Jacques Chirac

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Jacques Chirac
Jacques Chirac
Term of office May 17, 1995 – present
Preceded by François Mitterrand
Succeeded by Incumbent
Date of birth November 29, 1932
Place of birth Paris, France
Spouse Bernadette Chodron de Courcel
Political party UMP (not officially a member)

, (born November 29, 1932 in Paris) 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 and Grand Master of the Légion d'honneur.

In 1959, after completing studies at the École Nationale d'Administration, Jacques Chirac began his career as a high-level civil servant, and soon entered politics. He has since occupied various senior positions, such as minister of agriculture, prime minister, mayor of Paris, and finally president of France.

He has stood for lower tax rates, the removal of price controls, strong punishment for crime and terrorism; and business privatization. He has also argued for more socially responsible economic policies, and was elected in 1995 after campaigning on a platform of healing the "social rift" (fracture sociale). His economic policies have at various times included both laissez-faire and dirigiste elements. On European Union issues, he has ranged from adopting eurosceptic stances on some issues to rather more pro-EU positions.

In 1956, he married Bernadette Chodron de Courcel, with whom he has two daughters, Laurence and Claude, of whom the latter has long been his public relations assistant and personal advisor. He is a Roman Catholic.

Bernadette and Jacques Chirac have also informally adopted a boat people refugee, Anh Dao Traxel, whom they took into their home in 1979, when she was 21. She is considered as their foster daughter.


Youth and studies

A young Jacques Chirac
A young Jacques Chirac

Jacques Chirac studied at:

In his early career, Chirac was initially attracted by left-wing politics. He sold the Communist newspaper l'Humanité and signed the Communist-inspired Stockholm Call against nuclear weapons in 1950. These left-wing ties later proved to be a hindrance to him, for instance in his first visit to the United States and in his military career. Although he finished first in his class at the armoured cavalry officer academy of Saumur, the military wanted to de-rank him because they did not want a "Communist" to become an officer. However, Chirac's extensive family acquaintances had him ranked back at his former position (disputed ).

After completing officer's school, Jacques Chirac volunteered to be deployed in Algeria while the Algerian War of Independence was raging, even though his family connections would easily have allowed him to obtain a safe position away from the war(disputed ). He was wounded during his tour of duty.

Early political career

Inspired by General Charles de Gaulle to enter public life, Chirac continued pursuing a civil service career in the 1950s. He attended Harvard University's summer school before entering the École Nationale d'Administration (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 became a civil servant and rose rapidly through the ranks. As soon as April 1962, 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.

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 Appeal of June 18, 1940.

Chirac 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 Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who 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 an Asterix graphic novel.

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. Chirac 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. 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 Giscard d'Estaing a non-Gaullist centrist, was elected Pompidou's successor amid France's most competitive election campaign in years.

Prime minister, 1974-76

When Giscard became president, he nominated Chirac as prime minister 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.

In December 1974, then vice-president of Iraq Saddam Hussein invited Chirac to Baghdad. Chirac accepted and visited Iraq in 1975. Saddam Hussein approved a deal granting French oil companies a number of privileges plus a 23 per cent share of Iraqi oil. France also sold a nuclear reactor called Osirak to Iraq.

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


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

Mayor of Paris

Action as a mayor

By an astute move, Chirac 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 for 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. Chirac supporters point out that, 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. His opponents contend that he installed clientelist policies, and favored office buildings at the expense of housing, driving rents high and worsening the situation of workers.

In addition, 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 road to the presidency

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"). The already-established rivalry between the two men became even more intense.

In 1981, Chirac made his first run for president. Chirac ran against sitting president Giscard in the presidential election, thus splitting the centre-right vote; both Chirac and Giscard were defeated by Socialist François Mitterrand. Giscard has always blamed Chirac for his defeat in the 1981 elections; since then, the relationship between the two men has always been somewhat tense, with Giscard, though in the same government coalition has Chirac taking opportunities to criticize Chirac's actions.

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. However, it is generally conceded that Mitterand used the areas granted to the President of the Republic - defence and foreign affairs - to belittle his Prime Minister.

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.


First term as president

His 18 years as mayor of Paris finally proved the launching pad for his first successful bid for the French presidency. To win he had to first fend off a challenge from a fellow Gaullist – prime minister Édouard Balladur (who ran as an independent, though supported by a large share of Chirac's RPR, and finished third in the first round). He then narrowly beat Socialist Party challenger Lionel Jospin in the final runoff election. On his third attempt to win the French presidency, Jacques Chirac finally succeeded in being elected president in May 1995.

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 labour strikes during his first months in office. On the domestic front, neo-liberal economic austerity measures introduced by Chirac and his conservative prime minister Alain Juppé, including budgetary cutbacks, proved highly unpopular. At about the same time, it became apparent that Juppé and others had obtained preferential conditions for public housing, as well as other perks. 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.

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 programme. 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, by a constitutional convention, only controls foreign and military policy— and even then, allocation of funding is under the control of Parliament and 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 27th G8 summit, 21 July 2001.
President Chirac and United States President George W. Bush talk over issues during the 27th G8 summit, 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. Slogans such as "vote for the crook, not for the fascist" or "vote with a clothespin on your nose" appeared.

"We must reject extremism in the name of the honour 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." [1]

While Jacques Chirac was reviewing troops in a motorcade such as this one on Bastille Day 2002, he was shot at by a deranged bystander.
While Jacques Chirac was reviewing troops in a motorcade such as this one on Bastille Day 2002, he was shot at by a deranged bystander.

The left-wing Socialist Party being in thorough disarray following Jospin's defeat, Chirac reorganized politics on the right, establishing a new party — initially called the Union of the Presidential Majority, then the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). The RPR had broken down - a number of members had formed Eurosceptic breakaways. While the Giscardian liberals of the Union of French Democracy (UDF) had moved sharply to the right. The UMP won the parliamentary elections that followed the presidential poll with ease.

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 toward the presidential motorcade, before being overpowered by bystanders [2].The gunman, Maxime Brunerie, underwent psychiatric testing; the violent far-right group with which he was associated, Unité Radicale was then administratively dissolved. Brunerie had also been a 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 was whether the court found that Brunerie's capacity for rational thought was absent (see insanity defence) or merely altered. On December 10, the court, exceeding the sentence pushed for by 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 under any circumstances, and tried to rally other governments to his position. (cf. Governments' pre-war positions on invasion of Iraq, Protests against the Iraq war). Chirac was then the target of various American and British commentators supporting the decisions of president Bush and prime minister Tony Blair. See also anti-French sentiment in the United States. Suspected French involvement in "under the table" deals with Saddam Hussein have led many supporters of the war to question Chirac's motives in opposing the invasion of Iraq. However, as of 2005, the French government and Chirac himself have not been shown to have been involved in such hidden deals, while several private individuals are investigated in France for crimes related to the oil for food program.

During a state visit to China on April 21, 2005 Chirac's Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin lent support to new "anti-secession" laws on Taiwan, allowing China invade Taiwan in the event of Taiwanese independence, and continued to push for a lift of the EU arms embargo against China. France's position was seen as attempting to aid China in altering the balance of power against the U. S. in East Asia, in which the control of Taiwan is of utmost importance. This drew widespread condemnation from the U. S. which responded by threatening sanctions against the EU unless the embargo was continued.

Jacques Chirac giving a speech to the French People to vote "Yes" on the European Constitution.
Jacques Chirac giving a speech to the French People to vote "Yes" on the European Constitution.

On 29 May 2005 a referendum was held in France to decide whether the country should ratify the proposed Constitution of the European Union. The result was a victory for the No campaign, with 55 per cent of voters rejecting the treaty on a turnout of 69 per cent, dealing a devastating blow to Chirac and the UMP party. Chirac's decision to hold a referendum was thought to have been influenced in part by the surprise announcement that the United Kingdom was to hold a vote of its own. Although the adoption of a Constitution had initially been played down as a 'tidying-up' exercise with no need for a popular vote, as increasing numbers of EU member states announced their intention to hold a referendum, the French government came under increasing pressure to follow suit.

French voters turned down the proposed document by a wide margin, which was interpreted by some as a rebuke to Chirac and his government. Two days later, Jean-Pierre Raffarin resigned and Chirac appointed Dominique de Villepin as Prime Minister of France.

In an address to the nation, Chirac has declared that the new cabinet's top priority would be to curb the unemployment level, which consistently hovers above 10%, calling for a "national mobilization" to that effect. One of the main promises of Jean-Pierre Raffarin when he became Prime Minister had been to spur growth and that "the end of President Chirac's term would be marked by a drop of the unemployment"; however, at the time of his dismissal, no such improved could be seen. Villepin set himself a deadline of a hundred days to restore the French people's trust in their government (note that Villepin's first published book was titled The Hundred Days or the Spirit of Sacrifice).

Chirac became the subject of controversy the day before the International Olympic Committee was due to pick a host city for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Chirac made comments stating that "the only worse food than British food is Finnish" and "the only thing the British have done for Europe's agriculture is mad cow disease". Not only were Chirac's comments considered unsportsmanlike where the normal etiquette is not to criticize rival cities, there was also the presence of two Finnish members on the International Olympic Committee who would vote in the final ballot. Out of the competing candidate cities, the bid was widely acknowledged as the front runner but Paris's narrow loss to archrival London led many to believe that Chirac's comments were at fault. It seems that the French public laid the blame of the failure on president Chirac, and not on mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë, whose popularity had in fact risen according to polls.

Even longtime Chirac supporters have lost their faith. Jean-Louis Debré, president of the National Assembly and a faithful Chirac supporter, declared "I'm not sure that Jacques Chirac succeeded in his presidency. I'd at least like that he succeeds in his exit." (L'Express, 18/7) According to a July 2005 poll , 32% judge Jacques Chirac favorably and 63% unfavorably.

It is unclear whether Jacques Chirac will run for a third mandate in 2007 and, should he not run or should he fail in a re-election bid, whether he risks prosecution and jail time for the various fraudulent schemes he has been named in. While he is currently immune from prosecution as a president, prescription (i.e. the statute of limitations) does not apply.

One issue seen of increasing importance with respect to a possible 2007 re-election bid is Jacques Chirac's age and health. Chirac has often been described to be extremely resilient and hard-working, and to have conserved a legendary appetite; before 2005, he had never had major health problems throughout his long political career. He used to be a heavy smoker but had given up many years ago. Nevertheless, it has become apparent that he is also careful of hiding signs that may betray declining health. As an example, in 2003, then minister of environment Roselyne Bachelot revealed that Chirac was testing some hearing aid, and was reprimanded for this revelation. On September 3, 2005 prime minister Dominique de Villepin announced that Jacques Chirac had been hospitalized the day before in Val-de-Grâce military hospital in Paris for a "small vascular incident" affecting his eyesight. He was released on September 9, 2005 under advice not to fly for six weeks, ruling him out of the United Nations General Assembly. Villepin was appointed to serve in Chirac's place in the United Nation's 2005 World Summit in New York.

Impact on French popular culture

Because of Jacques Chirac's long career in visible government position, he has often been parodied or caricatured:

  • Young Jacques Chirac is the basis of a character in Astérix: that of a young, dashing bureaucrat just out of the bureaucracy school, proposing methods to quell Gallic unrest to elderly, old-style Roman politicians.
  • He was featured in Le Bêbête Show as an overexcited, jumpy character.
  • Jacques Chirac is one favourite character of Les Guignols de l'Info, a satiric latex puppet show. He is shown as a kind of nervous dilettante and incompetent who pilfers public money and lies through his teeth. His character has lately developed a super hero alter ego, Super Menteur ("Super Liar") in order to get him out of embarrassing situations.

Preceded by:
Michel Cointat
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Succeeded by:
Raymond Marcellin
Preceded by:
Raymond Marcellin
Minister of the Interior
Succeeded by:
Michel Poniatowski
Preceded by:
Pierre Messmer
Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by:
Raymond Barre
Preceded by:
Alexandre Sanguinetti
General Secretary of the Union of Democrats for the Republic
Succeeded by:
André Bord
Preceded by:
President of Rally for the Republic
Succeeded by:
Alain Juppé
Mayor of Paris
Succeeded by:
Jean Tiberi
Preceded by:
Laurent Fabius
Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by:
Michel Rocard
Preceded by:
François Mitterrand
President of the French Republic
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
François Mitterrand and Joan Martí Alanis
Co-Prince of Andorra
with Joan Martí Alanis (1995–2003) and Joan Enric Vives Sicília (2003–present)

See also

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