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European press in a flutter over French elections

PARIS, March 29 (AFP) – The comprehensive defeat for France’s ruling party in regional elections could leave President Jacques Chirac no choice but to make his arch-rival, current Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, the next prime minister, Europe’s press said Monday.

 Many newspapers, eyeing the French Socialist Party victory on the weekend and the Socialist triumph in Spanish national elections two weeks ago, also suggested that the continent may be seeing a left-wing resurgence.

Everywhere, superlatives peppered coverage of the French polls, in which Chirac’s Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) lost all but two of France’s 26 regions to the left-wing opposition.

“Devastating blow,” said Britain’s Daily Telegraph. “Disastrous performance,” said the Financial Times.

“Debacle for Chirac,” Switzerland’s Tages-Anzeiger headlined. “A crushing defeat,” said the Czech Republic’s Lidove Noviny.

Spain’s conservative ABC daily said the voter backlash “indicated the existence of a grassroots movement provoked by the UMP’s bad governance and the spectre of corruption trailing President Chirac.”

The Swiss daily Le Temps said that in its push for economic and labour reforms, the French government “gave the impression of ignoring the most vulnerable and weakest.”

“The French rejected social policy, painful reforms like that of pensions or reductions in public spending,” Italy’s Corriere della Sera said.

Austria’s Kronenzeitung reported: “The slap to his party puts President Chirac in great difficulty… Prime Minister (Jean-Pierre) Raffarin’s seat is wobbling.”

The likely replacement to head the government, most agreed, was Sarkozy, an openly ambitious UMP politician who has declared he is thinking about running for president when Chirac’s current mandate is up in 2007.

Riding a wave of popularity for his tough anti-crime stance, Sarkozy is the only figure with enough charisma to now lead the battered government, according to a number of European papers.

Austria’s Kurier said: “The popular interior minister is burning to take over the right’s camp.”

Britain’s press was more cautious. The Independent, the Financial Times and the Guardian all said Chirac was under pressure to dump Raffarin given the scale of the defeat.

But, they said, European elections in June could delay that move so that Raffarin continued to deflect voter anger.

When that date is passed, though, “it is difficult to see who else Mr Chirac could choose to succeed Mr Raffarin but the popular interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, whom the president cordially detests,” the Guardian said.

“The energetic Nicolas Sarkozy has the wind in his sails. Chirac doesn’t like him, and even fears him. But he can no longer avoid him,” the German daily Berliner Zeitung said.

For several papers, the left-wing victory spelled out a trend that was blossoming in Europe after the surprise defeat of Spain’s conservative government by the Socialist Party led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero on March 14 after the devastating Madrid bombings.

“Europe discovers a taste for change,” said Italy’s left-wing daily La Repubblica.

“After Spain, France. The explosive success of the left in regional elections follows on the heels of that of the Spanish socialist Zapatero. Now, everything is becoming more difficult for Jacques Chirac, who fears that the European elections in June will only confirm the electorate’s displeasure.”Greece’s left-wing Ethnos said there was a “general political turn happening in Europe”.


                                         Subject: French news