Role and Legacy of Francois Mitterrand


François Mitterrand left a very rich legacy as the president of France. This is made evident by the claim by most of. The citizens had a lot of confidence in his leadership to a point that they would reelect him back into presidency to serve for another seven years term. In his long political career he has taught his country men to expect of him perseverance beyond every other quality. (Catherine Nay).

Initially Mitterrand appeared to be very radical in his political career. He oscillated between political position by taking a centre-right and centre-left position. His political beliefs during this period were permeated by anti-communism.

During the 1950s he managed to serve in most of the short lived governments. He spoke eloquently for decency in the leadership and also for justice. He described himself as a socialist in a serious sense that he wanted to get rid of the bourgeois liberal democracy and the economic and legal institution that the present government of 1960s was based on. He was a man who was in search of inner unity, a project and an idea. Many citizens proclaim that he has visibly let his heart, a generous heart in a remote and somewhat impressing personality, rule his head.

His role

Mitterrand basically took the role of a socialist redeemer. He believed that men and women are called to lead and that they have sufficient forces to do so, they can sufficiently refuse to submit to outside forces in the form of a person class or a system of relation. He demonstrated sufficient confidence in his ability to play a constructive role in French history Mitterrand’s social philosophy was aimed at protecting individuals from economic threats and risks, ensuring their standard of living and providing for their financial security. His socialist government was aimed at assuming greater and greater role for the individual whose responsibility in these areas becomes more and more indirect and minimal. This shows that his role in socialism was very paternalistic, SALLY BAUMANN 1990

Socialism and economic effect of Mitterrand

Socialism refers to the collectivization of a country’s economic system so that there is no ownership of the property individually. This means that the economic system operates based on the concept of family hood. In socialist economy, there are institutional guarantees that aggregate profits are distributed more or less equally amongst in the population. The socialist economy is characterized by three concepts. These include the public ownership of firms, the allocation of many goods by a central administration rather than the markets and political dictatorship.Despite these concepts market economy does not guarantee the success of any economy.

According to (Ronald, 1994), market allocation of goods and competitive politics are necessary but not the private ownership of firms. In his opinion a successful economic model does not have to be market oriented but also the socialist economy can as well succeed if only good politics are involved. Mitterrand economic policies appeared to be unwise yet his political move proved to be bold.

In 1972 Mitterrand convinced the socialist party to sign the notorious agreement for the formation of a “common government program” which had been proposed by the French communist party which had a large following since the 1950s.The socialist had a contradiction of doctrines between Marxism and their relatively practical approach to politics.Mitterrand was never in cordial terms with the old Socialist leaders although he had served in the coalition government. When he took over the party, he was joined by a large contingent of the generation ‘68’.Mitterrand led this group to abandon the anti communist and the anti soviet positions of the old democratic Left. He and the generation 68 opposed private property. During his campaigns He popularized the concept of socialism. Despite his effort and those of his followers who advocated for socialism, he never got beyond such platitudes. He spoke without any degree of irony concerning his objective to alter the basic structures of the society so as to rescue the people from the tyrannical leadership.

The French people were convinced that the leadership of Mitterrand would be trust worthy and he was convinced that he has won the approval to lead a revolutionary program that completely advocated for communism. Despite having a revolutionary agenda for the French people, he never offered much evidence to support his campaign agenda since he did not reflect on the political and the social structures.

When he rose to power in 1981, he had great ideas that resulted from the campaigns. These ideas were self conscious and they were aimed at destroying capitalism. He considered the US imperialism as a hindrance to the attainment of peace and liberty in Western Europe and the third world.From the fact that he did not look at the practicality of his leadership ideas, his government suffered when the intellectuals who were part of the ‘triumph’ started deserting him. He did not have the necessary technicalities in place to explain to the citizens how the communist government was to operate. After five years of his term his government lost control to a coalition of conservative parties.

The economic management of France under the Socialist in the 1980s is widely regarded as a major failure.On rising to power president Mitterrand’s enthusiastic promises of his government following the election were not achieved. He had promised that his government would lead to rapid economic growth and a reduction in the unemployment.this did not happen but instead the four years it presided witnessed a slow growth of the economy while the level of unemployment rose from 7% in 1981 to 10% in October 1985.His socialist attempt to revive the French economy lead to the level of inflation rising and the country experiencing foreign exchange crisis by the early 1983.This led to the government of the left introducing tougher and more market oriented program than anything considered by the previous centre-right administration of Giscard d’Estaing,(Jeffrey,1986).

The consideration Socialism ideology therefore led to the collapse of the country’s economic system. Despite intense research being conducted to determine the viability of the socialist economic system it has proved to be inefficient in contributing towards economic growth, alternatively the market economic system has been greatly advocated for. Socialist economy as advocated by Mitterrand faced a lot of problem in determining the course to take in the transition of the economy to fit the market economy. Despite this France dismissed the market economy due to the transition cost involved.

Mitterrand’s’ leadership turned out to be sentimental and he did not consider the implementation practicality of the various economic policies. This made him to have a poor understanding of the economic and the foreign policies.

From Mitterrand’s politics it is evident that consistency is more important than correctness. This made the Socialists and their subsequent policies to have garnered less applause than was expected. The Socialists were greatly condemned for the failure of their initial experiment.

According to opinion polls within France, they have alienated the left without attracting new electoral support from the centre and the right, (economic consequences of President Mitterrand, n.d)

He was very passionate concerning socialism that he never abandoned the socialism ideas despite most of the advocates of socialism being colonized by the conservatists.In his princely fashion he has demonstrated his socialist ideologies, tolerated it ,used it but he has never let it dominate him. Despite all these challenges in his effort to advocate for socialism, the Socialists have about a third of the vote, are now with Chirac’s Gaullists, one of the two major parties in France, this is attributed to the focused leadership of François Mitterrand.

By the end of his term several issues that had caused damage by his revolutionary ideas were already clarified regarding socialism

As the president Mitterrand left an enduring domestic legacy that led to the freeing of the countries economy. With regard to foreign policy, the contemporary situation of Euro and that of the European institutions are in part as a result of his activity.

After the failure of the socialism experiment during his leadership, Mitterrand pushed with vigor for his intended reforms. He realized that presidency for him presented an opportunity through which change could be implemented.

His inclusion of the communist who were left out from leadership contributed to the platform through which they would compete for office so as to effect social change. His leadership was a career of ambition which forms the mainspring of political leadership. The effect of Mitterrand and the cohabitation of the 1986 to 1988 and 1993 to 1995 between the socialist president and his conservative cabinet greatly contributed to the success of the institutions of the Fifth Republic.

He was courageous in that he pushed for change within the leadership system of the time. His revolutionary nature resulted right after the cold war. In his youth hood he participated in many demonstrations that were against the French leadership. His decision to include the communist who were excluded resulted from his effort during to push the general to consecrate in his leadership of the ex prisoners into the resistance movement against the claims of the rivals.

Political challenges contributed more to the development of his career. His opposition to De Gaulle enabled him to project a new political identity. He described himself as a man of high Republican principle and refine a new political strategy that united the left and gradually evolve a new personal philosophy i.e. his proclaimed commitment towards socialism.

He also portrayed a leader of great autonomy in his career. This is evident in that despite his political career being faced by a lot of confrontation from the external forces he was not ready to compromise his principles to be in line with that of the majority. His resistance of the Republican in May-June 1958 set him apart from most of the Republican politicians who rallied to Gaulle erroneously believing that they could control the general once the crisis was over. Mitterrand stance to oppose the general demanded a great stance of political courage, (Alistair Cole).

His autonomy is also evident from the fact that before his career life settled he contested during the post war elections on a less popular party declining the offer by major political parties, the SFIO and the Christian Democratic Party MRP standing, instead as a member of independent list which ran a poor fifth.He also had the culture of uncompromising his beliefs of leadership. At the age of thirty he was offered a ministerial seat and he became the youngest minister though his political ambition remained being fluid besides reference of the political program of the resistance to the anticommunist and to the imperative defense of all threats to the Republican. He explained his firm Republican sentiments explained his resistance to both the PCF and de Gaulle RPF created in April 1947.His opposition was remarkable that the entire political class joined forces so as to eliminate the Communist in opposition to the regime at the onset of the cold war. Mitterrand’s responsibilities in the anti communist campaign were negligible but he demonstrated total opposition of leadership and was uncompromising.

Security and foreign policies

Concerning the countries progress in the foreign affair, Mitterrand left a legacy related to policy issues that is to be enjoyed by the French people and its neighboring country for generations. Such policies include the security and the foreign policies.

With regard to the security policy, Mitterrand led France to be a major actor in the Europe’s security. This happened after the cold war. The security policy was aimed at mitigating the chances of occurrence of disasters that could be of national threat.Mitterrand’s leadership was the living link between the Frances’ Cold war and post cold war security policy.

His leadership with regard foreign and security policy was impressive. His masterful security policy performance during his first term resulted into a lot of criticism due to the hesitations and the uncertainties during the transition from the cold war and the post cold war problems. Mitterrand’s legacies with reference to security and foreign policies are a source of confidence to the new president, Chirac, (Alistair ,1998)

The political and institutional effects of cohabitation on foreign and political policies became an important area of analysis bearing on what is consensus policy and Frances role in the formulation of the post war policy structure. , (Ronald ,1996).

NATO involvement

In the NATO, he left impeccable legacy by allowing the French army to participate in times of international crisis. During the Gulf war, the French troops fully engaged his troops in fighting. According to the stipulation of the NATO security policy, the French troops were fully under the command of America. This is despite the American security policy previously exhibiting distrust on Frances security matters. Mitterrand cleared this pessimistic impression of America regarding France. Initially Charles de Gaulle had reciprocated Americas distrust but Mitterrand changed the course taken by previous régimes. This was the beginning of strengthening of the relationship between America and France. He also allowed the French government to participate in the NATO peace talk when the minister of defense to attend a Military Committee meeting in Seville. He showed solidarity in critical circumstances combined with principled detachment of the integrated command even if the behavior and results seemed quirky amongst the French and the France partners. Frances contribution by allowing its troops to join the NATO force in security issues greatly contributed to the improvement of its diplomatic stand. (Mitterrand’s legacy and future, n.d).

Nuclear policies

In the nuclear arena Mitterrand did put his hand. During his leadership, France separated its nuclear policy from that of NATO and especially from the U.S doctrine of flexible response. In the logic of French doctrine, flexible response made all war in Europe nuclear and conventional more likely. President Mitterrand was a deterrence purist resisting any deviance from a doctrine o f absolute deterrence. His deterrence policy continued to be a version of the Gaullist strategy of massive retaliation, (Ronald Tiersky 1994).

Integration of countries

During the and after the cold war, most of the countries were in small blocs of which France was amongst them. By appreciating the concept of integration, Mitterrand recognized this problem as being real and the need for a solution. The integration led to the enlargement of the European Union other countries are being incorporated through bilateral relationship. The expansion of the European Union led to the development of favorable monetary policies and political cooperation. Mitterrand wholly embraced the European economic and monetary union.

He was of the opinion that the mass migration into the European countries from Africa posed a security threat. He proposed the formulation of a policy aimed at promoting local economic development for this is the only way that could keep them home. If the policy was to succeed, it presented a good economic and political rationale for generous aid from rich countries to foster local production and markets.

The transition period after the cold war is a cause of applausement for Mitterrand’s leadership. The question that arises is how his policies successfully managed to transits France from the cold war to the post cold war Europe. He proved to be the most knowledgeable and sophisticated political leader in Europe yet his decade of experience had been confined to the cold war European system.


In conclusion, the historical perspective of Mitterrand has made him to be considered as the most important French political leader since Charles de Gaulle.This is because even after following a winding road, he ended up being a genuine man of the left has importance beyond the issue of what remains of the old left. He was able to lead France as a nation to continue important international role just as the former leader Charles de Gaulle who came from the right did in his time. His presidential accomplishment in helping mold the European Union, boosting the legitimacy of France domestic institutions, crafting Paris response to the Cold War, and redefining the French left are historic. As a matter of fact Mitterrand’s successors can face the post Cold War era with considerable confidence.

Works Cited

David Bell. François: A Political Biography. New York: Pocket Press, 1993

Ronald Tiersky.François Mitterrand: A Very French President. New Delhi: Prentice Hall publishers, 1989.

Alistair Cole. François Mitterrand: A study in political leadership. London: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Catherine Nay .The Black and the Red: François Mitterrand the Story of Ambition. New York: Harvard university press, 1987.

Sally Baumann. François Mitterrand: the making of a Socialist Prince in France. Paris: Reynolds publishers, 1988.

Dennis Macshane.François Mitterrand: A Political odyssey. New York: Hardcover Publishers, 1993.

Ronald Tiersky: François Mitterrand’s Legacy. Cologne: Cologne publishers, 1996.Web.

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