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De Gaulle in power


De Gaulle
De Gaulle

De Gaulle attempted to keep the French colonial empire together by granting more autonomy to the remaining colonies within a new French Community. But in the end he had to agree to their overwhelming demands for independence. The Algerian crisis, which had brought him back to power, was the toughest problem on his agenda. De Gaulle had led the differing parties to believe he was sympathetic to their opposite positions. He had misleadingly assured the French Algerians that “I have understood you.” But he gradually recognized the hopelessness of continued repression in Algeria, and in 1962 he reached agreement with the insurgents in meetings at Evian, France.

The Evian Accords, which 90 percent of French voters also approved, provided for an Algerian referendum on independence. A majority of Algerians voted for independence. Even before the accords were reached, however, a group of military officers and colonials organized the Secret Army Organization (OAS), which conspired to overthrow the government. De Gaulle put down this rebellion in 1962, ending the Algerian crisis. French Algerians remained bitter over what they saw as de Gaulle’s sellout. Most of them also had to endure the insult of living in a France governed by their nemesis, de Gaulle, after having suffered the injury of leaving Algeria forever.

De Gaulle envisioned a greater role for France in world affairs than it had played under the Fourth Republic. With the Algerian crisis settled and Soviet expansionism into Europe more or less contained, de Gaulle set out to create and lead a group of nations distinct from the American and Soviet superpowers. To give this group teeth and to gain independence from the United States, he initiated a successful, if expensive, program to develop nuclear weapons. Then in 1967 he pulled France out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a defense alliance led by the United States that France had joined earlier to provide a common front against the USSR.

De Gaulle maintained cordial relations with former French colonies and even intervened in Canadian internal affairs by declaring solidarity with Canadian Francophones who were demanding independence for the province of Québec.

He also prevented Britain from joining the Common Market on the grounds that it was too closely tied to the United States. At the same time, he forged stronger ties with West Germany. In the end, de Gaulle did make the French feel that they continued to be an important presence in international affairs, even after their once extensive empire had crumbled.

Gaullism
Gaullism

At home de Gaulle worked to strengthen the franc, which in the late 1950s was again in trouble, instituting devaluations and government austerity measures. Whatever the effect of these measures, the economy experienced another growth spurt in the 1960s, which added credibility to the Fifth Republic. To enhance his authority, de Gaulle had the constitution altered in 1962 to provide for the direct election of the president, beginning with the next election, in 1965. De Gaulle was elected to a second term as president in 1965, but he had a harder time winning than expected. He failed to get a majority of votes in the first round of the election. Even in the second round, his margin of victory was only 10 percent over that of his challenger, François Mitterrand.

However, de Gaulle still seemed unremovable and irreplaceable in 1968, when he faced his worst crisis. That May, a student protest movement escalated into a massive national strike, paralyzing the country. These developments drew on multiple resentments that had been building against the Fifth Republic for years, particularly among the young and the working class. De Gaulle wisely retired from the scene, waiting for the country to grow tired of the chaos. He then boldly reentered, presenting himself as the only alternative to anarchy and promising university reforms for the students and wage increases for the workers.

In the legislative elections of June 1968, de Gaulle’s party won a crushing victory. But de Gaulle’s prestige had declined greatly, and he ruled with less mastery than before. Aging, tired, and apparently looking for an exit, in 1969 he pledged to leave office if the voters rejected his proposal to restructure the Senate. It was rejected and de Gaulle resigned. The most prominent French leader of the 20th century made perhaps the strangest departure from politics in all French history. With de Gaulle gone, Gaullism became an affair of more ordinary politicians. The Fifth Republic, which de Gaulle had previously seemed to embody, became more depersonalized and institutionalized. De Gaulle was succeeded as president by the much less commanding Georges Pompidou, who was closely tied to big business. Pompidou was less committed to French intervention in world politics than de Gaulle had been, and he permitted Britain to enter the Common Market. In economic matters, he leaned more toward a laissez-faire position than had de Gaulle, and his administration undertook relatively few new initiatives.

When Pompidou died in 1974, he was succeeded by Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who was not a Gaullist but the leader of the center-right Independent Republicans. A technocrat by training, Giscard had a progressive agenda. He proposed to protect the environment, legalize contraception and abortion, lower the voting age, and redistribute taxes. He was successful in most of these initiatives. However, his popularity was undercut by the first major economic downturn since World War II, which caused unemployment and inflation to grow. He was defeated in 1981 by François Mitterrand, whose Socialist Party also won a majority in legislative elections. "France" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.

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