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Jacques Chirac

Jacques Chirac

Jacques Chirac (born 1932) was an influential French technocrat under Presidents Charles deGaulle and Georges Pompidou. He served as prime minister under President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (1974-1976), was an unsuccessful presidential candidate in 1981, became prime minister again in 1986 under President François Mitterrand, and was elected President of France in 1995.

Jacques Chirac was born in Paris on November 29, 1932. Young Jacques had a meteoric career. Like many upper middle class Parisians he first headed for the bureaucracy. He graduated from the prestigious Institute for Political Studies and the National School for Administration, one of the training grounds for the French elite.

In 1959 Chirac began his bureaucratic career in accounting at the Cour des Comptes. Like many bureaucrats of his day, he found his own commitment to growth and modernization coincided with the policies of the new Gaullist government. He was tapped to join a politician's personal staff, in this case Prime Minister Pompidou's, in 1962. For the remainder of Pompidou's tenure, Chirac was a valuable economic adviser who played a critical role in the dramatic economic growth France was experiencing. Chirac entered the electoral arena in 1965, when he was elected to the municipal council of the tiny Corrèzian town of Sainte-Féréol, his family's home town. In 1967 he was elected to the National Assembly from that area and was repeatedly re-elected after that.

Chirac was also appointed to a series of cabinet posts, beginning as secretary of state for social affairs in charge of employment in 1967. After that he served as secretary of state for the economy and finance (1968-1971), minister delegate to the premier for relations with Parliament (1971-1972), minister of agriculture and rural development (1972-1974), and minister of the interior (February-May 1974).

Appointed Prime Minister

Chirac's political influence within the Gaullist party grew during those years. His personal political career really took off with the 1974 presidential election. President Georges Pompidou died while in office that April. Chirac supported the successful Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in the ensuing elections rather than the Gaullist Jacques Chaban-Delmas.

The new president named Chirac prime minister. And, despite some grumbling from the old Gaullist "barons," he took control of the Gaullist party, which had been left in a shambles following Chaban's disastrous showing in the elections.

His years as prime minister were difficult. He and President Giscard had different styles and images of the proper role for the state. Chirac, in particular, had difficulty with the president's frequently expressed desire to limit the role of the state in guiding the economy. In addition, Prime Minister Chirac's strong ambitions often conflicted with the president's. Finally, in 1976, the president requested and received Prime Minister Chirac's resignation.

Member of the Opposition

That December Chirac restructured the Gaullist party, calling it the Rally for the Republic (RPR), and became the "new" party's first leader as a first step in his own presidential campaign. In 1977 he was elected the first mayor of Paris since the commune of 1870-1871. He used that office, which he held until 1995, as a vehicle to criticize the national government and to demonstrate his own ability to head a team that had remarkable success in redeveloping much of the city and improving its social services. He also headed the RPR slate in the 1978 legislative elections and continued his critical support of the Giscard-Barre government from then until the end of Giscard's seven year term in 1981.

That year, Jacques Chirac chose to run in the presidential elections and did rather well, winning 18 percent of the first ballot vote. At the second ballot, he only gave Giscard lukewarm support, which undoubtedly helped contribute to the president's defeat by President François Mitterrand. Chirac remained one of the leading opposition politicians. When the Socialist Party of President Mitterrand lost its majority in the National Assembly in the 1986 election, Chirac became prime minister again in a power-sharing agreement called cohabitation. It was the first time in the 28 years of the Fifth Republic that the French government was divided between a conservative parliament, led by Chirac, and a socialist president, Mitterrand. In 1988 Chirac ran for president a second time and was again defeated by Mitterrand. Mitterrand's election ended cohabitation and Chirac's term as prime minister. In 1995, Mitterrand, in declining health, decided not to seek another term in office. In the May election to replace him, Chirac won nearly 53 percent of the vote to capture the presidency on his third attempt.

President of France

As the President of France, Chirac faced the daunting challenge of restoring public confidence and generating higher levels of economic growth to decrease the country's alarming unemployment rate. In addition to creating more jobs, Chirac also promised to lower taxes, overhaul the education system, and create a volunteer army. The President also signalled his intention of continuing Mitterrand's move toward European integration and a single European currency.

Chirac's popularity dropped, however, when, later in 1995, France restarted its nuclear weapons test program in the South Pacific. Over 20 countries officially protested, demonstrators across the globe took to the streets, and international boycotts of wine and other French products were erected. Riots erupted in Tahiti, near the test site, injuring 40 people and causing millions of dollars in property damage. Chirac defended his decision by claiming that Mitterrand had prematurely ceased testing during his term in office. Chirac promised, however, to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty provided the current round of testing offered sufficient data to make future computer simulations feasible.

Chirac's closest political advisor was his daughter Claude who handled the President's communications, organized his trips, and played an important role in his election.

Despite the serious burdens that Chirac shouldered as French President, he embraced the lighter side of life and had a penchant for Americana that probably began in 1953 when he traveled to the United States and attended summer courses at Harvard. To help support himself, the 20-year-old Chirac worked as a soda jerk and dishwasher in a Howard Johnson's restaurant. The New York Times, speaking of Chirac's common touch, reported, "He prefers a cold Mexican beer to a glass of wine, and a genuine American meal like a hot turkey sandwich with gravy to a pseudo-Escoffier meal. While he strongly supports the law that requires French television stations to show mainly French films, … friends say he would rather watch a Gary Cooper western than a mannered French romance." Chirac's habit of frequenting McDonald's and Burger King restaurants led Prime Minister Alain Juppé to joke in Time, "As soon as he sees a fast-food place, he has to stop the car, rush up to the counter, and order a hamburger."

Further Reading

For an article on Chirac's presidency, see Paris bureau chief, Craig R. Whitney's article in the New York Times, February 11, 1996.

None of Jacques Chirac's books have been translated into English. The best material on him and his political circumstances can be found in Jean Charlot, The Gaullist Phenomenon (London, 1971) and in Frank L. Wilson, French Political Parties Under the Fifth Republic (1982). □

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Chirac, Jacques René

Jacques René Chirac (zhäk rənā´ shēräk´), 1932–, French political leader, president of France (1995–2007), b. Paris. He attended the National School of Administration, joined the civil service, and began his political career in 1961 working for Premier Georges Pompidou. Elected to the National Assembly in 1967, he held several governmental posts (1967–74) before serving as premier (1974–76) under Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. Chirac broke with Giscard in 1976, however, and assumed leadership of the neo-Gaullists as head of the newly founded Rally for the Republic (RPR). Mayor of Paris from 1977 to 1995, he was twice an unsuccessful presidential candidate (1981, 1988) and once more served as premier (1986–88), during François Mitterrand's presidency.

Chirac again ran for president in 1995; this time he was elected, defeating the Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, and his fellow Gaullist Édouard Balladur. In office he sought to reduce France's unemployment, cut the deficit (a requirement for establishment of a single European Union currency), and strengthen ties with Germany. His attempt (1995) to reduce costs in the heavily subsidized railway system led to a crippling national transportation strike and a capitulation to striking workers.

In an effort to solidify conservative control of the National Assembly, he called early elections in 1997. The Socialists and their allies triumphed at the polls, forcing Chirac to work with a Socialist premier, Lionel Jospin. Chirac championed a general reduction in French military expenditures, but he also called for the development of the military capabilities of the European Union as a counterbalance to those of the United States. In 2000 and 2001, Chirac was implicated in a number of corruption scandals, including a 1980s kickback scheme when he was mayor of Paris that provided funds for political parties. A French magistrate indicated that he had evidence that Chirac had taken part in the kickback scheme, but, as president, Chirac was immune from prosecution. (Chirac was convicted in 2011, however, on corruption charges arising from bogus city jobs for RPR members while he was mayor.)

Chirac was reelected in May, 2002, defeating Jean-Marie Le Pen, a right-wing extremist who had edged out Jospin in the election's first round. Chirac was a vocal opponent of the Bush administration's use of force in 2003 to disarm Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power. Also in 2003 he became the first French president to make a state visit to Algeria since that nation won its independence from France. His failure in 2005 to win the approval of French voters for a new EU constitution was a blow to his prestige. He retired as president in 2007, having decided not to seek a third term; Nicolas Sarkozy succeeded him.

See his My Life in Politics (tr. 2012).

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"Chirac, Jacques René." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Chirac, Jacques

Chirac, Jacques (1932– ) French statesman, president (1995– ). Chirac was elected to the National Assembly in 1967 and held a number of ministerial posts. In 1974 he was appointed prime minister by President Giscard d'Estaing. In 1976 he resigned and formed a new Gaullist party, the Rally for the Republic (RPR). In 1977 he became mayor of Paris. He was again prime minister (1986–88), this time under President Mitterrand. In 1995 he succeeded Mitterrand as president. Confronted by tough economic decisions in the lead-up to European economic and monetary union, Chirac called a surprise prime ministerial election (1997). Victory for the socialists, led by Lionel Jospin, was a personal setback for Chirac. Chirac won a landslide victory in 2002 elections.

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