What changed in Chirac's 12 years as president?

14th May 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, May 14, 2007 (AFP) - Historians will argue at length over the political legacy of President Jacques Chirac, who leaves office on Wednesday after 12 years as French leader.

PARIS, May 14, 2007 (AFP) - Historians will argue at length over the political legacy of President Jacques Chirac, who leaves office on Wednesday after 12 years as French leader.

Here are some of the ways France has changed -- or not -- over his two terms:

ECONOMY - In 1995 unemployment was at 11.6 percent. It now stands at 8.3 percent, the lowest in 25 years. But that rate is among the worst in Europe, and the figure conceals higher joblessness among the young and immigrant communities.

In 1995 public debt was at 55 percent of gross domestic product, and economic growth was 2.2 percent. The public debt today amounts to 63.9 percent of GDP, exceeding the 60 percent authorized by the EU. Growth is forecast by the government to be between 2.5 and 3.0 percent this year. In January 2002 France abandoned the franc for the euro.

REFORM - Several state-controlled companies have been privatised since 1995, including Air France, France Telecom, Thomson Multimedia and Bull computers. The energy suppliers Electricte de France (EDF) and Gaz de France (GDF) have been separated and part-privatised. Attempts to reform pensions and the labour market had mixed results. Strikes and street protests blocked reform plans in 1996 and again in 2006, when a new youth jobs contract had to be abandoned.

SOCIETY - In 1995, 8,412 people were killed in road accidents. On reelection in 2002 Chirac made road safety a major theme of his second term, and road deaths fell sharply to 4,703 in 2006. In February 2007 smoking was banned in all public places, with a year's moratorium for bars and restaurants. Another major social change was the 1996 scrapping of military service. The end of Chirac's rule was tainted by widespread riots in late 2005 -- widely blamed on the failure to integrate the large north African immigrant population.

RELIGION - In 2004 France passed a law banning the Islamic headscarf and other conspicuous signs of religious observance from school classrooms. Despite protests at home and abroad, the ban was implemented without difficulty. In 2003 France's Muslim community got its first ever official representation in the French Council for the Muslim Religion.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS - In 2003 Chirac led opposition to Washington's war in Iraq, opening a major diplomatic quarrel with Washington but winning backing from many other countries. Other diplomatic efforts were less successful. In 1995 his resumption of nuclear tests in the Pacific was widely condemned. In Europe, France's influence was diluted as the EU expanded to 27 members and French voters ignored Chirac's advice in 2005 by rejecting an EU constitution.

WARTIME HISTORY - Chirac made great efforts to "reconcile France with its history." He acknowledged French guilt in the deportation of some 75,000 Jews in World War II, and his first term saw the 1998 trial and conviction of Vichy collaborator Maurice Papon, who had been protected by previous governments. Chirac instituted an annual day of remembrance for the victims of slavery and he recognised the role played by Muslim and black African soldiers in the two world wars.

BUILDING PROJECTS - Unlike his predecessor Francois Mitterrand, Chirac leaves behind no monumental "grands projets." His major cultural legacy is the Quai Branly museum, opened in 2006, which houses a large collection of tribal art from around the world. The most spectacular public works project of his mandate is the vast Millau motorway viaduct in southern France.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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