(b. Rouen, 4 Mar. 1920; d. Neuilly-sur-Seine, 22 Feb. 1993)
French; Presidential candidate 1965, Minister of Justice 1974–7 Born to a modest family, Lecanuet studied law and history. He joined the Christian Democratic Mouvement Républicain Populaire in 1945 in Paris and was elected to the National Assembly for the Seine Inférieure department in 1951. In the changed political circumstances produced by the establishment of the Fifth Republic and the granting of Algerian independence, he sided with the left-wing MRP against the diehard supporters of French Algeria. The MRP broke with de Gaulle over his rejection of the cause of European integration and it was this which gave Lecanuet his chance. He decided to run against de Gaulle in the 1965 presidential elections. Youthful, articulate, possessing a dazzling smile, he modelled himself on John Kennedy and ran on a pro-European (and pro-NATO) ticket. The 15.8 per cent vote he obtained on round one was lower than the polls had predicted; but it demonstrated that there was a possible future for non-Gaullist conservatism. He spent the next nine years trying to build up a Centrist, anti-Communist political force capable of defeating the Gaullist Party and gave strong support to the presidential bids of Poher (1969) and Giscard (1974). The latter's victory brought him into government as Minister of Justice, a post he held, without much distinction, for three years. He never held ministerial office after 1977, but remained a significant figure in the confederation of non-Gaullist parties called the Union pour la Democratie Française. He also became a regional political boss as mayor of Rouen and president of the departmental council of the Seine Inférieure. A committed supporter of European integration, he campaigned actively, shortly before his death from cancer in 1993, in favour of the referendum on the Maastricht Treaty.
Lecanuet's career demonstrates the persistence in the Fifth Republic of a Christian Democratic strain in French conservative politics.