Pierre Mendès-France


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(b. 11 Jan. 1907, d. 18 Oct. 1982).

Prime Minister of France 1954–5 He entered the Chamber as the youngest Deputy for the Radical Party in 1932 and remained in that position until the French collapse in 1940. He managed to join de Gaulle in 1941, and became his Minister for the Economy in 1944, but resigned when his more progressive ideas for an economic recovery were rejected in 1945. He was governor of the IMF 1947–58. Interested in principles and ideas rather than in holding office for its own sake, his career suffered from the structural weakness of the Chamber of Deputies of the Fourth Republic, whose unstable majorities favoured people of compromise rather than vision. However, as an outspoken opponent of the French Indochina War, he became Prime Minister after the military débâcle at Dien Bien Phu. Within thirty days of his taking office, France pulled out of Indochina after signing the Geneva Agreements. He granted self-government to Tunisia, and encouraged social and economic reforms in Algeria to meet the growing unrest there. He obtained special powers to tackle current economic problems, and managed to check inflation. By contrast, his drive to reduce alcoholism by inducing the French to substitute milk for wine proved misguided. His dynamic and effective, but increasingly controversial, government lasted seven months. Apart from a brief spell in government in 1956, he remained a respected critic of subsequent governments, and opposed both de Gaulle's return in 1958, and Gaullist policies thereafter. He retired from political life in 1973.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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