Unsentimental Chirac bids adieu to EU
French President Jacques Chirac said he wasn't sad to say goodbye to the European Union on Sunday after 12 years in power.
"You ask me if I am heavy-hearted. I don't have a sensitive heart, at least from that point of view," Mr Chirac told a news conference, his wife Bernadette sitting in the front row.
Mr Chirac leaves office in May and Sunday's gathering of leaders to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the European Union was his last foreign summit. He was given an 18th century beer mug as a retirement present.
His departure is unlikely to break too many hearts in other European capitals after numerous bruising encounters with a man dubbed "the bulldozer" for his negotiating style.
Analysts say one of Mr Chirac's big failings was his inability to maintain the Franco-German axis in the EU. Unlike his predecessor Francois Mitterrand, he never created a lasting bond with any German chancellor.
But the 74-year-old put a positive gloss on his record, extolling his relationships with Helmut Kohl, Gerhard Schroeder and Angela Merkel. "Dynamic European construction is not possible if there is no Franco-German accord," he said.
Mr Chirac's nationalistic approach often irritated Berlin and disagreements between the two nations gummed up the EU works like so much silt in the Rhine river.
These problems were exacerbated by French voters' rejection of the EU Constitution in 2005, just a few days after the German Parliament approved the document by an overwhelming majority.
The French "non" thrust Europe into political stalemate, but Ms Merkel diplomatically ignored the debacle on Sunday when she delivered a warm tribute to Mr Chirac at the EU lunch.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, a frequent scapegoat for Mr Chirac, acknowledged life had not always been easy with the French leader.
"Very frankly I cannot say that I agreed all the time with with President Chirac and that he agreed all the time with me," Dr Barroso told a news conference.
"But I want at this moment to emphasise that I was in fact sincere today when together with all the others we expressed... our gratitude for everything he has been doing for France but also for Europe."