Jacques Chirac, one of the most leading presidents of France, died aged 86 in Paris on Thursday. Chirac was the president of France from 1995 to 2007, after failing two attempts to secure the presidency he was elected in 1995. Often considered for his stand against the invasion of Iraq in 2005, Chirac held a strong place in French Politics. He had served as the Prime Minister twice, once from 1974 to 76 under Valery Giscard d’Estaing and again in 1986 to 1988 under the presidency François Mitterrand.
Chirac had been a loved figure all over Europe particularly for his support to the European Union and work towards a European Unity. Assuming office at a time when the French society was divided between the left and the right, Chirac made efforts to ensure that the unity of the people would set a foundation for his vision of a United Europe.
Chirac has left behind a legacy which can be judged either for his polices and building a nation strong enough for his successors or for his time as the Mayor of Paris where he had misused funds and funded his political party.
A Gaullist, Chirac had managed to revive the failing party of General Charles De Gaulle and defended the French identity when he had managed to call out the United States for its attempt at toppling the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
As the president, he had been riddled with a lot of setbacks when he tried to bring in a set of social reforms in France which saw many strikes being called stalling the French economy for weeks. Yet, his Presidency had been a defining time in French Politics. This article will have a look at his career and policies which had defined France and its influence in the world stage.
Chirac had been in public service for four decades and in 2007 he had decided to not run for re-election and backed his party candidate Nicolas Sarkozy, even though the relationship was tense between the two.
His presidency had an early test when the war in Bosnia had led to a great concern across Europe. Authorizing the French forces which were in the United Nations Peace Keeping Mission to attack the Serb forces to restore peace had brought at the end of the Bosnian war.
The statesman had a great vision for Europe and advocated the reintegration of the Balkan countries into the European Union. This was seen as a move to bring the war-torn region under the European Identity and increase the influence of European values to the Balkan countries.
He had always had a hard stance against the far-right ideology which had seen Europe plunged into war during 1937 leading to the Second World War. It was here when Germany had managed to control France and establish the Vichy France government under whom many atrocities on the Jews had led to their persecution.
He had come out and openly apologized for the roles of the French during the time of the Vichy regime, this had changed the decade-old stance of France that it bore no responsibility of the crimes which were committed against the Jews during the Second World War.
Facing constant scrutiny over the social reforms he had tried to outmanoeuvre the opposition in calling for an election in the National Assembly which had seen a decrease in Chirac’s majority forcing him to work in a coalition government.
He had also managed to bridge the rising divide in the French Society through his policies. He knew to read his citizen and drafting his policies according to them. He had also launched a focus on maintaining France’s diplomatic clout in the global political mainframe. The move to keep Germany and France away from another war had led to a close working relationship between the two countries. He had also managed to show the resolute French principle of Charles De Gaulle when it came to the United States. He had also managed to tell of the United Kingdom for its inability to work closely with Europe and failure to pay for its share in the expansion of the European Union had led to the peak of issues in the already fragile relations between UK and France following the rejection of US’s plan to invade Iraq.
Chirac had also maintained the idea of keeping the strength of the French defence. He had renewed the use of French Polynesia to be used as the test sites for the testing of its nuclear arsenal which had irked the environmental lobby and had also kept the German leadership wary of its intention. It was later that Chirac had managed to win the support of the environmental lobby when in South Africa he had talked about the concerns regarding Climate Change and its adverse impact on humanity.
In his later years, Chirac had started to lose the confidence of the French Public despite taking measures to keep the French secularism strong. He had passed a bill to ban the wearing of headscarves in public places which have been a feature of the French culture. Yet, his ideology of having a strong Europe had somewhat alienated him from the citizens. Losing the bid in 2005 to hold the Olympics in Paris in 2008 was the start of his downfall.
His policies had been failing and led to a series of strikes keeping his social reform changes in the pipeline. He had also lost a major referendum in 2005 when he had proposed the establishment of a European constitution which was widely rejected in France. The riots in 2005 had also caused greater concern for his presidency as it showed his failure in stimulation more jobs in the economy and the deep-rooted issues of discrimination which was prevalent in France.
Chirac can be remembered as the frail political figure that he was during the end of the presidency or as the man who had managed to stand up to the US during its time and telling France that it knows her place in the international world order. He had been persecuted later in 2011 for the inconsistency in funds and embezzling the money to his party making him the first president in the fifth republic to be charged, tried and convicted.
Still, he has a legacy of being one of the most popular figures in France. He would also be remembered for his efforts in unifying the divided continent of Europe and bring it closer both economically and politically.
(Inputs from agencies)