France History Since World War II


France was unwillingly drawn into a war that led to an unprecedented military catastrophe. In May 1940 the German armies broke into France (on June 10, Italy also declared war on France) and on June 14 they entered Paris. On the 16th of the same month the Reynaud government fell and Marshal Pétain, the new head of the government, immediately entered into armistice negotiations. Even unoccupied France, with its capital Vichy, was practically reduced to a strict dependence on the occupier, while most of those who had been part of the Third Republic gathered around General De Gaulle, which on June 18 had launched an appeal for resistance from the English radio. The territories of the colonial empire joined the general and in equatorial Africa the first nuclei were formed that fought with the Allies against the Germans, while in the metropolitan territory the Resistance was being organized, at first as non-collaboration, which, started without any relationship with the external Resistance was later to form a single whole with it. On 3 June 1943, after the landing of the Americans in North Africa (8 November 1942), General De Gaulle installed the French National Liberation Committee in Algiers., which the following year became the provisional government of France. On August 19, 1944, Paris rose up against the occupiers, on the 25th General De Gaulle entered the liberated city. A Constituent Assembly met on November 6, 1945, and General De Gaulle was re-elected president of the provisional government. Three months later (January 20, 1946) he relinquished power, because his conception of government and his relations with the National Assembly had created a profound disagreement between him and the politicians. The IV Republic suffered even more than the III from ministerial instability: from November 10, 1946 to June 1, 1958, 21 governments followed one another. On the international level, it was characterized by a pro-American orientation which materialized with the entry of France into the Atlantic Pact. In the colonial possessions, France had to face nationalist movements; the creation of the Union Française, which in many cases had only given rise to a formal transformation, had not given any guarantee to the colonial populations that during the conflict had absorbed the ideals of self-determination of the peoples. The country found itself dragged into exhausting wars (war in Indochina, 1945-54; intervention with Great Britain in Egypt in retaliation against the nationalization of the Suez Canal, 1955; Algerian war) and was forced to grant independence to Tunisia and Morocco and to withdraw from Indochina. He tried to preserve Algeria, where in November 1954 a revolt had broken out which, by backlash, provoked the insurrection of the Pieds noirs (Algerian French of European origin) and the return to power of General De Gaulle (end of May 1958). Invested in the functions of head of government by a frightened Parliament, De Gaulle was given the task of preparing a new Constitution that considerably strengthened the powers of the executive and limited those of the legislature. The Constitution was approved by the referendum of 28 September 1958.


On the following January 8, De Gaulle became president of the Republic. With a slow and patient effort he completed the work of decolonization. On March 18, 1962 in Évian the agreements that recognized the independence of Algeria were signed. The African territories were grouped under the aegis of France in a community that had an ephemeral existence. In foreign policy, France of the Fifth Republic renewed relations with Arab countries and was one of the first countries to recognize People’s China (1964). President De Gaulle laid the foundations of a Franco-German friendship that should have been the prerequisite for the establishment of a bloc of Western Europe under veiled French tutelage: after the failure of his policy he rejoined the USSR and at the same time affirmed the own independence from the USA (request for the withdrawal of US forces from France, 1966). In May 1968 the students’ protest against the academic authoritarianism and bourgeois structures found a moment of union with the struggling working masses. While massive demonstrations and abstention from work paralyzed the country and as clashes with the police multiplied in Paris, it seemed that the regime was about to collapse. The insurrection was suppressed but, despite the resounding victory in the elections of June 1968, just a year after De Gaulle, defeated in a referendum, withdrew. He succeeded him just a year later De Gaulle, beaten in a referendum, retired. He succeeded him just a year later De Gaulle, beaten in a referendum, retired. He succeeded him G. Pompidou, with whom the crisis of Gaullism was accentuated, although masked on an international level by the success of some missions abroad. Among the center-right formations that entered into competition with the Gaullists, the young leader of the independent republicans V. Giscard d’Estaing stood out as minister of finance. It fell to him the task of representing the government majority in the presidential elections caused by the untimely death of Pompidou (1974). Giscard prevailed with a minimum margin of votes over the socialist FM Mitterrand, candidate of the United Left. Begun in the name of great hopes for change, the seven-year Giscardian soon got bogged down in permanent dissent among the components of the majority. Indeed, in 1976 the Gaullist leader J. Chirac was replaced at the head of the government by R. Barre, a prestigious technician called to restore the economic situation. This did not stop the rise of the left, victorious in the administrative elections of 1976 and 1977. Soon the disappointing results of Barre’s economic measures and some discussed international initiatives by Giscard put the socialist candidacy for leadership of the country into play.

France History Since World War II

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