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Chirac-Jospin Coalition Ends - 2002-04-24

French President Jacques Chirac and Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin bid farewell Wednesday to a five-year, uneasy cohabitation. Mr. Jospin attended his final cabinet meeting before his socialist government tenders its resignation on May 6.

The final session attended by Conservative President Jacques Chirac and Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin was described as serene and dignified by those who attended. Mr. Jospin, who was defeated by far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in first-round presidential balloting last Sunday, is retiring from political life.

Mr. Jospin said little after leaving the last morning meeting between the two French leaders. But Family Affairs Minister, Segolene Royal told reporters Mr. Jospin's leftist coalition felt mixed emotions about the end of the uneasy cohabitation government, which began in 1995.

In broadcast remarks, Mrs. Royal said Mr. Jospin and his cabinet were still shattered at the prime minister's surprise third place finish in the first round of presidential voting last Sunday. But she said his government was also proud of the work they accomplished during his tenure.

Meanwhile, Mr. Chirac's Rally for the Republic Party has created the so-called Union for the Presidential Majority, bringing together conservatives behind the president and against far-right presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, who will face Mr. Chirac in second-round voting May 5. During a rally in the French city of Rennes Tuesday night, the President also said he would not debate Mr. Le Pen beforehand.

In reference to Mr. Le Pen's controversial stance on immigrants and minorities, Mr. Chirac said no compromise or deals were possible, faced with intolerance and hatred.

For his part, Mr. Le Pen is expected to outline his vision of Europe before the European Parliament in Brussels later in the day. Mr. Le Pen says he wants to remove France from the European Union and from the euro currency, and that he will hold a referendum on the matter if he is elected president.