WHAT words will President Chirac find to rally the French people when he makes his annual Bastille Day address today? It will be his eleventh national day speech, and his most difficult. The latest polls indicate that 75 per cent of the public have no faith in their President and 44 per cent would like him to resign before his term of office ends in May 2007. France continues to experience a dreadful run of blows to its prestige. Earlier this week the European Court of Justice imposed a fine of 20 million euros on the French government for allowing its fishermen to catch and sell small, immature fish in defiance of EU regulations designed to conserve fish stocks. The size of the fine, the highest ever handed down by the Court, reflected the fact that the government had ignored inspection reports and European Commision warnings since 1991. In another case, it became known a few days ago that the attempt to sink the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand in July 1985 had been ordered personally by President Mitterand although he vehemently denied it at the time. Neither of these cases has the resonance of the defeat of the referendum on the EU constitution (a constitution drawn up by a former French president) or, for that matter the triumph of London over Paris for the 2012 Olympics; but they fit into the pattern of French arrogance which has increasingly characterised President Chirac's behaviour towards the EU and more widely. However, in observing his present dilemma it is worth remembering that in one extremely important matter Chirac has been proved right; his stand against military action on Iraq, which drew abuse and contempt from the British and the Americans at the time, prevented the United Nations from becoming complicit in an illegal war, and if it had been heeded the current imbroglio would have been avoided.


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