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Michel Debré (15 January 1912 – 2 August 1996) was a French Gaullist politician. He is considered the "father" of the current Constitution of France, and was the first Prime Minister of the Fifth Republic. He served under President Charles de Gaulle from 1959 to 1962.


Early years

Michel Debré was born in Parismarker, the son of the well-known Jewish Professor Robert Debré, who is today considered by many to be the founder of modern Pediatrics. He studied at the Lycée Montaignemarker and then at the Lycée Louis-le-Grandmarker, optained a diploma from the École Libre des Sciences Politiques and became a Professor of Law at the University of Parismarker. He also joined the École nationale d'équitation (National School of Horse-riding) in Saumurmarker. In 1934, at the age of twenty two, Debré passed the entrance exam and became a member of the Conseil d'État. In 1938 he joined the staff of the Economy Minister Paul Reynaud.


In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, Debré was enlisted as a cavalry officer. He was taken prisoner in Artenaymarker in June 1940 during the Battle of France but managed to escape in September of that year. He returned to the Conseil d'État, now under the administration of the Vichy regime, and was sworn in by Marshal Philippe Pétain. In 1942 he was promoted to maître des requêtes by the Minister of Justice Joseph Bartholomew. After the German invasion of the free zone in November 1942, Debré's political pétainisme disappeared, and in February 1943 he became involved in the French Resistance, joining the network Ceux de la Résistance (CDLR).

During the summer of 1943, General Charles de Gaulle gave Debré the task of making a list of prefects, or State representatives, who would replace those of the Vichy regime after the liberation. In August 1944 de Gaulle made him Commissaire de la République for Angersmarker, and in 1945, the Provisional Government charged him with the task of reforming the French Civil Service. Debré created the École nationale d'administrationmarker, whose idea was formulated by Jean Zay before the war.

Under the Fourth Republic, Michel Debré at first supported the Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance, but defected to the Radical-Socialist Party on the advice of General Charles de Gaulle, who reportedly told him and several other politicians, including Jacques Chaban-Delmas,"Allez au parti radical. C'est là que vous trouverez les derniers vestiges du sens de l'Etat" - "Go to the radical party. It is there that you will find the last vestiges of the meaning of the state". He then joined the Rally of the French People and was elected senator of Indre-et-Loiremarker, a position he held from 1948 to 1958. In 1957, he founded Le Courrier de la colère, a newspaper that fiercely defended French Algeria and called for the return to power of de Gaulle. In the 2 December 1957 issue, Debré wrote:

This explicit appeal to the insurgency led the socialist politician Alain Savary to write that "In the case of the OAS insurgency, the soldiers are not the culprit; the culprit is Debré."


Michel Debré became the Garde des Sceaux (Minister of Justice) in the cabinet of General de Gaulle on 1 June 1958. He played an important role in drafting the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, and on its acceptance he took up the new position of Prime Minister of France, which he held from January 8, 1959 to 1962.

After the 1962 Évian Accords referendum that ended the Algerian War and gave auto-determination to Algeria was approved by a nearly ten-to-one margin, de Gaulle replaced him with Georges Pompidou. In November, during the parliamentary elections that followed the dissolution of the National Assembly, he tried to be elected Député for Indre-et-Loiremarker. Defeated, in March 1963 he decided to go to Réunionmarker, an island he had visited for less than twenty-four hours on 10 July 1959 when on a trip with President de Gaulle. This choice reflects Debré's fear that what remained of the French colonial empires would follow the path trodden by Algeria - that of independence, towards which he was not sympathetic. Debré wanted to take action against the Communist Party of Réunion that had been founded by Paul Vergès a few years earlier. The movement sought self-determination for the island and the removal of its position as an overseas department, and had staged demonstrations on the island a few day earlier. He also noted that the invalidation of Gabriel Macé's election as Mayor of Saint-Denismarker rendered the post open to the opposition, so he took the decision to win over this mandate.

He returned in the government in 1966 as Economy and Finance Minister. After the May 1968 crisis, he became Foreign Minister, then, one year later, he served as Defence Minister of President Georges Pompidou. Considered as a guardian of the Gaullist orthodoxy, he was marginalized after the election of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing as President of France in 1974. He criticized with virulence his foreign policy. In 1979, he took a major part in the Rally for the Republic (RPR) campaign against the European federalism and was elected member of the European Parliamentmarker in order to defend the principle of Europe of nations. But later, he accused Jacques Chirac and the RPR lead to moderate their speech, and so, he was a dissident candidate in the 1981 presidential election. He obtained only 1,6% of votes.

Politics in Réunion

Michel Debré arrived on the island of Réunionmarker in April 1963, and succeeded in being elected Député for Saint-Denis on 6 May despite local opposition to the Ordonnance Debré law he had introduced in 1960, that allowed Civil Servants in the overseas departments and territories of France to be recalled to Metropolitan France if suspected of disturbing public order. Supported by those who rejected autonomy, he immediately became the leader of the local right-wing. This state of affairs would be challenged by Pierre Lagourgue that during the next decade.

To justify the departmentalization of the island that occurred in 1946 and to preserve its inhabitants from the temptation of independence, Debré implemented an economic development policy, and opened the island's first family planning center. He proceeded to create numerous canteens in schools that distributed free powdered milk for children. He personally fought to get Parismarker to create a second high school on the south of the island, in Le Tamponmarker, when at the time there was only one, the Lycée Leconte-de-Lisle, that catered for many thousands of inhabitants.

Governmental functions

Prime minister : 1959-1962

Minister of Justice : 1958-1959

Minister of Economy and Finance : 1966-1968

Minister of Foreign Affairs : 1968-1969

Minister of State, minister of Defense : 1969-1973

Electoral mandates

Senator of Indre-et-Loiremarker : 1948-1958 (Became minister in 1958)

General councillor of Indre-et-Loiremarker : 1951-1970 / 1976-1992

Member of the National Assembly of France for Réunionmarker : 1963-1966 (Became minister in 1966) / 1973-1988

Member of European Parliamentmarker : 1979-1980

Municipal councillor of Amboisemarker : 1959-1966

Mayor of Amboisemarker : 1966-1989

Decorations and tributes

Michel Debré had four sons : Vincent Debré (1939-), businessman, François Debré (1942-), journalist, Bernard Debré (born in 1944), urologist and politician, and his fraternal twin, Jean-Louis Debré, politician. See Debré family.

Debré's Government, 8 January 1959 - 15 April 1962

  • 27 March 1959 - Robert Lecourt enters the Cabinet as Minister of Cooperation.
  • 27 May 1959 - Henri Rochereau succeeds Houdet as Minister of Agriculture.
  • 28 May 1959 - Pierre Chatenet succeeds Berthoin as Minister of the Interior.
  • 23 December 1959 - Debré succeeds Boulloche as interim Minister of National Education.
  • 13 January 1960 - Wilfrid Baumgartner succeeds Pinay as Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs.
  • 15 January 1960 - Louis Joxe succeeds Debré as Minister of National Education
  • 5 February 1960 - Pierre Messmer succeeds Guillaumat as Minister of Armies. Robert Lecourt becomes Minister of Overseas Departments and Territories and of the Sahara. His previous office of Minister of Cooperation is abolished. Michel Maurice-Bokanowski succeeds Cornut-Gentille as Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. Louis Terrenoire succeeds Frey as Minister of Information.
  • 23 November 1960 - Louis Joxe becomes Minister of Algerian Affairs. Pierre Guillaumat succeeds Joxe as interim Minister of National Education.
  • 20 February 1961 - Lucien Paye succeeds Guillaumat as Minister of National Education.
  • 6 May 1961 - Roger Frey succeeds Chatenet as Minister of the Interior.
  • 18 May 1961 - Jean Foyer enters the ministry as Minister of Cooperation.
  • 24 August 1961 - Bernard Chenot succeeds Michelet as Minister of Justice. Joseph Fontanet succeeds Chenot as Minister of Public Health and Population. Edgard Pisani succeeds Rochereau as Minister of Agriculture. Louis Jacquinot succeeds Lecourt as Minister of Overseas Departments and Territories and Sahara. Terrenoire ceases to be Minister of Information, and the office is abolished.
  • 19 January 1962 - Valéry Giscard d'Estaing succeeds Baumgartner as Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs.


  1. Décret du 1er juin 1958 portant nomination des membres du gouvernement
  2. Décret du 8 janvier 1959 portant nomination du Premier ministre, Journal Officiel de la République Française, 9 January 1959
  3. Ordonnance n°60-1101 du 15 octobre 1960 relative au rappel d'office par le ministre dont ils dépendent des fonctionnaires de l'État en service dans les DOM dont le comportement est de nature à troubler l'ordre public

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