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Useful Notes / The Presidents of France

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Current coat of arms of the Élysée Palace, seat of the French presidency.

Here is a list of Presidents and Heads of State other than monarchs who have ruled France.

Since 1848, the President of France has their offices and (usually) their residence at the Élysée Palace in Paris, whose gardens overlook the Champs-Élysées. Commentators and journalists often use "l'Élysée" as a shorthand for the French Presidency the same as The White House is used for the US Presidency or 10 Downing Street for British PMs.

See L'État, c'est moi for the monarchs.

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French Presidents and Heads of State

    First Republic (1792-1804) 

See also The French Revolution.

The First Republic hadn't a sole Head of State but rather gave such powers to a collective, akin to the Swiss situation.

Convention nationale, or National Convention (1792-1795)

This Assembly was elected by male universal suffrage and was divided in three factions:

  • The Montagnards or Mountaneers, who were roughly from the far-left and sat on the highest seats;
  • The Marais or Marsh, moderates;
  • The Girondinsnote , originating from among the ranks of the Bourgeoisie and being proto-Liberals - as in free-trade.

Note that all three factions had been firmly part of the Left until King Louis XVI was deposed on 10 August 1792note .

On 21 September 1792, the Assembly officially proclaimed the French Republic, and voted for the de jure end of the monarchy.

Reign of Terror

On 1793, the Assembly set up a Comité de salut public, or Comitee of Public Salvation to defend the Republic from both internal and external ennemies.

Directoire or Directory (1795-1799)

From October 26th, 1795 to November 9th, 1799, the collective Head of State was a Five-Man Band, with a unicameral legislature; the new order was inspired by the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776. On three occasions, the leadership messed with the official structure basically to their own cynical advantage, with the result that for the back half of its existence, the Directoire was essentially a collective dictatorship with a largely rubber-stamp assembly they manipulated by coups against both sides of the political class. This lasted until a coup d'etat by Napoléon Bonaparte.

This period was formerly the former Trope Namer for Full-Circle Revolution.

Consulat or Consulate (1799-1804)

From November 10th, 1799 to May 18th, 1804, the post of Head of the State is divided in three persons, or consuls ala Ancient Rome.

These Consuls were:

The two others Consuls had only a consultative power.

During this period Napoleon reconstructed France by creating the Bank of France, and set up a new law and court system.

The Consulate was first for ten years and then for life and the First Consul gained the right of oversight on the choice of his succesor.

In 1804, Bonaparte proclaimed The Empire.

    Second Republic (1848-1851) 

After the 1848 Revolution and the overthrowing of Louis-Phillippe, the Constituant Assembly decided to set a presidential regime, inspired from the US Constitution, where the president would have only one term.

The Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (1848-1851)

Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was the first French and European President elected to the universal suffragenote  with 74% of the suffrage, the help of the Parti de l'Ordre, or Order Party, a group of conservative politicians, his personal progressive views about work and welfare, and the fact Napoléon Bonaparte, his uncle, was well remembered among the population (some farmers thought it was the uncle who was running). He was also the first President to officially settle in the Élysée, renovating it into its present appearance.

The Parliament was very conservative, passing laws limiting suffrage to those who hadn't moved during three consecutive years or brutally repressing workers opposed to the closure of the National Workshopsnote . On December 2th, 1851, frustrated of being prevented of concouring for a second term, he made a coup and, some months after, proclaimed The Empire once more. This whole sequence would inspire Karl Marx to write a book about it, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, which begins with the famous quote "[History repeats], first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

    Third Republic (1870-1940) 

Motivated by the fear of a new "2nd December putsch" and by the term of McMahon, French MPs decided the President will have very few powers and be elected by the Congress for seven-year terms so as to limit the possibilities of populism. Was supposed to be a short "placeholder" until France returned to the monarchy, it ended up being the longest-lasting republic so far at 70 years.

Adolphe Thiers (1871-1873)

Political stance: Former Orleanist, center-right
An old political hand, he and his newspaper Le National had been central in installing Louis-Philippe in the July Revolution of 1830. He also played a major role in the Revolution of 1848, as one of the leading moderate critics of the Guizot regime before the July Monarchy collapsed and one of the leading voices of the bourgeois liberals during the Second Republic. It was thus only natural that he took the provisional presidency after Bismarck killed the Second Empire. Given the boot by the royalist Parliament after saying a Conservative republic should be envisioned because "It is the Republic that divides us least".

Patrice de Mac Mahon (1873-1879)

Political stance: Legitimist, reactionary
An aristocrat and descendant of one of the "Wild Geese" who had fled Ireland in the wake of the English Revolution and subsequent dynastic conflict, Mac Mahon was a firm believer in the monarchy and one of the most ardent Legitimists. As a Legitimist, he regarded himself as essentially keeping the chair warm for the actual head of state, that is, the monarch; he initially supported the primary Legitimist claimant, Charles, the comte de Chambord (by this point the only living legitimate male-line descendant of Louis XV).

However, the comte de Chambord, who (for perhaps obvious reasons) was even more Legitimist than Mac Mahon, initially refused to reign under the tricolor (and even after he gave up on this demand, insisted on a number of very royalist concessions which most Legitimists, including Mac Mahon, regarded as ludicrous or at the very least unwise or out-of-touch). And so Mac Mahon turned to waiting for the comte de Chambord to die, as at that point, Mac Mahon and most other Legitimists agreed, the heir to the throne (Chambord being an elderly bachelor) was none other than the Orléanist claimant Philippe, comte de Paris, who was happy to be the powerless constitutional figurehead even the Legitimists wanted (or at least, were willing to accept). All Mac Mahon had to do was wait and make sure that the Legitimist-Orléanist monarchist coalition remained in power until the point at which Chambord died and Paris could take the throne. And so the Legitimists (and Orléanists) got to waiting.

And waiting. And waiting. And yet, much to the monarchists' dismay, Chambord proved to have remarkable health for a man of his age, and refused to die until 1883. In the end, Mac Mahon himself blew it for his coalition by dissolving the Assembly after moderate republicanism began to gain a small bit of traction after the elections of 1875; the result was that the following elections returned a larger republican majority and put an essentially permanent end to royalism as a serious political force in France. The death of royalism after this crisis led Georges Clemenceau, a leading republican center-left journalist, to quip that the comte de Chambord was "The French Washington"—the one man without whom the republic could not exist. (You're going to hear a lot more from Clemenceau, who had the sharpest wit in French politics during the Third Republic.)
Not related to a certain wrestling business family (whose roots are in Ireland), note the added "a".

Jules Grévy (1879-1887)

Political stance: Moderate, center
Adopted the Marseillaise as national anthem and the July 14th as National holiday, set the Parliament back in Paris and liberalized the law about political meetings among others policies Republicans were favorable.
Resigned after his son-in-law Daniel Wilson was caught selling medals. A firm believer in the right of the French and other Western people's to govern themselves, he didn't exactly extend this to non-Western people's; as an ardent imperialist, he did much to build the colonial French empire: What is now Vietnam and much of Africa came under French rule during his term.note  Fought with the Catholic Church and the Jesuit Order over who controlled French education and won; some historians date France's 20th century secular outlook to this.

Sadi Carnot (1887-1894)

Political stance: Moderate, center
Reapproached with Imperial Russia.
Grandson of Carnot The Great, he was elected in the wake of the medals-selling scandals largely on his name. Clemenceau noted about him "He's not very bright, but he has a beautiful republican name." Sadi Carnot managed to give back its dignity to the presidential office and soon became a very well-liked president among the French people.
Publicly stabbed to death by the Italian anarchist Sante Caserio in 1894, for refusing to pardon French anarchist Auguste Vaillant, sentenced to death for throwing a bomb inside the Lower House without causing death or even any wounding. Caserio was himself guillotined, while his act triggered anti-Italian riots and repressive laws.

Jean Casimir-Perier (1894-1895)

Political stance: Moderate, center-right
The shortest term for a French President: resigned after protests about the labor conditions in the Anzin coal mines whose he was shareholdernote .

Félix Faure (1895-1899)

Political stance: Moderate, Progressive Republican, center-right
Met the tsar Nicolas II and went from being neutral to being secretly pro-Dreyfus.
Nicknamed Président Soleil or "President Sun" for him being a Nouveau Riche. Second president to die in office, he was found dead after a private meeting with Marguerite Steinheilnote .

Émile Loubet (1899-1906)

Political stance: Democratic Alliance, center-left
Under his term the French State was secularized (1905).
Met the tsar Nicholas II and went to the United Kingdom.
Is currently the French President to have died the oldest (he died in 1929 at 90).

Armand Fallières (1906-1913)

Political stance: Democratic Alliance, center-left
When elected, declared his intention to be only a councilor to the House. After 1909, declared France should prepare for war.
At the end of his term, bragged to his successor Poincaré his wife nor him were healthy because they didn't used the bathtub of their private rooms.

Raymond Poincaré (1913-1920)

Political stance: Democratic Alliance, center-right
Presiding during World War One, him being elected as President made him a bitter foe of Clemenceaunote  who wanted another person.
Was the cousin of mathematician and theoretical physicist Henri Poincaré, he of the Poincaré Conjecture. When visiting American servicemen and diplomats demanded that Parisian bars refuse to serve blacks, Poincare made it clear in no uncertain terms that any bar or hotel which complied would be shut down immediately.

Paul Deschanel (1920)

Political stance: Democratic Alliance, conservative
The second-to-last contendant in the course to the shortest term - eight months - driven to resign after his mental instability emerged: he once repeated the same speech twice in a row in front of the same crowd, kissed a bouquet of flowers that landed in mud and horse dung before tossing him back in the audiencenote , fell from his train during a nightly travel (the incident he is still mostly remembered for a century later), and randomly decided to bathe in a pool while he was staying at a resting house (as a consequence for the train incident).

Alexandre Millerand (1920-1924)

Political stance: Independant, center-right
Wanted to play a more active role than his predecessors.
After the House went left even though he supported the conservatives against his former Socialist friends, saw everyone refuse to accept to become Prime Minister; he then resigned.

Gaston Doumergue (1924-1931)

Political stance: Radical, center-left
Proclamed his intention to be a mediator.
First Protestant president, and first single president since 1848, although he married on June 1st, 1931, twelve days before the end of his term, with his sweetheart Jeanne Gaussal, teacher of Literature at the Jules Ferry High School.

Paul Doumer (1931-1932)

Political stance: Radical, center-left
Murdered by the madman Paul Gorguloff who saw him as not doing enough against Communism. Last French President to have been murdered.

Albert Lebrun (1932-1940)

Political stance: Democratic Alliance, conservative
The last President of the Third Republic.
Reelected in 1939, he governed over a certain unpleasantness. When France's military situation deteriorated slightly, he personally opposed an armistice and wanted (along with others in the government) to flee to North Africa and continue the fight, but the Mass "Oh, Crap!" of the French government pressured him into giving emergency powers to Maréchal Philippe Pétain on June 16th 1940. France laters surrenders and Lebrun flees. He will be captured by the Germans in 1943 and kept in prison until 1944 where the Germans release him under surveillance due to his poor health. He throws his (symbolic, as he had no actual authority at this point) support behind Charles de Gaulle's leadership. His second term would have ended in 1946 had things gone better.

    Fourth Republic (1946-1958) 
The Fourth Republic conserved the Third Republic's tradition about the President having few powers.

This time saw a great ministerial instability: the average duration for a government was six months, with some lasting only one day.

Vincent Auriol (1946-1954)

Political stance: socialist
He was President from 1946 to 1954. Initially one of the leaders of the anti-communist socialist movement in France, he spent a tumultuous term trying in vain to reconcile the various political factions in the country. Notable for his participation in the resistance against the Vichy regime.
Didn't seek a second term.
He mostly reorganized the Elysée Palace.
Some made an anagram from his name and obtained Voila un crétin or 'This is a dumbass'.

René Coty (1954-1958)

Political stance: center-right
Got liked by the people for his modesty and, in 1958, in the midst of the Algeria War and on demand of a group of military officers, called Charles de Gaulle to draft a new constitution.
Pictures of him are known to be handled out by parodic French secret agent OSS 117, as René Coty has somehow become the Ur-Example of the insignificant, forgettable and forgotten president in France.

    Fifth Republic (1958-) 

Created in 1958 in reaction to the instability of the previous regime, its Constitution give to the Head of State a lot of power, including the power to call for referendums and dissolve the Lower House. Will take over the Third Republic's longevity record on August 11 2028 if it stays until then.

Charles de Gaulle (1959-1969)

Political stance: gaullist, conservative
Born November 22, 1890. Died November 9, 1970.

As a general, he became the chief of the Free French Forces during World War II after the fall of France. Talked on British radio on June 18th 1940 about fighting on. Needless to say, he became a hero of La Résistance.
Became President due to his being rock-like and firm in the face of the Algerian War, although it turned out that he wasn't firm and rock-like the way his supporters wanted, and in fact gave Algeria its independence.

He was also quick to put France and West Germany on the road to reconciliation and cooperation, which was formalized in the Elysée friendship treaty of 1963, signed by him and chancellor Konrad Adenauer.
Canadians remember him best for his infamous "Vive le Québec libre!" comment at Expo 67 in Montreal, which emboldened Quebec separatists and pissed off English Canadians (and Quebec federalists) to no end.

Internationally (i.e, in terms of the Cold War), he was anti-communist but not militantly so (he felt USSR was mostly the old Russian Empire with Serial Numbers Filed Off and respected it as a great power and of course he placed medals on the chest of many of his communist allies during the Resistance. The communists repaid that by telling Unions not to support the May '68 protests). He was wary of the power and influence of the United States; in 1966, he removed France from NATO's command structure. Both this and his blocking of Britain from joining the EEC has been seen by critics (even in France itself) as signs of an Anglophobic streak. De Gaulle mostly saw it as a way of making France relevant in the international scene and it's largely on account of his efforts that France has a veto on the UN Security Council and set it apart as a potential check on Anglo-American hegemony. He was also critical of America's involvement in the Vietnam War (which can be accused of hypocrisy since he clashed with FDR over decolonization in The '40s).

Despite his charisma and popularity, he was seen more and more as an authoritarian, almost dictator-like, figure as his term went on, as De Gaulle's notion of "grandeur" for the presidency (which basically translated to a strong executive) was seen as inappropriate in a society divided by the Algerian War, decolonization, as well as skepticism about De Gaulle's "myth of the Resistance" (i.e. that most of the French had resisted and revolted when only a small minority actually did so). So critics on the left had genuine fears about History Repeats after Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the First (and only) President of the Second Republic who made himself Emperor Napoleon III in imitation of his uncle (after after, the phrase "History repeats" itself was formulated by Karl Marx in reference to Napoleon III's 18 Brumaire). De Gaulle fit the profile of Western European dictator in many ways; Catholic, military background, socially conservative, sharing some (but not all) similarities with Salazar and Franco (both of whom were still in power at the time and just across the Southern border of France). These fears, alongside The Generation Gap, led to the May 1968 protests. He managed to survive the May 1968 revolt by calling a snap election where his party won a Landslide Election, but quit after an overwhelming defeat in a referendum about reforming the Senate and administrative divisions, because he had promised to resign if it failed.

He is still seen as one of the greatest Frenchmen of all time - expect to see a monument to his memory and an important street or place to be named after him in any French town you visit. Many on the left would later admit that they were perhaps a little too hard on him, Régis Debray (former boon companion of Che Guevara) most notably. Famously depicted as very tall (he was 196cm (6'5") tall), with a big nose, wearing a military uniform with the trademark two-starred kepi and forming a "V" with his raised arms.

Alain Poher, as Head of the Senate, assured the interim.

Georges Pompidou (1969-1974)

Political stance: gaullist, conservative
Born July 5, 1911. Died April 2, 1974.

Pompidou was Prime Minister for most of De Gaulle's tenure (1962-1968) and seen as his logical political heir.
He is mostly famous abroad for his huge eyebrows and keeping his cigarette in his mouth when in public, which was a good thing for political cartoonists. Ironically, he didn't die from throat cancer as one would assume, but from Waldenström's disease.

Pompidou was way less hostile to the European Economic Community than De Gaulle, his good relations with Chancellor Willy Brandt helping the deepening of the famed Franco-German cooperation. He also broke with his predecessor's obstructionism by voting in favour of the UK's membership (a decision nowadays largely seen as a blunder in France).
On the domestic front, he spent his first year in office dealing with the devaluation of the franc after the paralysis of May 1968, and his last year saw the long post-war boom (or the Trente Glorieusesnote ) sputter to a halt in the midst of the 1973 oil crisis.

Nowadays, he's mostly remembered in France for his love for modern art, embodied in the Pompidou Center, or "Beaubourg", a modern art museum with a... remarkable (and controversial) architecture and other controversial work sites in Paris, which, save for the Pompidou center, are usually hated today (Montparnasse Tower, destruction of Les Halles de Paris, giving away the banks of the Seine to the traffic, and even a renovation of the rooms of the Élysée Palace in the Modern style which was later almost completely undone by his successors). It started a tradition among presidents to create a cultural monument: The Louvre Pyramid for Mitterrand and the Quai Branly Museum for Chirac.

Alain Poher, as Head of the Senate, assured the interimnote 

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (1974-1981)

Political stance: non-gaullist center-right
Born February 2, 1926. Died December 2, 2020.

The youngest president of the Fifth Republic until Emmanuel Macron was elected at 39.
He was mostly famous for telling Mitterrand that he "doesn't have the monopoly of the heart", being seen as an arrogant douchebag, being accused of being offered diamonds by Central African dictator Jean-Bedel Bokassa, and for his lengthy Jimmy Carter-esque retirement. He was France's longest-retired president, having been out of office for more than 39 years, 25 of which he spent as France's only living former President until Chirac left office in 2007.

Despite being a center-right President, he spearheaded progressive reforms on such social issues as the age of majority (reduced from 21 to 18), divorce, birth control and abortion, and instituted France's high-speed rail and nuclear power systems.

Giscard d'Estaing was a major proponent of European integration, as got along extremely well with the Social Democratic chancellor of West Germany, Helmut Schmidt, becoming not only close political partners, but also personal friends. In fact, the two got along better with each other than with the respective leaders of the opposition, who should have been their natural political allies. This pattern was later repeated with Socialist president François Mitterand and Christian Democratic chancellor Helmut Kohl.

He was the longest lived French president, which has generated some jokes painting him as an undead, a clone or an immortal who experiences the Quickening anytime another president dies.
He died aged 94 from complications of COVID-19; curiously, he passed away in the Parisian hospital named after his predecessor to the Presidency, Georges Pompidou.

François Mitterrand (1981-1995)

Political stance: socialist
Born October 26, 1916. Died January 1, 1996.

The longest-serving President and the first left-wing President of the Fifth Republic.

In office, he and his Socialist Party initially attempted to follow a left-wing, Keynesian "reflationary" program under Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy, which proved successful in reducing poverty and inequality within France and improving welfare and social services, but had to be abandoned after it led to capital flight, worsening trade deficits and problems with France's adherence to the Exchange Rate Mechanism. For the rest of his term after Mauroy's resignation, governance followed a centrist approach, referred to as the "tournant de la rigueur" (turn towards austerity), which included fiscal restraint and abandonment of further attempts at nationalisations. Some of his term's policies (increased minimum wage, abolition of the death penalty, solidarity tax on wealth or reduction of the legal workweek to 39 hours), have survived to this day despite being at times repealed,note  or failed to be implemented initially.note 

Mitterrand's term saw other important achievements like the removal of the government's monopoly on broadcasting and the appearance of private TV channels (the first being Canal+), increased spending on education, healthcare and benefits, the creation of the Minimum Insertion Revenue that guaranteed a minimum level of income to those deprived of all other forms of income, the regularisation of unauthorised immigrants, the adoption of the Gayssot Act on hate speech and Holocaust denial, and the passage of the first decentralisation laws.

Controversially, Mitterrand ordered the bombing of Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior ship in 1985, played a very blurry and uncertain role in the Western involvement during the Rwandan Genocide (1994), with accusations of Misplaced Nationalism and favoritism towards the fallen Rwandan dictatorship from the USA and the following pro-US dictatorship.

He was triumphally reelected in 1988 (54%) but it didn't last, and his Prime Ministers after 1988 presided over a long string of scandals that tarnished his and the socialist party's reputation, from the usual corruption (Pechiney scandal) up to supposedly knowingly giving haemophiliacs HIV-infected blood, dodgy party finances (Urba affair) and wiretaps at the Elysée, in addition to being torn by factional fight at the 1990 Rennes Congress. By the end of his term, the Socialists and their allies had become so unpopular they'd suffered crushing defeats in the local and parliamentary elections of 1992 and 1993.

He was revealed in 1994 to have held a bureaucratic post in Pétain's government before joining La Résistance, even receiving a medal from Pétain himself. In fact, many French already knew it and didn't really care, as allegiances at the time were often blurry.

Mitterrand, who had become very unpopular, saw a surge of his popularity when the existence his out-of-wedlock daughter, Mazarine Pingeot, was made public in 1994. First, Mitterrand took care of his daughter. Instead of hiding her far away from him, he secretly raised her while he was president.note  Second, as Holier Than Thou attitudes are seen by a great majority of French citizens as hypocrisy, only a few of Mitterrand's enemies criticized him about this. Giscard knew about Mitterrand's double life since The '70s and never used it publicly against him.

Mitterrand was famous for his good writing skills and some think he could have become a great full-on writer.

Mitterrand was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1981 and kept it hidden from public attention until 1992, as it would have seriously prevented his chances to be re-elected. He died of it at age 80 in 1996, less than eight months after the end of his mandate. All in all, Mitterrand appears as a very Rounded Character.

The definitive French political satire show of his era, Le Bébête Show, had a caricature of him as main host, Kermitterrand (a fusion of Mitterrand and Kermit). In later years, his 1981 campaign jingle attracted attention on the internet due to its perceived resemblance to the opening theme of an anime, complete with edits showing how the supposed anime would look like.

Jacques Chirac (1995-2007)

Political stance: center-right, RPR (neo-gaullist)
Born November 29, 1932. Died September 26, 2019.

Chirac had an old reputation for being a crook and a liar, and yet always managed to remain sympathetic to the public. Apparently, he succeeded in winning the 1995 elections because a puppet satirizing him in the news-comedy show Les Guignols de l'Info was very funny and likeable to viewers. His 2002 Landslide Election victory was because his opponent in the second round was a far-right nationalist (see below).
He also had a bit of a reputation as unprincipled: he campaigned in 1995 promising to "heal the social fracture" only to appoint a government led by Alain Juppé that tried to push reforms of public services, controversially announced more atomic tests in 1995 before abandoning them after mere months, made the Call of Cochin in 1976 criticising the EEC-friendly Gaullists only to become a strong EU supporter in office, and so on.
Some would never live down his 1991 comment that there were too many immigrants in France, not to mention "the noise and the smell" that'd badger honest French citizensnote .

Chirac had previously been Prime Minister twice (between 1974-1976, under d'Estaing, and 1986-1988, under Mitterrand) and Mayor of Paris between 1977-1995, during which time he was accused of corruption and ultimately convicted after leaving office. Giscard d'Estaing holds a lifelong grudge against him because he feels that Chirac intentionally split the vote and helped Mitterrand win in 1981.

His first government, led by Alain Juppé, bombed so spectacularly (proposed changes to labour laws and public healthcare in 1995 led to France's largest strikes since 1968) he dissolved the National Assembly and called fresh elections to try and get a stronger mandate. This move backfired when a leftist coalition won a large majority, leading to a cohabitation with the socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin from 1997 to 2002 (who pursued similar programs of reducing inequality and improving benefits and public services as Mauroy, but luckily without scaring off business).
Chirac became famous overseas for opposing the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which caused a surge of popularity for him in France.

Despite being relatively unpopular during most of his time in office (he probably wouldn't have been re-elected had he faced a mainstream opponent in the 2002 runoff), today his reputation has been rehabilitated to that of a cultural folk hero - think Bill Clinton in the United States and you'll have a basic idea. This has baffled most historians and political scientists, who note that his presidency is hardly something the French can be proud of. An explanation might be that his successors' presidencies make his look like something of a lost golden age. He also grew something of a memetic Magnificent Bastard reputationnote  as he both masterfully played his sympathetic reputation and avoided being condemned for his numerous affairs for a long time, and the one time he got condemned to prison, he was too old to serve.

Thanks to the 2002 election, Chirac simultaneously holds the record for winning a presidential election with the lowest percentage of votes (19,88% in the first round) and highest percentage of votes (82,21% in the second round), because the far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen had just enough votes to beat the socialist candidate Lionel Jospin in the first round (16,86% to 16,18%) thanks to vote-splitting among the left but drew next to no sympathy outside of his electorate. Chirac's winning margin is actually the highest in the history of French presidential elections, beating Louis-Napoleon's 74% landslide in 1848.
Chirac was also an unrepentant philanderer and had countless short affairs, so much so that he got the nickname "Five minutes, shower included". Despite this, his very Catholic wife Bernadette (who knew this all too well) never left him.

The Roman entrepreneur Preposterus in Obelix & Co. (1976) is a caricature of Chirac, who was then in his first term as Prime Minister.

Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012)

Political stance: free-market right, UMP (post-gaullist)
Born January 28, 1955.

When serving as Minister of the Interior, he was famous for his harsh anti-immigrant stance and getting rough against crime. His election as President was largely based on his charisma and the fact that he managed to attract numerous votes from the far-right, nobody else dared to do it before him. Once elected, at the top of his popularity, he had the not-so-brilliant idea of partying in a very posh restaurant, having a holiday on a luxury yacht and tripling his own wage in the days following his election - suffice to say his socialite lifestyle during a time of economic crisis and painful austerity policies pissed off voters quite fiercely.
He divorced his wife (his second divorce) and remarried supermodel Carla Bruni (not exactly First Lady material), who is often the focus of celebrity magazines. He and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy had a daughter, Giulia, in November 2011, becoming the first French president to become father during his term.

One of the biggest things the public would Never Live It Down is him replying "Get lost, dumbass!"note  to a man who refused to shake his hand ("Touch me not, you're dirtying me!")...note  on TV, too! While one of his ministers was telling him "We're being filmed right now").
He was often mocked for his lower-than-average size and bad temper, which has brought many comparisons of him to Napoléon Bonaparte. Countless songs and parodies have actually been written about his temper; even German Chancellor Angela Merkel once compared him to French actor Louis de Funès.

Sarkozy has been heavily criticized for trying to help his own son become the president of the "EPAD", one of the biggest business districts in the world, while said son was only 23 years old, and had no qualifications whatsoever.
His unpopularity also comes from his cold disregard for massive popular protests, unlike Chirac who at least knew when to back down. He passed his first university reform (2007) during the summer vacation just after he was elected and the second one (2009) caused an unprecedented three month national strike in French universities. In 2008, he made the parliament ratify the Lisbon Treaty, even though the same treaty had been rejected by referendum in 2005note . And in 2010, the reform to push back the retirement age (which he had initially promised not to do) caused the biggest demonstrations since 1968.
Add to that some doubts regarding his links to billionaire businesswoman Liliane Bettencourt (France's richest woman) and some African dictators, as well as numerous scandals involving members of his government (corruption, racism...), and it is needless to say a good part of French people grew really, really tired of him. His subsequent loss to François Hollande was nonetheless narrow (52-48)

He tried his luck in the race to presidency again in late 2016 but lost the first round of his party's open primary election to his own former Prime Minister François Fillon and another former Prime Minister, Alain Juppé.

Other notable acts during his presidency include a constitution reform that limits the number of consecutive terms for presidents to twonote  and fully reintegrating France into NATO, which is a good or a bad thing depending on who you ask.

François Hollande (2012-2017)

Political stance: social-liberal (free-market left, so to speak)
Born August 12, 1954.

Second left-wing President to be elected in the Fifth Republic, with the much-parodied slogan «Le changement c'est maintenant» ("Change is now"), and the first non-married one.
He has four children from his previous relationship with Ségolène Royal (who was the socialist candidate for presidency in 2007) and his current mate is a low-profile actress, Julie Gayet. Between the two, he was with an unpopular political journalist, Valérie Trierweiler, who didn't take being dumped well.

First Secretary of the Socialist Party for eleven years (1997-2008), Hollande was also deputy of the National Assembly for Corrèze's 1st Constituency and President of the General Council of Corrèze note .

His programme included reflation and renegotiation of current European austerity policies with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in which he mostly failed. Other notable scheduled measures included : retirement age back to 60 for people who started to work painful jobs early in their life, slightly increased minimum wage, massive taxes on incomes above 1 million euros (shelved), capping tax loopholes, reducing the share of nuclear power in electricity generation (shelved), legalization of same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption (passed, though welcomed with massive popular protests from conservativesnote )...
In the end though, his economic policies were mostly similar to those of his predecessor (unlike what his campaign motto alleged); and as an ironic result, discontent about his policies came mostly from the left, part of which sees him as a traitor, and a ministerial crisis implying a corrupt minister who lied in front of the National Assembly in 2013 didn't help.

He's a bit more lucky in his foreign policy, with a (for now) successful intervention in Mali against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a difficult peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic. Some of these interventions are seen as necessary and justified, but do nothing for his unpopularity. He also had a key role in the coalition against ISIS. More controversial is the economic and military cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, notorious Human Rights offenders, and its role as the strongest advocate of the removal of president Bashar al-Assad from the head of Syria as the civil war goes on.
François Hollande also had to manage the 2015-2016 terrorist attacks in France (the 2015 attacks in Paris — the Charlie Hebdo shootings and the Hypercacher hostage crisis in January, the 13 November 2015 Bataclan massacre — and the 14 July 2016 truck massacre in Nice), the worst in France since the Algerian War. He saw a very brief surge in popularity for correctly managing the 2015 crisis, but this didn't last and the French soon resumed their usual infightings and unpleasedness (not helped by the new surveillance laws, appropriately criticized as "the French PATRIOT act").

Not helping is the fact that both his prime minister Manuel Valls and finance minister Emmanuel Macron are among the most right-wing 'socialists' France has known in the Vth Republic. They notably used article 49-3 of the constitutionnote  to forcefully pass a criticized economic reform. Three timesnote . The scenario was repeated with the "El-Khomri Law" (from the name of the then-minister of labor), a massive reform of the Code du travail note  that many consider as the reform "the right never dared to do".note  All of these triggered massive protests.

Late in his term, he has become even more unpopular than Nicolas Sarkozy, to all time low levels for a French president (some popularity polls had him as low as four per cent). In December 2016, he declared he would not be candidate for the 2017 presidential election, which was previously unheard of in the history of the Fifth Republic.

Emmanuel Macron (2017-present)

Political stance: "liberal center" / radical centrism during campaigns, hard-right once elected.
Born December 21, 1977.

A former tax inspector and later merchant banker, he was a counsellor for François Hollande between 2012 and 2014, and Economy Minister between 2014 and 2016, when he resigned to launch his own movement, "En Marche !" ("Forward/Onwards!"), which name was built around his initials. Economically he has a rather classic rightwing program, favorable to free-market, the EU and deficit reduction, while leaning somewhat on the left regarding societal issues and the lack of tax reductions on salaries. While he's widely considered a spiritual successor to Hollande, comparisons have also been made to Valery Giscard d'Estaing for his centrist positioning and being the youngest French president ever elected (at 39). He's also the first president in 36 years who was not a member of one of the two main parties when he was elected (he was briefly in the Socialist Party before, just long enough to produce one of the labor laws that tanked Hollande, but showed little to no interest in that party, and left it to create his own), and odds of his victory were considered low a year before the election. But luckily for him, François Hollande didn't run for reelection, rightwing candidate François Fillon was shot down by an embezzlement scandal, centrist figurehead François Bayrou joined him, and the socialist candidate Benoît Hamon was backstabbed by pretty much everyone in his party and carried the Hollande presidency's track record on his own, leaving the way wide open for Macron who campaigned in the center despite being part of the Hollande government. The fact that a large part of the mainstream media all-but-openly supported him for months prior to the election didn't hurt either. Piece of trivia: he's married to a woman 24 years his elder, who used to be his French teacher in high-school.

Proclaiming himself "neither on the right nor on the left" (promptly belied by his hard right economic policies once elected), his election had some baffling effects on French politics, as it left the parliament without a strong opposition, which is unusual. While there was technically a sizeable chunk of the National Assembly that wasn't part of the majority, it was split between several groups: the rightwing party Les Républicains, who didn't really disapprove Macron's economic ideas but criticized his methods; some members of Les Républicains who wanted to be more cooperative; the center-left, who didn't approve of Macron but didn't really oppose him either; the radical left made up of the Communist Party and Unyielding France, who opposed the government in every way but were few in numbers (around 30 deputies) and the far-right/nationalists of the Front National (8 deputies). Which means there was actually very little standing in Macron's way to pass his laws.

Early on, he's been compared to US president Barack Obama, being a young and somewhat hip president with a charming popularity overseas (something even his detractors grudgingly admit), but dubious policies and growing unpopularity nationwide. He earned the nickname "Jupiter" (the Roman equivalent of Zeus) due to his desire for the French people to see the president as the center and key figure of the political life of the country and not Just the First Citizen, like Jupiter was king of the Roman gods. The "elected king" thing is further supported by the "Benalla affair" that started in July 2018. note 

Has generated quite a few memetic mutations showcasing a rather deep disconnection from the harsh reality most people face (if not outright contempt), such as "You want to find a job? Cross the street!".

The "Gilets Jaunes" ("Yellow Safety Jackets") demonstrations and strikes that started on November 17, 2018 and kept going in early 2019 are the most massive and enduring protest movements seen during his mandate so far, in reaction to his government not backing away from adding new taxes that many consider as crippling for the middle class and lower classes, especially about fuels (whereas Macron's parliament majority has drastically reduced taxes on the wealthy, which fuels accusations of him being "a president for the wealthy"). The Yellow Vests protests gained momentum about other highly contested aspects of Macron's policies, such as the Global Compact for Migration, or the planned sale of profitable state-owned assets (including airports) to private interests − the latter of which didn’t come to pass because of Covid. To make matters worse, there is evidence on tape of police agent provocateurs among the "casseurs" (violent protesters) to try damaging the image of the protests. The Police Brutality at play was called out by the UN Human Rights Council and Amnesty International, which is unheard of for France. A similar scenario would unfold with the protests against his retirement pension reform in 2023, although with a stronger role from the parliament opposition and trade unions this time around.

His government's handling of the COVID-19 Pandemic proved to be yet another source of national discontentnote . Himself tested positive to the virus in mid-December 2020, and recovered. On June 8, 2021, he became the first incumbent president to be slapped in the face during an official visit.

Despite his growing unpopularity, he was reelected for a second term with 58% at the second round of the 2022 presidential election (against Marine Le Pen once againnote ), the first president to do more than one 5-year mandate after these were introduced in 2000. This was helped by the two historical moderate right and left wing parties (Les Républicains and the Socialist Party) being essentially left in ruins (both tanking below 5% each and many of their voters joining En Marche), with France's political landscape now being divided three ways between Macron's "center" right/pro-EU party En Marche, nationalist/"far right" parties (Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National chiefly, with Eric Zemmour's Reconquête behind) and the radical left/"far left" La France insoumise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

One of his reelection campaign's promises were to nominate a woman as Prime Minister, and he stood by it when nominating Élisabeth Borne, the second in history for the country after Édith Cresson.

His second term started in the weirdest of ways; on one hand he was the first president reelected outside of a "cohabitation", on the other he was also the first president elect who failed to obtain a majority in the following legislative elections, with his parliament coalition’s size shrinking considerably compared to 2017 and two strong opposition poles appearing on the left with the "NUPES" coalitionnote , and on the right with the National Rally managing to massively break through in parliament for the first time under the two-round system. This lack of majority has forced Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne to massively use Article 49-3 of the Constitution (which allows her to more or less bypass the parliament entirely) to pass the budget laws and hotly debated reforms regarding retirement pensions and retirement age, as well as cancel amendments from the oppositions, much to their ire. In turn, this caused a wave of strikes and social movements unseen since about 1995. Borne lasted 20 months, after which she resigned in January 2024 and was replaced by one of the earliest followers of Macron at En Marche, Gabriel Attal, who's had many successive jobs in the Macron legislature and administration since 2017 including deputy and Minister of the Education for merely six months (from mid-2023 to January 2024).

Macron and his majority have committed to supplying Ukraine with weapons and special trainings to help against the mass scale Russian invasion since early 2022, although comparatively less so than other Western powers.

French Presidents in media and fiction:

    Live Action Films 
  • Le Promeneur du Champ-de-Mars (2005, English title The Last Mitterrand) is about the last days of François Mitterrand in 1995-1996. He is played by Michel Bouquet, but never gets called by his name in the film.
  • La Conquête (The Conquest, 2011) is about the election of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 (played by Denis Podalydès). Bernard Le Coq played Jacques Chirac.
  • Le Tigre et le Président (The Tiger and the President, 2022) is a historical comedy about Paul Deschanel (played by Jacques Gamblin), portrayed as a well-meaning and progressive president with great ambitions but frustrated by his lack of actual power and treated as a Butt-Monkey by everyone, and his rivalry with Clemenceaunote  (played by André Dussollier). The movie follows Deschanel from a few months before his election to his resignation, and the incident when he falls from his night train plays a prominent role in the movie.
  • Bernadette, a 2023 French comedy film about Jacques Chirac's wife Bernadette, played by Catherine Deneuve. Jacques is played by Michel Vuillermoz.

Other Films:

  • Le Président (The President, 1961) is about a fictional Fourth Republic president (played by Jean Gabin) who favors the national good against corrupt politicians of the parliament.
  • In Les Barbouzes, Nothing tells the film is set in the early French sixties more than secret agent Francis Lagneau's superior referring to his own boss while looking at the framed photo of said boss on the wall with respect. Said boss is, of course, Charles de Gaulle.
  • The Day of the Jackal (1973), about a fictional new assassination attempt on Charles de Gaulle after the 1962 Petit-Clamart attack failed.
  • In Inspector Blunder, the portrait of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing can be seen on the wall of the prefecture of Paris. The film was made during his presidency and is set accordingly.
  • Le Bon Plaisir (1984) is about a French President revealed to have an out-of-wedlock child, inspired by François Mitterrand's out-of-wedlock daughter story.
  • In Taxi 2 (2000), the heroes escape the Yakuza chasing them in Daniel's taxi. Said taxi ends up part of the Bastille Day military parade. An unnamed Jacques Chirac (voiced by a famous imitator of his, Didier Gustin) comments on the new "stealthy taxi prototype".
  • OSS 117:
    • OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies (2006) has a Running Gag with the paternalistically racist 117 keeping images of René Coty and offering them to Egyptians.
    • While it's not the movie's main focus, OSS 117: From Africa with Love (2021) is set a few months before the 1981 presidential election, and occasionally refers the context. The last scene is a joke referring Bokassa diamonds' scandal. Giscard-d'Estaing and Mitterrand are mentioned but don't personally appear in the story.
  • The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010) is set in 1911 and features Armand Fallières as a supporting character.
  • Les Saveurs du palais (2012) is about a woman (Catherine Frot) being chosen as the Elysée Palace's cook. Famous writer Jean d'Ormesson plays an unnamed president. They are based on Danièle Mazet-Delpeuch and François Mitterrand, respectively (she was his personal cook).
  • Présidents (2021) is a comedy about two former presidents, Nicolas (Jean Dujardin) and François (Grégory Gadebois). They obviously are Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande in all but surname, especially since Emmanuel Macron is the current president in the film's world and gets mentioned.
  • At the beginning of France (2021), Emmanuel Macron appears at a Elysée Palace press conference. Stock Footage was used and was edited to answer the question of the journalist protagonist, the president himself did not participate in the filming (that fact is mentioned in the end credits).

    Live Action Television 
Live-Action Series:

Puppet Shows:

  • Le Bébête Show (1982-1995) was the definitive French political satire show of The '80s and had Kermitterrand (François Mitterrand's caricatured head on the body of Kermit the Frog) as central figure. Former president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing wasn't spared by the show either. The show tried modernizing itself with fully human puppets during the 1995 presidential election and that didn't pan out, causing its demise.
  • Les Guignols de l'Info (1988-2018) was the definitive political satire show on French TV after the death of the Bébête Show. During its 30 years of existence, every then-current president was caricatured from François Mitterrand at the show's beginnings all the way to Emmanuel Macron when it was eventually put to rest. The puppets of Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande were central figures during their real life selves' respective mandates, and were subjected to much Take That! (and the puppet of Chirac became the show's absolute fan favorite and de facto Mascot). As for past presidents by the time of the show, Charles de Gaulle showed up here and there either in historical events recreations or with angel wings in Heaven, Georges Pompidou showed up the least of all, and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was portrayed almost exclusively as a Scatterbrained Senior in retirement.


    Stage Comedy 
  • Coluche made a few comedic sketches as the President with his "Council of the Sinisters" (instead of "Ministers"). He started a joke about running for presidency in 1981, and even considered doing it for real, then opted out under heavy political pressure.
  • In his "African President" sketch from his 2009 show J'ai fait l'con, Dieudonné M'bala M'bala played a fictional President for Life of Cameroon who gave suitcases of cash to French political parties and president such as Charles de Gaulle, Georges Pompidou, François Mitterrand...