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Jacques Chirac, Forty Years of Political Life

Five questions to Olivier Duhamel by Laurent Bigorgne

INTERVIEW - 1 October 2019

Jacques Chirac died on September 26. Minister, Prime Minister, Mayor of Paris, President of the French Republic... his political career has undoubtedly left its mark on the French Fifth Republic. What is to remember from the Chirac years? Who was he? Interview with Olivier Duhamel, President of the FNSP (Sciences Po) and Institut Montaigne’s contributor on political and institutional issues, by Laurent Bigorgne, Director of Institut Montaigne.

What memorable actions should be highlighted in the political life of Jacques Chirac, several times Minister and Prime Minister, Mayor of Paris, President of the Republic on two occasions...?

As Prime Minister, his unfailing support to Simone Veil during the debates on the law decriminalizing abortion.
And as President of the Republic:

  • The rejection of the war in Iraq;
  • The unequivocal condemnation of the French State organizing the roundup of Jews, including children, to deliver them to deportation and, for many, to extermination;
  • The perception, very early on, of the great danger facing the planet;
  • The very unpopular fight for road safety, in particular through the multiplication of automated radars. Under his five-year term, no less than 10,000 lives have been saved;
  • The definition and implementation of the Cancer Plan. 

In other words, without claiming to make the people happy, he acted to limit people's misfortunes, which is all but nothing.

In the end, who should he have said "he's the best of us" to? Alain Juppé, Nicolas Sarkozy, Edouard Philippe or Emmanuel Macron?

He said it about Juppé - case closed. And how could I make him talk about Macron and Philippe, even if the former would probably have exasperated him sometimes, and the latter sometimes pleased him?

Election of Emmanuel Macron in May 2017, disappearance of Jacques Chirac in September… Is this the end of a certain idea of the Fifth Republic?

Of the Fifth Republic, only on one point, the introduction of the five-year presidential term, which considerably reduces the probability of cohabitation. It was above all the end of a President who passionately loved "people", the French, while loving France. His successors did not really manage to reconcile these two loves - and that is what cost them or still costs them. But this end is not necessarily definitive.

In your opinion, did he ever regret not having opened his majority further after his victory in the very special 2002 presidential election?

This was obviously a political mistake, but the characteristic of politicians is not to like to see their mistakes and prefer to focus on their successes.

Who was really Jacques Chirac? Should we remember him as the Gaullist with a very liberal profile in 1986, or as the Gaullist of the social divide in 1995? As the man of the Call of Cochin or as the Europhile calling for a vote on the Maastricht Treaty?

You could also oppose the De Gaulle proclaiming "Long live French Algeria!", and the De Gaulle making Algeria's independence accepted, the modernist Giscard and the conservative Giscard, the very socialist Mitterrand and the very realistic Mitterrand, the Holland against finance and the pro-company Holland, the Macron suppressing the ISF and the Macron distributing a few billion to the middle and popular classes. "Politicians are condemned to repeat or contradict themselves," said Léon Blum. And, sometimes, Jacques Chirac has also stayed coherent with himself, for example in a form of Third Worldism, from his pro-Communist youth to his condemnation of the war in Iraq - and on this last point, it is an understatement to say that History has proven him right.

Copyright : Archives / AFP


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