IPA: [fʀɑ̃ˈswa mɔˈʀis mitɛˈʀɑ̃] (October 26, 1916 – January 8, 1996) served as President of France and co-prince of Andorra from 1981 to 1995, elected as representative of the Socialist Party (PS). First elected during the May 1981 presidential election, he became the first socialist president of the Fifth Republic and the first left-wing head of state since 1957. He was re-elected in 1988 and held office until 1995, before dying of prostate cancer the following year. During each of his two terms, he dissolved the Parliament after his election to have a majority during the first five years of his term, and then each time his party lost the next legislative elections. He was consequently forced to "cohabit" during the two last years of each of his terms with conservative cabinets. They were led by Jacques Chirac from 1986 until 1988, and Édouard Balladur from 1993 to 1995.
As of 2007 he holds the record of longest serving (14 years) President of France. He is also the oldest President of the Fifth Republic, leaving office at 78. He died on January 8, 1996, shortly after returning from a Christmas holiday in Egypt.
Further information: World War II
Mitterrand enlisted in the French army during World War II. He fought as an infantry sergeant, was wounded and was taken prisoner of war (POW) in 1940. His political views evolved as he met POWs from all kinds of social backgrounds. He escaped from German captivity 6 times within 18 months, arriving home (which was in the zone not occupied by the German forces, but rather in the zone of the French collaborationist Vichy government) in December 1941. He then became a mid-level functionary of the Vichy government, in the POW welcome service, which was very unusual for an escaped prisoner, but served as a spy for the Free French Forces.
In 1943 he received the Francisque, the honorific distinction of the Vichy regime. When Mitterrand's Vichy past was exposed in the 1950s, he initially denied having received the Francisque.
In autumn 1942 the non-occupied zone was invaded by Germans. Then, in January 1943, Mitterrand left Vichy after the dismissal of Maurice Pinot, the leader of its service. When Germany began losing the war, Mitterrand set about building up a resistance network, composed mainly of former POWs like himself. 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.
Giraud was then contesting the leadership of the French Resistance with General de Gaulle. Mitterrand himself clashed with Michel Cailliau (aka "Charette"), de Gaulle's nephew who led another former POWs network.
In November 1943 the Gestapo raided a flat in Vichy where they hoped to arrest a resister called François Morland. "Morland" was Mitterrand's cover name. The man they arrested was Pol Pilven, a resister 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.
From there he went to Algiers, where he met Charles de Gaulle, who was now the uncontested leader of the Free French. The two men did not get along; Mitterrand refused to merge his group with other POW movements if Cailliau was to be the leader.
He later returned to France via England by boat. 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). Mitterrand took the lead.
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!" Mitterrand was dismissed 15 days later.
Second World War
Further information: Fourth Republic
After the war he quickly moved back into politics. In 1946 he was elected as a Deputy for the Nièvre département and in 1947 joined a centerist grouping, the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance (Union démocratique et socialiste de la Résistance or UDSR). He held various offices in the Fourth Republic as a Deputy and as a Minister (holding eleven different portfolios in total).
In May 1948 Mitterrand participated together with Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, Paul-Henri Spaak, Albert Coppé and Altiero Spinelli, in the Congress of The Hague, which originated the European Movement.
As Overseas Minister (1950-1951), he opposed the colonial lobby to propose reforms programme. He connected with the left when he resigned from the cabinet after the arrest of Marocco's sultan (1953). Leader of the progressive wing of the UDSR, he took the head of the party in 1953, replacing the conservative René Pleven.
As Interior Minister in Pierre Mendès-France's cabinet (1954-1955), he was faced with the launching of the Algerian War of Independence. He claimed: "Algeria is France." He was also suspected to be the informer of the Communist Party in the cabinet. This rumour was spread by the former Paris police prefect, who had been dismissed by him. The suspicions were dismissed by the investigations.
The UDSR integrated the Republican Front, a center-left coalition which won the 1956 legislative election. As Justice Minister (1956-1957), he 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 wedding 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 like a possible future Prime Minister.
Further information: Fifth Republic
In 1958, he was one of the few to object to the nomination of Charles de Gaulle as head of government, and 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 riot and the 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 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). Mitterrand was elected to represent Nièvre in the Senate in 1959, where he was part of the Group of the Democratic Left. He re-conquered his seat of deputy in 1962.
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. The incident brought him a great deal of publicity, boosting his political ambitions. Some of his critics claim that he had staged the incident himself. He said he was victim of a plot and accused Prime Minister Michel Debré to be its instigator. Prosecution was initiated against Mitterrand but was later dropped.
In 1964, he became 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 the 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'Etat permanent (The permanent coup).
Fifth Republic and opposition to de Gaulle
In 1965, he 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 (SFIO, PCF, PR, PSU). De Gaulle was expected to win in the first round, but Mitterand got 31.72% of the vote, denying De Gaulle a first round victory. Mitterand was supported by the left and other anti-Gaullists: centrist Jean Monnet, moderate conservative Paul Reynaud and Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour, an extreme right-winger, who defended Raoul Salan, one of the four Generals who had organized the 1961 Algiers putsch during the Algerian War.
Mitterrand gained 44.8% of votes in the second round and De Gaulle was thus elected for another term, but this defeat was regarded as honourable, for no one was expected to beat De Gaulle. He took the lead of a center-left alliance: the Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left (Fédération de la gauche démocrate et socialiste or FGDS).
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 favored the pro-Gaullist majority, which faced a split opposition (PC, PS and centrists of Jacques Duhamel). Nevertheless, the parties of the left managed to gain 63 seats more than before 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, PC) managed to win more votes in the first round than the two governing parties (46% against 42.6%) while the Democratic Center of Duhamel got 7% of votes. But with 38% of votes, DeGaulle's Union for the Fifth Republic remained the leading French party (René Rémond, Notre siècle, 1988, Fayard, p.664 ff.).
During the May 1968 crisis, Mitterand held a press conference to announce his candidacy if a new presidential election was held. But de Gaulle called for a legislative election instead. As a result of this election, the Right won the biggest majority since Bloc National in 1919.
Mitterrand was accused of being responsible for this defeat and the FGDS split. In 1969, he could not run for the presidency: Guy Mollet refused to give him the support of the SFIO. The Left was eliminated in the first round, and Georges Pompidou faced centrist Alain Poher in the second round.
1965 presidential election and aftermath
After the FGDS implosion, he turned to the Socialist Party (Parti socialiste or PS). Indeed, in June 1971, at the time of the Epinay Congress, CIR joined the PS (as SFIO was called beginning with 1969). The executive of the PS was always dominated by Guy Mollet's friends. They proposed an "ideological dialogue" with the Communists. For Mitterrand, an electoral alliance was necessary to rise to power. With this project, he was elected first secretary of the PS.
In June 1972 he signed the Common Programme of Government with the Communist Georges Marchais and the Left Radical Robert Fabre.
Mitterrand obtained 43.20% of the vote on May 19, 1974 as common candidate of the Left. He then faced Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in the second round of presidential election. During the 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 scoring (49.19%) and Giscard (50.81%).
Interestingly, the Soviet ambassador to Paris and the director of L'Humanité did not hide their satisfaction with the defeat. According to Jean Lacouture, Raymond Aron and Mitterrand himself, the Soviet government and the French communist leaders had done everything to prevent Mitterrand from being elected: they regarded him as too anti-communist and too skillful in his strategy of rebalancing the Left at Communists' expense.
In 1977, the Communist and Socialist parties failed to update the Common Programme, then lost the 1978 legislative election. If the Socialists took the leading role in the left, in 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 PS for being "archaic" and "unrealistic". The polls indicated Rocard was more popular than Mitterrand. Nevertheless, Mitterrand won the Metz Congress (1979) and Rocard renounced his candidacy for the 1981 presidential election.
For his third candidacy for presidency, Mitterrand proposed a reassuring image with the slogan "the quiet force". He campaigned for "another policy" and denounced the results 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 then defeated President Giscard d'Estaing in the second round, with 51,76%. He is the first left-wing politician elected President of France by the universal suffrage.
Socialist Party leader
In the French Presidential Election of 1981 he became the first socialist President of the Fifth Republic, and his government the first left-wing government in 23 years. He named Pierre Mauroy as Prime Minister and organized a new legislative election. The Socialists obtained an absolute parliamentary majority. Four Communists joined the cabinet.
The beginning of his first term was marked by left-wing economic policy, prepared by the 110 Propositions for France and the 1972 Common Program between the Socialist Party, the Communist Party and the Left Radical Party. This included several nationalizations, a 10% increase of the minimum wages (SMIC), a 39 hours workweek, a 56 day week on holiday, the creation of the solidarity tax on wealth, an increase of social benefits, the reform of the social dialogue (Auroux Act). The objective was to boost economic demand and thus economic activity (Keynesianism). But unemployment continued to grow and three devaluations of the Franc were decided upon. This policy more or less came to an end with the March 1983 liberal turn. Priority was given to the struggle against inflation in order to remain competitive in the European Monetary System.
With respect to social and cultural policies, he abrogated the death penalty as soon as he took office (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 aliens. He passed the first decentralizations laws (Defferre Act) and liberalized the media, created the CSA media organism, and authorized pirate radios and the first private TV (Canal+), giving rise to the private radios sector.
The Left lost the 1983 municipal elections and the 1984 European Parliament election. In 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. The Communists left the cabinet.
In Summer 1985, Defense Minister Charles Hernu was forced to resign after the discovery of the French implication in the attack against the Rainbow Warrior, a boat of Greenpeace association.
Before the 1986 legislative campaign, proportional representation was instituted in accordance with the 110 Propositions. It did not prevent, however, the victory of the 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 handled mostly internal politics while Mitterrand concentrated on his "reserved domain": foreign affairs and defense. However, several conflicts opposed the two heads of the executive power. In this, Mitterrand refused to sign decrees of liberalization, obligating Chirac to pass by the parliamentary way. He supported covertly the social movements, notably the student revolt against the university reform (Devaquet Bill) . Benefiting from the difficulties of Chirac's cabinet, his popularity increased.
The polls being positive for him, he announced his candidacy in the 1988 presidential election. He proposed a moderate program (neither nationalizations nor liberalization) and advocated the "united France". He obtained 34% of votes in the first round, then was opposed to Chirac in the second, and was re-elected with 54% of votes. Mitterrand was the first President two times elected by the universal suffrage.
After his re-election, he named Michel Rocard as Prime Minister, in despite 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 center-right politicians joined the cabinet.
The second term was marked by the Matignon accords concerning New Caledonia, the creation of the Insertion Minimum Revenue (RMI), which insures 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 instauration of the Generalized social tax, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, the 1990 Gayssot Act on negationism, the Arpaillange Act on the financing of political parties, the reform of the penal code, the Evin Act on cigarette in public places. Besides, several large architectural works were engaged with the building of the Louvre Pyramid, the Channel Tunnel, the Grande Arche of the Defense, the Bastille Opera, the Finance Ministry in Bercy, the National Library of France.
But the second term was also marked by the rivalries in the PS and the split of the Mitterrandist group (Rennes Congress), the scandals about financing of the party, the contaminated blood scandal which implicated Laurent Fabius and former ministers Georgina Dufoix and Emond Hervé, the Elysée wiretaps affairs.
Disappointed with Rocard's failure to enact the socialist's program , Mitterand 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 May 1, 1993.
On 16 February 1993, president Mitterrand inaugurated in Fréjus a Memorial of Wars in Indochina.
Mitterrand named the former RPR Finance Minister Edouard Balladur as Prime Minister. The second "Cohabitation" was less conflicting than the first, because the two men knew they were not rivals for the next presidential election. Mitterrand was weakened by his cancer, the scandal about his past in Vichy, and the suicide of his friend François de Grossouvre. His second and last term ended in French presidential election, 1995 In May 1995 with the election of Jacques Chirac. He died of prostate cancer at the age of 79.
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