In his solemn broadcast last week, a few days before the referendum, President Chirac said that it was important that the vote not be a plebiscite on whether the electorate was satisfied with the right-wing French government, but should be a vote about the future of Europe, etc.
But what if he had gone on to add that the best way to ensure this outcome was for the President [*] to promise to resign in the event of a “Oui” vote? Then the Europhiles would have been pleased — they would have won their referendum and then got to blame either the Dutch or the British for derailing the constitution after one of the later votes; the French Right would have been pleased — it could have secured a Presidential majority for Sarkozy in the ensuing elections, got Chirac out of the way, and continued in power; and Chirac himself really ought to have been pleased — he could present himself as going out on a high, on a point of principle, bringing his exceptionally long political career to a more dignified conclusion than he deserves.
It would have been utterly unlike Chirac to do something like that, of course, though I’m not sure whether dislike of Sarkozy, fear of prosecution, or the simple pleasure of holding office would have been his chief reason for not doing it. But it would have made things more interesting.
[*] I assume that Chirac refers to himself in the third person, but perhaps he doesn’t.