Chirac Leaves Behind A Questionable Legacy
French President Jacques Chirac, who announced late Sunday that he will not be standing for a third term, leaves behind a legacy of largely unfulfilled promise and missed opportunities.
Perhaps a more courageous stance was his public admission, shortly after he took office in 1995, that the French state and French citizens bore responsibility for the deportation of 75,000 French Jews to German death camps during World War II.
"Yes," he declared, "the criminal lunacy of the (Nazi) occupier was abetted by the French, by the French state."
In 2001, at Chirac's urging, France became the first country to declare slavery a crime against humanity, and five years later Chirac created a date, May 10, to commemorate the abolition of slavery.
However, these career highlights are largely overshadowed by Chirac's missed opportunities, miscalculations and alleged misconduct.
His greatest domestic political failure may well have been his inability to tackle France's social ills, after he was elected to his first presidential term, in 1995, on a campaign vow to heal the country's "social fracture."
Ten years later, in October and November 2005, this promise was proved hollow when frustrated minority youths in France's suburban ghettoes rioted for three weeks, burning over 10,000 cars and several hundred buildings.
During his 12 years as French president, Chirac was dogged by repeated allegations of wrongdoing from his time as mayor of Paris, from 1977 to 1995.
He was implicated in at least five judicial investigations, including a scheme to hand out public construction contracts in exchange for political contributions.
Perhaps the most embarrassing accusation came from a dead man. In a video cassette he made three years before dying of cancer, and which was made public one year after his death, a former party aide claimed that in 1986 he had handed over a bag containing 5 million French francs (about 760,000 euros, or 1 million dollars) to a Chirac aide in Chirac's presence.
In addition to the alleged misdeeds, Chirac's political career was also notable for the number of missteps. In 1997, for example, he decided to dissolve parliament to provide his unpopular prime Minister, Alain Juppe, with a new mandate.
The result was a landslide loss for Chirac's RPR party and five years of awkward "cohabitation" with a Socialist prime minster and parliament.
However, the error that will probably dog Chirac's legacy more than any other is his decision to put the EU constitutional treaty to a national referendum.
Confident that his own popularity would help carry the vote, he and his government failed to campaign with enough conviction to sell the treaty to the electorate.
As a result, on May 29, 2005, the EU constitution was rejected by 54.9 per cent of those who voted, permanently damaging Chirac's credibility and throwing the EU into a crisis from which it has not yet recovered.
At last week's EU summit in Brussels, his final European summit as head of state, Chirac acknowledged the failure and apologized to his European peers - a bitter way to say farewell.