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Background | History Timeline | History of France

 

 

 

History of France

 

Early days. In ancient times, tribes of Celts and other peoples lived in what is now France. The Romans called the region Gallia (Gaul). Roman armies began to invade Gaul in about 200 B.C. By 121 B.C., Rome controlled the Gallic land along the Mediterranean Sea and in the Rhone Valley. Julius Caesar conquered the entire region between 58 and 51 B.C. The people, called Gauls, soon adopted Roman ways of life. They used the Latin language of the invaders. Gaul prospered under Roman rule for hundreds of years, in spite of barbarian invasions during the A.D. 200's and 300's.
Victory of the Franks. The border defences of the West Roman Empire began to crumble in the A.D. 400's. Germanic tribes from the east, including Burgundians, Franks, and Visigoths, crossed the Rhine River and entered Gaul. They killed many Gauls and drove others west into what is now Brittany. Clovis, the king of the Salian Franks, defeated the Roman governor of Gaul in 486 at Soissons. Clovis then defeated other Germanic tribes in Gaul, and extended his kingdom. He founded the Merovingian dynasty (a series of rulers from the same family), and adopted Christianity.

The rise of manorialism and feudalism. From the 600's to the 1000's, during the chaotic years of the early Middle Ages, manors covered much of France. Manors were large estates governed by owners called landlords or lords, who offered military protection to peasants called serfs. Manorialism was a system of organizing agricultural labour.

A political and military system called feudalism began to appear in the 700's. A feudal lord gave his subjects land in return for military and other services. Both the lord and his subjects, called vassals, were aristocrats. The land granted by a lord was called a fief. Some small fiefs supported only one vassal. Other fiefs were quite large, such as the province of Normandy. Manorialism and feudalism thrived until the 1100's.

The Carolingian dynasty. By the mid-600's, the Merovingian kings had become weak rulers, interested mainly in personal pleasures. Pepin of Herstal, the chief royal adviser, gradually took over most of the royal powers. His son, Charles Martel, extended the family's power. He received the title of Martel (the Hammer) after defeating an invading Arab army in 732. The battle began near Tours and ended near Poitiers. Charles Martel became king of the Franks in all but title.

Charles Martel's son, Pepin the Short, overthrew the last Merovingian ruler and became king of the Franks in 751. He founded the Carolingian dynasty, and enlarged the Frankish kingdom. Pepin also helped develop the political power of the pope by giving Pope Stephen II a large gift of land north of Rome.

Pepin's son, Charlemagne, was one of the mightiest conquerors of all time. After Charlemagne became king of the Franks, he went on more than 50 military campaigns and expanded his kingdom far beyond the borders of what is now France. He also extended the pope's lands. In 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans. For the story of Charlemagne.

Charlemagne died in 814, and his three grandsons later fought among themselves for control of his huge empire. They divided it into three kingdoms in 843. In the Treaty of Verdun, one grandson, Charles the Bald, received most of what is now France. The second kingdom consisted of much that is now Germany. The third kingdom lay between the other two. It consisted of a strip of land extending from the North Sea to central Italy. The middle kingdom north of Italy was divided between the other two in 870. 


The Capetian dynasty. By the late 900's, the Carolingian kings had lost much of their former power, and the strength of the nobles had greatly increased. The kings had become little more than great feudal lords chosen by the other feudal nobles to lead them in time of war. But in peacetime, most of a king's authority extended over only his personal estates. In 987, the nobles ended the Carolingian line of kings and chose Hugh Capet as their new king. Capet started the Capetian dynasty. Many historians mark the beginning of the French nation from the coronation of Hugh Capet. 

For many years, the Capetian kings controlled only their royal domain (land), between Paris and Orleans. The great feudal nobles ruled their own domains almost independently. The dukes of Normandy were the most powerful of these nobles. Normandy became the most unified and best administered feudal state in Europe. In 1066, the Norman Duke William, later called William the Conqueror, invaded England and became king. 

Growth of royal power. The Capetian kings gradually added more territory to their personal lands, and became stronger than any of their rivals. In addition, every Capetian king for over 300 years had a son to succeed him on the throne. As a result, the nobles' power to select kings died out. The nobles were further weakened because many of them left France between 1100 and 1300 on crusades to capture the Holy Land from the Muslims.

Philip II, called Philip Augustus, was the first great Capetian king. After he came to the throne in 1180, he more than doubled the royal domain, and tightened his control over the nobles. Philip built up a large body of government officials, many of them from the middle classes in the towns. He also developed Paris as a permanent, expanding capital. 

The handsome Philip IV, called Philip the Fair, rebelled against the pope's authority. He taxed church officials, and arrested a bishop and even Pope Boniface VIII. Philip won public approval for his actions in the first Estates-General, a body of Frenchmen that he called together in 1302. This group was the ancestor of the French Parliament. In 1305, through Philip's influence, a French archbishop was elected pope and became Pope Clement V. In 1309, Clement moved the pope's court from Rome to Avignon, where it remained until 1377. 

Social conditions in Capetian France. By the 1100's, an economic revival in Europe had put money back into use. Towns, which had lost their importance under manorialism and feudalism, sprang up near main trade routes. At first, towns were self-governing. Merchants and craftworkers settled in the towns and formed organizations called guilds. Guilds played an important role in town government. As royal government grew, towns became judicial and administrative centres, as well as manufacturing and trading centres. 

Although many people moved to the towns in search of jobs, much of the population stayed in the countryside. Agricultural methods were too primitive to support more than a very small nonagricultural population. Thus, people were still needed on farms to produce food. In both towns and the country, life expectancy was short. Many children died before reaching the age of five. 

A period of wars. The last king of the Capetian dynasty, Charles IV, died in 1328 without a male heir. A cousin succeeded him as Philip VI and started the Valois dynasty. King Edward III of England, a nephew of the last Capetian king, also claimed the French throne. In 1337, Edward landed an army in Normandy. This invasion started a series of wars between France and England known as the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453). The English won most of the battles. But the French, after their victory at Orleans under Joan of Arc, drove the English out of most of France. 

Louis XI laid the foundations for absolute rule by French kings. During the Hundred Years' War, the kings had lost much of their power to the French nobles. Louis regained this power. His greatest rival was Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Charles died in battle in 1477 while trying to conquer the city of Nancy, and Louis seized most of his vast lands. 

Francis I invaded northern Italy, and captured Milan in 1515. In a later Italian campaign, Francis was defeated by Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire. French wars against the Holy Roman Empire continued into the reign of Henry II. The Empire and England were allies. In 1558, this alliance gave Henry an excuse to seize the port city of Calais, England's last possession in France. 

Religious wars. During the early 1500's, a religious movement called the Reformation developed Protestantism in Europe. Many French people became Protestants. They followed the teachings of John Calvin, and were called Huguenots. After 1540, the government persecuted the Huguenots severely, but they grew in number and political strength. In the late 1500's, French Roman Catholics and the Huguenots fought a series of civil wars that lasted over 30 years. In 1572, thousands of Huguenots were killed during the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Day. 

Henry III died in 1589 without a male heir. He was followed by Henry of Navarre, who became Henry IV and started the Bourbon dynasty. But Roman Catholic forces prevented him from entering Paris because he was the leader of the Huguenots. In 1593, Henry became a Roman Catholic to achieve peace. He entered the capital the next year. In 1598, Henry signed the Edict of Nantes, which granted limited freedom of worship to the Huguenots. 
The age of absolutism. The power of the kings and their ministers (high government officials) grew steadily from the 1500's to the 1700's. France became strong, largely through the efforts of these ministers. The first important minister was Maximilien de Bethune, Duke of Sully, who served Henry IV. Sully promoted agriculture and such public works as roads and canals. He reduced the taille, the chief tax on the common people. The actual ruler behind Louis XIII was his prime minister, Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu. Richelieu increased royal power more than any other individual. 

Louis XIV was the outstanding example of the absolute French king. He is said to have boasted: "I am the State." After his prime minister died in 1661, Louis declared that he would be his own prime minister. In 1685, Louis cancelled the Edict of Nantes and began to persecute the Huguenots savagely. About 200,000 Huguenots fled France, which weakened the country's economy. Louis' minister of finance, Jean Baptiste Colbert, promoted a strong economy. But the construction of Louis' magnificent palace at Versailles and a series of major wars drained France's finances. Louis tried to rule supreme in Europe. He was stopped by military alliances that included England, Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, and other countries. 

The gathering storm. By the 1700's, a government bureaucracy had developed to manage a large standing royal army, as well as to collect taxes. Royal courts upheld law and order. Lawyers and jurists bought their offices from the king at very high prices. The king allowed those who bought the highest judicial offices to call themselves nobles, and he granted them tax exemptions. 

This burdensome system worked well enough to allow remarkable economic and population growth in the 1700's. But the population growth exceeded agriculture's production capacities, and food shortages and famines became common. Such growth also strained the guild system that governed the activities of merchants and craftworkers in the towns. 

Burdened by the needs of the military and unable to tax nobles or church lands, the government was forced to borrow heavily. In 1786, the government proposed a new land tax in order to avoid bankruptcy. Many urban lawyers, merchants, clerks, and craftworkers, as well as some aristocrats, opposed any new taxes. The French Revolution was born out of this crisis. 

The French Revolution. To win support for new taxes, King Louis XVI called a meeting of the Estates-General. The Estates-General was made up of representatives from the three estates, or classes--the clergy, the nobility, and the commoners. It opened on May 5, 1789, at Versailles, near Paris. In June 1789, members of the third estate--the commoners--declared themselves a National Assembly, with full power to write a new constitution for France. The third estate had as many representatives as the other two estates combined. 

At first, Louis XVI delayed taking action and began gathering troops around Paris to break up the Assembly. However, many French people organized an armed resistance movement in Paris. On July 14, 1789, a huge crowd of Parisians captured the royal fortress called the Bastille. Louis XVI was forced to give in. 

By September 1791, the Assembly had drafted a new constitution that made France a constitutional, or limited, monarchy, with a one-house legislature. 

The new government did not last long. In April 1792, France went to war against Austria and Prussia. These countries wished to restore the king to his former position. In the summer of 1792, as foreign armies marched on Paris, revolutionaries imprisoned Louis XVI and his family and overthrew the monarchy. A National Convention, chosen through an election open to almost all adult French males, opened on Sept. 21, 1792, and declared France a republic. 

Civil and foreign wars pushed the new republican government to extreme and violent measures. Radical leaders such as Maximilien Robespierre gained power. They said that terror was necessary to preserve liberty. Thus, while the revolution survived under radical leadership, it also sentenced many "enemies of the republic" to death. Thousands of people were executed. In time, the radicals began to struggle for power among themselves. Robespierre was condemned by his enemies and executed. His death marked the end of the period called the Reign of Terror. See ROBESPIERRE. 

In 1795, a new constitution was adopted that formed a government called the Directory. The Directory, a five-man board, governed France from 1795 to 1799, during the last half of the French Revolution. For more details on the causes, violence, and reforms of the French Revolution.

Napoleon. During the French Revolution, a young officer named Napoleon Bonaparte rose through the ranks of the army. He was named a general in 1793, and his power grew rapidly. In 1799, Napoleon overthrew the revolutionary French government and seized control of France. Napoleon was an excellent administrator. He created a strong, efficient central government and revised and organized French law. He was also a military genius with great ambition. By 1812, Napoleon's forces had conquered most of western and central Europe. But maintaining control over this vast empire eventually overextended French power, and Napoleon was forced to give up his throne in 1814. He returned to rule France again for about three months in 1815 before his final defeat at Waterloo. For the story of Napoleon's life, 

The revolutions of 1830 and 1848. The Bourbon dynasty returned to power after Napoleon's downfall. Charles X, who became king in 1824, tried to reestablish the total power of the earlier French kings. He was overthrown in the July Revolution of 1830. 

The revolutionaries placed Louis Philippe on the throne. He belonged to the Orleans branch of the Bourbon family. France was peaceful and prosperous during Louis Philippe's reign. But the poorer classes became dissatisfied because only the wealthy could vote or hold public office. The February Revolution of 1848 overthrew the government and established the Second Republic. All Frenchmen received the right to vote. 

The voters elected Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, a nephew of Napoleon, to a four-year term as president in 1848. He seized greater power illegally in 1851, and declared himself president for 10 years. In 1852, he established the Second Empire and declared himself Emperor Napoleon III. 

The Franco-Prussian War. During the 1860's, France became alarmed over the growing strength of Prussia. France feared that a united Germany under Prussian leadership would upset Europe's balance of power. After a series of disputes, France declared war on Prussia in 1870. Prussia defeated France the next year. In the peace treaty following the war, France was forced to give almost all of Alsace and part of Lorraine to the new German Empire. 

The Third Republic. After Prussian victories in 1870, the French revolted against Napoleon III. They established a provisional (temporary) republic, which became known as the Third Republic, and in 1871 elected a National Assembly. In 1875, the Assembly voted to continue the republic, and wrote a new constitution. 

French strength and prosperity grew until World War I began in 1914. French explorers and soldiers won a vast colonial empire in Africa and Asia. Only Great Britain had a larger overseas empire. France strengthened its army, and formed a military alliance with Russia in 1894 and the Entente Cordiale (cordial understanding) with Great Britain in 1904. French industries expanded steadily, especially after 1895. 

By the 1890's, most French people were reconciled to the Third Republic, but few were deeply committed to it. An incident known as the Dreyfus affair finally forced the nation to take sides on this issue. On Oct. 15, 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French army officer, was arrested on suspicion of spying for Germany. In December, a military court found him guilty. Evidence of his innocence slowly trickled out and eventually attracted much attention. Many people began to rally to Dreyfus' side. They included Socialists representing the French working class, moderate republicans, and other people with no political background. 

These people believed that the French army had acted arbitrarily in convicting Dreyfus and feared that the republic was endangered. They made Dreyfus a symbol of civil liberties and republican virtues and worked to get him a new trial. Opponents of republican government and army supporters came together and denounced Dreyfus and his supporters as antipatriotic. A fight followed that resulted in a strengthening of support for the republic. In 1906, France's highest court reviewed the Dreyfus case and declared Dreyfus innocent. 

World War I. During the early 1900's, France and Germany had disagreements over colonial territories, and each country feared an attack by the other. In 1907, France established a diplomatic agreement called the Triple Entente with Great Britain and Russia. The French prepared for war. Soon after the start of World War I (1914-1918), Germany invaded France. The Germans hoped to defeat France quickly. But by late 1914, the French army had halted the German advance. For 31/2 years, the opposing forces fought from trenches that stretched across northeastern France and Belgium. 

The worst fighting faced by the French army during the war took place around the city of Verdun in 1916. In February, the German army launched a major attack to take Verdun. For five months, intense fighting involved hundreds of thousands of troops. At first, the Germans made rapid progress. But they were slowly rolled back. In July, the Germans halted their unsuccessful attack. 

The Battle of Verdun became a symbol of France's will to resist. But the battle had also drained the country. From the middle of 1917, France's allies began handling most of the war's major battles. The war produced enormously high casualties, partly as a result of the destructive powers of new weapons such as the machine gun and poison gas. Millions of French servicemen were killed or wounded. For more on the story of France in the war.

Between the World Wars. In the Treaty of Versailles, signed in 1919, France recovered Alsace and the German part of Lorraine from Germany. France and other Allied nations also were awarded reparations (payments for war damages) from Germany. Germany fell behind in making these payments. As a result, French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr Valley of Germany in 1923. After Germany agreed to keep up the payments, the troops were withdrawn in 1925. 

The French did much to reestablish good relations with Germany. France joined other Allied nations and Germany in the Rhineland Security Pact of 1925. This agreement in part guaranteed the security of the French-German border. France reduced Germany's reparations, and dropped various controls over Germany set up by the Treaty of Versailles. Suggestions by Aristide Briand, the French foreign minister, led to the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact of 1928 . It was signed by France, Germany, and 13 other countries. But in 1929, France began building the Maginot Line as a fortified defence against Germany. 

During the 1930's, the worldwide economic depression and the rise of fascist leader Adolf Hitler in Germany caused serious political unrest in France. In 1936, at a time of widespread strikes, a government called the Popular Front came to power in France. It made many promises to striking workers and tried to establish a strong position against fascism. But in 1938, the government began to give in to the demands of Nazi Germany. As part of this policy of appeasement, France signed the Munich Agreement, which forced Czechoslovakia to give territory to Germany.

World War II began when Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. Two days later, France and Great Britain declared war on Germany. On May 10, 1940, the Germans attacked Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. They invaded France through Belgium on May 12, passing northwest of the Maginot Line. The Germans launched a major attack to the south on June 5, and entered Paris on June 14. On June 22, France signed an armistice with Germany. The Germans occupied the northern two-thirds of France, and southern France remained under French control. Southern France was governed at Vichy by Marshal Henri Philippe Petain, who largely cooperated with the Germans. 

After France fell, General Charles de Gaulle fled to London. He invited all French patriots to join a movement called Free France, and continue fighting the Germans. This resistance movement spread throughout France. Some groups of French people called Maquis hid in hilly areas and fought the Germans. After Allied troops landed in French North Africa in November 1942, German troops also occupied southern France. The Germans tried to seize the French fleet at Toulon. But the French sank most of the fleet's ships to prevent them from being captured by the Germans. 

On June 6, 1944, the Allies landed in France at Normandy. They landed in southern France on August 15. After fierce fighting and heavy loss of lives, the Allied troops entered Paris on August 25. De Gaulle soon formed a provisional government and became its president. In 1945, France became a charter member of the United Nations. For the story of France in the war.

The Fourth Republic. In October 1945, the French people voted to have the National Assembly write a new constitution creating the Fourth Republic. In this election, French women voted for the first time. De Gaulle resigned as president in January 1946, over disagreements with the Assembly. The new constitution, much like that of the Third Republic, went into effect in October 1946. De Gaulle opposed it because it did not provide strong executive powers. 

France received considerable aid from the United States, and rebuilt its cities and industries, which had been badly damaged during the war. But political troubles at home and colonial revolts overseas slowed the country's economic recovery. France played an important part in the Cold War between the Communist countries and the Western countries. The Communist Party was one of the largest in France after the war, and it controlled the chief trade unions. Communist-led strikes in 1947 and 1948 crippled production across the country. But in 1949, France became a charter member of the anti-Communist North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). 

The first revolt by a French colony began in Indochina in 1946. Indochina was eventually divided into Cambodia, Laos, and North and South Vietnam. The French withdrew from Indochina in 1954 after heavy losses.

Later in 1954, revolution broke out in the French territory of Algeria. To prevent revolutions in Morocco and Tunisia, France made them independent in 1956. Other French colonies in Africa received independence later. But France refused to give up Algeria, the home of almost a million French settlers. France gradually built up its army in Algeria to about 500,000 men, and the war continued throughout the 1950's. See ALGERIA (The Algerian Revolution). 

In spite of the costly colonial wars, France's economy grew rapidly. By the late 1950's, it had broken all French production records. The boom developed with U.S. aid and a series of national economic plans begun in 1946. French businessmen and government officials were determined to prove that France's greatness had not disappeared. Between 1947 and 1958, France helped form several economic organizations that were important steps toward a European confederation. For discussions of these organizations, 


The Fifth Republic. By 1958, large numbers of French people thought it was useless to continue fighting in Algeria. But the idea of giving up Algeria angered many French army leaders and settlers in the colony. They rebelled in May 1958 and threatened to overthrow the French government by force unless it continued fighting. In a compromise solution, de Gaulle was called back to power as prime minister, with emergency powers for six months. His government prepared a new constitution, which the voters approved on Sept. 28, 1958. This constitution, which established the Fifth Republic, gave the president greater power than ever before and sharply reduced the power of Parliament. In December, the Electoral College elected de Gaulle to a seven-year term as president. 

France under de Gaulle. De Gaulle's government continued the war in Algeria, hoping the Algerians would agree to a compromise settlement that provided some French control. By 1961, however, the government realized that only Algerian independence would end the rebellion. Peace talks began in 1961 and ended with a cease-fire in March 1962. At de Gaulle's urging, French voters approved Algerian independence in April. Algeria became independent on July 3, 1962. 

Algerian independence set off a wave of bombings and murders in France and Algeria by the Secret Army Organization (OAS). This group, which included many army officers, accused de Gaulle of betraying France by ending the war. The OAS tried several times to kill de Gaulle. Its leaders were eventually imprisoned. 

After the Algerian crisis, some French politicians tried to weaken de Gaulle's strong rule. They wanted to reestablish the former power of Parliament and reduce that of the president. But de Gaulle made the presidency even stronger. He declared that the president should have nationwide support and be elected by the people, not by the Electoral College. In 1962, the voters approved a constitutional amendment that provided for such elections. 

De Gaulle was reelected to a second seven-year term in 1965. French foreign policy became his main interest. De Gaulle declared that the French were "a race created for brilliant deeds," but that they could not achieve greatness with their "destiny in the hands of foreigners." He hoped to make France the leader of an alliance of Western European countries. This alliance would be free of U.S. or Soviet influence. Instead of relying on American protection through NATO, de Gaulle developed an independent French nuclear-weapons programme. In 1966, de Gaulle removed all French troops from NATO. He also declared that all NATO military bases and troops had to be removed from France by April 1967. France withdrew from NATO militarily, but it remained a member politically. 

In the 1950's, France had helped form the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Atomic Energy Community, and the European Economic Community (EEC). These agencies later became known as the European Community (EC), and, in 1993, the EC became incorporated into the European Union, which works for economic and political cooperation among its members. 

De Gaulle believed France could work within the EEC to become stronger and more influential in Western Europe. In 1963, he prevented Britain from joining the Common Market. He considered Britain a rival for leadership in Western Europe. De Gaulle also believed Britain's ties with the United States would give America too much influence on Europe's economy. 

In the late 1960's, many French people became dissatisfied with de Gaulle's government. This dissatisfaction led to a severe national crisis in May 1968. Students staged demonstrations in Paris, some of which erupted into violent clashes with the police. Demonstrations, many accompanied by violence, spread throughout France, and millions of workers joined in by going on strike. The country was paralysed for more than two weeks, and many people expected the overthrow of de Gaulle's government and possible civil war. But de Gaulle managed to bring the situation under control by the end of May. He called a general election in June, and his supporters won more than 70 per cent of the seats in Parliament. However, de Gaulle's reputation as a leader had been seriously damaged by what the French called the "events of May." In April 1969, de Gaulle asked for minor constitutional reforms and said he would resign if the voters did not approve them. The French people voted against the reforms, and de Gaulle resigned. 

France after de Gaulle. Georges Pompidou was elected president in June 1969. He had been de Gaulle's prime minister, and he promised to continue de Gaulle's policies. But Pompidou changed de Gaulle's foreign policy by cooperating more closely with the United States. He also improved relations with Britain. 

At home, Pompidou's government faced economic problems. The country's industrial growth began to slow down, unemployment increased, and inflation rose to a high level. Part of the economic trouble resulted from the worldwide oil crisis in 1973. Oil-producing countries raised the price of oil sharply, and France was seriously affected because it imports most of its petroleum. 

Pompidou died in April 1974. The Gaullist Party, which had supported de Gaulle and Pompidou, split into a number of separate groups in the presidential election that followed in May. These groups supported various candidates. As a result, the Gaullist Party was weakened. Valery Giscard d'Estaing, head of the Independent Republican Party, was elected president. 

The Gaullists and a group of parties that supported Giscard won a majority of the seats in French parliamentary elections held in 1978. Those parties formed a coalition government. The leftist Socialist and Communist parties were their main opponents. 

The loss of most of its colonial empire has relieved France of the cost of governing and developing the colonies. However, France still gives economic, technical, and military aid to many of its former colonies. 

Socialists win power. Politically, France moved sharply to the left in 1981. The voters elected Francois Mitterrand of the Socialist Party as president. In addition, the Socialists won a majority of the seats in parliamentary elections held in 1981. The elections gave France its first leftist government since 1958. Moderates and conservatives had controlled all the governments since then. Under the moderates and conservatives, the government owned some French businesses. The new Socialist leaders greatly increased government ownership of businesses. 

From the time of Napoleon I, France's departments were administered by prefects--officials appointed by, and responsible to, the national government. But the Socialist government gave locally elected councils responsibility for the departments. In 1982, the government changed the title prefect to commissioner. 

The 1981 elections resulted in a sharp decline in the number of parliamentary seats held by Communists. But the Communists had supported Mitterrand in the presidential race. He appointed Communists to four minor posts in the 44-member cabinet, marking the first Communist participation in the cabinet since 1947. In 1984, the Communists resigned after disagreements with the government over economic policies. 

The Socialists lost their parliamentary majority in the 1986 elections. Conservatives gained control of parliament. Mitterrand remained president, but he named Jacques Chirac, a conservative, as prime minister. Chirac gained much influence in the government. In 1988, Chirac ran for president, but Mitterrand won a second term as president. 

Shortly after his election, Mitterrand dissolved the National Assembly. In new legislative elections, the Socialists and their allies won a slight majority. As a result, in 1988, Mitterrand appointed Michel Rocard, a Socialist, to replace Jacques Chirac as prime minister. 

Recent developments. Michel Rocard resigned as prime minister in May 1991, and Mitterrand appointed Edith Cresson, a Socialist, to the post. Cresson became France's first woman prime minister. However, she was an unpopular choice, and she resigned in April 1992. She was succeeded by Pierre Beregovoy. 

The general election held in March 1993 resulted in an overwhelming victory for the conservatives. The neo-Gaullist Rally for the Republic Party (RPR) and the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) together took 484 seats in the 577-seat French parliament. Socialist representation was reduced to 70 seats. Former finance minister Edouard Balladur, a Gaullist, succeeded Beregovoy as prime minister. 

In 1995, Jacques Chirac again ran for president, and this time he was victorious. He promised he would try to reduce France's high unemployment rate. Chirac, a member and the founder of the RPR, named RPR member Alain Juppe as prime minister. Also in 1995, Chirac announced that France would resume active participation in NATO's military wing. In 1997, the Socialist Party won the majority of seats in the parliamentary elections. Socialist leader Lionel Jospin replaced Juppe as prime minister. 

Like all modern countries, France has economic and social problems that remain unsolved. Large numbers of immigrants from Africa and southern Europe live in crowded city slums and in large apartment blocks on the outskirts of cities. Elderly people on fixed incomes, and farmers whose farms are too small to modernize, barely manage to make ends meet in times of inflation. 

Despite its economic problems, however, France's overall standard of living is higher today than ever before. Most French people own such material goods as cars, refrigerators, telephones, and washing machines. Social security laws give workers some protection against unemployment, illness, and old age. 

France is a world leader in total industrial production and in the export of agricultural products. Nuclear power plants are being built to relieve France from dependence on imported fuels. The army has been modernized, and France has its own nuclear weapons.

 

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Updated Tuesday, 07 April 2015

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