France History: Competition and Cohabitation – Mitterrand and Chirac

Mitterrand won the presidential elections of 1981. Based on the absolute majority of socialists in the National Assembly won in the same year, the government of Fr. Mauroy (1981-84) introduced a reform program (increase in social benefits; nationalization of banks and key industries; decentralization of administration). In view of high unemployment, inflation and national debt, however, it was forced to slow down the expansion of the social security systems significantly from 1982/83. Plans to reorganize the steel industry and the (failed) attempt at school reform sparked internal political tensions. In July 1984 Mitterrand named L. Fabius Prime Minister.

After the electoral success of the Gaullists (RPR) and the middle-class bourgeois parties (UDF) in 1986, Mitterrand was forced to cooperate with these forces and appointed Chirac Prime Minister (1986-88). For the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic, the President and Prime Minister belonged to different political directions. In the domestic political controversy, they tried to delimit their competencies as constitutional organs from one another. With a large majority, Mitterrand was re-elected President in April / May 1988. He ruled again with socialist cabinets (under M. Rocard , 1988–91; Édith Cresson, 1991/92; Pierre Bérégovoy, 1992/93), after the overwhelming victory (80% of the seats) of the bourgeois parties in the parliamentary elections of March 1993 in a second “cohabitation” with a bourgeois coalition under the Gaullist É. Balladur .

In presidential elections (runoff election on May 4, 1995), the chairman of the Gaullist RPR Chirac defeated the socialist candidate L. Jospin , who was still ahead in the first ballot due to the split in the bourgeois parties, with 52.2%. Chirac appointed A. Juppé (RPR) as the new Prime Minister who had to grapple with major social and economic problems. In addition, France had difficulties in meeting the convergence criteria required for the introduction of the euro. The most important decisions in foreign and military policy were: France’s approval of the Two-Plus-Four Treaty in June 1990, accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in January 1992, acceptance of the Maastricht Treaty by referendum in September 1992, resumption of French nuclear tests in French Polynesia (September 1995 to June 1996). Check to see more about France and other countries in the world.

In view of the problems and the loss of popularity of the government, Chirac dissolved the National Assembly in 1997 in order to have a right-wing majority confirmed in new elections. Instead, the left won the majority (241 socialists, 38 communists). Such was a new “cohabitation” with Jospin necessary as prime minister. This formed a left coalition government (June 4, 1997). On February 10, 1998, the National Assembly decided to legally introduce the 35-hour week from January 1, 2000. France managed to meet the criteria for France to join the euro zone. The bourgeois parties suffered considerable upheavals and splits as a result of the election defeat. At the end of this period, the Neo-Gaullists (RPR) and other groups formed the UPM (Union pour un Mouvement Populaire). The liberal-conservative UDF initially remained independent, but disbanded in 2007.

Affairs (including the corruption scandal over the former state oil company Elf-Aquitaine, dispute over the suspicion of illegal party financing) and tensions between Prime Minister Jospin and President Chirac determined domestic politics. On May 22, 2001, the National Assembly passed a highly controversial statute of partial autonomy for Corsica (but in January 2002 it was rejected in central parts by the Constitutional Council). In June 2001 the general conscription was lifted prematurely. Since the term of office of the president had been shortened from seven to five years in order to rule out “cohabitation” in the future, the presidential and parliamentary elections were held for the first time in 2002, only six weeks apart. In the case of the former, the chairman of the right-wing populist and xenophobic Front National, J.-M. Le Pen , incumbent Socialist Prime Minister Jospin.

In the runoff election, Chirac received 82.2% and Le Pen 17.8%, also supported by the left. In the parliamentary elections, the UMP and allies were able to win an absolute majority. With the government of the right-wing liberal Prime Minister J.-P. Raffarin had restored the political harmony intended by the Constitution of the Fifth Republic between a strong President and the majority in the National Assembly. The Front National did not have a chance in national parliamentary elections due to the two-stage majority voting system, but it gradually expanded its position in some regions, especially in the south of France.

The new government struggled to meet the euro stability criteria. A pension reform and plans to decentralize the school system were controversial. The domestic political crisis culminated in a clear no in the French referendum on an EU constitution in May 2005 attacked other major cities in the country. In the presidential elections in April / May 2007, the chairman of the UMP and interior minister (until 2007) N. Sarkozy prevailed against the socialist Ségolène Royal (* 1953).

France History - Competition and Cohabitation - Mitterrand and Chirac