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Jacques René Chirac

Chirac, Jacques René (zhäk rənāˈ shēräkˈ) [key], 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: French History: Biographies

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