French influence in Europe is declining, and President Jacques Chirac is largely to blame. He made the right choice before the Iraq war - America's intervention was never justified and has yielded a terrible failure - and so found himself in sync with an emerging European, even global, opposition to the Bush administration. But he has failed to transform his position into one of ongoing leadership.
Chirac's stature and experience should have allowed him to rally all of Europe before, during or after the crisis. But he never sought such a role. Faced with American unilateralism, he failed to promote realistic multilateral solutions. On the contrary, despite being right about Iraq, Chirac became isolated, an isolation that grew because he also failed to re-establish satisfactory relations with President Bush. Indeed, under Chirac, France appears increasingly arrogant, a nation convinced of the righteousness of its views and the universality of its model - the very charges so often levelled against George W. Bush's America.
Chirac compounded his errors over Iraq in his approach to the new European Commission. On the old commission headed by Romano Prodi, France was powerfully represented, with Pascal Lamy holding the trade portfolio. Lamy is widely acknowledged for his skill, his intellect, and his strong personality. Maintaining France's weight within the European Union should have led Chirac to re-confirm Lamy when José Manuel Barroso took over as President of the Commission.
But, in Chirac's eyes, Lamy possessed two fatal flaws: he is a socialist, and he favors reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. Chirac, Georges Pompidou's agriculture minister in the 1970's, wants to keep the CAP as it is. So Chirac replaced Lamy with Jacques Barrot, an honorable and experienced politician, but one with little knowledge of EU affairs and no language other than French.