PARIS -- President Jacques Chirac moved swiftly yesterday to shake up his government after a stinging referendum defeat of the proposed European Union constitution, with his beleaguered prime minister expected to be the main victim.
The president's office said he would announce ''his decisions regarding the government" today, and then address the nation in the evening. The National Assembly canceled a scheduled session today to await the announcement, the chamber president, Jean-Louis Debre, said.
Chirac reached beyond France's borders seeking to control damage from his voters' defiant ''non" Sunday, speaking with European leaders and Russia's president, Vladimir Putin. The EU's euro currency dropped below $1.25 for the first time in seven months, as the vote cast the future of the 25-nation European Union into disarray.
Chirac gambled in calling the referendum, misreading the national mood. The miscalculation left his judgment and mandate to represent France internationally open to question and had him looking like a lame duck at the end of a checkered four-decade political career.
As Chirac sought to salvage what will probably be his last two years in power, his prime minister for the past three years, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, called together his aides to bid farewell. They packed boxes as Raffarin met with Chirac for 30 minutes and offered his resignation.
The president also summoned possible replacements, including Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin and Nicolas Sarkozy, the head of Chirac's governing party who makes no secret that his ultimate aim is the presidency.
Chirac's age, he will turn 73 in November, always made it unlikely that he would seek a third term in 2007. Sunday's vote could make it a certainty.
Even with a new team, it is hard to see how a politically weakened Chirac will be able to make much headway against France's pressing problems, led by persistent high unemployment and sluggish growth.
Chirac could have had Parliament, where his center-right government has a majority, pass the treaty meant to mark Europe's next big step in a 50-year process of bringing the continent's once warring nations together.
Although the question posed Sunday was about Europe, the answer was a clear repudiation of Chirac's domestic policies. In an exit poll of 3,355 registered electors by Ipsos, 52 percent of ''no" voters cited dissatisfaction with economic and social problems for their choice.
The dramatic French rejection of the treaty and indications that the Netherlands will deliver the same verdict tomorrow have European leaders scrambling to contain damage to the bloc's unification project. The historic charter must be ratified by all 25 EU nations, and officials are unsure whether further revisions in the document will be enough to achieve that.
French opponents of the constitution insist it can be altered to suit their tastes, and history suggests they may be right: In 1992, Denmark stunned the bloc by rejecting a landmark unification treaty, only to approve a revision a year later.
For now, though, the resounding dismissal of the constitution is expected to bolster already strong opposition to it in the Netherlands. Polls suggest that the Dutch are at least as opposed as the French, and a defeat by another founding member of the EU could be a potential knockout punch.
At the same time, the French vote takes the heat off Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who had a similar referendum planned and might now call it off. In Britain, the ''Euroskeptic" sentiment is even stronger than in France or the Netherlands.
Blair said yesterday that it was too early to tell whether Britain would go ahead with a referendum on the constitution as planned, calling for a ''time for reflection." No date has been set for that vote.
Nine countries -- Austria, Hungary, Italy, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain -- have ratified the constitution, and EU leaders vow the process will continue despite France's fierce ''no."
The leaders, who signed the constitution in October, contend that it would streamline operations and decision-making and improve democratic accountability. It also would create an EU president and foreign minister, raising Europe's profile on the global stage by giving it the ability to speak with one voice.
All EU members must ratify the text for it to take effect as planned by Nov. 1, 2006.