François Mitterrand

François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand (; 26 October 1916 – 8 January 1996) was a French politician who was President of France from 1981 to 1995. He was 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 outmaneuvered 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, 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).

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