France has a parliamentary government under the republican constitution of 1875. Inspired by the Russian Revolution, the French Communist Party grows, while the Socialists and Radicals unite. In 1922 the conservative Raymond Poincaré replaces Georges Clemenceau as prime minister, but his coalition disintegrates when France invades the Ruhr after Germany defaults on its WWI reparation payments.
Under the more conciliatory leadership of Radical Prime Minister Édouard Herriot, relations with Germany improve. Europe's leading powers sign a series of treaties and agreements in Locarno, Switzerland, which symbolize hopes for an era of international peace. Herriot resigns after a financial controversy, and Raymond Poincaré returns as prime minister, strengthening the power of the right.
The Depression takes hold, and 1932 elections unseat Poincaré's conservative successors. The next 16 months see a series of ineffective coalition governments. The Popular Front, a leftist alliance against rising fascism, takes its first tentative steps. The Radical Édouard Daladier forms a new government, but must resign after a financial and political scandal.
The reunited left wins the 1936 parliamentary elections, and Léon Blum heads a Popular Front government. Internal divisions and conservative opposition to his fiscal measures lead him to resign and the Front to lose strength, but not before preventing the rise of fascism in France. Daladier returns as prime minister, and in 1939 he reluctantly commits France to World War II beside the British.
German invasion ends the Third Republic. France is divided into two zones, one occupied and the other governed by Marshal Pétain, a French WWI hero who sets up a new regime based in Vichy. The authoritarian Vichy government collaborates with the Nazis in plundering resources and deporting Jews. From London, General Charles de Gaulle calls for a French Resistance movement which fast gains strength.
The Allies land in Normandy and liberate France with assistance from the Resistance movement. De Gaulle becomes head of a provisional government of centrists, Communists, and Socialists. France's colonies in North Africa, West Africa, and East Asia demand greater autonomy.
De Gaulle resigns because of internal divisions in his government and forms a new political party, the Rally of the French People (RPF). The Fourth Republic is proclaimed, with a new constitution that again provides for a weak executive and a powerful national assembly. A series of impermanent governments are unable to stem inflation or the political and social unrest in the colony of Indochina.
Socialists fail to bring stability and lose strength as a party. France joins NATO as a founding member and opts for a policy of entente with West Germany, setting the stage for the European Community. De Gaulle loses support and resigns as party leader. France invests in its colonies to prepare them for independence. The French are forced out of Indochina after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu.
Conflict between nationalists and the French army in Algeria contrasts with the peaceful decolonization of Morocco and Tunisia. A revolt in Paris overthrows the Fourth Republic. A new constitution establishes the Fifth Republic, subordinating the legislature to the presidency. De Gaulle becomes president. Socialists split over support for the Fifth Republic and make several unsuccessful alliances.
France moves toward military and nuclear independence. De Gaulle promotes Franco-German cooperation while remaining friendly with Britain and the U.S. He grants Algeria independence in 1962, incurring criticism from settlers and French officers. Still, his supporters win a majority in the 1962 elections. Several sub-Saharan African colonies transition more smoothly to independence.
De Gaulle narrowly defeats left-wing opponent François Mitterrand under a new system of presidential election by direct universal suffrage. De Gaulle continues an independent approach to foreign policy, withdrawing France from NATO commands and testing a hydrogen bomb. The government's paternalistic approach to domestic affairs sparks a student revolt and massive strikes in May 1968.
The Socialists reorganize as the Parti Socialiste (PS) at a congress. De Gaulle resigns from a shaken government and former Prime Minister Georges Pompidou is elected president. Pompidou maintains some Gaullist principles in foreign policy but is generally more conciliatory. Mitterrand and his allies begin to transform the left, building a strong PS. Pompidou dies in office in 1974.
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, leader of the center-right Independent Republicans and a former finance minister, is elected president. He implements conservative domestic policies and insists on the primacy of French interests and nuclear weapons. Economic crisis undermines his government. The PS and the Communist Party (PCF) forge an electoral alliance.
The united left elects PS leader Mitterrand president, and the Socialists sweep subsequent parliamentary elections. Although dominated by the PS, the government also includes four communist ministers. The administration introduces a far-reaching program of social reform, decentralization, and nationalization.
President Mitterrand appoints Laurent Fabius of the PS as prime minister. Communist members of the cabinet resign, opposed to a drastic PS economic policy shift and increased reliance on markets. In 1984 Mitterrand forms a new government excluding the Communists.
The right-wing RPF and Union for French Democracy (UDF) win a parliamentary majority. Mitterrand appoints opposition leader Jacques Chirac as prime minister, resulting in the first government "cohabitation," which ends 30 years of president and prime minister being drawn from the same coalition. Chirac's policies anger students and workers; Mitterrand defeats him in the 1988 presidential election.
The extreme right National Front does well in municipal elections, pressuring the government into adopting a hard line against illegal immigration. Mitterrand replaces Socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard with Edith Cresson after they clash on economic policy. But economic recession and political scandal cause Cresson's popularity to plummet, pulling Mitterrand's down as well.
The Parti Socialiste loses the national assembly elections. Mitterrand appoints the RPF's Édouard Balladur as prime minister of his second "cohabitation" government. Balladur resigns in the wake of corruption scandals. With Mitterrand's health declining, Chirac runs for president as the "man of the people" and is elected in 1955. Former Foreign Minister Alain Juppé becomes prime minister.
Chirac loses support after a nuclear testing debacle in the Pacific. He calls for general elections a year early so the government can continue the austerity measures designed for membership in the European Monetary Union. His plan backfires when the Socialists, opposed to the measures, win and Lionel Jospin becomes prime minister. "Cohabitation" governments become the norm, not the exception.
Labor criticizes Jospin for retreating from campaign promises. In regional elections, the ruling Socialist, Green, and Communist coalition wins 37 percent of the vote, the mainstream right 36 percent. The National Front splits in two. Political scandals undermine government in general. A constitutional referendum reduces the presidential term from seven to five years, equal that the parliament's.
The left wins Paris city council, but the right strengthens elsewhere. Scattered leftist votes in the 2002 presidential election puts extreme rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen in second place; all mainstream parties rally around President Chirac in the runoff. A pro-Chirac conservative coalition wins parliamentary elections, ending five years of "cohabitation." Jean-Pierre Raffarin becomes prime minister.
Backed by majority support, President Chirac voices strong opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. When the three-week military campaign proves not to be the long struggle he had predicted, Chirac faces a possible loss of credibility at home. Relations with Britain are tense after a split over the Iraq war. France calls for a central role for the United Nations in the new administration of Iraq.
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