President Jacques Chirac took a major step Monday toward a difficult French rendezvous with a common European currency in 1999, announcing the dissolution of the national legislature and calling an election for May 25, a year early.
“We have to go further down the road of change without delay,” Chirac said in a nationally televised speech during the 8 o’clock news. “To succeed, France needs a new elan, which can only come with the clearly expressed support of the French people.”
Skimming over the unpopularity of the efforts he and Prime Minister Alain Juppe had made over the past two years to bring change to France’s unemployment-ridden welfare state, Chirac appealed to European ideals.
“Europe is unity, and in unity there is strength,” he said. But Europe can only remain an economic and financial power with a currency equal in strength to the dollar and the yen, he said.
A public opinion poll published in the daily Le Figaro on Monday found 45 percent of the voters favoring Chirac’s center-right coalition parties in the new vote but by a much smaller margin than the center-right victory in 1993.
Juppe had the support of 465 members of the 577-member National Assembly that is being dissolved, but if the opposition Socialists make the gains the poll predicted, the conservative majority would be whittled down to about 320 seats.
The extreme-right National Front could win between 14 percent and 15 percent of the vote, the poll said, but would probably win no more than two or three seats.
Chirac appealed to the voters to refrain from giving even that much support to the party, which is hostile to foreign immigration. “Appeals to hate have been launched and scapegoats designated,” he said. “The answers to the great questions of today do not lie in falling back upon ourselves or in recourse to fear and intolerance.”
The National Front’s leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is expected to run for the legislature, possibly from Toulon, a Mediterranean naval port where his anti-immigration party controls the city council.
Getting ready for European monetary union has required France, Germany and other countries to keep a tight rein on spending at a time of soaring unemployment in order to get their budget deficits below 3 percent of gross national product by the end of this year.