France after referendum

French President Jacques Chirac's political future might have been fatally damaged by France's rejection this week of the new European Constitution. German Chancellor &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Gerhard Schroeder could be out of a job in September after national elections. And British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been urged not to serve out his term.

"It's the end of an era," says Alisdair Murray, deputy director for the Center for European Reform, a London-based think tank that studies the European Union. "Though Blair is the one who still clings on and has a bit more life than the others."

Recent polls show approval ratings for Chirac at 35% and Blair at 34%. Schroeder trails his challenger by 6 percentage points.

As the three long-serving European leaders struggle to hold onto power, the EU, a political and economic alliance of 25 countries, also faces a crisis.

In two referendums this week on the constitution, in France and the Netherlands, voters defeated a charter that was intended to strengthen the bloc, creating a more united states of Europe.

Since the document needed approval by all 25 member nations, there now is a risk that EU decision-making will be paralyzed, proposed changes stalled and the new budget delayed, reports USA Today.

French President &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Jacques Chirac called on his new ministers on Friday for "unity and cohesion" at the new government's first cabinet meeting, the government spokesman said after the meeting.

At the beginning of the cabinet meeting, the president said "the period that we pass is difficult for France. We'll surpass it by assembling the French people, by our union, by our action."

He said the first task, under the prime minister's authority, is unity, cohesion, the total engagement for all time in government function, the strict respect of rules and the government's working spirit.

Chirac insisted again on the fight against unemployment that is running at 10.2 percent of the working force in France, the highest in the European Union.

"We have two years to rise to the challenge of employment," said the president, noting that it is a government for employment and he expects the prime minister to mobilize the government for employment and growth.

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