Paris: In a final televised address as president on 15 May 2007, Jacques Chirac urged France to remain united and true to values that made it a force in Europe and an advocate for world peace.
Chirac said he was proud of his record after 12 years in office and said he planned to devote himself to campaigning for sustainable development and dialogue between cultures.
Fellow conservative Nicolas Sarkozy succeeds him on 16 May and Chirac, 74, wished him well.
“United, we have all the assets, all the force, all the talent to impose ourselves in this new world that is developing before our eyes,” said Chirac, who stood behind a lectern.
A united France would continue to be a “motor of European construction, a generous nation at the forefront of the challenges facing the world—peace, development and ecology.”
The address contained none of the theatrics employed by defeated centre-right leader Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who dramatically stood up and left his desk with the cameras still rolling during his 1981 “au revoir” to millions of viewers.
Chirac’s Socialist predecessor Francois Mitterrand, terminally ill with cancer when he handed over power in 1995, said his farewell in a simple communique.
Chirac, head of state since 1995, leaves a mixed legacy to Sarkozy, a one-time protege turned bitter political foe.
He abolished compulsory military service, played an important role in ending the Yugoslav civil war in the 1990s and was the first president to acknowledge that French officials assisted in the World War Two Holocaust.
But he will perhaps be best remembered outside France for his fierce opposition to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and embodied what former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld scornfully dismissed by as “Old Europe”.
Life after retirement
Chirac and his wife Bernadette begin life after the Elysee Palace in an apartment in central Paris that belongs to the family of assassinated Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.
But as a simple citizen he loses his immunity from investigation over allegations of corruption linked to his previous job as mayor of Paris.
From June 16, investigators will be able to interview him over a fake jobs scam in the 1980s and 1990s which believed to have helped finance his conservative party.
Chirac denies any wrongdoing, but the whiff of scandal and his failure to come good on numerous election promises built up over a 45-year career in frontline politics, earned him a “Superliar” sobriquet on a popular satirical television show.
The departure of Chirac, the last survivor of a political generation that started out in the postwar governments of General Charles de Gaulle, ushers into the Elysee a new generation of leader determined to make a break with the past.
Sarkozy has vowed to kickstart an under-achieving economy, tackle heavy state debt and restore full employment, but will also have to deal with social tensions still simmering following rioting in deprived suburbs in 2005.