By Patrick Weil
Published: January 10, 2001
PARIS— Dear President Clinton:
As you prepare to move out of the White House, you are no doubt wondering what you will do next. Perhaps you assume that your time as a president has come to an end, that you must now move on to other, less attractive, alternatives. I have good news for you: You may have the opportunity to be president of France.
Under Section 5 of Article 21-19 of the French civil code, citizens of states or territories over which France has ever exercised sovereignty or extended a mandate or protectorate may apply immediately for naturalization, without the normal five-year residency requirement.
Arkansas, where you were born, was once part of French Louisiana. And as a naturalized French citizen, you would have the same full rights as all other French citizens. That includes running for the presidency.
Of course, to become a citizen, you must fulfill a few legal requirements. You will need an official residence in France. (Paris is probably less expensive than Chappaqua.) And you will need to speak French. (Pas de probleme: Political French is filled with words that are familiar to you. ''Election.'' ''Globalisation.'' ''Recession.'') But you will be happy to know that France will not require you to renounce your American citizenship.
Mr. President, if elected, you would find the French presidency affords many advantages. Should you have a majority in the Parliament, you would enjoy much more power than as an American president. Should your opposition win a majority in the Parliament and make your life difficult, you would not have to tolerate it for long. At a time of your choosing, you could dissolve the National Assembly and call for new elections. I bet you would have liked to do that with the last United States Congress. And you could be reelected every five years without end. There are no term limits for the French presidency.
You should know that as head of the French state, you would be required, now and again, to utter rather harsh words about America. The United States is a close ally of France and Europe, but also the main economic rival. Like most politicians, however, you will not have to mean what you say. You need only appear to be standing up to the Americans.
There remains only one problem: You will have to apply soon. The time-lag for processing a naturalization application is almost as long in France as it is in the United States. Of course, the French naturalization service could choose to honor you with an expedited processing of your application -- just as they do with top soccer players or other athletes before important international championships.
If you do end up facing delays, I suggest you remind French officials of the words of Marcel Prelot, the French senator who introduced the law that now enables you to become France's next president: ''I pray that the Senate make a generous gesture, that it tell those who come from a land which was once French, that France their mother considers them as having been her children, and that at the instant they want to return to the fold, they will be entirely welcome.''
President Clinton, welcome to Paris!
Patrick Weil is a senior research fellow at the French National Center for Scientific Research, University of Paris 1-Sorbonne.