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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 June, 2005, 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK
European press review

Newspapers across Europe have much to say about French President Jacques Chirac's choice of Dominique de Villepin for prime minister, but little of it is particularly flattering.

And the tremors from the French "No" vote continue to rattle observers in central Europe and the Balkans.

In France, Liberation delivers its verdict on Mr de Villepin and returning cabinet member Nicolas Sarkozy under the headline "The president's crutches".

President Jacques Chirac's call to cabinet of Mr Sarkozy - a former finance minister with his sights on a future presidency - reveals Mr Chirac's "great weakness, forced to surrender everything to his rival to maintain the appearance of power".

He may turn things around after the 'No' in the referendum, which is above all a 'No' to free-market liberalism
Le Nouvel Observateur

Neither MPs nor the public will have much patience with the non-elected Mr de Villepin, the paper believes.

"The man has charm and vigour, but no particular talent for bringing down unemployment. Nevertheless, it is on this that he will quickly be judged," it concludes.

A "two-headed government" has been created, Le Nouvel Observateur says, with a prime minister and a second-in-command, Mr Sarkozy, who leads the governing UMP majority.

The paper says insofar as Mr de Villepin is a believer in state control, "he may turn things around after the No in the referendum, which is above all a No to free-market liberalism".

However, "Sarkozy will clearly be the government's strong man", it believes, warning Mr de Villepin may end up becoming Mr Sarkozy's spokesman.

Le Figaro says Mr de Villepin's loyalty to the president, his closeness to him, his non-conformism and his popularity are advantages in the current political climate.

It believes "the forced tandem" with Mr Sarkozy "gives to this government a touch of united front in the face of danger".

"Chirac... avoids a frosty collaboration with Sarkozy - if he had appointed him as prime minister, and the discontent of his majority if he had left him out. He can thus hope to get away from the UMP chairman's sniping. At last he is putting on his mantle of unifier."

Ouest-France, the biggest regional daily, said Mr Chirac did not want "a conflictual head-to-head meeting with a prime minister who would have ruined the end of his five-year term for him".

"Instead of two cohabiting, the French executive branch is preparing to do it with three!"

Financial newspaper Les Echos looks ahead to the presidential elections.

The prime minister was sacrificed on the altar of 'the new and strong impetus' to which the president committed himself on the eve of his failed referendum
Le Monde
"In principle, it's the president who gets everyone to agree, but aside from the fact that Jacques Chirac has never managed to choose a clear direction since 1995, you can bet that... the 2007 presidential elections will exacerbate the rivalry between the two heirs to the throne.

"Dominique de Villepin has been propelled to the premiership even though he has never been anointed by popular vote and even though many MPs are wary of him. This is his great weakness. This puts him at the mercy of his number two [Sarkozy], who is a seasoned political warrior... and the real leader of the majority."

The French daily Le Monde spares a thought for outgoing Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

"Having abruptly received his notice to quit, one has to recognise that he lacked neither courage nor resolve," the paper says.

But it was clear ever since the "calamitous management" of the 2003 heatwave that "the Raffarin magic no longer worked", it adds.

The paper says the former premier partly failed over decentralisation and unemployment and his dismissal was "inevitable even if the 'Yes' had won".

The newspaper sees a tough challenge ahead - to respond to those who voted "No" and first of all correct what it calls "Mr Raffarin's social deficit".

"The appointment of Dominique de Villepin leaves the question completely open for now."

All eyes on Paris

Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau recalls Mr de Villepin's defiant speech at the UN Security Council in February 2003, ahead of the Iraq war, and sees in him a supreme exponent of French diplomacy.

For its part, Germany's Die Welt sees Mr de Villepin's appointment as an attempt by President Chirac to signal a change of social policy.

His handicap is that he has never gone through the fire of a popular election
Die Presse

If he had made Mr Sarkozy premier, it would have signalled a move towards a more liberal economic approach of precisely the kind that French voters took exception to, the paper says.

Austria's Die Presse agrees Mr de Villepin is a man of outstanding ability but with a fatal flaw. "His handicap is that he has never gone through the fire of a popular election."

"The appointment of Dominique de Villepin seems to be neither the most daring nor the best option in moments of crisis in France and the EU," says an unimpressed El Pais in Spain.

The European press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.


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