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François Mitterrand (1916—1996) French statesman, President 1981–95

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Source:
A Dictionary of Contemporary World History
Author(s):

Jan Palmowski

Chirac, Jacques René

(b. 29 Nov. 1932).

President of France 1995–2007

Early career

Born in Paris, Chirac graduated from the prestigious École Normale d'Administration, entered the state bureaucracy, and became Pompidou's Private Secretary in 1965, and a parliamentary deputy in 1967. He became Minister for Parliamentary Relations (1971–2), and Minister for Agriculture (1972–4). After a brief spell as Minister for the Interior, he became Prime Minister in 1974 as a reward for his support for the presidency of Giscard d'Estaing. The two men increasingly disagreed, however, and in 1976 he resigned. Later that year, he relaunched the Gaullist party, now named the RPR (Union for the Republic), to support his own ambitions to become President. He became Mayor of Paris in 1977, a city which subsequently became his power base. He failed in the first round of the 1981 presidential elections, and during his brief spell as Prime Minister in 1986–8 he became so unpopular against the venerable Mitterrand that he lost the 1988 presidential elections to the latter.

Presidency

In 1995, Chirac became President and relaunched a Gaullist foreign policy through underlining his commitment to the nuclear bomb, and voicing initial concerns about European integration. Meanwhile, his two central but conflicting goals of fighting unemployment and the budget deficit resulted in considerable tax increases while showing few early signs of success. He experienced the worst plunge into unpopularity of any President of the Fifth Republic in his first year of office. He called parliamentary elections in 1997, but these were won by the Socialist Party under Lionel Jospin. In the following period of cohabitation, Chirac lost control over government policies except for the traditional presidential briefs on foreign and EU policy.

During the late 1990s, a growing number of financial irregularities committed by the Paris Mayor's office under his direction came to light. Chirac successfully defended his presidential prerogative not to testify, and a direct link to any corruption could never be proved. This greatly appeared to dent his chances for re‐election against his rival, Jospin, himself a model of probity. However, Chirac wrongfooted his opponent by conducting an election campaign primarily on the issue of law and order. He won in the first round, and since he stood in the second round against Le Pen, he was re‐elected by a huge republican majority of over 80 per cent. He appointed Raffarin as his interim Prime Minister, and created a new movement, the UMP, which won an absolute majority in parliament. In 2003, his resolute hostility to military intervention in Iraq was pivotal in foreclosing UN sanction of the US‐led invasion of Iraq. For this he received overwhelming popular support from the French people. His popularity soon declined, however, owing to his determination to introduce pension reforms for the public sector. Chirac's government was unable to improve the country's growing unemployment rate, which plunged his government to ever-new depths. Chirac called a referendum on the European Constitution, which many voters used as an opportunity to vent their dissatisfaction with the government's economic policies. Thereafter, Chirac's standing had declined to such an extent that he was unable to prevent the nomination of his rival, Sarkozy, as the UMP's candidate for the presidency.

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