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Jacques Chirac

Jacques Chirac
Became President: 17 May 1995
Predecessor: François Mitterrand
Date of Birth: 29 November 1932
Place of Birth: Paris
Political party: Union for a Popular Movement

Jacques (René) Chirac (born 29 November 1932) is a French politician. He was elected President of the French Republic in 1995 and 2002. As President, he is an ex officio Co-Prince of Andorra.

An only child, Chirac is the son of a bank clerk and later an executive for an aircraft company. In 1954, he graduated from the Institut d'études politiques de Paris, an institute for students interested in politics and diplomacy, and earned a degree in political science. In 1956, Chirac was drafted in the army. He obtained the rank of officer during the French-Algerian War and was wounded in Algeria, where France was engaged in a colonial war. In 1959, after completing studies at the École Nationale d'Administration, he entered high-level civil service, then soon entered politics. He has since occupied various high-level positions, such as minister of finances, prime minister, mayor of Paris, and finally president of France.

Jacques Chirac's politics are, broadly speaking, conservative and Gaullist. He has generally stood for lower tax rates, the removal of price controls, strong punishments for crime and terrorism and business privatization. However, he also, at other times, argued for more "social" economic policies and was elected in 1995 after a campaign where he said he would reduce the "social rift" (fracture sociale). On economic policies, he has advocated laissez-faire and digiriste positions, depending on the period.

Currently married to Bernadette Chodron de Courcel, Chirac has two daughters, one of whom has long been his public relation assistant (Claude Chirac). He is a Roman Catholic.


Youth and studies

Jacques Chirac studied at:

Jacques Chirac was initially attracted towards left-wing causes, leading him to sell the Communist newspaper l'Humanité and to sign the Communist-inspired Stockholm Call against nuclear weapons in 1950. These left-wing ties proved later a hindrance to him, for instance in his first visit to the United States and his military career. Indeed, even though he finished first of his class at the armored cavalry officer academy of Saumur, the military wanted to de-rank him because they did not wish a "Communist" to become an officer. However, Chirac's extensive family acquaintances had him ranked back at the correct position. When drafted, Jacques Chirac volunteered to be deployed in Algeria (Algerian War of Independence), even though his family relations would easily have allowed him to obtain a safe position away from the war.

Early political career

Inspired by General Charles de Gaulle to enter public life, Chirac continued pursuing civil service in the 1950s. He attended Harvard University's summer School before entering the ENA (the elite, competitive-entrance college that trains France's top civil servants) in 1957.

After earning a graduate degree from the ENA in 1959, he then became a civil servant and rose rapidly through the ranks. In April 1962, only three years after having graduated from the École Nationale d'Administration, Chirac was appointed head of the personal staff of Georges Pompidou, then prime minister under de Gaulle. This appointment launched Chirac's political career.

Pompidou considered Chirac his protégé and referred to him as "my bulldozer" for his skill at getting things done. The nickname "Le Bulldozer" caught on in French political circles. Chirac still maintains this reputation. "Chirac cuts through the crap and comes straight to the point. ... It's refreshing, although you have to put your seat belt on when you work with him," said an anonymous British diplomat in 1995. [1]

At Pompidou's suggestion, Chirac ran as a Gaullist for a seat in the National Assembly in 1967. Chirac won the election and was given a post in the ministry of social affairs. (Gaullists have historically supported a strong central government and independence in foreign policy.) Although more of a "Pompidolian" than a "Gaullist," Chirac was well situated in de Gaulle's entourage, being related by marriage to the general's sole companion at the time of the June 1940 Appel.

Chirac already rose to become economy minister in the late 1960s, serving as department head and a secretary of state. As state secretary at the Ministry of Economy and Finance (1968-1971), he had worked closely with Giscard d'Estaing, who had then headed the ministry. In 1968, when student and worker strikes rocked France (see May 1968), Chirac played a central role in negotiating a truce. The young technocrat from ENA then rose to fame; Chirac was caricatured as the archetypal brilliant ENA graduate in Astérix.

Chirac's first high-level post came in 1972 when he became minister of agriculture and rural development under his mentor Georges Pompidou, who was elected president in 1969. He quickly earned a reputation as a champion of French farmers' interests. As minister of agriculture, Chirac first attracted international attention when he assailed U.S., West German, and European Commission agricultural policies that conflicted with French interests.

In 1974 Chirac was appointed minister of the interior. As minister of the interior from March 1974 he was entrusted by President Pompidou with preparations for the presidential election then scheduled for 1976. However, these elections were brought forward by Pompidou's sudden death on 2 April. In 1974 former minister of economy and finance Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, a non-Gaullist centrist, was elected Pompidou's successor amid France's most competitive election campaign in years.

On 29 May 1974 Chirac (left) replaced Pierre Messmer (right) as prime minister at the Hôtel Matignon.
On 29 May 1974 Chirac (left) replaced Pierre Messmer (right) as prime minister at the Hôtel Matignon.

Prime minister, 1974-76

When Giscard became president, Chirac was nominated as prime minister by Giscard on 27 May 1974. At the age of just 41, Chirac stood out as the very model of the jeunes loups ("young wolves") of French political life.

However, the government could not afford to ignore the narrow margin by which Giscard d'Estaing had defeated the United Left candidate, François Mitterrand, in 1974. Giscard, not himself a member of the Gaullist Union des Démocrates pour la République (UDR), saw in the essentially pragmatic Chirac the qualities needed to reconcile the "Giscardian" and "non-Giscardian" factions of the parliamentary majority.

As prime minister, Chirac quickly set about persuading the Gaullists that, despite the social reforms proposed by President Giscard, the basic tenets of Gaullism, such as national and European independence, would be retained.

Citing Giscard's unwillingness to give him authority, Chirac resigned as prime minister in 1976. He proceeded to build up his political base among France's several conservative parties, with a goal of reconstituting the Gaullist UDR into a neo-Gaullist group, the Rally for the Republic.

Mayor of Paris

By an astute move he secured his election as secretary-general of the Gaullist UDR in the face of potential opposition from the party "barons" and soon afterwards consolidated his hold over the majority by easily defeating an opposition motion of censure. Chirac also formed the conservative Rally of the Republic movement in 1976 to perpetuate the policies of Charles de Gaulle.

With the new party firmly under his control, Chirac was elected mayor of Paris in 1977, a position he held until 1995. As mayor of Paris, Chirac's political influence grew. As mayor, he provided for programs to help the elderly, people with disabilities, and single mothers, while providing incentives for businesses to stay in Paris.

In 1978, he attacked pro-European Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's Union for French Democracy as being the "pro-foreign party" (in the "call of Cochin").

In 1981 Chirac made his first run for president. Chirac ran against sitting president Giscard, thus splitting the center-right vote; both Chirac and Giscard were defeated by Socialist François Mitterrand. When a strong conservative coalition won a slight majority in the National Assembly in 1986, Mitterrand appointed Chirac prime minister. This power-sharing arrangement, known as cohabitation, gave Chirac the lead in domestic affairs.

Chirac sought the presidency and ran against Mitterrand for a second time in 1988, but was defeated in runoff elections. However, he remained mayor of Paris and active in parliament.

Chirac has been named in several cases of alleged corruption and abuse which occurred during his office term as mayor, some of which have already led to felony convictions against other politicians and aides. However a controversial judicial decision from 1999 grants him virtual immunity, as current president of France. He has refused to testify on these matters, arguing that this would be incompatible with his presidential functions. See Corruption scandals in the Paris region.


The Grand-Croix of the Legion of Honor is conferred on Chirac during his inauguration as President of the French Republic on 17 May 1995.
The Grand-Croix of the Legion of Honor is conferred on Chirac during his inauguration as President of the French Republic on 17 May 1995.

His 18 years as mayor of Paris finally proved the launching pad for his first successful bid for the French presidency. On his third attempt to win the French presidency, Mayor Jacques Chirac of Paris finally succeeded in May 1995, narrowly beating Socialist Party challenger Lionel Jospin.

Shortly after taking office, Chirac—undaunted by international protests by angry environmental groups—insisted upon the resumption of nuclear tests at Mururoa Atoll in French Polynesia in 1995. Reacting to criticism, Chirac said, "You only have to look back at 1935. ... There were people then who were against France arming itself, and look what happened."

Chirac announced on 1 February 1996 that France had ended "once and for all" its nuclear testing, intending to accede to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Chirac was elected on a platform of tax cuts and job programs, but his policies did little to ease the recent labor strikes during his first months in office. On the domestic front, neoliberal economic austerity measures introduced by Chirac and his conservative prime minister Alain Juppé, including budgetary cutbacks, proved highly unpopular. At the year's end Chirac faced major workers' strikes.

One of his nicknames is Chameleon Bonaparte. Another is La Girouette ("the weathervane"). At one point an anti-European Gaullist, he became a champion of the euro as president.

In September 1998 Chirac first met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
In September 1998 Chirac first met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

Trying to firm up his party's government coalition, in 1997 Chirac dissolved parliament for early legislative elections in a gamble designed to bolster support for his conservative economic program. But this strategy backfired. Chirac's dismissal of the parliament created an uproar, and his power was weakened by the subsequent backlash. The Socialist Party, joined by other parties on the left, soundly defeated Chirac's conservative allies, forcing Chirac into a new period of cohabitation with Jospin as prime minister. This power-sharing arrangement between Chirac and Jospin lasted five years.

Cohabitation significantly weakened the power of Chirac's presidency. The French president only controls foreign and military policy—and even then, allocation of funding is under the significant influence of the prime minister. Short of dissolving parliament and calling for new elections, the president was left with little power to influence public policy regarding crime, the economy, and public services. Chirac seized the occasion to periodically criticize Jospin's government.

Second term as president

President Chirac and United States President George W. Bush talk over issues during the G-8 sessions, 21 July 2001.
President Chirac and United States President George W. Bush talk over issues during the G-8 sessions, 21 July 2001.

At age 69, Chirac faced his fourth presidential campaign in 2002. He was the first choice of fewer than one voter in five in the first-round of voting of the presidential elections of April 2002. It had been expected that he would face incumbent prime minister Lionel Jospin on the second round of elections; instead, Chirac faced controversial right-wing politician Jean-Marie Le Pen of the law-and-order, anti-immigrant National Front, and won re-election by a landslide; most parties outside the National Front had called for opposing Le Pen, even if it meant voting for Chirac.

"We must reject extremism in the name of the honor of France, in the name of the unity of our own nation," Chirac said before the presidential election. "I call on all French to massively vote for republican ideals against the extreme right." [2]

On 14 July 2002 during Bastille Day celebrations, Chirac survived an assassination attempt by a lone gunman with a rifle hidden in a guitar case. The would-be assassin fired a shot towards the presidential motorcade , before being overpowered by bystanders. The gunman, Maxime Brunerie, underwent psychiatric expertise; the violent far-right group with which he was associated, Unité Radicale was then administratively dissolved. Brunerie had also been candidate for the Mouvement National Républicain far-right party at a local election. Brunerie's trial for attempted murder begun on December 6, 2004; a crucial question is whether the court will find that Brunerie's discernment was abolished (see insanity defense) or merely alterated. On December 10, the court, going beyond the request of the prosecution, sentenced Brunerie to 10 years in prison.

Chirac emerged as a leading voice against US president George W. Bush's administration's conduct in the Middle East. Despite intense U.S. pressure, Chirac threatened to veto any resolution in the U.N. Security Council that would authorize the use of force to disarm Iraq until UN weapons inspectors in Iraq were given more time. (cf. Governments' pre-war positions on invasion of Iraq, Global protests against war on Iraq). Chirac was then the target of various American and British commentators supporting the decisions of president Bush and prime minister Tony Blair, some, like The Sun, engaging in tasteless comparisons. See also anti-French sentiment in the United States.

Chirac's First Ministry, 28 May 1974 - 27 August 1976

  • Jacques Chirac - Prime Minister
  • Jean Sauvagnargues - Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Jacques Soufflet - Minister of Defense
  • Michel Poniatowski - Minister of the Interior
  • Jean-Pierre Fourcade - Minister of Economy and Finance
  • Michel d'Ornano - Minister of Industry and Research
  • Michel Durafour - Minister of Labour
  • Jean Lecanuet - Minister of Justice
  • René Haby - Minister of Education
  • Christian Bonnet - Minister of Agriculture
  • Robert Galley - Minister of Equipment
  • Simone Veil - Minister of Health
  • Pierre Abelin - Minister of Cooperation
  • Vincent Ansquer - Minister of Commerce and Craft Industry
  • Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber - Minister of Reform
  • André Jarrot - Minister of Quality of Life


  • 9 June 1974 - Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber leaves the cabinet and is not replaced as Minister of Reforms.
  • 1 February 1975 - Yvon Bourges succeeds Soufflet as Minister of Defense.
  • 12 January 1976 - Jean de Lipkowski succeeds Abelin as Minister of Cooperation. Raymond Barre enters the ministry as Minister of External Commerce. André Fosset succeeds Jarrot as Minister of Quality of Life.

Chirac's Second Ministry, 20 March 1986 - 12 May 1988

  • Jacques Chirac - Prime Minister
  • Jean-Bernard Raimond - Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • André Giraud - Minister of Defense
  • Charles Pasqua - Minister of the Interior
  • Édouard Balladur - Minister of Economy, Finance, and Privatization
  • Alain Madelin - Minister of Industry, Tourism, Posts, and Telecommunications
  • Philippe Séguin - Minister of Employment and Social Affairs
  • Albin Chalandon - Minister of Justice
  • René Monory - Minister of National Education
  • François Léotard - Minister of Culture and Communications
  • François Guillaume - Minister of Agriculture
  • Bernard Pons - Minister of Overseas Departments and Territories
  • Pierre Méhaignerie - Minister of Housing, Equipment, Regional Planning, and Transport
  • André Rossinot - Minister of Relations with Parliament
  • Michel Aurillac - Minister of Cooperation

Preceded by:
Pierre Messmer
Prime Minister of France
Followed by:
Raymond Barre
Preceded by:
Laurent Fabius
Prime Minister of France
Followed by:
Michel Rocard

Preceded by:
François Mitterrand

President of France

Succeeded by:
Current Incumbent

See also

External link

  • BBC news article on the assassination attempt

Last updated: 02-07-2005 08:55:36
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01