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New Book Causes Furor in France - 2001-10-17

A new book critical of French President Jacques Chirac and the country's so-called cohabitation government has caused political furor in France, even before its release on Wednesday. Some politicians have already called for the resignation of its author, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's chief of staff.

Titled "Matignon Rive Gauche, 1997-2000" - or Matignon the Left Bank, in reference to the prime minister's headquarters - the book, by the prime minister's chief of staff, Olivier Schrameck, sharply criticizes the uneasy cohabitation government of the Socialist prime minister and a conservative Gaullist president.

In the book, Mr. Schrameck alleges that President Jacques Chirac tried to politically embarrass Mr. Jospin on several occasions. According to Mr. Schrameck, the acts went beyond traditional partisan fighting, to actually threatening official French solidarity on foreign policy.

Even before its Wednesday release, the book has sparked furor. Several conservative politicians called for Mr. Schrameck's resignation, although later retracted the demand. President Chirac said, given the current international effort to present a united front in the war against terrorism, the book was a political mistake, presenting an image of a fractured French executive branch.

But Prime Minister Jospin has defended his chief of staff, saying Mr. Schrameck had a right to speak his mind. And Mr. Schrameck remains unapologetic about his book.

In an interview with Europe-One radio on Wednesday, he said it was his duty to warn of the dangers of a cohabitation government.

A political science professor at the American University of Paris, Paul Godt, says the book, published just a few months before presidential and legislative elections, may send a signal to French voters. "If it continues to be discussed, to some extent, voters will become more aware, as people on the inside are aware, that cohabitation is, in fact, difficult to work," he said. "It means government is stymied in a number of areas, particularly in domestic policy. And as Mr. Schrameck said, much of the government's time, and the presidency's time, is spent trying to trip up the other side."

But there are also no immediate signs next year's elections will change France's current political makeup. President Chirac's popularity has surged since the terrorist attacks in the United States. But in recent polls, many French voters also continue to support Prime Minister Jospin's leftist government.