| Chirac: Bumpy landing
Paris, May 5 (Reuters): French President Jacques Chirac watched his poll ratings get a “Baghdad bounce” of their own as his nationals backed his anti-war stance on Iraq.
But with the war over, he is being brought down to earth with a bump on the first anniversary of his election as street protests mount over painful plans for welfare reform and the French demand action on growing jobless queues.
On May 5 last year Chirac was hailed the defender of French democracy for seeing off resurgent far-Right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen with a landslide presidential victory. This year, even as he acquired pariah status in Washington, Chirac was a hero in France again as the global “peace warrior” determined to stand up to American unilateralism. Some are asking: Where can he go now but downhill'
“The question now is, how does he sustain this unaccustomed popularity,” said political analyst Florence Haegel, noting the turnaround for a career hitherto dogged by suspicions of sleaze and a reputation for policy U-turns. From his peak wartime approval rating of more than 80 per cent, Chirac must now do with scores of between 50 to 55 per cent — a more accurate reflection of his first year’s achievements.
As promised, he cut income tax, but by a mere 6 per cent. He had pledged to cut tax by a third over five years. Concern over crime has been assuaged by moves to boost police budgets, but the thorny area of immigration — the terrain on which Le Pen wins votes — has been left virtually untouched.
However it will be the economy and his handling of social reform that will decide the fate of Chirac and his government. Thousands took to the streets on May 1 as trade unions used the annual workers’ day rally to protest against government plans to overhaul the state pension system and cut jobs in France’s large public sector.
Hi-tech tie-up with US
Despite a deep rift over Iraq, France and the US agreed today to work together on a hi-tech “passport of the future” as part of the international fight against terrorism and organised crime.
Police sources said the two states had agreed to jointly chair a working group of G8 states which will hammer out the technical norms for chip-driven identity papers of the future.
The meeting of justice and interior ministers from the world’s leading industrial nations was attended by US attorney general John Ashcroft.