PRESIDENT CHIRAC was hammering together a new French Government yesterday in an attempt to repair the devastation that voters wreaked on the political landscape at home and abroad when they rejected the European constitution in Sunday’s referendum.
Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the Prime Minister, handed in his resignation at the Elysée Palace early yesterday, hours after 55 per cent of the electorate rose in revolt against the President, the Establishment and the European Union as defined in the constitutional treaty.
M Chirac also spoke to Gerhard Schröder, the German Chancellor, and other leaders, assuring them that the vote would not halt France’s engagement in EU business and that other states must continue ratifying the treaty.
The President, now in his eleventh year in office, had no obvious candidate for the job of giving the new impulse that he promised in response to the whipping from the electorate on Sunday. Potential prime ministers included Dominique de Villepin, 51, the Interior Minister and favourite protégé of the President, and Nicolas Sarkozy, 50, leader of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), the President’s party, and the chief rival to M Chirac.