Francois Mitterrand

Mitterrand, François Maurice

François Maurice Mitterrand (fräNswä´ mōrēs´ mētəräN´), 1916–96, French political leader, president of France, 1981–95. Initially a supporter of Pétain's Vichy government during World War II, he joined the Resistance in 1943. Mitterrand served in the National Assembly (1946–58) and senate (1959–62). As head of a small left-of-center party, he held ministerial posts in many cabinets from 1947 until 1958, when Charles de Gaulle became president. Mitterrand later merged his party with several other leftist groups, leading them into a unified Socialist party, of which he became (1971) head.

An outspoken opponent of de Gaulle, Mitterrand ran against him for president in 1965, winning 45% of the vote in a runoff election. In 1974 he again ran for president as the Socialist party candidate, but he lost by a small margin to Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. By 1978 the Socialists were the most popular party in France, and in 1981, Mitterrand became president with the support of the Communist party, which he then marginalized.

Mitterrand's program of bank and insurance company nationalization, wage raises, and decentralization did not stem unemployment and inflation. Mitterrand tried to develop a more conservative program, known as "economic realism," replacing Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy, a long-time Socialist, with Laurent Fabius, a pragmatic economist. Internationally, Mitterrand sought to strengthen the European Community (now the European Union) and pursue an independent foreign policy in the Middle East and Africa. When the Socialists lost the National Assembly in 1986, Mitterrand retained the presidency but had to work with the right-wing government of Premier Jacques Chirac. This so-called cohabitation ended in triumph for Mitterrand, who won reelection in 1988.

After the Socialists regained control of the assembly (1988), Mitterrand appointed Michel Rocard as premier. Rocard followed Mitterrand's centrist politics, but in 1991 Mitterrand replaced Rocard with Edith Cresson, who became France's first woman premier. After a poor showing by the Socialists in local elections, Cresson resigned (1992) and was replaced by Pierre Bérégovoy. Following a conservative victory in the 1993 legislative elections, Mitterrand appointed Édouard Balladur, a Gaullist, as premier, and he was again forced into cohabitation.

Gravely ill with cancer, Mitterrand retired in 1995, having served longer than any other French president. His personal popularity, pragmatism, and resourcefulness were key to his long and successful tenure in office. Mitterrand's accomplishments as president included a greater internationalism, particularly improved relations with other European nations, and a steady domestic decentralization. His most lasting legacy, however, may lie not in politics but in the multifaceted revitalization of Paris, especially the "Grands Travaux" [great works], a spate of important new urban projects undertaken during his presidency with his active encouragement.

See his posthumously published Memoires interrompues [interrupted memoirs] (1996) and De l'Allemagne, de la France [of Germany, of France] (1996); P. Péan's biography of his early years, A French Youth (1994); D. McShane, François Mitterrand: A Political Odyssey (1982); C. Nay, The Black and the Red: François Mitterrand and the Story of an Ambition (1987); J. W. Friend, Seven Years in France (1989); W. Northcutt, Mitterrand: A Political Biography (1991); A. Cole, François Mitterrand: A Study in Political Leadership (1994); S. Baumann-Reynolds, François Mitterrand: The Making of a Socialist Prince in Republican France (1995); P. Short, A Taste for Intrigue: The Multiple Lives of François Mitterrand (2014).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Francois Mitterrand: Selected full-text books and articles

Mitterrand: A Political Biography By Wayne Northcutt Holmes & Meier, 1992
The Fifth French Republic: Presidents, Politics and Personalities By Philip Thody Routledge, 1999
Librarian's tip: Chap. 4 "Francois Mitterrand"
The Road to Maastricht: Negotiating Economic and Monetary Union By Kenneth Dyson; Kevin Featherstone Oxford University Press, 1999
Librarian's tip: Chap. 2 "EMU, the Mitterrand Presidency, and French Political Tradition" and Chap. 4 "Challenging the 'D-Mark Zone': Agenda-Setting on EMU and the Strategy of Indirection under Mitterrand, 1981-1989"
The Politics of Fun: Cultural Policy and Debate in Contemporary France By David L. Looseley Berg Publishers, 1995
Librarian's tip: Chap. 3 "From Malraux to Mitterrand: Creation and Creativity"
A Certain Idea of France: French Security Policy and the Gaullist Legacy By Philip H. Gordon Princeton University Press, 1993
Librarian's tip: Chap. Five "Mitterrand's Adaptations, 1981-1986"
How France Votes By Michael S. Lewis-Beck Chatham House Publishers, 1999
Librarian's tip: Chap. 1 "The Socialists, Jospin, and the Mitterrand Legacy"
Vichy's Afterlife: History and Counterhistory in Postwar France By Richard J. Golsan University of Nebraska Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Mitterrand's Dark Years: A President's 'French Youth'"
The French Road to European Monetary Union By David J. Howarth St. Martin's Press, 2000
Librarian's tip: "Mitterrand's March 1983 Decision to Keep the Franc in the ERM" begins on p. 60
Government and Politics of France By Andrew Knapp; Vincent Wright Routledge, 2001
Librarian's tip: "Francois Mitterrand (1916-96)" begins on p. 71
The French Socialists in Power, 1981-1986 By Patrick McCarthy Greenwood Press, 1987
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Francois Mitterrand begins on p. 45
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