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France Modern History

Political instability and a disintegrating colonial rule led to the return of war hero Charles de Gaulle in 1958 as leader. The 1960s were financially successful but were characterized by social upheaval and revolt. During the 1970s, the economy was hit by a crisis, which contributed to the socialist François Mitterrand being elected president in 1981. He sat in power until 1995 when gaolist Jacques Chirac took over. In 2007, Chirac was succeeded by Nicolas Sarkozy, a candidate for the right who gathered at the newly formed UMP.

After the war, the parliamentary system was re-established during the "Fourth Republic" (1946–1958). Domestic politics was characterized by political unrest, the country had 26 different governments during the period. Foreign policy took important steps towards Franco-German reconciliation and increased European cooperation.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing France. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The Vietnamese had begun a rebellion against the French Empire in Indochina after the World War, and in 1954 France was forced to abandon its colonies there. But what broke the Fourth Republic was the colonial war in Algeria, which began in 1954. The war against the Algerian independence movement was costly, gradually undermining the authority of the French governments, and in May 1958 had led to the almost impossible form of a functioning government. The end of the republic came when the French civilian and the Algerian army rebelled against what they perceived as the inability to secure French interests there.

Contemporary History of France1958 - Fifth Republic

Civil war seemed to be threatening, and the crisis ended with Parliament handing over power to General de Gaulle who had been out of politics since 1946. de Gaulle had the confidence of the rebel generals and was able to stave off the dramatic crisis. He had stipulated that a new constitution with strong presidential power should be adopted. The Fifth Republic was established and de Gaulle was elected president.

General de Gaulle soon realized that the time of the colonial empire was over. In the spring of 1961, the Algerian military again threatened with a coup, and a bloody wave of attacks swept over both France and Algeria. However, a referendum in the same year gave clear news: 75 percent of the French said yes to Algeria's independence. Algeria became an independent state in 1962.

During the rest of the 1960s, growth accelerated and prosperity increased. de Gaulle's policy was aimed at rendering the country a prominent role internationally (see Foreign Policy and Defense). Within the EEC (the current EU), de Gaulle opposed the plans to allow the joint bodies to gain greater power at the expense of individual member states. De Gaulle, on the other hand, worked for a rapprochement between France and West Germany.

1968 - The May Revolution and the case of Gaulle

Despite good times, France was a society with strong tensions. These came to the surface at the May riots in 1968. For almost a month, the country was hit by strikes and student protests. The revolt was a protest against authoritarian rulers, against the dominance of the elite, and against injustice that came today during a rapid economic transformation. Soon de Gaulle's time was over. After losing a referendum, he withdrew from power in 1969. He died the following year.

In the 1969 election, the Gaullist and former Prime Minister Georges Pompidou won. He died of cancer in his post in 1974. That same year, Valéry Giscard d 'Estaing, leader of Independent Republicans, a party on the right, was named new president. He lowered the voting age to 18, introduced abortion law and made it easier to get a divorce. Giscard d 'Estaing also took the initiative on a common European monetary policy and advocated a European Parliament appointed by universal suffrage. He also reduced the state's role in the economy.

1981 - Mitterrand and left politics

In the 1970s, the western world was pulled into an economic downturn as a result of the oil crisis. Concerns about rising unemployment and demands for social reform led in 1981 to the left in France seizing power, first in the presidential election where socialist François Mitterrand defeated Giscard d 'Estaing and then in parliamentary elections. The Socialists began their reign with a number of nationalizations. The minimum wage was increased, wealth tax was introduced and the rights of employees in the companies were strengthened. The socialists tried to breathe life into the economy through government efforts. But economic policy has caused concern in the financial markets. In 1983, the experiment was interrupted. Tightening and combating inflation now became political guiding principles even for socialists.

In 1986, they won the bourgeois parliamentary elections and began to privatize business. Prior to the 1988 presidential election, Mitterrand played on voters' uncertainty before privatization and won the election. Shortly thereafter, he announced a new election in which the socialists regained government power.

1995 - The Gaullist Party and Chirac take over

The socialists quickly faced new problems. A series of corruption deals hurt the party. The government's inability to cope with unemployment, as well as the Socialist Party's difficulties in formulating a policy that separated it from the bourgeois bloc, diminished voter confidence. At the 1993 parliamentary elections, the right-wing party with the Gaullist party RPR (see Political system) won a grand victory. Two years later, the Gaullist Party's candidate, Jacques Chirac, won the presidential election against Socialist Lionel Jospin.

In order to meet the requirements for participation in the European Monetary Union EMU in 1999, France had to drastically reduce its budget deficit. However, cuts in the welfare system triggered major strikes and demonstrations in 1995 and the government was forced to withdraw parts of its proposals. In alliance with the environmental party, the left won the parliamentary elections in 1997. France again got a president and a prime minister of various political colors.

Lionel Jospin, who became head of government, focused on strict control of state finances in order for France to qualify for EMU. This was done with increased taxes, but also through continued sales of state-owned companies. In order to reduce unemployment, the government subsidized youth jobs in the public sector and introduced shorter work weeks.

2002 - new bourgeois party is born

In the 2002 presidential election, President Chirac went on to wait for the second round. Unexpectedly, however, the second did not become the socialist Lionel Jospin, but the anti-immigrant nationalist party National Front's candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. One reason was that left voters felt betrayed by their own government and turned their back on Jospin. With Le Pen as a counterpart, Chirac was also supported by many leftists in the second round and he won with 82 percent of the vote.

Prior to the June 2002 parliamentary elections, several bourgeois parties merged to form the Union for the Presidential Majority (UMP). The election became a new setback for the socialists; the bourgeois gained a satisfactory majority and formed government. In the fall of 2002, the UMP Alliance Alliance was transformed into a new party, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP).

The economy suffered from the international recession and unemployment increased. A series of strikes were held in protest of the government's policy, which included reforming the pension system. At the same time, the European Commission demanded that the budget deficit be lowered.

In January 2004, President Chirac's closest husband, UMP leader and former Prime Minister Alain Juppé, was sentenced to conditional prison for political corruption in the form of illegal party funding during his time as head of finance in the city of Paris when Chirac was mayor in 1988-1955. Chirac himself could not be prosecuted because he was head of state.

Growing criticism of the government got rid of the 2005 French referendum on EU countries' proposals for a new EU treaty. In the campaigns against the treaty, both the government and the EU were blamed for most abuses in France, and almost 55 percent of the voters rejected the treaty. The turnout was approximately 70 percent. In addition to the traditional anti-European forces on the left and right, a significant proportion of Socialist Party voters had voted no. The result led to a difficult crisis for both the EU and the French leadership.

2005 - rattles in the cities

In the autumn of 2005, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy stirred up strong feelings when he spoke about crime and the underground economy in immigrant-dense suburbs. Sarkozy, who had been elected President of the UMP a year earlier, was seen as a skilled but also an honorable politician. Following the eviction, immigrant-dense suburbs in Paris and other French cities were hit by violent riots. Exception laws and curfews were introduced. After three weeks, about 10,000 cars and buses had been burned by youth gangs. The riots cost society millions. 600 people were sentenced to prison terms.

Prior to the 2007 presidential election, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy was named UMP candidate. The Socialist Party's candidate became Ségolène Royal, who was, among other things, Minister of Education. Sarkozy won in the second round, with 53 percent of the vote. In the June National Assembly elections, the UMP and its support parties retained their majority.

President Sarkozy's regime was characterized by fierce contradictions and sharp political conflicts, mainly in the economy and immigration. The government's attempt to reduce the budget deficit through cuts in welfare was met by protests led by the traditionally striking French union.

Before the 2012 elections, Sarkozy flirted with the National Front voters and ran his election campaign with questions about law enforcement, border control and restricted immigration. The Socialist Party's candidate in the presidential election, François Hollande, presented himself as the center candidate. He criticized the policies of the incumbent government, claiming that stimulus measures were needed to get the economy going and reduce high unemployment. Hollande won by a slight margin over Sarkozy in the first round of the 2012 presidential election and also won in the second by 52 percent against 48 percent for Sarkozy.

When elections were held for the National Assembly in June of the same year, the Left consolidated its hold on power. The Socialist Party progressed strongly and together with the environmental party Europeecology – the Greens (EELV) and some leftist groups obtained a satisfactory majority in Parliament's lower house. Sarkozy's UMP collapsed with over 100 seats. In the Senate, the left since 2011 had the majority for the first time since the fifth republic was introduced in 1958.

Continued financial problems

But even the new President Hollande failed to fix the problematic economy (see Finance). After initially pursuing a policy of, among other things, tax increases for high-income earners, the government in 2014 switched to a more entrepreneur-friendly strategy with tax cuts for companies and reductions in government spending. But even then they failed to gain momentum on the economy, which has largely ceased to grow with continued high unemployment. The new economic policy was criticized by the Socialist Party's left wing and also led to fragmentation within the government. In August 2014, Minister of Economy Arnaud Montebourg issued a public invitation to the government to take stimulus measures to accelerate growth. The play led to Montebourg leaving his post, along with two other rebellious ministers.

In 2015, the government pushed through a much-debated package of measures, including the Sunday opening for business, changes in the appointment of the legal profession and the sale of state-owned corporate holdings. To avoid the bill being voted down in the National Assembly, with the support of left-wing Socialist Party supporters, the government used a controversial clause in the constitution that allows it to pass a resolution without voting.

Success for the National Front

The government and Hollande's problems also had consequences for the Socialist Party's support among voters. The party lost power to the bourgeois UMP in 150 of the country's cities in the local elections in March 2014, and also backed heavily in the elections to the delegation in the country's department in the spring of 2015.

At the same time, the right-wing populist National Front reaped great successes. In the 2014 local elections, the party took control of 14 cities and received nearly a quarter of the vote in the European Parliament elections that year. The party also took part in more ministries in 2015. In the elections to the regions that year, the National Front seemed close to taking home the victory in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie and Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azur, where party leader Marine Le Pen and her niece Marion Marechal-Le Pen were candidates. The Socialist Party, however, managed to sniff them on the victory by pulling away their candidates in both regions and calling on voters to vote for the right instead.

Act of terror

In 2015–2016, France suffered serious terrorist attacks. In January 2015, the country was shocked by a cold-blooded attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, when twelve people were killed, and shortly thereafter the murder of a female police officer and a hostage frame with four more victims in a Jewish grocery store in Paris. The three perpetrators, two of whom were linked to Islamist terror groups, were eventually killed by police after the entire Paris paralysis for a few days.

On Friday, November 13 of that year, France suffered the worst terrorist attacks in the country in modern times. 130 people were killed and about 350 injured in several attacks in Paris. At least seven perpetrators unleashed explosive charges and fired Kalashnikovs at guests at bars and restaurants, in a concert venue as well as in a football match, where President Hollande sat in the crowd. The extremist movement IS assumed responsibility for the assaults reported to be a revenge for French bomb attacks against IS in Syria and Iraq (see Foreign Policy and Defense). Several of the perpetrators had been living in Syria and some had their place of residence in Brussels, Belgium, including the suspected leader, who died in a shootout with French police a few days after the death. A Frenchman was arrested in Brussels in March 2016 on suspicion of participating in the attacks.

Only eight months after the Paris attacks another terrorist attack occurred. On National Day, July 14, 2016, a Frenchman of Tunisian descent with a truck killed 84 people and injured over 300 along the boardwalk in Nice.

Declining support for Hollande

In February 2016, Hollande re-implemented the government. Former Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault returned to the government, now as Foreign Minister, which was seen as a way for the President to further try to appease the critics of the Socialist Party's left wing. The green party EELV again took office in the government with three ministers.

Again, the government used the disputed section of the constitution to avoid parliamentary voting when deciding on new labor laws (see Labor Market and Social Conditions). The changes aroused strong protests, including from academics and unions. Clashes occurred between activists and police and hundreds of thousands of people took part in demonstrations. During the spring, strikes were carried out, for example, in the socially important transport sector, oil refineries and nuclear power plants.

In the fall of 2016, a few months before the presidential and parliamentary elections were held, the support for President Hollande, who had failed during much of his presidency, was lower than for any sitting president during the post-war period.

 
 

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