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Europe

European Press Review: Chirac Must Face Up to Reform

The landslide Socialist win in the French regional elections over the weekend dominated editorial reaction in European newspapers on Tuesday.

Seldom have regional elections produced a more sweeping national verdict, the Financial Times from London said. The paper said the French electorate had sent a message of national discontent, and concluded that there will be consequences throughout the country. In an effort to come up with an explanation for Sunday’s election results, the paper said it is possible that the French are no more conservative than any other European people. Why should they be, the paper asked and opined that the apparent peculiar difficulty the French have in embracing change is that their leaders have never properly spelt out to them that the status quo is untenable. France’s president, the paper stated, must face up to reform.

Paris-based Le Monde was of a similar opinion and said that Jacques Chirac has set the conditions for a political crisis. Now, the paper urged, he must find means and ways to solve it.

The French in effect voted for the dismissal of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin in the Sunday elections, said La Repubblica from Rome. But President Chirac, the paper continued, has no intention of taking any such action: while he is ready to refocus the government’s politics, he won’t take leave of his prime minister, which is logical from his point of view, the paper noted as the only other alternative he has is to nominate his interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy. The paper concluded that Chirac can’t leave the government to a man who is openly looking to become his successor.

Volkskrant from the Netherlands wondered whether the election results are a minor or a major damper for Chirac. Apparently, the paper said, politics there will continue as usual, as the next elections aren’t until 2007. But

there is a sense of disappointment, and Chirac’s efforts at creating a solid rightwing bloc under the leadership of his own party has again failed. The Dutch paper believed Chirac has again been sentenced to a cohabitation -- this time with the regions that-- with the exception of one -- will be governed by the left.

The Spanish paper El Mundo pointed out that the defeat of the rightwing could spell the end of the era of President Chirac. Of course the elections were only local, the paper added, but the leftwing did win a landslide victory with more than 50 percent of the vote; the paper concluded that the voters weren’t after supporting the Socialists as much as they wanted to punish the conservatives.

The British paper The Independent noted that the most depressing aspect of the weekend results was that the center-left won a landslide victory without offering any alternative vision for the future.