French Vote May Affect NATO, EU

French voters head to the polls Sunday to elect 577 deputies to the National Assembly. Pundits are predicting a "black May 25" for France's conservatives, who now hold an 80 percent majority.

If the opposition wins a majority in a June 1 runoff, France will have a divided government. That is, Conservative President Jacques Chirac would have to govern for the next five years with an opposition prime minister and Cabinet.

Such a "cohabitation" would weaken France's position on the international scene, including critical negotiations in the next months on the future of a united Europe and NATO.

France can only defend its international interests if it is capable of speaking "with a single voice," President Jacques Chirac argued this week.

But opposition critics responded: If the president had wanted a single voice, he should not have called elections 10 months early.

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