Visual History of the World
The Contemporary World
1945 to the present
After World War II, a new
world order came into being in which two superpowers, the United
States and the Soviet Union, played the leading roles. Their
ideological differences led to the arms race of the Cold War and
fears of a global nuclear conflict. The rest of the world was also
drawn into the bipolar bloc system, and very few nations were able
to remain truly non-aligned. The East-West conflict came to an end
in 1990 with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent
downfall of the Eastern Bloc. Since that time, the world has been
driven by the globalization of worldwide economic and political
systems. The world has, however, remained divided: The rich nations
of Europe, North America, and East Asia stand in contrast to the
developing nations of the Third World.
The first moon landing made science-fiction dreams reality in the
Space technology has made considerable progress as the search for
possibilities of using space continues.
see also: United Nations member states -
France had suffered greatly through World War II. General de Gaulle's
provisional government took action against the collaborators and tackled
reconstruction. The Fourth Republic did not last long, however. A revolt
in the colony of Algiers led to a crisis in the government and finally
to the founding of the Fifth Republic. As president, de Gaulle followed
a policy of independence from the power blocs of the Cold War. His
successors returned to a stronger engagement within Europe.
Economic and Domestic Policies of the Fifth
Republic since 1958
The constitution of the Fifth Republic concentrated power in the office
After the end of the colonial wars, de Gaulle was able to improve the
state finances, 2 Economic growth soon picked up as trade barriers
across Europe fell.
Baker's shop in France, ca. 1960
However, as French society changed along with the
economy, the paternalism and conservatism of de Gaulle and of public
life in general seemed to many to be increasingly outdated. In 1968,
this frustration among the younger generation erupted into protests
after a dispute between students and university authorities. It
broadened when unionized workers joined the radical students and
intellectuals in challenging the government.
6 Demonstrations, factory
sit-ins, and 4 street fighting took place, culminating in a general
Student demonstrations, Paris, 1968
4 Students in street fights with the police, Paris,
Although de Gaulle survived the immediate state crisis, he was
weakened and resigned in 1969.
His successor, 1 Georges Pompidou (1969-1974), introduced reforms, but
the energy crisis of 1973 proved a set back.
The government of 5 Valery
Giscard d'Estaing (1974-1981) was particularly successful in foreign
affairs; together with German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, he instituted
an annual summit meeting of the heads of state of the leading
industrialized nations, then known as the Group of Six or G-6, which was
meant to fight the economic crisis. In France, however, unemployment
continued to rise.
A left-wing government came to power with the election of
Mitterrand (1981-1995) as president and the victory of his Socialist
party in the parliamentary elections of 1981.
Mitterrand sought more
state planning and a redistribution of income, but the budget deficit
and a double-digit rise in
prices forced him to change course by 1983. His room to maneuver was
further reduced by the establishment of the European Common Market in
1 Inauguration ceremony of the French President Georges Pompidou
(front) in Paris, June 20,1969
French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing (left) meeting the German
chancellor Helmut Schmidt in Bonn, capital of West Germany (FRG), 1975
Francois Mitterand, 1991
Mitterrand lost his absolute majority in parliament in 1986, and
the Gaullist 7 Jacques Chirac became prime minister, marking the
beginning of the phase of "cohabitation."
This occurred again after the
1997 elections, when President Chirac had to share his power with Lionel Jospin, the socialist prime minister. A major upset also occurred in the
2002 presidential elections when the far-right leader Jean Marie Le Pen
came in second with almost 20 percent of the vote.
President Jaques Chirac, 2003
In France's semipresidential system of government, both the president
and the prime minister have important powers. "Cohabitation" is the name
given to the situation in which the two offices are held by different
parties. The two leaders must continue to conduct affairs of state
despite their political rivalry.
In 1984, Mitterrand made a tacit
agreement with Chirac over the division of responsibilities: the
president took the lead in foreign policy while the prime minister
concentrated on domestic policy.
president of France
in full Georges-Jean-Raymond Pompidou
born July 5, 1911, Montboudif, France
died April 2, 1974, Paris
French statesman, bank director, and teacher who was premier of the
Fifth French Republic from 1962 to 1968 and president from 1969 until
The son of a schoolteacher, Pompidou graduated from the École Normale
Supérieure and then taught school in Marseilles and Paris. During World
War II he fought as a lieutenant and won the Croix de Guerre. In late
1944 he was introduced to Charles de Gaulle, who was then head of the
provisional French government. At this time Pompidou was a complete
stranger to politics, but he soon proved adept at interpreting and
presenting de Gaulle’s policies. Pompidou served from 1944 to 1946 on de
Gaulle’s personal staff and remained a member of his “shadow Cabinet”
after de Gaulle’s sudden resignation from the premiership in January
1946. He then was assistant to the general commissioner for tourism
(1946–49) and also held the post of maître des requêtes at the Conseil
d’État, France’s highest administrative court (1946–57).
In 1955 he entered the Rothschild bank in Paris where, again without
professional qualifications, he rose rapidly to become director general
(1959). De Gaulle had never lost touch with Pompidou, and, on his return
to power at the time of the Algerian crisis (June 1958), he took
Pompidou as his chief personal assistant (June 1958–January 1959).
Pompidou played an important part in drafting the constitution of the
Fifth Republic and in preparing plans for France’s economic recovery.
When de Gaulle became president (January 1959), Pompidou resumed his
private occupations. In 1961 Pompidou was sent to conduct secret
negotiations with the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), a
mission that finally led to a cease-fire between the French troops and
Algerian guerrillas in Algeria.
The Algerian crisis resolved, de Gaulle decided to replace Michel
Debré as premier and appointed Pompidou, then virtually unknown to the
public, in his place (April 1962). Defeated in a vote of censure in the
National Assembly (October 1962), Pompidou resumed office after de
Gaulle’s victory that same month in the plebiscite on the election of
the president by universal suffrage. The second Pompidou administration
(December 1962–January 1966) was succeeded by the third (January
1966–March 1967) and the fourth (April 1967–July 1968). Pompidou had
thus been premier for six years and three months, a phenomenon that de
Gaulle noted had been unknown in French politics for four generations.
Pompidou’s standing was probably highest at the time of the French
student–worker revolt of May 1968, at which time he participated in
negotiations with workers and employers, persuaded de Gaulle to make the
necessary reforms, and concluded the Grenelle Agreement (May 27) that
finally ended the strikes. Pompidou’s campaign calls for the restoration
of law and order enabled him to lead the Gaullists to an unprecedented
majority in the National Assembly elections of June 30, 1968. Although
he was unexpectedly dismissed from the premiership by de Gaulle in July
1968, Pompidou retained his prestige and influence in the Gaullist
party. When de Gaulle abruptly resigned the presidency in April 1969,
Pompidou campaigned for the office and was elected on June 15, 1969,
receiving more than 58 percent of the second-round votes.
During his term as president, Pompidou was largely successful in
continuing the policies initiated by de Gaulle. He maintained friendship
and economic ties with Arab states, but he was less successful with West
Germany and did not significantly improve relations with the United
States. For almost five years he provided France with a stable
government and strengthened its economy. He also supported Great
Britain’s entry into the EEC. His death was unexpected despite the
growing evidence of his rapidly failing health.
president of France
born February 2, 1926, Koblenz, Germany
French political leader, who served as the third president of the Fifth
Republic of France (1974–81).
Giscard was the eldest son of a prominent French financier and economist
and member of a patrician family. He attended the École Polytechnique
(interrupting his schooling in 1944–45 to serve in the French army) and
the École Nationale d’Administration in Paris. In the early 1950s he
worked in the Finance Ministry.
Giscard was elected to the French National Assembly in 1956 and was a
delegate to the United Nations General Assembly (1956–58). He served as
the secretary of state for finance (1959–62) and was appointed finance
minister (1962–66) by President Charles de Gaulle. During his first term
of office as finance minister, France attained a balanced budget for the
first time in 30 years. His international economic policies—among them
his attempt to limit American economic influence in France—and his other
conservative financial measures helped cause a recession and brought him
discredit in the business and labour sectors; he was dismissed.
In 1966 Giscard founded and served as first president of the
Independent Republicans, a conservative party that worked in coalition
with the Gaullists. From 1969 to 1974 he was again finance minister
under President Georges Pompidou. Giscard was elected to the presidency
in a runoff election against the leftist candidate François Mitterrand
on May 19, 1974. One of the notable achievements of his presidency was
France’s role in the strengthening of the European Economic Community.
He was defeated in another runoff with Mitterrand on May 10, 1981.
Giscard returned to politics in 1982, serving as conseiller général
of Puy-de-Dôme département until 1988. He was elected to the National
Assembly, serving from 1984 to 1989, and was influential in uniting
France’s rightist parties. From 1989 to 1993 he served as a member of
the European Parliament. In 2001 Giscard was appointed by the European
Union to chair a convention charged with drafting a constitution for the
organization. He was elected to the French Academy in 2003. Among his
several published works are Démocratie française (1976; French
Democracy) and two volumes of memoirs.
president of France
in full François-maurice-marie Mitterrand
born Oct. 26, 1916, Jarnac, France
died Jan. 8, 1996, Paris
politician who served two terms (1981–95) as president of France,
leading his country to closer political and economic integration with
western Europe. The first socialist to hold the office, Mitterrand
abandoned leftist economic policies early in his presidency and
generally ruled as a pragmatic centrist.
The son of a stationmaster, Mitterrand studied law and political science
in Paris. On the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the infantry
and in June 1940 was wounded and captured by the Germans. After escaping
from a prison camp in late 1941, he worked with the collaborationist
Vichy government—a fact that did not become publicly known until
1994—before joining the Resistance in 1943.
In 1947 he became a cabinet minister of the Fourth Republic in the
coalition government of Paul Ramadier, having been elected to the
National Assembly the previous year. Over the next 12 years, Mitterrand
held cabinet posts in 11 short-lived Fourth Republic governments.
Originally somewhat centrist in his views, he became more leftist in
politics, and from 1958 he crystallized opposition to the regime of
Charles de Gaulle. In 1965 he stood against de Gaulle as the sole
candidate of the socialist and communist left for the French presidency,
collecting 32 percent of the vote and forcing de Gaulle into a runoff
After his election as first secretary of the Socialist Party in 1971,
Mitterrand began a major party reorganization, which greatly increased
its electoral appeal. Although Mitterrand was defeated in his second
presidential bid, in 1974, his strategy of making the Socialist Party
the majority party of the left while still allied with the Communist
Party led to the upset Socialist victory of May 10, 1981, when he
defeated the incumbent president, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Mitterrand
called legislative elections soon after his victory, and a new left-wing
majority in the National Assembly enabled his prime minister, Pierre
Mauroy, to effect the reforms Mitterrand had promised. These measures
included nationalizing financial institutions and key industrial
enterprises, raising the minimum wage, increasing social benefits, and
abolishing the death penalty. In foreign policy Mitterrand advocated a
relatively hard stance toward the Soviet Union and cultivated good
relations with the United States.
Mitterrand’s socialist economic policies caused increased inflation
and other problems, so in 1983 the government began to cut spending. By
the end of Mitterrand’s first term in office, the Socialist Party had
abandoned socialist policies in all but name and essentially had adopted
free-market liberalism. In 1986 the parties of the right won a majority
of seats in the National Assembly, and so Mitterrand had to ask one of
the leaders of the right-wing majority, Jacques Chirac, to be his prime
minister. Under this unprecedented power-sharing arrangement, known as
“cohabitation,” Mitterrand retained responsibility for foreign policy.
He soundly defeated Chirac in the presidential elections of 1988 and
thus secured to another seven-year term.
The newly reelected Mitterrand again called elections, and the
Socialists regained a working majority in the National Assembly. His
second term was marked by vigorous efforts to promote European unity and
to avoid German economic domination of France by binding both countries
into strong European institutions. Mitterrand was thus a leading
proponent of the Treaty on European Union (1991), which provided for a
centralized European banking system, a common currency, and a unified
Mitterrand was less successful in domestic matters, particularly in
coping with France’s persistently high unemployment rate, which had
risen to 12 percent by 1993. In 1991 he appointed the socialist Edith
Cresson to be prime minister; she became the first woman in French
history to hold that office. The Socialist Party suffered a crushing
defeat in the legislative elections of 1993, and Mitterrand spent the
last two years of his second term working with a centre-right government
under Prime Minister Edouard Balladur.
president of France
in full Jacques René Chirac
born November 29, 1932, Paris, France
French politician, who served as the country’s president (1995–2007) and
prime minister (1974–76, 1986–88).
Education and early career
Chirac, the son of a bank employee, graduated from the Institut d’Études
Politiques de Paris in 1954, served as an officer in the French army in
Algeria (1956–57), and earned a graduate degree from the École Nationale
d’Administration in 1959. He then became a civil servant and rose
rapidly through the ranks, serving as a department head and a secretary
of state before becoming minister for parliamentary relations in 1971–72
under President Georges Pompidou. He was first elected to the National
Assembly as a Gaullist in 1967.
Rise to national prominence
After serving as minister for agriculture (1972–74) and of the interior
(1974), Chirac was appointed prime minister by newly elected President
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1974. Citing personal and professional
differences with Giscard, Chirac resigned from that office in 1976 and
set about reconstituting the Gaullist Union of Democrats for the
Republic into a neo-Gaullist group, the Rally for the Republic (RPR).
With the party firmly under his control, he was elected mayor of Paris
in 1977 and continued to build his political base among the several
conservative parties of France.
Chirac’s first campaign for the presidency in 1981 split the
conservative vote with Giscard and thereby allowed the Socialist Party
candidate, François Mitterrand, to win. In parliamentary elections held
in 1986, the coalition of right-wing parties won a slim majority of
seats in the National Assembly, and Chirac was appointed prime minister
by Mitterrand. This power-sharing arrangement between the two posts was
the first of its kind in the history of the Fifth Republic, in which
previously the president and the prime minister had always belonged to
the same party or the same electoral coalition.
In this arrangement, known as cohabitation, Chirac, as prime
minister, was responsible for domestic affairs, while Mitterrand
retained responsibility for foreign policy. Chirac’s most important
achievement during his second term was his administration’s
privatization of many major corporations that had been nationalized
under Mitterrand. He also reduced payroll and other taxes in an effort
to stimulate job creation in the private sector. As the candidate of the
centre-right RPR, Chirac ran for the presidency against Mitterrand and
was defeated in runoff elections in May 1988, whereupon he resigned the
post of prime minister. Remaining mayor of Paris, he made his third run
for the presidency in May 1995 and this time defeated the Socialist
candidate, Lionel Jospin.
As president, Chirac tried to cut spending and thereby reduce the
government’s budget deficits so that France could qualify to participate
in a single common European currency, the euro, which replaced the franc
as France’s sole currency in 2002. His proposed austerity measures,
which included freezing the wages of public-sector employees and
reducing some social welfare programs, provoked a massive general strike
in late 1995. Nonetheless, Chirac continued to pursue policies of fiscal
austerity despite unemployment that had reached record levels by early
1997. Hoping to win a mandate for his program, Chirac called for
parliamentary elections in May 1997, but voters overwhelmingly cast
their ballots for the left. His conservative coalition lost its majority
in the parliament, and the Socialists were able to form a new coalition
government with their leader, Jospin, as prime minister. Chirac also
drew protests after authorizing nuclear tests in the South Pacific in
1995 and 1996.
In 2002 Chirac’s party, the RPR, merged with part of the Union for
the French Democracy and the Liberal Democratic party to create the
Union for the Presidential Majority (later renamed the Union for a
Popular Movement; UMP). In the spring of the same year—despite criticism
for various ethical lapses and accusations of illegal fund-raising
levied against the RPR—Chirac won the first round of France’s
presidential balloting over right-wing nationalist Jean-Marie Le Pen and
Jospin, whose third-place showing eliminated him from the second round.
With near-universal support from the political establishment in the
second round, including from the French Communist Party and Jospin’s
Socialist Party, Chirac was easily reelected president, winning 82
percent of the vote to Le Pen’s 18 percent—the largest margin of victory
in any French presidential election.
Chirac’s second term, which officially began in May 2002, would be
shorter than his first; in 2000 French voters had passed a referendum to
change the presidential term of office from seven to five years. The
term opened positively for Chirac: the UMP’s victory in the June 2002
legislative elections ended the president’s cohabitation with the
Socialist prime minister. Chirac appointed fellow centre-right
politician Jean-Pierre Raffarin to the post.
The early part of the term was dominated by U.S.- and British-led
efforts to secure United Nations support for a military invasion of
Iraq, whose government, led by Ṣaddām Ḥussein, they accused of
possessing or attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction in
violation of UN Security Council resolutions. In November 2002 France
backed a U.S.-sponsored resolution mandating the return to Iraq of
weapons inspectors, who had been withdrawn in 1998. In early 2003, as
the United States accused Iraq of failing to adequately cooperate with
the inspectors, Chirac declared that France would veto any new Security
Council resolution authorizing the use of force. With German Chancellor
Gerhard Schröder and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chirac proposed a
plan to toughen and extend the inspections regime, but the United States
rejected it as unlikely to succeed. Despite this and later efforts by
Chirac to prevent a war with Iraq, a U.S.-led coalition attacked the
country in March 2003. Chirac’s leadership among Europeans opposed to
the war created considerable enmity toward him in the administration of
U.S. President George W. Bush.
Later in his second term, Chirac’s popularity declined. His party,
the UMP, fared poorly in both regional and European Parliament elections
in 2004. Also that year, Chirac signed into law a controversial measure
that prohibited head scarves worn by Muslim girls, as well as other
religious symbols, in state schools. In 2005, after French voters
rejected Chirac’s call for the ratification of a new constitution for
the European Union, Chirac replaced Prime Minister Raffarin with
Dominique de Villepin. In October of that year, anger over
discrimination and high unemployment fueled rioting in several Parisian
suburbs heavily populated by immigrants. The disturbances soon spread to
the rest of the country, prompting Chirac to declare a state of
emergency. Chirac saw his prestige fall further in 2006, when massive
demonstrations forced the government to abandon legislation that would
have made it easier for companies to fire young employees. In late 2006
Chirac’s longtime political rival Nicolas Sarkozy, interior minister and
head of the UMP, announced his plans to run for president the following
year. Sarkozy won the election, and in May 2007 he succeeded Chirac.
During Chirac’s presidency, a number of his political associates were
tried on charges of corruption. Notably, in 2004 his former prime
minister Alain Juppé was convicted of misappropriating public funds.
Chirac, too, was allegedly involved in corrupt political dealings, but
he remained immune from prosecution until his term as president ended.
In 2009 a magistrate ordered the former president to face trial on
charges dating back to his time as mayor of Paris; Chirac and several
associates stood accused of awarding contracts for nonexistent city
government jobs to their political allies.
France in Europe
De Gaulle's policy of a "Europe of Nation States" stressed the autonomy
of France. The "grande nation" has nonetheless been central to the
European integration project since the 1950s.
France and Germany have long been considered the
8 engines of the
8 70th German-French conference; in the center Jaques Chirac,
to his left the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl;
Weimar, Germany, 1997
Both nations have played key roles in shaping the
evolution of postwar Europe. France's role has undergone significant
changes over the last 50 years. After the bitter experience of defeat on
the part of the German Reich during World War II, its first concern was
to establish safeguards against its neighbor, in cooperation with Great
Britain and the Benelux
countries. The first European treaties—agreements on atomic energy and
the joint management of coal and steel—were signed with the
intention of making a future war between the two nations impossible.
As France's colonial empire dissolved, the country's leaders
increasingly looked to 9 Europe.
However, France was still concerned
with further securing and building up its own independent position of
power within and outside the community.
The 10 Franco-German treaty of
1963 tied the onetime adversaries tightly together.
application to join the European Community was twice vetoed by de Gaulle
because he feared that Great Britain's entry would endanger France's
leading role in Europe. France's withdrawal from the military part of
NATO also served primarily to demonstrate France's independence.
After de Gaulle's resignation, France's European policies changed. Under
Pompidou, France finally agreed to Britain's EC membership; under
Giscard d'Estaing and Mitterrand, France reengaged with the process of
integration. As president of the European Commission, Frenchman Jacques
Delors was also a key architect in the launch of the European single
market in the 1980s.
The historic 2004 enlargement, which saw eight
former communist countries join the EU, was the culmination of a
political process supported by France.
However in recent years there
have been signs that the French people have become increasingly anxious
about the direction of the European project. The French electorate's
rejection of the new EU constitution in a referendum on May 29, 2005
seemed to confirm the trend.
9 The new Airbus A380 jumbo jet, a collaborative industrial venture of
France, Germany, the UK, and Spain, 2004
10 The Franco-German treaty, signed by Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor
Konrad Adenauer, in Paris, 1963
Heads of states and governments after finalizing plans for
of new members to the European Union,
Amsterdam summit, 1997
Franqois Mitterrand joined the French resistance in World War II and in
1944 became a minister in de Gaulle's provisional government. He was a
member of parliament and a minister in the Fourth Republic. In the Fifth
Republic, he united the splintered left in the Parti Socialiste, of
which he served as chairman until 1980.
In 1981 Mitterrand became France's first Socialist president and
served until 1995. After initial setbacks in economic policy he
withdrew to a more statesmanlike role. Mitterrand smoothed the
way to German reunification and gave impetus to the European integration project.
President Mitterand throws flowers into the River Seine,
right-wing extremists murdered a Moroccan,
see also: United Nations member states -