François Mitterrand

François Mitterrand in Europe

Life and Work of François Mitterrand (1916-96)

The Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union describes françois mitterrand (1916-96) in the following terms: [1] Few more subtle politicians than François Mitterrand have held centre stage in Europe. A Vichyite until the war turned against Germany, thereafter a devotee of the Resistance, he was twice defeated in French presidential elections before finally becoming president in 1981, a position he held until the year before his death.

Mitterrand’s tenure of office was marked initially by nationalisations of French companies and other manifestations of socialism, followed by a retreat to the centre ground and reprivatisation in response to electoral setbacks to his Socialist Party in the Assembly. With Chancellor Helmut Kohl and CommissionPresident Jacques Delors, who were his political contemporaries and closest allies, he was one of the architects of the Maastricht Treaty. Viscerally hostile to German reunification, he conceived the Treaty as a bargain. Germany would be allowed to reunite; in return, France would dilute the power of the Bundesbank by incorporating the D-Mark into an EU-wide monetary system. Together, France and Germany would continue to decide the fate of Europe, as they had under his and Kohl’s predecessors, first Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer and subsequently Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt.

Mitterrand’s political position was progressively eroded by domestic problems. His policy of matching the strength of the D-Mark at any cost led to an overvalued franc and was one of the causes of growing unemployment. Scandal followed scandal in political and business circles, undermining popular faith in the French élites. Obsessed with grandeur, Mitterrand lavished public money on prestige projects, but did little to modernise the economy and equip it to meet the challenge of globalisation. In 1992 he put the Maastricht Treaty to a referendum, in expectation of a ringing endorsement, but won approval by the narrowest of margins.

His attitude to Margaret Thatcher was one of mingled fascination and confrontation. Although he supported her in the Falklands War and it was under his presidency that the British rebate was finally agreed, they opposed each other over the EU at every turn. He was an integrationist; she believed in a Europe of sovereign nations. He was protectionist; she was a free trader. He (with Kohl) created the Franco-German Eurocorps; she was convinced that security rested solely on NATO and the Atlantic Alliance. He was a complex intriguer, capable of considerable deviousness, whereas she was not averse to taking her opponents head on.

Mitterrand’s declining years were spent trying to create a legend of his own life story to pre-empt the possibly chillier judgment of historians. In Europe, he will be remembered chiefly for his political adroitness and his calculated devotion to the Franco-German relationship.


Notas y References

  1. Based on the book “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)

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