Michel Louis Léon Rocard


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(b. Courbevoie, 23 Aug. 1930)

French; Prime Minister 1988–91, first secretary of the Parti Socialiste 1992–4 The son of a professor of physics and from a Protestant background, a member of the scout movement in France, Rocard moved to the Institut d'Études Politiques against his father's wishes and became a student socialist leader. He was national secretary during the crucial years of 1955–6 when the movement was dissolved for its sympathies with the Algerian insurgents. Shortly after graduating from the ENA he split with the SFIO over the Mollet government's attitude to the war and became identified with the dissidents who were to become the Parti Socialiste Unifié (PSU). At the same time he progressed in the Ministry of Finance and in 1965 was made secretary-general for the Commission des Comptes et des Budgets. In 1967 he became national secretary of the PSU and in 1969 ran as PSU candidate in the presidentials polling a creditable 3.61 per cent (816,470 votes). In October 1969 he won the Yvelines by-election against the outgoing Prime Minister Couve de Murville. As the exponent of Mendésist realism in politics and economics, Rocard was ill at ease in a PSU where he had to jockey in between various left-wing and Trotskyite factions. The result was a ‘social democratic’ moderate imprisoned in an ultra-leftist party, a situation which was ultimately intolerable and in 1974 he quit the PSU to join the Socialist Party. Rocard was at first subdued but slowly began to mark himself out as the champion of the modern ‘social democratic’ left. In a remarkable speech at the PS Congress of 1977 he defined the ‘two’ cultures of the left, one state centred the other enabling and decentralizing. The disillusion with the Mitterrand strategy in the defeat of 1978 enabled him to promote himself as the modernizer, challenge Mitterrand, and open a long civil war which persisted until the mid-1990s. Mitterrand won the presidentials of 1981 and, on Prime Minister Mauroy's insistence, gave him the empty post of Planning Minister. In the 1983 reshuffle (a U-turn having been done) Rocard was made Agriculture Minister at which he was a success, but he resigned in 1985 over the introduction of proportional representation. His stance as the principal apostle of centrism in the Socialist Party made him popular and his help to get Mitterrand elected for a second term, with the need for allies in the centre, meant that he was made Prime Minister in 1988. After three years of barely concealed hostility to Rocard from the Élysée, he resigned but (despite rising unemployment and increased social problems) he remained popular. After the humiliating defeat of the Socialists in 1993 Rocard took over the party in a coup but was faced with factional in-fighting (reminiscent of the PSU) and the Élysée's hindrance. A poor showing at the European elections of 1994 led to the resignation of the ‘alternative presidential candidate’ and the end to a career in the front rank. Rocard was elected to the Senate 1995–7 and played a forthright role in Jospin's renovation of the party after the elections of 1995—an elder statesman of centre-left politics. He was elected to the European parliament in 1994 and served until 2009. In the 2007 presidential elections he suggested that the Socialists should work with François Bayrou's UDF party to defeat Sarkozy, a move regarded as unhelpful by Ségolène Royale, the Socialist candidate. After the election he accepted from Sarkozy a position on a commission reviewing the teaching profession, a decision criticized by some socialists, and in 2009 he became the French ambassador in charge of negotiations relating to the Arctic and Antarctic.


Subjects: Politics.

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