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Saturday, June 22, 2013

France after World War II

France after World War II

After Charles de Gaulle resigned in 1969, his prime minister, Georges Pompidou, replaced him as president. Although the two men had worked together for many years, they viewed French interests differently. De Gaulle saw France as a major player on the world stage. In contrast, Pompidou believed that France should limit its overseas involvement and focus instead on domestic issues.

Pompidou and Giscard d’Estaing. Pompidou believed that changes in the international situation had made de Gaulle’s nationalist approach to foreign affairs impractical. A more realistic strategy, Pompidou argued, would seek close cooperative relations with traditional allies. He, therefore, worked to strengthen ties with the United States and ended French opposition to British membership in the European Economic Community, or EEC. Within the EEC, Pompidou pursued Cooperation rather than French leadership.

Pompidou focused on domestic issues for much of his time in office. He introduced several social programs, which he hoped would ease the problems that had given rise to the political upheavals of the late 1960s. He also embarked on an ambitious plan to renovate much of Paris, which was not only France’s capital but a major tourist attraction. Pompidou had to curtail many of his plans, however, in the face of an economic crisis that was largely brought on by the OPEC oil embargo and price increases of 1973.

On Pompidou’s sudden death in 1974, Valery Giscard d’Estaing became president. Giscard d’Estaing wanted to improve French standing abroad and encourage social change at home. He continued Pompidou’s foreign policy, moving toward fuller cooperation with other countries. On the domestic front, he reduced state controls in the economy. However, high rates of unemployment and inflation undermined Giscard d’Estaing’s plans for social change, making his programs virtually impossible to implement.

From Mitterrand to Chirac. Disappointed with Giscard d’Estaing’s failure to fulfill his promises of prosperity and social change, in 1981 French voters elected a socialist president, Francois Mitterrand. Mitterrand faced severe economic problems, including high inflation, growing trade deficits, and rising unemployment. In contrast to Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Mitterrand sought to bolster his country’s economy by expanding the government’s role. Several industries and banks were nationalized, and taxes were raised for people with high incomes. Mitterrand expanded government programs for the unemployed. In the wake of further economic reversals in the mid- 1980s, however, Mitterrand was forced to pursue a more conservative approach to economics.

Under Mitterrand, France once again adopted an assertive foreign policy. French troops were especially active in Africa, frequently operating in support of former French colonies. For example, France assisted Chad in its border war with Libya during the 1980s. France also made major military contributions to multinational peacekeeping operations in Lebanon and Bosnia and participated in the international coalition against Iraq in 1990 and 1991.

Although Mitterrand had moved away from traditional socialist policies by the 1990s, support for his Socialist Party’s policies wavered when Mitterrand’s popularity waned. In 1993 Mitterrand’s party lost significant ground in midterm elections. Economic problems, such as unemployment and recession, persisted. The immigration of Arabs from North Africa into France was an increasing source of substantial social tension. Many people voiced concern about France’s ability to balance the economic and political power of a reunified Germany. A deep sense of uncertainty over the future afflicted France in the mid-1990s.

In 1995, French voters elected a new president. They chose Jacques Chirac, mayor of Paris and a member of the conservative Gaullist Party, or RPR. Chirac promised reforms and a fresh approach to France’s economic problems. Chirac’s government, however, soon encountered difficulties, including disruptive protests by various groups of laborers, farmers, and truckers who feared the loss of jobs and income as France dropped barriers to trade with its European neighbors. Chirac provoked controversy abroad by ordering a new round of nuclear weapons tests in the South Pacific during 1996, though he stopped the testing after international protests. In 1997, Chirac’s political future appeared uncertain as to his party- suffered a setback at the polls.


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