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Professor Seán Hand comments on the career and legacy of President Jacques Chirac

Reflecting on the legacy of Jacques Chirac, Professor Seán Hand, Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Europe), said:

"Jacques Chirac, who has died aged 86, was French president for two consecutive terms, from 1995 to 2007, having previously served twice as prime minister, including during a period of ‘cohabitation’ under the Socialist President Mitterrand. The second of Chirac’s presidential elections involved a final-round run-off against the French National Front candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, securing him an 82% endorsement that was as much a vote against the Far Right as an approval of his own character or politics.

"Remembered internationally for his advocacy of a strong federal Europe, a position that entailed among other things bringing France into the single European currency and opposing the 2003 United States-led invasion of Iraq, his domestic power was built on having been a publicity-savvy mayor of Paris for 18 years with the nickname ‘the bulldozer’. He never lost the populist touch: in his second term as Prime Minister he signed the deal that created Euro Disney. He was later found guilty of embezzlement during this period, and was portrayed on the French equivalent of Spitting Image as ‘SuperLiar’.

"But like Napoleon’s general, he was also lucky in being president during a relatively prosperous period (though his austerity packages failed) and being followed as president by Sarkozy, Hollande and Macron, meaning that he became recalled popularly as a regular guy who spanned the left-right divide while remaining suitably presidential in office, but who did not let France get pushed around by anyone, including Mrs. Thatcher.

"A key historic gesture as French President was his unambiguous acknowledgement of France’s ‘assisting’ role in the Holocaust during the round-up and deportation of Jews. In legacy terms, he also saw through the traditional presidential gesture of creating an institutional ‘grand project’ in Paris: in his case, this was the ‘Quai Branly’ Museum, a rather banally decontextualized collection of indigenous cultural objects."

26 September 2019

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