278,250 Pages

François Mitterrand
Reagan Mitterrand 1984 (cropped).jpg
21st President of France

In office
21 May 1981 – 17 May 1995
Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy
Laurent Fabius
Jacques Chirac
Michel Rocard
Édith Cresson
Pierre Bérégovoy
Édouard Balladur
Preceded by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
Succeeded by Jacques Chirac
Co-Prince of Andorra

In office
21 May 1981 – 17 May 1995
Prime Minister Òscar Ribas Reig
Josep Pintat-Solans
Òscar Ribas Reig
Marc Forné Molné
Representative Jean-Yves Caullet
Preceded by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
Succeeded by Jacques Chirac
First Secretary of the Socialist Party

In office
16 June 1971 – 24 January 1981
Preceded by Alain Savary
Succeeded by Lionel Jospin
Minister of Justice

In office
31 January 1956 – 12 June 1957
President Rene Coty
Prime Minister Guy Mollet
Preceded by Robert Schuman
Succeeded by Edouard Corniglion-Molinier
Minister of the Interior

In office
19 June 1954 – 23 February 1955
President Rene Coty
Prime Minister Pierre Mendès-France
Preceded by Léon Martinaud-Deplat
Succeeded by Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury
Minister-Delegate to the Council of Europe

In office
28 June 1953 – 4 September 1953
President Vincent Auriol
Prime Minister Joseph Laniel
Preceded by Pierre Pflimlin (1952)
Succeeded by Edgar Faure (1958)
Minister of State

In office
January 20, 1952 – 28 February 1952
President Vincent Auriol
Prime Minister Edgar Faure
Minister of Overseas France

In office
12 July 1950 – 15 August 1951
President Vincent Auriol
Prime Minister René Pleven
Henri Queuille
Preceded by Paul Coste-Floret
Succeeded by Louis Jacquinot
Minister of Veterans and War Victims

In office
24 November 1947 – 19 July 1948
President Vincent Auriol
Prime Minister Robert Schuman
Preceded by Daniel Mayer
Succeeded by André Maroselli

In office
22 January 1947 – 21 October 1947
President Vincent Auriol
Prime Minister Robert Schuman
Preceded by Max Lejeune
Succeeded by Daniel Mayer
Senator from Nièvre

In office
26 April 1959 – 13 December 1962
Preceded by Jean Doussot
Succeeded by Daniel Benoîst
Deputy from the 3rd district of Nièvre

In office
10 November 1946 – 8 December 1958
Preceded by Roger Gillot
Succeeded by Jehan Faulquier

In office
6 December 1962 – 21 May 1981
Preceded by Jehan Faulquier
Succeeded by Bernard Bardin
Personal details
Born François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand
(1916-10-26)26 October 1916
Jarnac, France
Died 8 January 1996(1996-01-08) (aged 79)
Paris, France
Political party Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance (Before 1964)
Convention of Republican Institutions (1964–1971)
Socialist Party (1971–1996)
Spouse(s) Danielle Gouze (1944–1996)
Children Pascal
Alma mater University of Paris
Free School of Political Studies
Religion None (Agnosticism)
prev. Roman Catholicism
Signature François Mitterrand Signature.svg

François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand (French: [fʁɑ̃swa mɔʁis mitɛˈʁɑ̃]) (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 eight 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[1] 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, Minister of Culture and Communications under Nicolas Sarkozy (and a supporter of Jacques Chirac, former French President), and his wife's brother-in-law Roger Hanin is a well-known French actor.

Early lifeEdit

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).[2]

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.[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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 WarEdit

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.[5] 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).[6]

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).[7]

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.[8] 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).[9] 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).[10] 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)[11] Jean Pierre-Bloch says that Mitterrand was ordered to accept the medal as cover for his work in the resistance.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14] In March, Mitterrand met Henri Frenay, who encouraged the resistance in France to support Mitterrand over Michel Cailliau.[15] 28 May 1943, when Mitterrand met with Gaullist Philippe Dechartre, is generally taken as the date Mitterrand split with Vichy.[16]

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."[17] 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.[18]

In November 1943 the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) raided a flat in Vichy, where they hoped to arrest François Morland, a member of the resistance.[19] "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.[20] Under the influence of Henri Frenay, de Gaulle finally agreed to merge his nephew's network and the RNPG with Mitterrand in charge.[21]

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.[22][23]

In December 1943 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.[24][25]

Fourth RepublicEdit

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 had a role in 45 executions of the Algerian natives, recommending President Rene Coty to reject clemency in 80% of the cases, an action he later came to regret.[26]

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 GaulleEdit

His "crossing of the desert"Edit

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 1959

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.[27] 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."[28]

Mitterrand visited China in 1961, during the worst of the Great Chinese Famine, but denied the existence of starvation.[29]

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 aftermathEdit

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.[30]

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 leaderEdit

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,[31] 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 termEdit

Reagan Mitterrand 1981

Mitterrand with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, 1981

In the presidential election of 10 May 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[citation needed] 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.[32]

In what concerns new French Technologies initiated by his predecessor Valéry 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.[33] 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.[34]

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.[32]

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.[35] 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.[36] 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 in 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.[32] In addition, grants were allocated to non-profit associations and community cultural initiatives,[37] while a law on equal opportunities in employment was passed in July 1983 which prohibited all forms of unequal treatment regardless of the circumstances, together with providing for positive action plans to be established in major companies. In January 1984, a decree was made granting state aid to companies which implemented equality plans for staff.[38] That same year, a law was passed that gave the regional Caissess des Allocations Familiales the task of collecting unpaid alimony, initially for lone parents and subsequently for remarried or cohabiting mothers.[39]

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.[40] Authorization was restored for a number of advanced undergraduate and graduate programmes which the previous centre-right minister Saunier-Seite had rejected on grounds of economy and “rationalization” of resources.[41] 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,[42] while efforts by the Socialists to promote joint research between industry and the research agencies increased the number of such contracts by a half each year between 1982 and 1985, with a 29% increase in joint patents.[43] The baccalauréat professionnel, introduced in 1985, enabled holders of a Brevet d’études professionnelles (or in some cases of a Certificat d’aptitude professionnelle) to continue for another two years and study for the baccalauréat.[44]

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.[32]

Mitterrand's first term in office also witnessed significant 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.[36] 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.[45] Various 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.[32]

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.[46] Nevertheless, compared to the OECD average, fiscal policy in France remained relatively expansionary during the course of the two Mitterrand presidencies.[47]

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)Edit

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."[48] 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 termEdit

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;[36] the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy; the 1990 Gayssot Act on hate speech and Holocaust denial; the Besson law of 1990;[49] the Urban Orientation Law of 1991;[50] the Arpaillange Act on the financing of political parties; the reform of the penal code; the Matignon Agreements concerning New Caledonia; the Evin Act on smoking in public places; and the 1989 Education Act which, amongst other measures, obliged local authorities to educate all children with disabilities.[51] 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 died mysteriously 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.[52] During his second term as president, however, the gap between rich and poor widened in France,[53] with both unemployment and poverty rising in the awake of the economic recession of 1991-1993.[54]

In 1992, the Socialist Party[55] 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.

Foreign policyEdit

East/West relationsEdit

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.[56] 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.[57] 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 policyEdit

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.[58]

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[59] 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).[60][61]

1990 speech at La BauleEdit

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.[62]

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."[63]

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".[64]

Discovery of HIVEdit

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 HuguenotsEdit

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.[65] 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.[66]

Co-prince of AndorraEdit

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.

List of prime ministers during Mitterrand's presidencyEdit

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


Medical secrecyEdit

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. Pétain had been the leader of French forces at the dramatic Battle of Verdun in World War I, for which he was revered by his contemporaries. Later, however, he became leader of Vichy France after the French defeat by Germany (June 1940) in World War II, collaborating with Nazi Germany and putting anti-semitic measures into place.

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. Similarly, President Georges Pompidou had a wreath placed in 1973 when Pétain's remains were returned to the Ile d'Yeu after being stolen. Nonetheless, Mitterrand's regular annual tributes went beyond the marking by his predecessors of exceptional occasions, and offended sensibilities at a time when France was re-examining its role in the Holocaust.[citation needed]


The Urba consultancy was established in 1971 by the Socialist Party to advise Socialist-led communes on infrastructure projects and public works. The Urba affair became public in 1989 when two police officers investigating the Marseille 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.


From 1982 to 1986, Mitterrand established an "anti-terror cell" installed as a service of the President of the Republic. This was an 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 staffed by 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. In one of its first actions, the cell was involved in the "Irish of Vincennes" affair, in which it appeared that members of the cell had planted weapons and explosives in the Vincennes apartment of three Irish nationals who were arrested on terrorism charges. 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.[67][68]

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 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."[69]

The court's 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 which had been 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 Vincennes Three affair, 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.[70]

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.[71]

The case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights, 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.[72]


Paris assisted Rwanda'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 PereiraEdit

On 10 July 1985, the Rainbow Warrior, a Greenpeace vessel, was in New Zealand preparing to protest against French nuclear testing in the South Pacific when two explosions sank the ship. Photographer Fernando Pereira tried, following the first explosion, to retrieve his equipment, and was caught by the second explosion and drowned. The New Zealand government called the bombing the first terrorist attack in the country.[73][74] In mid-1985, French Defence Minister Charles Hernu was forced to resign after the discovery of French involvement in the attack against the Rainbow Warrior.

On the twentieth anniversary of the sinking it was revealed that Mitterrand had personally authorised the bombing which resulted in Pereira's death.[75] Admiral Pierre Lacoste, the former head of the DGSE, 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.


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).[76] 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.[77]

Political careerEdit

President of the French Republic: 1981–1995. Reelected in 1988.

Governmental functions

Minister of State, minister of Justice: 1956–1957.

Minister of Interior: 1954–1955.

Minister for Council of Europe: June–September 1953

Minister of State: January–March 1952.

Minister of Overseas and Colonies: 1950–1951.

Secretary of State for Presidency of Council: 1948–1949.

Secretary of State for Information: July–September 1948.

Minister of Veterans and War Victims: 1947–1948.

Electoral mandates

National Assembly of France

Member of the National Assembly of France for Nièvre: 1946–1958 / 1962–1981 (resignation, became President of the French Republic in 1981). Elected in 1946, reelected in 1951, 1956, 1962, 1967, 1968, 1973, 1978.

Senate of France

Senator of Nièvre: 1959–1962 (resignation, reelected member of the National Assembly of France in 1962). Elected in 1959.

General Council

President of the General Council of Nièvre: 1964–1981 (resignation, became President of the French Republic in 1981). Reelected in 1967, 1970, 1973, 1976, 1979.

General councillor of Nièvre: 1949–1981 (resignation). Reelected in 1955, 1961, 1967, 1973, 1979.

Municipal Council

Mayor of Château-Chinon (Ville): 1959–1981 (resignation, became President of the French Republic in 1981). Reelected in 1965, 1971, 1977.

Municipal councillor of Château-Chinon (Ville): 1959–1981 (resignation). Reelected in 1965, 1971, 1977.

Political function

First Secretary (leader) of the Socialist Party: 1971–1981 (resignation, became President of the French Republic in 1981). Reelected in 1973, 1975, 1977, 1979.


Flag of France.svg FranceEdit

Armes François Mitterrand (Ordre du Seraphin)

Coat of arms as Knight of the Royal Order of the Seraphim

Foreign honoursEdit

Vexillology and heraldryEdit

President Mitterrand had chosen a tree half oak half olive-tree as symbol for his presidential flag.[86]
President Mitterrand received from King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden a coat of arms linked to the reception of the Order of the Seraphim, which reproduces this symbol.[83]


  1. Tiersky, Ronald. François Mitterrand: a Very French President. 2003, Rowman and Littlefield. pp. 38-42.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Pierre Péan, Une jeunesse française (biography on Mitterrand), p.23-35
  3. Henry Rousso, Le Syndrome de Vichy, p.365
  4. Jean Lacouture, Mitterrand, une histoire de Français, éd. du Seuil, « Points », pp. 46/48
  5. *François Mitterrand, Mémoires interrompus, éd. Odile Jacob, 1996
  6. reprinted in Politique I, in 1978
  7. Robert Belot in La Résistance sans De Gaulle, éd. Fayard, 2006, et Henry Rousso in l'Express n° 2871, du 13 juillet 2006
  8. 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
  9. Pierre Péan, Une jeunesse française, op. cit., pp. 217/218 et Jean Lacouture, Mitterrand, une histoire de Français, op. cit., p. 81
  10. a photograph taken at this meeting is on the cover of Pierre Péan's book. Marcel Barrois is in the photo.
  11. "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.
  12. 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. ».
  13. Jacques Attali, C'était François Mitterrand, Fayard, 2005
  14. Pierre Péan, op. cit., p. 302
  15. Pierre Péan, op. cit., pp. 309/310
  16. Patrick Rotman et Jean Lacouture, "le roman du pouvoir", L'Express
  17. 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"
  18. On 12 July 1944 Maurice Schumann (la voice of the Free French) recounted this event on BBC radio.
  19. Jean Lacouture, Mitterrand, une histoire de Français, op. cit., pp. 97 et 99
  20. Franz-Olivier Giesbert, François Mitterrand, une vie, éd. du Seuil, 1996, p. 100
  21. Pierre Péan book pp. 364/365
  22. Jean Lacouture, Mitterrand, une histoire de Français, tome 1, p. 102
  23. Mémoires de guerre, tome 3, de Gaulle
  24. Jean Lacouture, Mitterrand, une histoire de Français, éd. Seuil, 2000, the book is quoted on La Fabrique de sens
  25. 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
  27. Paxton, Robert O. (28 June 1987). "The Mitterrand Mystery". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 May 2010.  [sic]
  28. Tiersky, Ronald. François Mitterrand: a Very French President. Page 30. Lanham, Maryland; Rowman and Littlefield; 2000.
  29. Mishra, Pankaj (20 December 2010). "Staying Power". Retrieved 27 August 2012. 
  30. René Rémond, Notre siècle, 1988, Fayard, p.664 ff.
  31. "Élection présidentielle de 1981". Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 32.4 Mitterrand’s France Edited by Sonia Mazey and Michael Newman
  33. "History of the Minitel". Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  35. The French Socialist Party: Resurgence and Victory by D. S. Bell and Byron Criddle
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 France during the socialist years by Gino Raymond
  39. European Welfare Policy: Squaring the Welfare Circle edited by Vic George and Peter Taylor-Gooby
  40. Education in France: Continuity and Change in the Mitterrand Years 1981-1995. Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  41. The French Socialist Experiment by John S. Ambler
  42. The French Socialists in Power, 1981-1986 by Patrick McCarthy
  45. The Death of Politics: France under Mitterrand by John Laughland
  46. W. Rand Smith. The Left's Dirty Job: The Politics of Industrial Restructuring in France and .... Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  48. "Élection présidentielle de 1988". Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  49. [1][dead link]
  50. "National Analytical Study on Housing" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  52. France since 1870: Culture, Politics, and Society by Charles Sowerine
  53. One Hundred Years of Socialism: The West European Left in the Twentieth Century by Donald Sassoon
  54. The Mitterrand Years: Legacy and Evaluation edited by Mairi Maclean
  55. "Socialist Party". 1914-07-31. Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  56. Mitterrand's role revealed in Rwandan genocide warning, 3 July 2007. The Independent
  57. Binyon, Michael (11 September 2009). "Thatcher told Gorbachev Britain did not want German reunification". The Times. London. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  58. Beyond Enlargement Fatigue? The Dutch debate on Turkish accession, European Security Initiative 2006
  59. 10.9.2009: Für Thatcher war Deutschland eine gefährliche Kröte
  60. Mitterrand forderte Euro als Gegenleistung für die Einheit; 27. April 1998: Dunkelste Stunden. - Der Kanzler öffnet die Akten über die deutsche Einheit. Die Dokumente zeigen: Frankreich hat das schnelle Ende der Mark erzwungen.; 2. März 1998: Weg ohne Wiederkehr. - Hinter der Fassade ihrer deutsch-französischen Freundschaft haben Helmut Kohl und François Mitterrand erbittert um Einheit und Euro gerungen, wie jetzt neue Dokumente aus dem Kanzleramt zeigen.
  61. 8. May 2012: Operation Self-Deceit: New Documents Shine Light on Euro Birth Defects
  62. 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) (French)
  63. Les 22 premières conférences des chefs d'Etat de France et d'Afrique, on French government website – URL accessed in January 2007 (French)
  64. 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. (French)
  65. "Allocution de M. François Mitterrand, Président de la République, aux cérémonies du tricentenaire de la Révocation de l'Edit de Nantes, sur la tolérance en matière politique et religieuse et l'histoire du protestantisme en France, Paris, Palais de l'UNESCO". 1985-10-11. Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  67. "(Subscription)". Le Monde. France.,1-0@2-3224,36-387334,0.html. Retrieved 3 June 2010. 
  68. Von Derschau, Verena. "Le procès des "écoutes de l'Elysée" doit commencer lundi à Paris". La Presse Canadienne. 
  69. "La police française déploie ses grandes oreilles, 30 mai 2007".,3800002050,39369829,00.htm. Retrieved 3 June 2010. 
  70. 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.
  71. « 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
  72. J.-B., Écoutes de l'Elysée : l'État devra indemniser la famille Hallier, Le Figaro, 25 juillet 2008
  73. Greenpeace, vingt ans après : le rapport secret de l'amiral Lacoste, Le Monde, 10 July 2005 (Subscription) (French)
  74. Painton, Frederick (30 September 1985). "France "Criminal, Absurd . . . and Stupid" – 30 Sep. 1985". Time.,9171,959987-1,00.html. Retrieved 3 June 2010. 
  75. "Mitterrand ordered bombing of Rainbow Warrior, spy chief says – 11 July 2005". Times Online. Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  76. Whitney, Craig R. (9 January 1996). "Francois Mitterrand Dies at 79; Champion of a Unified Europe". The New York Times Company. p. 1. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  77. See discussion page, including reference to the accounts of Roger Hanin and George-Marc Benhamou (Link at: See also "The Last Meal" by Michael Paterniti, Esquire Magazine, 1 May 1998. Accessed on 1 January 2011 at:
  78. Icelandese Presidency Website, Mitterrand, François ; forseti Frakklands ; Frakkland ; 1983-04-12 ; Stórkross með keðju (François Mitterrand ; Président of France ; France ; 1983-04-12 ; Grand Cross with Collar)
  79. Italian Presidency Website, S.E. Francois MITTERAND, "Cavaliere di Gran Croce Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana"
  80. Volks krant, State visit of Netherlands in France (Mitterrand), 1991, Group Photo
  81. 81.0 81.1 Portuguese Presidency Website, Orders search form : type "MITTERRAND" in "nome", then click "Pesquisar"
  82. "1994 National Orders awards". 2007-12-06. Retrieved 2013-03-11. 
  83. 83.0 83.1 Heraldry of the Order of the Seraphim
  84. Photos of the state visit in Sweden
  85. Photo of the state visit in United Kingdom
  86. "Flags of President of the Republic". Retrieved 2013-03-11. 

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