François Mitterrand, 21st Président de la République française

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François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand

Birthplace: Jarnac, Poitou-Charentes, France
Death: January 08, 1996 (79)
9 avenue Frédéric-Le-Play, 7ème arrondissement, Paris, Île-de-France, France (Cancer)
Place of Burial: Jarnac, Poitou-Charentes, France
Immediate Family:

Son of Joseph Mitterrand and Yvonne Lorrain
Husband of Danielle Gouze
Ex-partner of Catherine Langeais and Anne Pingeot
Father of Mazarine Mitterrand-Pingeot; Pascal Mitterrand; Private and Private
Brother of Robert Mitterrand; Jacques Mitterrand; Philippe Mitterrand; Geneviève Mitterrand; Antoinette Mitterrand and 2 others

Occupation: Politien - Président de la République
Managed by: Samuel Austin - Le Maux
Last Updated:

About François Mitterrand, 21st Président de la République française

  • François Mitterrand, né le 26 octobre 1916 à Jarnac en Charente et mort le 8 janvier 1996 à Paris, est un homme d'État français. Agent contractuel sous le Régime de Vichy, puis résistant, il est onze fois ministre sous la IVe République. Il est député de la Nièvre, ministre des Anciens combattants et des Victimes de guerre, ministre de la France d'Outre-mer, ministre d'État, délégué au Conseil de l'Europe, ministre de l'Intérieur, garde des Sceaux, ministre de la Justice et sénateur de la Nièvre entre 1946 et 1981. Opposé au retour du général de Gaulle, il affronte celui-ci au second tour de l'élection présidentielle de 1965, qu'il perd. Il devient premier secrétaire du jeune Parti socialiste en 1971. Candidat de l'Union de la gauche à la présidentielle de 1974, il est battu par Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. Candidat du Parti socialiste à l'élection présidentielle de 1981, il est élu 21e président de la République française face à Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, le 10 mai 1981 avec 51,76 % des suffrages exprimés. Il est le premier socialiste à occuper la présidence de la République sous la Ve République, du 21 mai 1981 au 17 mai 1995. Il fait voter plusieurs lois sociales, mais décide le « tournant de la rigueur » devant la menace qui pèse sur le franc. Contraint de nommer Jacques Chirac Premier ministre après la défaite de la gauche aux élections législatives, en 1986, il est néanmoins réélu deux ans plus tard. Son second septennat est notamment marqué par la première nomination d'une femme, Édith Cresson, au poste de Premier ministre, la deuxième cohabitation avec Édouard Balladur, et des révélations sur son passé et son mauvais état de santé. Il détient le record de longévité (deux septennats complets) à la présidence de la République française.
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Information about François Mitterrand from Wikipedia

François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand (French: [f%CA%81%C9%91%CC%83swa mɔʁis mitɛˈʁɑ̃] ( listen)) (26 October 1916 – 8 January 1996) was the 21st President of France and ex officio Co-Prince of Andorra, serving from 1981 until 1995. He is the longest-serving President of France and, as leader of the Socialist Party, the first figure from the left elected President under the Fifth Republic.

Reflecting family influences, Mitterrand started political life on the Catholic nationalist right. He served under the Vichy Regime in its earlier years. Subsequently, however, he joined the Resistance, moved to the left, and held ministerial office repeatedly under the Fourth Republic. He opposed de Gaulle's establishment of the Fifth Republic. Although at times a politically isolated figure, Mitterrand outmanoeuvred rivals to become the left's standard bearer in every presidential election from 1965 to 1988, except 1969. Elected President in the May 1981 presidential election, he was re-elected in 1988 and held office until 1995.

Mitterrand invited the Communist Party into his first government, a controversial move at the time. In the event, the Communists were boxed in as junior partners and, rather than taking advantage, saw their support erode. They left the cabinet in 1984. Early in his first term, Mitterrand followed a radical economic program, including nationalization of key firms, but after two years, with the economy in crisis, he reversed course. His foreign and defense policies built on those of his Gaullist predecessors. His partnership with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl advanced European integration via the Maastricht Treaty, but he accepted German reunification only reluctantly. During his time in office he was a strong promoter of culture and implemented a range of costly "Grands Projets". He was twice forced by the loss of a parliamentary majority into "cohabitation governments" with conservative cabinets led, respectively, by Jacques Chirac (1986–88), and Édouard Balladur (1993–95). Less than 8 months after leaving office, Mitterrand died from the prostate cancer he had successfully concealed for most of his presidency.

Beyond making the French left electable, Mitterrand presided over the rise of the Socialist Party to dominance of the left, and the decline of the once-mighty Communist Party (as a share of the popular vote in the first presidential round, the Communists shrank from a peak of 21.27% in 1969 to 8.66% in 1995, at the end of Mitterrand's second term, and to 1.93% in the 2007 election).


Mitterrand was born in Jarnac, Charente, and baptized François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand. His family was devoutly Roman Catholic(ref unknown), and conservative. His father, Joseph Gilbert Félix, worked as an engineer for la Compagnie Paris Orléans. He had three brothers (Robert, Jacques and Philippe) and four sisters.

Marie Lorrain's father, Jules, worked as a vinegar-maker and later served as the president of the federation of vinegar makers (Fédération des syndicats de fabricants de vinaigre.

Mitterrand's wife, Danielle Mitterrand née Gouze (1924–2011), came from a socialist background and worked for various left-wing causes. They married on 24 October 1944 and had three sons: Pascal (10 June 1945 – 17 September 1945), Jean-Christophe, born in 1946, and Gilbert Mitterrand born on 4 February 1949. He also had a daughter, Mazarine, born in 1974, with Anne Pingeot. His nephew Frédéric Mitterrand is a journalist, currently the Minister of Culture and Communications (and a supporter of Jacques Chirac, the former president of France), and his wife's brother-in-law Roger Hanin is a well-known French actor.

Early Life

Mitterrand studied from 1925 to 1934 in the collège Saint-Paul in Angoulême, where he became a member of the Jeunesse Etudiante Chrétienne (JEC), the student organisation of Action catholique. Arriving in Paris in autumn 1934, he then went to the École Libre des Sciences Politiques until 1937, where he obtained his diploma in July of that year. Mitterrand took membership for about a year in the Volontaires nationaux (National Volunteers), an organisation related to François de la Rocque's far-right league, the Croix de Feu; the league had just participated in the 6 February 1934 riots which led to the fall of the second Cartel des Gauches (Left-Wing Coalition).[1]

Contrary to some reports, Mitterrand never became a formal member of the Parti Social Français (PSF) which was the successor to the Croix de Feu and may be considered the first French right-wing mass party.[1] However, he did write news articles in the L'Echo de Paris newspaper, which was close to the PSF. He participated in the demonstrations against the "métèque invasion" in February 1935 and then in those against law teacher Gaston Jèze, who had been nominated as juridical counsellor of Ethiopia's Negus, in January 1936.

When Mitterrand's involvement in these conservative nationalist movements was revealed in the 1990s, he attributed his actions to the milieu of his youth. Mitterrand furthermore had some personal and family relations with members of the Cagoule, a far-right terrorist group in the 1930s.[2]

Mitterrand then served his university from 1937 to 1939 in the 23rd régiment d'infanterie coloniale. In 1938, he became the best friend of Georges Dayan, a Jewish socialist, whom he saved from anti-Semite aggressions by the national-royalist movement Action française.[3] His friendship with Dayan caused Mitterrand to begin to question some of his nationalist ideas. Finishing his law studies, he was sent in September 1939 to the Maginot line near Montmédy, with the rank of Sergeant-chief (infantry sergeant). He became engaged to Marie-Louise Terrasse (future actress Catherine Langeais) in May 1940 (but she broke it off in January 1942).

Second World War

François Mitterrand's actions during World War II were the cause of much controversy in France in the 1980s and 1990s.

Mitterrand was at the end of his national service when the war broke out. He fought as an infantry sergeant and was injured (ref unknown)and captured by the Germans on 14 June 1940. He was held prisoner at Stalag IXA near Ziegenhain (today part of Schwalmstadt, a town near Kassel in Hesse). Mitterrand became involved in the social organisation for the POWs in the camp(ref unknown). He claims this, and the influence of the people he met there, began to change his political ideas, moving them towards the left.[4] He had two failed escape attempts in March and then November 1941 before he finally escaped on 16 December 1941, returning to France on foot.[citation needed] In December 1941 he arrived home in the unoccupied zone controlled by the French. With help from a friend (ref unknown)of his mother he got a job as a mid-level functionary of the Vichy government, looking after the interests of POWs. This was very unusual for an escaped prisoner, and he later claimed to have served as a spy for the Free French Forces.[citation needed]

Mitterrand worked from January to April 1942 for the Légion française des combattants et des volontaires de la révolution nationale (Legion of French combatants and volunteers of the national revolution) as a civil servant on a temporary contract. He worked under Jean-Paul Favre De Thierrens who was a spy for the British secret service. He then moved to the Commissariat au reclassement des prisonniers de guerre (Service for the orientation of POWS). During this period, Mitterrand was aware of Thierrens's activities and may have helped in his disinformation campaign[citation needed]. At the same time, he published an article detailing his time as a POW in the magazine France, revue de l'État nouveau (the magazine was published as propaganda by the Vichy Regime).[5]

Mitterrand has been called a "Vichysto-résistant" (an expression used by the historian Jean-Pierre Azéma to describe people who supported Marshal Philippe Pétain, the head of the Vichy Regime, before 1943, but subsequently rejected the Vichy Regime).[6]

From spring 1942, he met other escaped POWs Jean Roussel, Max Varenne, and Dr. Guy Fric, under whose influence he became involved with the resistance. In April, Mitterrand and Fric caused a major disturbance in a public meeting held by the collaborator Georges Claude. From mid-1942, he sent false papers to POWs in Germany(ref unknown) and on 12 June and 15 August 1942, he joined meetings at the Château de Montmaur which formed the base of his future network for the resistance.[7] From September, he made contact with France libre, but clashed with Michel Cailliau, General Charles de Gaulle's nephew (and de Gaulle's candidate to head-up all POW-related resistance organizations).[8] On 15 October 1942, Mitterrand and Marcel Barrois (a member of the resistance deported in 1944) met Marshal Philippe Pétain along with other members of the Comité d'entraide aux prisonniers rapatriés de l'Allier (Help group for repatriated POWs in the department of Allier).[9] By the end of 1942, Mitterrand met Pierre Guillain de Bénouville, an old friend from his days with La Cagoule. Bénouville was a member of the resistance groups Combat and Noyautage des administrations publiques (NAP).

In late 1942, the non-occupied zone was invaded by the Germans. Mitterrand left the Commissariat in January 1943, when his boss Maurice Pinot, another vichysto-résistant, was replaced by the collaborator André Masson, but he remained in charge of the centres d'entraides. In the spring of 1943, along with Gabriel Jeantet, a member of Marshal Pétain's cabinet, and Simon Arbellot (both former members of La Cagoule), Mitterrand received the Ordre de la francisque (the honorific distinction of the Vichy Regime).

Debate rages in France as to the significance of this. When Mitterrand's Vichy past was exposed in the 1950s, he at first denied having received the Francisque (some sources say he was designated for the award, but never received the medal because he went into hiding before the ceremony took place)[10] Jean Pierre-Bloch says that Mitterrand was ordered to accept the medal as cover for his work in the resistance.[11] Pierre Moscovici and Jacques Attali remain skeptical of Mitterrand's beliefs at this time, accusing him of having at best a "foot in each camp" until he was sure who the winner would be. They noted Mitterrand's friendship with René Bousquet and the wreaths he was said to have placed on Pétain's tomb in later years (see below) as examples of his ambivalent attitude.[12]

Mitterrand built up a resistance network(ref unknown), composed mainly of former POWs. The POWs National Rally (Rassemblement national des prisonniers de guerre or RNPG) was affiliated with General Henri Giraud, a former POW who had escaped from a German prison and made his way across Germany back to the Allied forces. In 1943 Giraud was contesting with General Charles de Gaulle for the leadership of the French Resistance. From the beginning of 1943, Mitterrand became involved with setting up a powerful resistance group called the (ref unknown)Organisation de résistance de l'armée (ORA). He obtained funding for his own RNPG network, which he set up with Pinot in February. From this time on, Mitterrand was a member of the ORA.[13] In March, Mitterrand met Henri Frenay, who encouraged the resistance in France to support Mitterrand over Michel Cailliau.[14] 28 May 1943, when Mitterrand met with Gaullist Philippe Dechartre, is generally taken as the date Mitterrand split with Vichy.[15]

During 1943, the RNPG gradually changed from providing false papers to information-gathering for France libre. Pierre de Bénouville said, " Mitterrand created a true spy network in the POW camps which gave us information, often decisive, about what was going on behind the German borders."[16] On 10 July Mitterrand and Piatzook (a militant communist) interrupted a public meeting in the Salle Wagram in Paris. The meeting was about allowing French POWs to go home if they were replaced by young French men forced to go and work in Germany (in French this was called "la relève"). When André Masson began to talk about "la trahison des gaullistes" (the Gaullist treason), Mitterrand stood up in the audience and shouted him down, saying Masson had no right to talk on behalf of POWs and calling "la relève" a "con" (i.e., something stupid). Mitterrand avoided arrest as Piatzook covered his escape.[17]

In November 1943 the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) raided a flat in Vichy, where they hoped to arrest François Morland, a member of the resistance.[18] "Morland" was Mitterrand's cover name. He also used Purgon, Monnier, Laroche, Captain François, Arnaud et Albre as cover names. The man they arrested was Pol Pilven, a member of the resistance who was to survive the war in a concentration camp. Mitterrand was in Paris at the time.

Warned by his friends, he escaped to London aboard a Lysander plane on 15 November 1943 (piloted by then-Squadron Leader Lewis Hodges). From there he went to Algiers, where he met de Gaulle, by then the uncontested leader of the Free French. The two men clashed. Mitterrand refused to merge his group with other POW movements if de Gaulle's nephew Cailliau was to be the leader.[19] Under the influence of Henri Frenay, de Gaulle finally agreed to merge his nephew's network and the RNPG with Mitterrand in charge.[20]

Mitterrand returned to France by boat via England. In Paris, the three Resistance groups made up of POWs (Communists, Gaullists, RNPG) finally merged as the POWs and Deportees National Movement (Mouvement national des prisonniers de guerre et déportés or MNPGD) and Mitterrand took the lead. In his memoirs, he says that he had started this organisation while he was still officially working for the Vichy Regime. From 27 November 1943 Mitterrand ran the Bureau central de renseignements et d'action.[21][22]

In December 19-3 Mitterrand ordered the execution of Henri Marlin (who was about to order attacks on the "Maquis") by Jacques Paris and Jean Munier, who later hid out with Mitterrand's father). After a second visit to London in February 1944, Mitterrand took part in the liberation of Paris. When de Gaulle entered Paris following the Liberation, he was introduced to various men who were to be part of the provisional government. Among them was Mitterrand, as secretary general of POWs. When they came face to face, de Gaulle is said to have muttered: "You again!" He dismissed Mitterrand 2 weeks later.

In October 1944 Mitterrand and Jacques Foccart developed a plan to liberate the POW and concentration camps. This was called operation Viacarage. On the orders of de Gaulle, in April 1945 Mitterrand accompanied General Lewis as the French representative at the liberation of the camps at Kaufering and Dachau. By chance Mitterrand discovered his friend and member of his network, Robert Antelme, suffering from typhus. Antelme was restricted to the camp to prevent the spread of disease, but Mitterrand arranged for his "escape" and sent him back to France for treatment.[23][24]

Fourth Republic

After the war Mitterrand quickly moved back into politics. At the June 1946 legislative election, he led the list of the Rally of the Republican Lefts (Rassemblement des gauches républicaines or RGR) in the Western suburb of Paris, but he was not elected. The RGR was an electoral entity composed of the Radical Party, the centrist Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance (Union démocratique et socialiste de la Résistance or UDSR) and several conservative groupings. It opposed the policy of the "Three-parties alliance" (Communists, Socialists and Christian Democrats).

In the November 1946 legislative election, he succeeded in winning a seat as deputy from the Nièvre département. To be elected, he had to win a seat at the expense of the French Communist Party (PCF). As leader of the RGR list, he led a very anti-communist campaign. He became a member of the UDSR party. In January 1947, he joined the cabinet as War Veterans Minister. He held various offices in the Fourth Republic as a Deputy and as a Minister (holding eleven different portfolios in total), including as a mayor of Château-Chinon from 1959 to 1981.

In May 1948 Mitterrand participated in the Congress of The Hague, together with Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, Paul-Henri Spaak, Albert Coppé and Altiero Spinelli. It originated the European Movement.

As Overseas Minister (1950–1951), he opposed the colonial lobby to propose a reform program. He connected with the left when he resigned from the cabinet after the arrest of Morocco's sultan (1953). As leader of the progressive wing of the UDSR, he took the head of the party in 1953, replacing the conservative René Pleven.

In June 1953 Mitterrand attended the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Seated next to the elderly Princess Marie Bonaparte, he reported having spent much of the ceremony being psychoanalyzed by her.

As Interior Minister in Pierre Mendès-France's cabinet (1954–1955), Mitterrand had to direct the response to the Algerian War of Independence. He claimed: "Algeria is France." He was suspected of being the informer of the Communist Party in the cabinet. This rumor was spread by the former Paris police prefect, who had been dismissed by him. The suspicions were dismissed by subsequent investigations.

The UDSR joined the Republican Front, a center-left coalition, which won the 1956 legislative election. As Justice Minister (1956–1957), Mitterrand allowed the expansion of martial law in the Algerian conflict. Unlike other ministers (including Mendès-France), who criticized the repressive policy in Algeria, he remained in Guy Mollet's cabinet until its end.

As Minister of Justice he was an official representative of France during the wedding of Prince of Monaco Rainier III and actress Grace Kelly. Under the Fourth Republic, he was representative of a generation of young ambitious politicians. He appeared as a possible future Prime Minister.

In 1958, Mitterrand was one of the few to object to the nomination of Charles de Gaulle as head of government, and to de Gaulle's plan for a French Fifth Republic. He justified his opposition by the circumstances of de Gaulle's comeback: the 13 May 1958 quasi-putsch and military pressure. In September 1958, determinedly opposed to Charles de Gaulle, Mitterrand made an appeal to vote "no" in the referendum over the Constitution, which was nevertheless adopted on 4 October 1958. This defeated coalition of the "No" was composed of the PCF and some left-wing republican politicians (such as Mendès-France and Mitterrand).

François Mitterrand in 1959

This attitude may have been a factor in Mitterrand's losing his seat in the 1958 elections, beginning a long "crossing of the desert" (this term is usually applied to de Gaulle's decline in influence for a similar period). Indeed, in the second round of the legislative election, Mitterrand was supported by the Communists but the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) refused to withdraw its candidate. This division caused the election of the Gaullist candidate. One year later, he was elected to represent Nièvre in the Senate, where he was part of the Group of the Democratic Left. At the same time, he was not admitted to the ranks of the Unified Socialist Party (Parti socialiste unifié, PSU) which was created by Mendès-France, former internal opponents of Mollet and reform-minded former members of the Communist Party. The PSU leaders justified their decision by referring to his non-resignation from Mollet's cabinet and by his past in Vichy.

Also in that same year, on the Avenue de l'Observatoire in Paris, Mitterrand claimed to have escaped an assassin's bullet by diving behind a hedge, in what became known as the Observatory Affair.[25] The incident brought him a great deal of publicity, initially boosting his political ambitions. Some of his critics claimed, however, that he had staged the incident himself, resulting in a backlash against Mitterrand. He later said he had earlier been warned by right-wing deputy Pesquet that he was the target of an Algérie française death squad and accused Prime Minister Michel Debré of being its instigator. Before his death, Pesquet claimed that Mitterrand had set up a fake attempt on his life. Prosecution was initiated against Mitterrand but was later dropped. Nonetheless, the Observatory Affair cast a lasting shadow over Mitterrand's reputation. Years later in 1965, when Mitterrand emerged as the challenger to de Gaulle in the second round of the presidential elections, de Gaulle was urged by an aide to use the Observatory Affair to discredit his opponent. "No, and don't insist" was the General's response, "It would be wrong to demean the office of the Presidency, since one day he [Mitterrand] may have the job."[26]

Mitterrand visited China in 1961, during the worst of the Great Chinese Famine, but denied the existence of starvation.[27]

In the 1962 election, Mitterrand regained his seat in the National Assembly with the support of the PCF and the SFIO. Practicing left unity in Nièvre, he advocated the rallying of left-wing forces at the national level, including the PCF, in order to challenge Gaullist domination. Two years later, he became the president (chairman) of the General Council of Nièvre. While the opposition to De Gaulle organized in clubs, he founded his own group, the Convention of Republican Institutions (Convention des institutions républicaines or CIR). He reinforced his position as a left-wing opponent to Charles de Gaulle in publishing Le Coup d'État permanent (The permanent coup, 1964), which criticized de Gaulle's personal power, the weaknesses of Parliament and of the government, the President's exclusive control of foreign affairs, and defence, etc.

The 1965 Presidential election and its aftermath

In 1965, Mitterrand was the first left-wing politician who saw the presidential election by universal suffrage as a way to defeat the opposition leadership. Not a member of any specific political party, his candidacy for presidency was accepted by all left-wing parties (the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO), French Communist Party (PCF), Radical-Socialist Party (PR) and Unified Socialist Party (PSU)). He ended the cordon sanitaire of the PCF which the party had been subject to since 1947. For the SFIO leader Guy Mollet, Mitterrand's candidacy prevented Gaston Defferre, his rival in the SFIO, from running for the presidency. Furthemore, Mitterrand was a lone figure so he did not appear as a danger to the left-wing parties' staff members.

De Gaulle was expected to win in the first round, but Mitterrand received 31.7% of the vote, denying De Gaulle a first-round victory. Mitterrand was supported in the second round by the left and other anti-Gaullists: centrist Jean Monnet, moderate conservative Paul Reynaud and Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour, an extreme right-winger and the lawyer who had defended Raoul Salan, one of the four generals who had organized the 1961 Algiers putsch during the Algerian War.

Mitterrand received 44.8% of votes in the second round and de Gaulle, with the majority, was thus elected for another term, but this defeat was regarded as honourable, for no one was really expected to defeat de Gaulle. Mitterrand took the lead of a centre-left alliance: the Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left (Fédération de la gauche démocrate et socialiste or FGDS). It was composed of the SFIO, the Radicals and several left-wing republican clubs (such the CIR of Mitterrand).

In the legislative election of March 1967, the system where all candidates who failed to pass a 10% threshold in the first round were eliminated from the second round favoured the pro-Gaullist majority, which faced a split opposition (PCF, FGDS and centrists of Jacques Duhamel). Nevertheless, the parties of the left managed to gain 63 seats more than previously for a total of 194. The Communists remained the largest left-wing group with 22.5% of votes. The governing coalition won with its majority reduced by only one seat (247 seats out of 487).

In Paris, the Left (FGDS, PSU, PCF) managed to win more votes in the first round than the two governing parties (46% against 42.6%) while the Democratic Centre of Duhamel got 7% of votes. But with 38% of votes, de Gaulle's Union for the Fifth Republic remained the leading French party.[28]

During the May 1968 governmental crisis, Mitterrand held a press conference to announce his candidacy if a new presidential election was held. But after the Gaullist demonstration on the Champs-Elysées, de Gaulle dissolved the Assembly and called for a legislative election instead. In this election, the right wing won its largest majority since the Bloc National in 1919.

Mitterrand was accused of being responsible for this huge legislative defeat and the FGDS split. In 1969, Mitterrand could not run for the Presidency: Guy Mollet refused to give him the support of the SFIO. The left wing was eliminated in the first round, with the Socialist candidate Gaston Defferre winning a humiliating 5.1 percent of the total vote. Georges Pompidou faced the centrist Alain Poher in the second round.

Socialist Party leader

After the FGDS's implosion, Mitterrand turned to the Socialist Party (Parti socialiste or "PS"). In June 1971, at the time of the Epinay Congress, the CIR joined the "PS", which had replaced the SFIO in 1969. The executive of the "PS" was then dominated by Guy Mollet's supporters. They proposed an "ideological dialogue" with the Communists. For Mitterrand, an electoral alliance was necessary to rise to power. With this project, Mitterrand obtained the support of all the internal opponents to Mollet's faction and he was elected as the first secretary of the "PS".

In June 1972, Mitterrand signed the Common Programme of Government with the Communist Georges Marchais and the Left Radical Robert Fabre. With this programme, he led the 1973 legislative campaign of the "Union of the Left".

At the 1974 presidential election, Mitterrand received 43.2% of the vote in the first round, as the common candidate of the left wing. He next faced Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in the second round. During the national TV debate, Giscard d'Estaing criticized him as being "a man of the past", due to his long political career. Mitterrand was defeated in a near tie by Giscard d'Estaing, Mitterrand receiving 49.19% and Giscard 50.81%.

In 1977, the Communist and Socialist parties failed to update the Common Programme, then lost the 1978 legislative election. While the Socialists took the leading position on the left, by obtaining more votes than the Communists for the first time since 1936, the leadership of Mitterrand was challenged by an internal opposition led by Michel Rocard who criticized the programme of the PS as being "archaic" and "unrealistic". The polls indicated Rocard was more popular than Mitterrand. Nevertheless, Mitterrand won the vote at the Party's Metz Congress (1979) and Rocard renounced his candidacy for the 1981 presidential election.

For his third candidacy for presidency, Mitterrand was not supported by the PCF but only by the PS. He projected a reassuring image with the slogan "the quiet force". He campaigned for "another politics", based on the 110 Propositions for France Socialist program,[29] and denounced the performance of the incumbent president. Furthemore, he benefited from the conflict in the right-wing majority. He obtained 25.85% of votes in the first round (against 15% for the PCF candidate Georges Marchais), then defeated President Giscard d'Estaing in the second round, with 51.76%. He became the first left-wing politician elected President of France by universal suffrage.


1st term

Mitterrand with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, 1981
In the presidential election of 1981, Mitterrand became the first socialist President of the Fifth Republic, and his government became the first left-wing government in 23 years. He named Pierre Mauroy as Prime Minister and organised a new legislative election. The Socialists obtained an absolute parliamentary majority, and four Communists joined the cabinet.

The beginning of his first term was marked by a left-wing economic policy based on the 110 Propositions for France and the 1972 Common Programme between the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the Left Radical Party. This included several nationalizations, a 10% increase of the SMIC (minimum wage), a 39 hour work week, 5 weeks holiday per year, the creation of the solidarity tax on wealth, an increase in social benefits, and the extension of workers' rights to consultation and information about their employers (through the Auroux Act). The objective was to boost economic demand and thus economic activity (Keynesianism). However, unemployment continued to grow and the franc was devalued three times.

The purchasing power of social transfers went up by 4.5% in 1981 and by 7.6% in 1982 and the minimum wage (which was earned by 1.7 million workers) was increased by 15% in real terms between May 1981 and December 1982. Major efforts were made to improve access to housing and health care, while the government also attempted to tackle working-class under-achievement in schools by reinforcing the comprehensive system, modernizing the curriculum and reducing streaming. As a means of increasing political participation, the government increased the financial allowances of local politicians, who also became entitled to paid leave from their jobs to attend courses in public administration. Allowances for the handicapped were improved, while improvements were also made in the pay and conditions for those serving in the army. A decree of January 1982 provided for “solidarity contracts” whereby firms would be subsidized for introducing part-time work or early retirement if they also allowed the creation of new jobs, while a decree of March 1982 provided employees with the right to retire at the age of 60 on 50% of average earnings during their 10 best years of employment. In 1983, legislation was passed to encourage greater equality in the private sector. Firms now had to make an annual report on the training opportunities and employment conditions for women and present a statistical analysis of their position in the firm, whilst the works committee had to ensure that equality promoting measures are taken.[30]

In what concerns new French Technologies initiated by his predecessor Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Mitterrand continued to push them: the TGV high speed train and the Minitel, a pre-World Wide Web interactive network similar to the web.[31] The Minitel and the TGV connection Paris-Lyon were inaugurated only a few weeks after the election. In addition, Government grants and loans for capital investment for modernisation were significantly increased.[32]

In 1983, all members of the general pension scheme obtained the right to a full pension at the age of 60 payable at a rate of half the reference wage in return for 37.5 years contribution. The government agreed at the same time to improve the pension position of some public sector employees and to increase the real value of the minimum pension. In addition, later negotiations brought retirement at 60 years into the occupational schemes although the financial terms for doing so could only be agreed for a 7-year period. In order to mark the importance of the problems of the elderly, the government appointed a Secretary of State (attached to the Ministry of Social Affairs and National Solidarity) to carry special responsibility for them, and in an effort to try to relate policy to the felt needs of the elderly, it set up a central advisory committee to examine social policy from their point of view and carry out special studies and enquiries. This body became especially concerned with monitoring the attempts at coordination and encouraging policies which were aimed at helping he elderly stay at home instead of entering residential care.[33]

In the field of health care, some prescription charges were abolished, hospital administration was decentralised, workers’ rights in the health service were reaffirmed, and equipment was provided for researchers.[34] From 1983 onwards, wage-earners who had contributed to a pension fund for 37.5 years became eligible to retire on a full pension. This right was extended to the self-employed in 1984 and to farmers in 1986. People who had retired at the age of 60 were, however, not initially eligible for reductions on public transport until they reached the age of 65. The qualifying age for these reductions was, however, reduced to 62 in 1985.[35] A number of illegal immigrants had their position regularized under the Socialists and the conditions pertaining to residence and work permits were eased. Educational programmes were implemented to help immigrant communities, while immigrants were allowed the right to free association. The Socialist government also opened up talks with the authorities in some of the main countries of origin, easing nationality rules in the public sector, associating representatives of migrant groups with public authority work, and established an Immigrants Council in 1984. Although the income limit for allowances varied according to the position of the child in the family and he number of dependent children, these ceilings were made more favourable in cases where both parents were working or where a single parent was in charge and were linked to changes in wage levels. Those taking parental leave to care for three or more children (provided that they fulfilled the rules for eligibility) also received certain benefits I kind, such as a non-taxable, non-means-tested benefit and priority on vocational training courses. A new boost was also given to research into family problems including an interest in the effects of changing family structures, of women’s employment and the impact of local social policies on family life.[36] In addition,grants were allocated to non-profit associations and community cultural initiatives.[37]

In the field of education, more resources were devoted to the educational system, with the education budgets of 1982, 1983, and 1984 increased by approximately 4% to 6% per year above the rate of inflation. From 1981 to 1983, the corps of teachers was increased by 30,000.[38] Numerous initiatives were carried out such as the teaching of civics, the reintroduction of the teaching of French history and geography at the primary level, the introduction of new professional degrees, a partnership between schools and enterprises, and the introduction of computers in classrooms. Priority areas were set up in 1981 as part of a systematic effort to combat underachievement in schools, while technical education was encouraged. In addition, nursery education was expanded.[39]

With respect to social and cultural policies, Mitterrand abrogated the death penalty as soon as he took office (via the Badinter Act), as well as the "anti-casseurs Act" which instituted collective responsibility for acts of violence during demonstrations. He also dissolved the Cour de sûreté, a special high court, and enacted a massive regularization of illegal immigrants. Mitterrand passed the first decentralization laws (Defferre Act) and liberalized the media, created the CSA media regulation agency, and authorized pirate radio and the first private TV (Canal+), giving rise to the private broadcasting sector.

In terms of the theatre, some transfer of resources was made from the subsidy of the national theatres to the support for theatre companies which did not necessarily have an institutional home. A significant investment was made in music education with the creation of 5 new music schools in the departements and the revamping of the Conservatoire National de la Musique at Lyon, while the range and capacity of performance facilities in Paris was considerably increased, with the Cite Musicale de la Villette and the Opera de la Bastille allowing for specialist performance in a way that was lacking in Paris previously, and a 2,000 seat concert hall called le Zenith, which was designed primarily for rock music concerts but adapted for all uses. The Socialists continued the policies of their predecessors with the Grand Louvre project and the opening of the Picasso Museum at the Hotel Sale, while the museum budget was quadrupled and particular sums were set aside for the first time for large regional projects including the establishment of a number of new museums in the provinces such as the Ecomuseum at Chartres and the Museum of Prehistory at Carnac. A fonds regional des Acquisitions was established to assist provincial museums in the purchase of works of art, while the state actively continued an existing policy of encouraging bequests in lieu of death duties. Libraries and publishing benefited from new thinking and an injection of funds, while aid to authors and publishers was restructured and book prices were fixed once again, with the objective being to assist smaller publishing houses and specialist bookshops. The network of regional lending libraries was significantly reinforced, while financial assistance was provided for the export of French books. In addition, archaeology, ethnography and historical buildings and monuments all benefited from the general increase in resources.[40]

Mitterrand's first term in office also witnessed signficant improvements in social welfare benefits. In regards to pensions, a comparison between 1981 and 1986 showed that the minimum state pension had increased by 64% for a couple and by 81% for one person. During that same period, family allowances had increased by 71% for three children and by 112% for two children. In addition, the single-parent allowance for mothers or fathers with one child had been increased by 103% and for two or more children by 52% for each child. In 1984, a law was passed to ensure that divorced women who were not in receipt of maintenance would be provided with assistance in recovering the shortfall in their income from their former husband. By 1986, particular attention was being focused on assisting women in single-parent families to get back into employment, in recognition of the growing problems associated with extra-marital births and marital breakdown. Parental leave was extended to firms with 100 employees in 1981 (previously, parental leave provision had been made in 1977 for firms employing at least 200 employees) and subsequently to all employees in 1984. From 1984 onwards, married women were obliged to sign tax returns, men and women were provided with equal rights in managing their common property and that of their children, and in 1985 they became responsible for each other’s debts. Childcare facilities were also expanded, with the number of places in crèches rising steadily between 1981 and 1986.[35] In addition, the minimum wage was signficantly increased. From 1981 to 1984, the SMIC rose by 125%, while prices went up by only 75% during that same period.[41] Variosu maesures were also introduced to mitigate the effects of rising unemployment. Between 1981 and 1986, there had been just over 800,000 young people placed on special work schemes, 800,000 early retirements, 200,000 enterprise allowance successes, and 30,000 retrained workers from declining industrial sectors.[42]

After two years in office, Mitterrand made a substantial u-turn in economic policies, with the March 1983 adoption of the so-called "tournant de la rigueur" (austerity turn). Priority was given to the struggle against inflation in order to remain competitive in the European Monetary System. Although there were two periods of mild economic reflation (first from 1984–86 and again from 1988–90), monetary and fiscal restraint was the essential policy orientation of Mitterrand's presidency from 1983 onwards.[43] Nevertheless, compared to the OECD average, fiscal policy in France remained relatively expansionary during the course of the two Mitterrand presidencies.[44]

The Left lost the 1983 municipal elections and the 1984 European Parliament election. At the same time, the Savary Bill, to limit the financing of private schools by local communities, caused a political crisis. It was abandoned and Mauroy resigned in July 1984. Laurent Fabius succeeded him, and the Communists left the cabinet.

Cohabitation (1986–1988)

Before the 1986 legislative campaign, proportional representation was instituted in accordance with the 110 Propositions. It did not prevent, however, the victory of the Rally for the Republic/Union for French Democracy (RPR/UDF) coalition. Mitterrand thus named the RPR leader Jacques Chirac as Prime Minister. This period of government, with a President and a Prime Minister who came from two opposite coalitions, was the first time that such a combination had occurred under the Fifth Republic, and came to be known as "Cohabitation".

Chirac mostly handled domestic policy while Mitterrand concentrated on his "reserved domain" of foreign affairs and defence. However, several conflicts erupted between the two. In one example, Mitterrand refused to sign executive decrees of liberalization, obliging Chirac to pass the measures through parliament instead. Mitterrand also reportedly gave covert support to some social movements, notably the student revolt against the university reform (Devaquet Bill)[citation needed]. Benefiting from the difficulties of Chirac's cabinet, the President's popularity increased.

With the polls running in his favor, Mitterrand announced his candidacy in the 1988 presidential election. He proposed a moderate programme (promising "neither nationalisations nor liberalisation") and advocated a "united France," and laid out his policy priorities in his "Letter to the French People."[45] He obtained 34% of the votes in the first round, then faced Chirac in the second, and was re-elected with 54% of the votes. Mitterrand thus became the first President to be elected twice by universal suffrage.

2nd term

After his re-election, he named Michel Rocard as Prime Minister, in spite of their poor relations. Rocard led the moderate wing of the PS and he was the most popular of the Socialist politicians. Mitterrand decided to organize a new legislative election. The PS obtained a relative parliamentary majority. Four centre-right politicians joined the cabinet.

The second term was marked by the creation of the Insertion Minimum Revenue (RMI), which ensured a minimum level of income to those deprived of any other form of income; the restoring of the solidarity tax on wealth, which had been abolished by Chirac's cabinet; the institution of the Generalized social tax; the extension of parental leave up to the child’s third birthday;[35] the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy; the 1990 Gayssot Act on hate speech and Holocaust denial; the Besson law of 1990;[46] the Urban Orientation Law of 1991;[47] the Arpaillange Act on the financing of political parties; the reform of the penal code; the Matignon Agreements concerning New Caledonia; and the Evin Act on smoking in public places. Several large architectural works were pursued, in what would become known as the Grands Projets of François Mitterrand with the building of the Louvre Pyramid, the Channel Tunnel, the Grande Arche at La Défense, the Bastille Opera, the Finance Ministry in Bercy, and the National Library of France. On 16 February 1993, President Mitterrand inaugurated in Fréjus a memorial to the wars in Indochina.

But the second term was also marked by rivalries within the PS and the split of the Mitterrandist group (at the Rennes Congress, where supporters of Laurent Fabius and Lionel Jospin clashed bitterly for control of the party), the scandals about the financing of the party, the contaminated blood scandal which implicated Laurent Fabius and former ministers Georgina Dufoix and Emond Hervé, and the Elysée wiretaps affairs.

Disappointed with Rocard's apparent failure to enact the Socialists' programme, Mitterrand dismissed Rocard in 1991 and appointed Edith Cresson to replace him. She was the first woman to become Prime Minister in France, but was forced to resign after the disaster of the 1992 regional elections. Her successor Pierre Bérégovoy promised to fight unemployment and corruption but he could not prevent the catastrophic defeat of the left in the 1993 legislative election. He committed suicide on 1 May 1993.

Mitterrand named the former RPR Finance Minister Edouard Balladur as Prime Minister. The second "cohabitation" was less contentious than the first, because the two men knew they were not rivals for the next presidential election. Mitterrand was weakened physically by his cancer, and politically by the scandal about his past in Vichy, and the suicide of his friend François de Grossouvre. His second and last term ended after the 1995 presidential election in May 1995 with the election of Jacques Chirac.

Overall, as President, Mitterrand maintained the “basic characteristic of a strong welfare base underpinned by a strong state.” A United Nations Human Development report concluded that, from 1979 to 1989, France was the only country in the OECD (apart from Portugal) in which income inequalities did not get worse.[48] During his second term as president, however, the gap between rich and poor widened in France,[49] with both unemployment and poverty rising in the awake of the economic recession of 1991-1993.[50]

In 1992, the Socialist Party[51] suffered a crushing defeat with the right-wing parties winning 484 seats to the left's 92. Three years later, Lionel Jospin lost the presidential election.

Mitterrand died in Paris on 8 January 1996 at the age of 79 from prostate cancer, a condition he and his doctors had concealed for most of his presidency (see section on Medical Secrecy below).[52] A few days before his death, he was joined by family members and close friends for a "last meal" that has attracted some attention because, in addition to other gourmet dishes, it included the serving of roast Ortolan Bunting, a small wild songbird which is a protected species whose sale is (and was at the time) illegal in France.[53]

Foreign policy

East/West relations

Mitterrand supported closer European collaboration and the preservation of France's special relationship with its former colonies, which he feared were falling under "Anglo-Saxon influence." His drive to preserve French power in Africa led to controversies concerning Paris' role during the Rwandan Genocide.[54] Despite Mitterrand's left-wing affiliations, the 1980s saw France becoming more distant from the USSR. When Mitterrand visited the USSR in November 1988, the Soviet media claimed to be 'leaving aside the virtually wasted decade and the loss of the Soviet-French 'special relationship' of the Gaullist era'.

Nevertheless, Mitterrand was worried by the rapidity of the Soviet bloc's collapse. He was opposed to German reunification but came to see it as unavoidable.[55] He was opposed to the swift recognition of Croatia and Slovenia, which he thought would lead to the violent implosion of Yugoslavia.

France participated in the Gulf War (1990–1991) with the U.N. coalition.

European policy

His major achievements came internationally, especially in the European Economic Community. He initially opposed further membership fearing the Community was not ready and it would water it down to a free trade area.[56]

He supported the enlargement of the Community to include Spain and Portugal (which both joined in January 1986). In February 1986 he helped the Single European Act come into effect. He worked well with Helmut Kohl and improved Franco-German relations significantly. Together they fathered the Maastricht Treaty, which was signed on 7 February 1992. It was ratified by referendum, approved by just over 51% of the voters.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was against a German reunification[57] and also against the then discussed Maastricht Treaty. When Helmut Kohl, then German Chancellor, asked Mitterrand to agree to German reunification (France was one of the four Allies who had to agree to the Two Plus Four-treaty), Mitterrand told Kohl he accepted it only in the event Germany would abandon the Deutsche Mark and adopt the Euro. Kohl accepted this package deal (even without talking to Karl Otto Pöhl, then President of the Bundesbank).[58][59]

1990 speech at La Baule

Responding to a democratic movement in Africa after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, he made his La Baule speech in June 1990 which tied development aid to democratic efforts from former French colonies, and during which he opposed the devaluation of the CFA Franc. Seeing an "East wind" blowing in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, he stated that a "Southern wind" was also blowing in Africa, and that state leaders had to respond to the populations' wishes and aspirations by a "democratic opening", which included a representative system, free elections, multipartyism, freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, and abolition of censorship. Claiming that France was the country making the most important effort concerning development aid, he announced that the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) would henceforth receive only grants from France, as opposed to loans (in order to combat the massive increase of Third World debt during the 1980s). He likewise limited the interest rate to 5% on French loans to intermediate-income countries (that is, Côte d'Ivoire, Congo, Cameroon and Gabon).

He also criticized interventionism in sovereign matters, which was according to him only another form of "colonialism". However, according to Mitterrand, this did not imply lessened concern on the part of Paris for its former colonies. Mitterrand thus continued with the African policy of de Gaulle inaugurated in 1960, which followed the relative failure of the 1958 creation of the French Community. All in all, Mitterrand's La Baule speech, which marked a relative turning point in France's policy concerning its former colonies, has been compared with the 1956 loi-cadre Defferre which was responding to anti-colonialist feelings.[60]

African heads of state themselves reacted to Mitterrand's speech at most with indifference. Omar Bongo, President of Gabon, declared that he would rather have "events counsel him;" Abdou Diouf, President of Senegal, said that, according to him, the best solution was a "strong government" and a "good faith opposition;" the President of Chad, Hissène Habré (nicknamed the "African Pinochet") claimed that it was contradictory to demand that African states should simultaneously carry on a "democratic policy" and "social and economic policies which limited their sovereignty", in a clear allusion to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank's "structural adjustment programs". Hassan II, the king of Morocco, said for his part that "Africa was too open to the world to remain indifferent to what was happening around it", but that Western countries should "help young democracies open out, without putting a knife under their throat, without a brutal transition to multipartyism."[61]

All in all, the La Baule speech has been said to be on one hand "one of the foundations of political renewal in Africa French speaking area", and on the other hand "cooperation with France", this despite "incoherence and inconsistency, like any public policy".[62]

Discovery of HIV

Controversy surrounding the discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was intense after American researcher Robert Gallo and French scientist Luc Montagnier both claimed to have discovered it. The two scientists had given the new virus different names. The controversy was eventually settled by an agreement (helped along by the mediation of Dr Jonas Salk) between President Ronald Reagan and Mitterrand which gave equal credit to both men and their teams.

Apology to the Huguenots

In October 1985, to commemorate the tricentenary of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Mitterrand gave a formal apology to the descendents of Huguenots around the world.[63] At the same time, a special postage stamp was released in their honour. The stamp states that France is the home of the Huguenots ("Accueil des Huguenots"). Hence their rights were finally recognised.[64]

Co-prince of Andorra

On 2 February 1993, in his capacity as co-prince of Andorra, Mitterrand and Joan Martí Alanis, who was Bishop of Urgell and therefore Andorra's other co-prince, signed Andorra's new constitution, which was later approved by referendum in the principality.

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François Mitterrand, 21st Président de la République française's Timeline

October 26, 1916
Jarnac, Poitou-Charentes, France
July 10, 1945
Boulogne-Billancourt, Ile-de-France, France
December 18, 1974
Avignon, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, France
January 8, 1996
Age 79
9 avenue Frédéric-Le-Play, 7ème arrondissement, Paris, Île-de-France, France
January 11, 1996
Age 79
Cimetière de Jarnac, Jarnac, Poitou-Charentes, France