French right-of-centre Gaullist politician and head of state, president 1995-2007 and prime minister 1974-76 and 1986-88. He led the Gaullist party 1974-95, refounding it in 1976 as the Rally for the Republic (RPR), now part of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). He also served as the first elected mayor of Paris 1977-95. In 2003 Chirac fell out with US president George W Bush over the US-led war against Iraq, which France refused to support, preferring a UN solution. This won him short-term domestic popularity, but he suffered a major political setback in May 2005 when French voters rejected in a referendum a proposed European Union constitution. He responded by appointing a new government, led by prime minister Dominique de Villepin, but it was faced by rioting in the poorer suburbs of Paris in October-November 2005 and further unrest in spring 2006, in opposition to labour market reforms.
After converting the RPR to more free-market economic policies and to further European integration, Chirac led the Right to a narrow electoral victory in the 1986 parliamentary elections. Sharing power with a socialist president, François Mitterrand, as prime minister he brought in major privatizations but ceded ground over planned nationality and university reforms. He resigned as prime minister after Mitterrand defeated him in the 1988 presidential elections. In 1993 he declined the premiership (which went to his former finance minister Edouard Balladur), but in May 1995 was finally elected president, defeating the socialist Lionel Jospin. As president, his decision to temporarily resume French Pacific nuclear testing in late 1995 was controversial, and the government became unpopular over welfare cutbacks - linked to meeting the Maastricht criteria for European Monetary Union. Chirac miscalculated in calling early parliamentary elections in June 1997, the Left's victory forcing him into ‘co-habitation’ with a government led by Lionel Jospin.
From an affluent Parisian background, Chirac trained at France's elite Ecole Nationale d'Administration, became a civil servant, and, from 1962, was a policy adviser to Prime Minister Georges Pompidou, and was elected to the National Assembly as a Gaullist from 1967. He held ministerial posts 1971-74, including agriculture and interior, acquiring the nickname ‘the bulldozer’ because of his energy and bluntness. He supported Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the non-Gaullist centre-right presidential candidate, in 1974, but subsequent disagreements led to his resignation as Giscard's first prime minister in 1976. From 2000, Chirac faced mounting press allegations concerning illegal party-financing and bribes received when he was mayor of Paris in the 1980s. In 2001, magistrates announced that they wanted to question Chirac, and his wife and daughter, over cash payments for trips made when he was mayor. In July, a National Assembly committee voted to allow the release of details of Chirac's financial assets to the judges investigating the allegations. While in office, he had presidential immunity from prosecution. He was re-elected president in May 2002 and two months later escaped an assassination attempt by a far-right extremist during a military parade marking Bastille Day.
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