PARIS -- Midway through his second term, Jacques Chirac of France sought yesterday to breathe new life into his presidency, sagging under the weight of a lackluster economy and a sense among the French that he is out of touch.
Chirac also sought to neutralize a major political rivalry with his powerful and popular finance minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, in a wide-ranging TV interview aimed at proving Chirac is in charge.
In his annual Bastille Day address, the French leader outlined his plans for the last half of his term, showing a rare humility when asked about opinion polls showing he was too distant from the people.
After a long pause, Chirac responded: ''If the French think it, they are probably right. I will talk to them more, because that's what they want."
Chirac ended months of speculation and pledged to hold a referendum in the second half of 2005 on ratifying the European Union's first Constitution. The decision, the surprise of Chirac's hourlong interview, means voters, and not the French Parliament, will decide whether France should adhere to the 25-country bloc's first constitution.
Polls have shown that the French want a referendum, but Chirac hesitated, fearing another rejection at the polls. His conservative UMP party was trounced in recent European and regional elections.
Before it takes effect, all EU countries must ratify the constitution, either by parliamentary vote or referendum. France joins Britain, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Belgium, which are holding votes on the constitution.
Chirac typically grants a televised interview every year on Bastille Day, the French national holiday, and he uses the occasion to address domestic concerns. Iraq was not mentioned.
Many questions Chirac faced concerned a growing rivalry with his 49-year-old finance minister, who has made no secret of his plans to campaign for president in 2007, whether or not Chirac runs for reelection. Chirac, 71, denied there was friction with Sarkozy.
''I make the decisions, and he carries them out," Chirac said, repeating the remark at least twice afterward. ''So there is not a problem of differences."
It was one of several warning shots fired at Sarkozy. Chirac also said Sarkozy would have to resign as finance minister should he wins a contest for the leadership of Chirac's party, a post Sarkozy sees as crucial to winning the 2007 presidential race.
The Socialist opposition said Chirac's speech did little to soothe voters and only ''revealed the crisis" between the president and his finance minister.
''This cannot last," said party leader Francois Hollande. ''We cannot have this for another three years."
On another hot-button issue, Chirac said he would not try to repeal the 35-hour workweek but called for a more flexible system, bowing to demands by Sarkozy, who argues France needs to work harder to be more efficient.
Chirac said the ''legal duration of the workweek is and will remain 35 hours," but the ultimate question on more hours should be left to workers.
''Workers need more freedom, especially those who want to work more in order to earn more," he said, calling on the government to begin talks with unions and companies on making changes.
In a full-page interview with Le Monde newspaper four days ago, Sarkozy repeated his call for a ''deep reform" of the workweek law. The interview was widely seen as another example of Sarkozy's trying to upstage Chirac..