Jacques Chirac

Jacques Chirac

So why exactly do Americans make fun of the French? I’m sure we’ve all heard some of the jokes directed at the people and culture of the country. I remember the jokes thrown about my friends whenever I used the excuse of homework when being asked to go out. It wasn’t until I researched the life and influence of France’s last president that I came to understand more behind the reasoning for our ridicule. Jacques Chirac has been a high political figure in France for quite some time.

Jacques first got involved in the politics of his country during the start of the 1950’s when he joined France’s Communist union, Le Parti Communiste Français, and began to get involved in soviet inspired movements. During this time, Chirac famously worked to help the world peace council draw up the Stockholm Appeal in order to abolish the use and manufacturing of all nuclear weapons. Of course, this would be the start of America’s tension over the country, and cause some concern over the French Activist himself. Regardless, Jacques was excepted at Harvard University for a summer school program before returning to France and attending Saumur to become a reserve officer the armoured cavalry. After serving briefly in the Algerian War, Chirac took a position in the Court of Auditors, the first big step in his advancement through politics.

Three years later, Jacques was made head of staff for prime minister Georges Pompidou. The relationship that these two had was a strong one that would ultimately prove very beneficial to Chirac and his future success. As a hard worker and motivated politician who new how to make everything get done, Chirac was often revered by the prime minister as his protégé. In 1967 Pomidou influenced Chirac to run for a spot in the national assembly under the Gaullist party. After his election in his district, Chirac was appointed Minister of Social Affairs.

The year following, there was unrest between students and workers was becoming problematic to the country and economy. Jacques however, managed to negotiate a truce before things got out of hand. Later he was appointed with a much higher position in the national government as the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. He served this position under the then president, Pomidou. His time as Minister would boost his popularity with his nation’s people, but unfortunately, again attract negative international attention. His policies and plans proved beneficial to the Agriculture of France but were often in contrast with those in place for agricultural policies in the US and much of the European Commission. It wasn’t uncommon for Chirac to be critical of these policies and tensions were renewed.

By 1974, Chirac had climbed through the ranks and on may 27, was appointed Prime Minister of France under president Giscard d’Estaing. During this time he received a lot of bad press from his previous political allies in the Gaullist ideology, he believed he had betrayed them in the last election when he switched to Giscardian politics. However, his career as prime minister did not stir international attention until 1975, when Chirac was invited to Iraq by then vice president Saddam Hussein. The visit was for economic negotiation policies. Travelling to Baghdad, Chirac met with Hussein to discuss an exchange of oil to France. The country would receive 23% of all Iraqi oil drilled. In return, Hussein asked for France to sell them the Osirak MTR Nuclear Reactor designed to test nuclear materials. Frightened by the outcome of the deal, Isreal commissioned an air strike on the reactor shortly after its arrival in Iraq, with Isreal and the US criticizing France for its decision. Tensions would reemerge with the start of the Iraq War In 2002.

After serving as Mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995, Chirac was elected President of France. Shortly after making office, he faced many challenges including the largest general strike in France since 1968. He faced much criticism and outrage from international and regional environmentalist groups alike for his move to try and resume the test of nuclear weapons. His popularity would remain strong with the people of France, despite a few scandals, with his final running still ending with Chirac gaining nearly 82% of the vote when running in his second term. Despite it all, Chirac held office until 2007, when he ended his last term of presidency and with many accomplishments under his belt which include the settling of many civil disputes and efforts to end wars between the western and middle eastern worlds. His long lasting career as the  second longest lasting presidents of the French Republics, has made him iconic in the political perception of modern France. In looking back, maybe America’s criticism is misplaced after all.

Report by AL


About mlleminor

Instructor in MCL French Division at the University of Kentucky
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