To be read to better understand the French Clearstream affair

A slow sunset over the Elysée

Riots in the suburbs, swirling scandal, a cabinet paralysed by a bitter feud: the troubles that have shaken France could signal the end of an entire generation of French politicians. Jason Burke reports from Paris
The Observer Sunday May 14, 2006.

In The Tragedy of the President, France's literary sensation of the season, Franz-Olivier Giesbert, makes a powerful case that Jacques Chirac's 11-year presidency has been a disaster. The veteran journalist argues that one man's personal tragedy is now ending in political tragedy for his nation. Mr Chirac's failure to tackle France's deep-seated problems has left his country demoralised, disoriented and fearful of the future. The 73-year-old president, now imprisoned in miserable isolation in the Elysée palace, has come to personify the decline of France and the political impotence of its leadership.

But the alarming question indirectly raised (although never answered) by Giesbert's book is whether any other president could have done better. Is French society reformable? Or is it, as Mr Chirac appears to have concluded through brutal experience, fatally resistant to change? Perhaps all that can be hoped for - as the neighbouring British once believed - is the orderly management of decline.

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