Change seems inevitable, since neither Segolene Royal nor Nicolas Sarkozy have the depth of contacts and personal friendships in Africa that Chirac built up over more than 40 years in politics, the last 12 as a president who worked to put African development on international agendas.
How to tap and protect Africa's natural resources, the continent's role in the world and the information age's impact on African society - these are the themes for discussion by the 40 heads of state and government expected on Thursday and Friday in Cannes.
China will not be represented in Cannes, but is forefront in French and African minds.
China's president Hu Jintao, left, recently
undertook an exhaustive tour of Africa [AFP]
As a self-styled champion of African development, France can only welcome China's growing market for African oil and other resources.
By Chinese counts, China's trade with Africa soared to $55.5bn last year, overtaking Britain to become Africa's third largest trading partner after the US and France.
China has been offering low-interest loans, debt relief and other incentives to increase its influence, in return for access to the natural resources it needs to feed its booming economy.
It is offering financial assistance without insisting that it be conditional on standards of good governance as demanded by Western countries, including France.
Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French foreign minister, told France 3 television: "India, China, Brazil, Iran, the United States ... are very interested in Africa. Competition is fierce."
There are concerns, however, that China is ignoring human rights and environmental standards in Africa, and that Chinese lending could fuel corruption and debt burdens and undermine international efforts to push African nations towards good governance and economic discipline.
Massalbaye Tenebaye, a Chadian human-rights campaigner, says that France, as a former colonial power that has supported some questionable, even brutal, African governments, is ill-placed to lecture China on how to behave on the continent.
The Cannes summit will also touch tougher subjects, including the killing in the Sudanese region of Darfur, where more than 200,000 people have died in fighting.
Washington calls the crimes genocide. UN and AU observers blame the pro-government militia, known locally as Janjawid, for the worst atrocities.
Chirac's office said it was likely that there would be a meeting on Thursday between the heads of Sudan, the Central Afrian Republic and Chad about Darfur.
Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, is expected at the summit. He has resisted UN efforts to deploy about 22,000 peacekeepers in Darfur, where his government is accused of masterminding a harsh counter-insurgency against the region's ethnic African tribes.
Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, was not expected to attend the summit: France appears keen to avoid the heat that it took from human-rights campaigners, Britain and other nations for inviting him to a similar summit in Paris in 2003.
Chirac's office said that France, unlike in 2003, did not seek the necessary permission this year from the European Union to invite Mugabe, who is under an EU travel ban.
Meanwhile, a French investigating judge has summoned Ismael Omar Guelleh, Djibouti's president, for questioning on Friday about the 1995 death of a French judge in the east African country.