Inaugurated on 18 May 1995 amid very little fanfare, Jacques Chirac became the fifth president of the Fifth Republic. In 1995 and again in 2002, conservatives control a majority of the seats in the National Assembly, the Senate, and the regional councils, as well as a large number of municipalities. Such ideological consensus is unprecedented in the history of the Fifth Republic, and brings with it the potential for enormous presidential power. The passage in July 1995 of a constitutional amendment granting the president greater power to present questions directly to the French people via referendum enhances that power further.
In 2002 Chirac chose Jean-Pierre Raffarin as his prime minister, a former member of the European Parliament, but relatively unknown by the French people. His selection may signify a renewed appeal to the common men and women of France during Chirac's present administration.
Chirac inherited a nation with great strengths and serious weaknesses that many analysts argue is at a critical juncture. The French economy is strong at home and abroad, but high unemployment hinders growth. The European Union (EU) has, with France's support, become an important global force.