Laurent Fabius


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François Mitterrand (1916—1996) French statesman, President 1981–95

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(b. Paris, 10 Aug. 1946)

French; Prime Minister 1984–6 The son of a Parisian antiques dealer, Fabius followed the cursus honorum of the French upwardly mobile. He attended the Lycée Janson-de-Sailly and Louis-le-Grand then the École Normale Supérieur, and the Institut d'Études Politiques followed by the agrégation des lettres exam and finally ENA to start a career as ‘auditeur’ in the Conseil d'État. It was Mitterrand's ‘talent spotter’ Georges Dyan who noticed Fabius and persuaded him to take up a political career. He joined the party in 1974 and then moved up the hierarchy rapidly as Mitterrand recognized his abilities; he became head of Mitterrand's private staff in 1976, and a party national secretary in 1979. It was Fabius rebuking Rocard at the Congress of Metz in 1979 who exclaimed that ‘between the Plan and the market there is … Socialism’. After the victory of 1981 Fabius was made Budget Minister, effectively minister for reflation. However, he came to see this policy as mistaken and quickly came round to a ‘Rocardian’ view to side with Delors and the Prime Minister Mauroy in rejecting protectionism and the ‘dash for growth’ and embracing financial discipline and spending cutbacks. In 1983, as Industry Minister, he became a leading ‘modernizer’ committed to the virtues of the market, competition, profits, and business independence from government. In July 1984 Fabius became the youngest Prime Minister since Élie Decazes in 1819. The appointment was partly intended to symbolize the new politics of social democracy through financial responsibility, modernization, and social progress. Fabius's government did stop the Socialist decline in the opinion polls but it was hamstrung by a number of problems including the affair of the sinking of Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior by French agents in 1985, a dire TV appearance in debate with Jacques Chirac, and an ill-considered disagreement with President Mitterrand over the reception of Poland's head of state on a visit to Paris. Fabius, whose ambition was never in doubt, also chose to stake a claim to run the 1986 election campaign against the Party leader Jospin. The lunge for power was crude and started a long war between the two lieutenants of the Mitterrand camp which could hardly be said to have ended by 1995. All the same the defeat at the elections of 1986 was far from disastrous and prepared the ground for the victory of 1988. However Fabius's quarrel with Jospin made it difficult for him to play a role in the party from 1986 to 1988. In 1988 another lunge for power, this time to be First Secretary of the Socialist Party, was seen off by an unlikely coalition of factions and he took the Speaker's Chair in the Assembly as a consolation prize (it is, however, a very powerful post). Fabius then attempted a second takeover of the Socialist Party and succeeded in 1992 in becoming First Secretary. However, he was worn down by accusations that he was involved in a government dispatch of AIDS-contaminated blood to haemophiliacs and had not recovered from that (and it was not until 1999 that he was acquitted of criminal responsibility). In 1993, after the Socialists' humiliation at the polls, he was ousted by Rocard. He returned as Speaker of the Assembly in 1997 and in 2000 became Minister of Economy, Finance, and Industry in Jospin's administration, at the time of the introduction of the Euro to replace the Franc. He was opposed to the proposed European Constitution and became the effective leader of the successful ‘no’ campaign in the 2005 Referendum, both against the policy of the Socialist Party and against President Mitterrand. He remains a Socialist member of the Assembly but his hopes of becoming the Socialist presidential candidate in 2007 were dashed when he came third behind Ségolène Royal and Dominique Strauss-Kahn.


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