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François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand ( , 26 October 1916 8 January 1996) served as the President of France from 1981 to 1995, elected as representative of the Socialist Partymarker (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 is to date the only member of the Socialist Party to be elected as the President of France. He was re-elected in 1988 and held office until 1995, before his death from prostate cancer the following year. At the beginning of each of his two terms, he dissolved the Parliament and held a fresh legislative election in the hope that the Socialist Party would win and he would have a parliamentary majority. This did indeed happen as he hoped; however, both times, his party lost the next legislative elections. He was consequently forced into "cohabitation government" during the two last years of each of his terms with conservative cabinets. They were led by Jacques Chirac from 1986 until 1988, and by Édouard Balladur from 1993 to 1995.

 Mitterrand holds the record of the longest-serving (almost 14 years) President of France. He was also the oldest President of the Fifth Republic, leaving office aged 78 years and seven months. He died on January 8, 1996, shortly after returning from a Christmas holiday in Egypt.

Mitterrand's family

Mitterrand was born in Jarnacmarker, Charentemarker, and baptized as François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand. His family was a devoutly Roman Catholic one and very conservative. His father, Joseph Gilbert Félix, worked as an engineer for la Compagnie Paris Orléans, his stepfather worked as a vinegar-maker and later served as the president of the federation of vinegar-makers union (Fédération des syndicats de fabricants de vinaigre). Joseph's maternal grandmother was a noblewoman, a descendant of both Fernando III of Castile and Jean de Brienne of Jerusalemmarker. Mitterrand's mother was Marie Gabrielle Yvonne Lorrain, a remote niece of Pope John XXII. He had three brothers (Robert, Jacques and Philippe) and four sisters. His wife, Danielle Mitterrand née Gouze, came from a socialist background and has 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 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 brother-in-law Roger Hanin is a well-known actor.

Early life

Mitterrand studied from 1925 to 1934 in the collège Saint-Paul in Angoulêmemarker, where he became a member of the JEC (Jeunesse étudiante chrétienne), 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). Contrary to what has been said, he never took his card at the Parti Social Français (PSF) which succeeded to the Croix de Feu and may be considered as the first French right-wing mass party. However, he did write news articles in the L'Echo de Paris newspaper, close to the PSF. He participated in the xenophobic 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 Ethiopiamarker's Negus, in January 1936. When his involvement in these nationalist movements came to be known 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. In a logical way for his then nationalist ideas, he was disturbed by Nazi expansionism during the Anschluss.

Mitterrand then served his conscription 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. His friendship with Dayan caused Mitterrand to begin to question his nationalist ideas. Finishing his law studies, he was sent to the Maginot line in September 1939, with the rank of Sergeant-chief (infantry sergeant), near Montmédymarker. 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 and captured by the Germans on 14 June 1940. He was held prisoner at Stalag IXA near Ziegenhain (today called Trutzhain, a village near Kasselmarker in Hessemarker). Mitterrand became involved in the social organisation for the POWs in the camp. He claims this, and the influence of the people he met there, began to change his political ideas, moving them towards the left. He had two failed escape attempts in March and then November of 1941 before he finally escaped on 10 December 1941, returning to France on foot. In December 1941 he arrived home in the unoccupied zone controlled by the French. With help from a friend 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.

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 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 . 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).

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

From spring 1942, he met other escaped POWs Jean Roussel, Max Varenne, and Dr. Guy Fric, under whose influence he slowly 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 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. From September, he made contact with France libre, but failed to get on with Michel Cailliau, General Charles de Gaulle's nephew. On 15 October 1942, Mitterrand and Marcel Barrois (a member of the resistance deported in 1944) met Maréchal 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). By the end of 1942, Mitterrand met up with an old friend from his days with the "Cagoule" Pierre Guillain de Bénouville. 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 Maréchal 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 initially denied having received the Francisque (some sources say he was designated for the award, but never actually received the medal because he went into hiding before the ceremony could take place) Some say he was ordered to accept the medal as cover for his work in the resistance. Others, such as Pierre Moscovici and Jacques Attali remain sceptical of Mitterrand's true beliefs at this time, accusing him of having at best a "foot in each camp" until he was sure who the winner would be, citing Mitterrand friendship with René Bousquet and the wreaths he placed on Pétain's tomb as examples of his ambivalent attitude.

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 Charles de Gaulle. From the beginning of 1943, Mitterrand became involved with setting up a powerful resistance group called the Organisation de résistance de l'armée (ORA). He obtained finance for his own RNPG network, which he set up with Pinot in February. From this time on, Mitterrand was a member of the ORA. In March, Mitterrand met Henri Frenay, who encouraged the resistance in France to support Mitterrand over Michel Cailliau, but 28 May 1943, when Mitterrand met with Gaullist Philippe Dechartre, is generally taken as the date Mitterrand split with Vichy.

During 1943, the RNPG gradually changed its focus 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." On 10 July Mitterrand and Piatzook (a militant communist) interrupted a public meeting at 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 is called "la relève"). When André Masson began to talk about "la trahison des gaullistes" (the Gaulist 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. Mitterrand avoided arrest as Piatzook covered his escape.

In November 1943 the Sicherheitsdienstmarker (SD) raided a flat in Vichymarker where they hoped to arrest François Morland, a member of the resistance."Morland" was Mitterrand's cover name. He also used Purgon, Monnier, Laroche, capitaine 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. From there he went to Algiersmarker, 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. Under the influence of Henri Frenay, de Gaulle finally agreed to merge his nephew's network and the RNPG with Mitterrand in charge. 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) and Mitterrand took the lead. In his memoires he states that he had started this organisation whilst he was still officially working for the Vichy Regime. From 27 November 1943 Mitterrand ran the Bureau central de renseignements et d'action. In December 1943 Mitterrand ordered the execution of Henri Marlin ( who was about to order attacks on the "maquis") by Jacques Paris et 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!" Mitterrand was dismissed 2 weeks later.

In October 1944 Mitterrand and Jacques Foccart put together a plan to liberate the POW and concentration camps. This was called operation Viacarage and in April 1945 Mitterrand accompanied General Lewis as the French representative at the liberation of the camps at Kauferingmarker and Dachaumarker on the orders of de Gaulle. By chance Mitterrand discovered his friend and member of his network Robert Antelme suffering from typhus. Antelme was ordered to remain in the camp to prevent the spread of disease so Mitterrand arranged for his "escape" and sent him back to France for treatment.

Fourth Republic

After the war he 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 failed to be 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 to 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 in the Nièvremarker 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 then 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).

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 a reform programme. He connected with the left when he resigned from the cabinet after the arrest of Moroccomarker'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.

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 of being 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 subsequent investigations.

The UDSR joined 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 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.

Fifth Republic and opposition to de Gaulle

François Mitterrand

His "crossing of the desert"

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).

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 Nièvremarker in the Senatemarker, 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, the Observatory Affair. The incident brought him a great deal of publicity, initially boosting his political ambitions. Some of his critics claimed 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 to be its instigator. Before disappearing, Pesquet claimed that Mitterrand had set up a fake attempt on his life. Prosecution was initiated against Mitterrand but was later dropped.

In the 1962 election, he 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 Monnetmarker, 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 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 expected to really 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.

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-Elyséesmarker, 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 Partymarker (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. Whilst the Socialists took the leading role on 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 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, 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

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 minimum wage (SMIC), 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 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, Mitterrand abrogated the death penalty as soon as he took office (via the Badinter Act), as well as the "anti-casseurs Act" which instituted however 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 decentralizations 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 1983, Mitterrand became an honorary citizen of Belgrademarker.

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. 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 handled mostly domestic policy while Mitterrand concentrated on his "reserved domain": foreign affairs and defence. 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 programme (promising "neither nationalisations nor liberalisation") and advocated a "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 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 Matignon Agreements concerning New Caledoniamarker, 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 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, the 1990 Gayssot Act on hate speech and Holocaust denial, the Arpaillange Act on the financing of political parties, the reform of the penal code and the Evin Act on smoking in public places. Several large architectural works were pursued, with the building of the Louvre Pyramidmarker, the Channel Tunnelmarker, the Grande Archemarker at La Défensemarker, the Bastille Operamarker, the Finance Ministry in Bercymarker, the National Library of Francemarker.

But the second term was also marked by the rivalries in 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 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 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.

On 16 February 1993, President Mitterrand inaugurated in Fréjusmarker a Memorial to the Wars in Indochina.

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 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 after 1995 presidential election in May 1995 with the election of Jacques Chirac.

Mitterrand died of prostate cancer on 8 January 1996 at the age of 79.

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. Despite Mitterrand's left-wing affiliations, the 1980s saw France becoming more distant from the USSRmarker. 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, even thinking of a military alliance with Russia to stop it, “camouflaged as a joint use of armies to fight natural disasters”. He made a controversial visit to East Germanymarker after the fall of Berlin Wallmarker. He was opposed to the swift recognition of Croatiamarker and Sloveniamarker, 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 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.

1990 speech at La Baule

Responding to a democratic movement in Africa after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wallmarker, he made his famous 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. Recalling that France was the country making the most important effort concerning development aid, he announced that Least Developed Countries (LDCs) would receive only donations (in order to stop the massive increase of the Third World debt during the 1980s, and limited the interest rate to 5% for intermediary countries (that is, Côte d'Ivoiremarker, Congomarker, Cameroonmarker and Gabonmarker). In a clear allusion to the shady system known as Françafrique, he also criticized interventionism in sovereign matters, which was according to him only another form of "colonialism." However, according to Mitterrand, this did not induce lesser concern of Paris for its former colonies, Mitterrand hence continuing 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 in France's policy concerning its former colonies, has been compared with the 1956 loi-cadre Defferre which was responding to anti-colonialist feelings. However, African heads of state themselves reacted at most with indifference. Omar Bongo, President of Gabon, declared that he rather had "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 Fundmarker and the World Bank's "structural adjustment programs." Hassan II, the former 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." 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"

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.

Co-prince of Andorra

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

List of prime ministers during Mitterrand's presidency

Prime minister from to Notes
Pierre Mauroy 1981 1984
Laurent Fabius 1984 1986 The youngest PM since Decazes (39 years old)
Jacques Chirac 1986 1988 First cohabitation of the Fifth Republic
Michel Rocard 1988 1991
Édith Cresson 1991 1992 First female prime minister
Pierre Bérégovoy 1992 1993
Édouard Balladur 1993 1995 Second Cohabitation

Scandals and controversies of Mitterrand's presidency

Medical secrecy

Following his death, a controversy erupted when his former physician, Dr Claude Gubler, wrote a book called Le Grand Secret ("The Great Secret") explaining that Mitterrand had had false health reports published since November 1981, hiding his cancer. Mitterrand's family then prosecuted Gubler and his publisher for violating medical secrecy.


Mitterrand came under fire in 1992 when it was revealed that he had arranged for the laying of a wreath of flowers on the grave of Philippe Pétain each Armistice Day since 1987. The placing of such a wreath was not without precedent: Presidents Charles de Gaulle and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing had wreaths placed on Pétain's grave to commemorate the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the end of World War I. Pétain had been the leader of French forces at the dramatic Battle of Verdunmarker in World War I, for which he was revered by his contemporaries. Later, however, he became leader of Vichy France after the French defeat to Germanymarker in World War II, collaborating with Nazi Germany and putting anti-semitic measures into place.

Similarly, President Georges Pompidou had a wreath placed in 1973 when Pétain's remains were returned to the Ile d'Yeumarker after being stolen. But Mitterrand's annual tributes marked a departure from those of his predecessors, and offended sensibilities at a time when France was re-examining its role in the Holocaust.


The Urba consultancy was established in 1971 by the Socialist Partymarker to advise Socialist-led communes on infrastructure projects and public works. The Urba affair became public in 1989 when two police officers investigating the Marseillemarker regional office of Urba discovered detailed minutes of the organisation's contracts and division of proceeds between the party and elected officials. Although the minutes proved a direct link between Urba and graft activity, an edict from the office of Mitterrand, himself listed as a recipient, prevented further investigation. The Mitterrand election campaign of 1988 was directed by Henri Nallet, who then became Justice Minister and therefore in charge of the investigation at national level. In 1990 Mitterrand declared an amnesty for those under investigation, thus ending the affair. Socialist Party treasurer Henri Emmanuelli was tried in 1997 for corruption offences, for which he received a two year suspended sentence.


Mitterrand had numerous extramarital affairs, one of which was with mistress Anne Pingeot; they had a daughter, Mazarine. Mitterrand sought secrecy on that issue, which lasted until November 1994, when Mitterrand's failing health and impending retirement meant he could no longer count on the fear and respect he had once engendered among French journalists. Also, Mazarine, a college student, had reached an age where her identity could no longer be protected as a minor.


From 1982 to 1986, Mitterrand established an "anti-terror cell" installed as a service of the President of the Republic. This was a fairly unusual set-up, since such law enforcement missions against terrorism are normally left to the National Police and Gendarmerie, run under the cabinet and the Prime Minister, and under the supervision of the judiciary. The cell was largely made from members of these services, but it bypassed the normal line of command and safeguards. 3000 conversations concerning 150 people (7 for reasons judged to be contestable by the ensuing court process) were recorded between January 1983 and March 1986 by this anti terrorist cell at the Elysée Palace. Most markedly, it appears that the cell, under illegal presidential orders, obtained wiretaps on journalists, politicians and other personalities who may have been an impediment for Mitterrand's personal life. The illegal wiretapping was revealed in 1993 by Libération; the case against members of the cell went to trial in November 2004.

It took 20 years for the 'affaire' to come before the courts because the instructing judge Jean-Paul Vallat was at first thwarted by the 'affaire' being classed a defence secret but in December 1999 la Commission consultative du secret de la défense nationale declassified part of the files concerned. The Judge finished his investigation in 2000, but it still took another four years before coming to court on 15 November 2004 before the 16th chamber of the tribunal correctionnel de Paris. 12 people were charged with "atteinte à la vie privée" (breach of privacy) and one with selling computer files. 7 were given suspended sentences and fines and 4 were found not guilty.

The 'affaire' finally ended before the Tribunal correctionnel de Paris with the court's judgement on 9 November 2005. 7 members of the President's anti-terrorist unit were condemned and Mitterrand was designated as the "inspirator and essentially the controller of the operation."

The courts judgement revealed that Mitterrand was motivated by keeping elements of his private life secret from the general public, such as the existence of his illegitimate daughter Mazarine Pingeot (which the writer Jean-Edern Hallier, was threatening to reveal), his cancer of the prostate which was diagnosed in 1981 and the elements of his past in the Vichy Régime which were not already public knowledge. The court judged that certain people were tapped for "obscure" reasons, such as Carole Bouquet's companion, a lawyer with family in the Middle East, Edwy Plenel, a journalist for le Monde who covered the Rainbow Warrior story and the lawyer Antoine Comte. The court declared " Les faits avaient été commis sur ordre soit du président de la République, soit des ministres de la Défense successifs qui ont mis à la disposition de (Christian Prouteau) tous les moyens de l'État afin de les exécuter (these actions were committed following orders from the French President or his various Defence Ministers who gave Christian Prouteau full access to the state machinery so he could execute the orders)" The court stated that Mitterrand was the principal instigator of the wire taps (l'inspirateur et le décideur de l'essentiel) and that he had ordered some of the taps and turned a blind eye to others and that none of the 3000 wiretaps carried out by the cell were legally obtained.

On 13 March 2007 the Court of Appeal in Paris awarded 1€ damages to the actress Carole Bouquet and 5000€ to Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Michel Beau for breach of privacy.

The case was taken to the European Court of Human Rightsmarker, which gave judgement on 7 June 2007 that the rights of free expression of the journalists involved in the case were not respected.

In 2008 the French state was ordered by the courts to give Jean-Edern Hallier's family compensation.


Paris assisted Rwandamarker's president Juvénal Habyarimana, who was assassinated on 6 April 1994 while travelling in a Dassault Falcon 50 given to him as a personal gift of Mitterrand. Through the offices of the 'Cellule Africaine', a Presidential office headed by Mitterrand's son, Jean-Christophe, he provided the Hutu regime with financial and military support in the early 1990s. With French assistance, the Rwandan army grew from a force of 9,000 men in October 1990 to 28,000 in 1991. France also provided training staff, experts and massive quantities of weaponry and facilitated arms contracts with Egypt and South Africa. It also financed, armed and trained Habyrimana's Presidential Guard. French troops were deployed under Opération Turquoise, a military operation carried out under a United Nations (UN) mandate. The operation is currently the object of political and historical debate.

The bombing of the Rainbow Warrior and killing of Fernando Pereira

The Rainbow Warriormarker, a Greenpeace vessel, was in New Zealandmarker preparing to protest against French nuclear testing in the South Pacific when an explosion sank the ship. Photographer Fernando Pereira drowned in the ensuing chaos as he tried to retrieve his equipment. The New Zealand government called the bombing the first terrorist attack in the country. In mid-1985, Defense Minister Charles Hernu was forced to resign after the discovery of the French implication in the attack against the Rainbow Warriormarker.

On the twentieth anniversary of the sinkingmarker it was revealed that Mitterrand had personally authorised the bombing which caused the casualty. Admiral Pierre Lacoste, the former head of the DGSEmarker, made a statement saying Pereira's death weighed heavily on his conscience. Also on that anniversary, Television New Zealand (TVNZ) sought to access a video recording made at the preliminary hearing where two French agents pleaded guilty, a battle they won in 2006.

Political career

  • President of the French Republic : 1981-1988 / 1988-1995

Governmental functions

  • Minister of State, minister of Justice : 1956-1957

  • Minister of Interior : 1954-1955

  • Minister of Overseas and Colonies : 1950-1951

  • Minister of Veterans and War Victims : 1947-1948

  • Secretary of State for Information : July-September 1948

Electoral mandates

  • Member of the National Assembly of France for Nièvremarker : 1946-1958 Reelected in 1951, 1956, lost in 1958 / 1962-1981 reelected in 1967, 1968, 1973, 1978 (Resignation, became President of the French Republic in 1981)

  • Mayor of Château-Chinonmarker : 1959-1981, reelected in 1965, 1971, 1977 (Resignation, became President of the French Republic in 1981)

  • General councillor of Nièvre : 1949-1964

  • President of the General Council of Nièvre : 1964-1981 Reelected in 1967, 1970, 1973, 1976, 1979 (Resignation, became President of the French Republic in 1981)

Political function

  • First Secretary (leader) of the Socialist Partymarker : 1971-1981 (Became President of the French Republic in 1981)


  1. Pierre Péan, Une jeunesse française (biography on Mitterrand), p.23-35
  2. Henry Rousso, Le Syndrome de Vichy, p.365
  3. Jean Lacouture, Mitterrand, une histoire de Français, éd. du Seuil, « Points », pp. 46/48
  4. *François Mitterrand, Mémoires interrompus, éd. Odile Jacob, 1996
  5. reprinted in Politique I, in 1978
  6. Robert Belot in La Résistance sans De Gaulle, éd. Fayard, 2006, et Henry Rousso in l'Express n° 2871, du 13 juillet 2006
  7. Jean Lacouture, Mitterrand, une histoire de Français, op. cit., pp. 75/79 et Franz-Olivier Giesbert, François Mitterrand, une vie, éd. du Seuil, « Points », 1996, pp. 77/79
  8. Pierre Péan, Une jeunesse française, op. cit., pp. 217/218 et Jean Lacouture, Mitterrand, une histoire de Français, op. cit., p. 81
  9. a photograph taken at this meeting is on the cover of Pierre Péan's book. Marcel Barrois is in the photo.
  10. "autumn 1943", from : Franz-Olivier Giesbert, François Mitterrand ou la tentation de l'histoire, Éditions du Seuil, 1977 ISBN 2-02-004591-5, chap. 5, p.49.
  11. Jean Pierre-Bloch De Gaulle ou le temps des méprises (pp. 216/218) « C'était sur notre ordre que François Mitterrand était resté dans les services de prisonniers de Vichy. Lorsqu'il avait été proposé pour la francisque, nous avions été parfaitement tenus au courant ; nous lui avions conseillé d'accepter cette "distinction" pour ne pas se dévoiler. ».
  12. C'était François Mitterrand, Jacques Attali, Fayard, 2005
  13. Pierre Péan, op. cit., p. 302
  14. Pierre Péan, op. cit., pp. 309/310
  15. Patrick Rotman et Jean Lacouture, le roman du pouvoir [1]
  16. Franz-Olivier Giesbert, François Mitterrand, une vie, p. 94."François Mitterrand avait réussi à mettre sur pied un véritable réseau de renseignement dans les camps. Grâce aux prisonniers de guerre, nous avons pu prendre connaissances d'informations, parfois décisives, sur ce qui se passait derrière les frontières"
  17. on 12 July 1944 Maurice Schumann (la voice of the Free French) recounted this event on BBCradio
  18. Jean Lacouture, Mitterrand, une histoire de Français, op. cit., pp. 97 et 99
  19. Franz-Olivier Giesbert, François Mitterrand, une vie, éd. du Seuil, 1996, p. 100
  20. Pierre Péan book pp. 364/365
  21. Jean Lacouture, Mitterrand, une histoire de Français, tome 1, p. 102
  22. Mémoires de guerre, tome 3, de Gaulle
  23. Jean Lacouture, Mitterrand, une histoire de Français, éd. Seuil, 2000, the book is quoted on La Fabrique de sens
  24. Entretiens inédits François Mitterrand - Marguerite Duras, éd. sonores Frémeaux & Associés, 2007 ?option=com_virtuemart&page=shop.livrets&content_id=2087&product_id=834&category_id=69 en ligne
  25. THE MITTERAND MYSTERY - New York Times
  26. René Rémond, Notre siècle, 1988, Fayard, p.664 ff.
  27. Đilas podržao predlog
  28. Mitterrand's role revealed in Rwandan genocide warning, 3 July 2007. The Independent
  30. François Mitterrand et la démocratie en Afrique, huit ans après, by Albert Bourgi, Centre d'études et de recherches internationales (CERI) (mixed study unit with the CNRS, dependent of the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques)
  31. Les 22 premières conférences des chefs d'Etat de France et d'Afrique, on French government website — URL accessed in January 2007
  32. Le discours de la Baule et le pluralisme en Afrique noire francophone. Essai d'analyse d'une contribution à l'instauration de la démocratie dans les états d'Afrique noire d'expression française, 1993-94 DEA mémoire of Félix François Lissouck, under the direction of Paul Bacot, held in the Political Studies Institute (IEP) of Lyon.
  33.,1-0@2-3224,36-387334,0.html (Subscription)
  34.,3800002050,39369829,00.htm La police française déploie ses grandes oreilles, 30 mai 2007
  35. Les oreilles du Président de Jean-Marie Pontaut et Jérome Dupuis, Fayard, 1996. Les mots volés de Edwy Plenel, Stock, 1997. Le Journaliste et le Président de Edwy Plenel, 2006.
  36. « Carole Bouquet victime des écoutes de l'Elysée », L'Express, mardi 13 mars 2007, 18h19 ; « Carole Bouquet rétablie comme victime des écoutes de l'Elysée », PARIS (Reuters), mardi 13 mars 2007, 17h03, cité par Yahoo! News ; Libération, 17 mars 2007 cité dans « Les écoutes de l’Élysée » : la cour d’appel de Paris à l’écoute... d’une nouvelle civilisation, AgoraVox, le média citoyen
  37. J.-B., Écoutes de l'Elysée : l'État devra indemniser la famille Hallier, Le Figaro, 25 juillet 2008
  38. Greenpeace, vingt ans après : le rapport secret de l'amiral Lacoste, Le Monde, 10 July 2005 (Subscription)
  39. Time: France "Criminal, Absurd . . . and Stupid" - Sep. 30, 1985
  40. Times Online: Mitterrand ordered bombing of Rainbow Warrior, spy chief says - July 11, 2005

See also

External links

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