French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has defended the policies of his four-year-old government in an interview many are considering the opening volley in his campaign for the presidency next year.
In a televised interview Tuesday evening, Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin staunchly defended his government's record on crime, unemployment, economic security and a limited self-rule plan for the island of Corsica.
And while he balked at declaring his candidacy in next year's presidential elections, Mr. Jospin took several swipes at his potential rival, France's conservative president, Jacques Chirac. Mr. Jospin said he was surprised by President Chirac's criticism last month that his leftist government was soft on crime and had failed to reduce the budget deficit. He said the president's rebuke had touched the limits of France's uneasy cohabitation between a conservative president and leftist prime minister.
Mr. Chirac has not been the only recent critic of Mr. Jospin's performance. Some businesses and labor unions argue his effort to reduce the French work week to 35 hours is costly and unfeasible. Others have slammed his plan to give limited autonomy to Corsica. Mr. Jospin has also been accused of lying about his Troskyist past.
In fact, a Monday poll found Mr. Jospin trailing Mr. Chirac by 48 percent to 52 percent in public approval, despite a series of scandals dogging the president.
But in the interview, Mr. Jospin rallied back. Among other issues, he said the government would try to ensure a smooth passage to the euro currency by year's end and to be active in ending France's economic slowdown.
The prime minister's remarks did not impress everybody. Many newspapers said Mr. Jospin's tone was too professorial, and his presentation was generally boring. Other critics said he appeared tense and irritable. But a few pundits said he struck the correct, serious tone of a prospective presidential candidate. What's clear is that with elections only eight months away, the scrutiny of Mr. Jospin's performance is just beginning.