<< Back to France History Index
Mitterrand, Chirac and Sarkozy
Following Republican Valery Giscard d'Estaing (1974-81) in the french presidency were Socialist Francois Mitterrand (1981-95), neo-Gaullist Jacques Chirac (1995-2007), and center-right Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-present).
While France continues to revere its rich history and independence, French leaders are increasingly tying the future of France to the continued development of the European Union (EU). France was integral in establishing the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 and was among the EU's six founding states. During his tenure, President Mitterrand stressed the importance of European integration and advocated the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty on European economic and political union, which France's electorate narrowly approved in September 1992. The center of domestic attention soon shifted, however, to the economic reform and belt-tightening measures required for France to meet the criteria for Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) laid out by the Maastricht Treaty. France continues to play a leading role in the EU, particularly in the development of European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). Although a 2005 French referendum was actually responsible for the defeat of the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe, France has since then backed the Lisbon Treaty--a main priority of Nicolas Sarkozy during France's EU presidency in the latter half of 2008. In July 2008, France was instrumental in launching the Union for the Mediterranean (UM), a continuation of the EU Barcelona Process. France and Egypt held the first rotating co-presidency, which serves as a forum for political and economic cooperation between the EU and its Mediterranean neighbors.
Since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S., France has played a central role in the war on terrorism. French forces participate in Operation Enduring Freedom and in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for Afghanistan. France did not, however, join the coalition that liberated Iraq in 2003. In October and November 2005, three weeks of violent unrest in the largely immigrant suburbs focused French attention further on their minority communities. Also in 2005 French voters disapproved the EU constitution in a national referendum. In the spring of 2006, students protested widely over restrictive employment legislation.
In May 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy was elected as France's sixth president under the Fifth Republic, signaling French approval of widespread economic and social reforms, as well as closer cooperation with the United States. After enacting several high-profile reforms during his first year in office, President Sarkozy scaled-back his ambitious reform efforts as the worldwide economic crisis unfolded. On the international front, President Sarkozy has reintegrated France into NATO, confirmed France’s commitments to Afghanistan, and worked closely with the United States on the Iran nuclear issue. Now midway through his five-year term, Sarkozy faces mounting pressure to revive the economy, lower unemployment and reduce the government’s sizable budget deficit. The next presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for 2012.