious it would happen, the question was 'when?'

After a stunning performance on the international stage, pulling applause from the largest part of a divided audience, French President Jacques Chirac has started tripping up with his lines. This could be a turning point.

There was a marked tiredeness on Chirac's face as he addressed a press conference in Brussels, firing off a surprisingly sharp and arrogant rebuke to EU candidate states, accusing them of "childish", "flighty" and "dangerous" behaviour which could jeopardize acceptance of their membership, because they signed public letters siding with the United States over Iraq.

Despite all the efforts of French 'diplomatic sources' to downplay the outburst, insisting that it was not off-the-cuff anger but a well thought-out statement, it seems certain that the spite was the exasperation of an exhausted man who is facing a very tough time ahead.

George W. Bush seems intent on calling Chirac's bluff - if indeed it is bluff - over a threatened veto against a US attack upon Iraq by presenting a second resolution before the UN Security Council calling for the use of force against Baghdad.

Reading the between-the-lines comments during the diplomatic saga leading up to the UN chief weapons inspectors' report back on their progress in Iraq to the Security Council earlier this month, France gave a clear signal that it was keeping an option on joining an attack.

For all the principled talk, France, Russia and China are obvious playing national interests in trying to block the war, but Chirac's problem is that ultimately George W Bush can do what he wants and if a war is decided, then it suddenly becomes French national interest to join it.

The French president may lose all in this extraordinary poker game.

Quite what is about to happen has become so complex that the reliable guesses are only for those behind firmly closed doors. But the fatigue shown by Chirac this week is the first clue to us outside.

20 February 2003

(This article was written by Graham Tearse, former editor of Expatica France).

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