Chirac’s reign :

France’s latest political scandal is incomprehensible. What it boils down to is whether PM Dominique de Villepin tried to smear his archrival, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

There probably won’t be an answer. But that doesn’t really matter, because Clearstream already figures as another tedious chapter in the fast-failing Chirac presidency. As Ségolène Royal, the current Socialist favourite, put it in an interview, “It is the end of a reign without ethics.”

Sarkozy, Villepin and Royal are the front-runners in the race to succeed Chirac when his term runs out next April, and the political struggle already feels like it’s been going on forever. Add to that all the other dramas that have wracked France over the past year — the vote against the EU constitution, the failure to obtain the 2012 Olympics, the rioting in the suburbs, the rioting in the universities, etc.

The problem is that France and Europe really can’t afford another year of political paralysis. The constant political turmoil is feeding widespread cynicism about all politics.

That could play into the hands of extremists like Jean-Marie Le Pen, head of the far-right National Front. If Chirac doesn’t want to go out in ignominy, he has to recover some

momentum and take some decisions, or find a PM who will. — International Herald Tribune