The ‘French May’ and the after de Gaulle

By | February 5, 2022

In the presidential elections of December 1965 it was France Mitterrand who put forward his candidacy in opposition to de Gaulle within the left. At the head of the Fédération de la gauche démocratique et socialiste which he himself established (it was a formation closed in the center and supported by the Communists), Mitterrand forced the president in office, from whom the presence of a third centrist candidacy took away votes, to the unexpected shame of the ballot, after an electoral campaign in which for the first time the use of television was particularly prominent. The ballot took place on December 19 and was won by de Gaulle with 54.50% of the votes, against 45.49% obtained by Mitterrand. Reconfirmed President of the Republic, the ex general developed the already known foreign policy guidelines, deciding, among other things, in March 1966 the exit of France from NATO. On the domestic front, in view of the legislative elections, a Comité d’action pour la V was launched by the majorityAndRépublique, which also included the independent republicans of Giscard d’Estaing. On the left, Mitterrand strove for his part to consolidate the Fédération de la gauche démocratique et socialiste, deepening programmatic issues, establishing a shadow government on the British model in May 1966 and reaching an agreement with the Communists for the benefit of the respective candidate. best placed after the first round. The legislative elections of March 1967 saw a positive result for the Gaullists in the first ballot, which, however, was not repeated in the second, when the electoral agreement stipulated by the left obtained good results. Despite this, however, the majority in favor of de Gaulle was confirmed. 1968 was a crucial year in many ways. In the ‘French May’ the youth crisis, economic difficulties and political hesitations were intertwined. Ten million strikers, who also obtained important advantages, followed the student revolt.

According to, the government was overwhelmed until the moment in which de Gaulle offered the country, now tired of the disorder, early elections, in which the Gaullists, aided by the climate of tension, had 38% of the votes and, as a result of the electoral system, the majority of seats. Despite the good electoral outcome, de Gaulle wanted to aim for further reforms aimed at strengthening the system he had greatly contributed to creating. In April 1969, he tried to have a constitutional amendment approved by referendum, which included, among other things, a decentralization of the administration to the regional level and a reduction of the powers of the Senate. Beaten, even following the defection of his moderate allies, he resigned. The reaction to May 1968 had thus first stifled the radicalism of the protest and then Gaullist reformism, even if, in the longer term, the movement had to penetrate deeply into society (rejection of authoritarianism, feminism, environmentalism). Pompidou, natural leader of the parliamentary majority, easily won the presidential elections of 1969, also because, unlike what had happened in 1965, the deeply divided left were unable to present a single candidate. Conservative, but convinced of the need to modernize and industrialize France, Pompidou appointed as prime minister a historical Gaullist, J. Chaban Delmas, who promoted a vast project of a ‘new society’. This vision, which was essentially based on social negotiation, ended up putting the government in collision with the conservatives, without however being able to convince the left. On the death of Pompidou (April 1974), facing the new presidential elections, the left could dispose of the candidacy of Mitterrand, who re-emerged as first secretary of the renewed Socialist Party, after the partial eclipse that followed the events of May 1968, while on the right he started an electoral duel between Chaban Delmas and Giscard d’Estaing, representative of modernizing liberalism. The support of the Gaullists pompidoliens, led by J. Chirac, favored Giscard who achieved 51% of the votes in the second round, against the 49% obtained by Mitterrand, who, by supporting the strategy of unity of the left, had engaged the Communist Party in a ‘common program’. The Giscardian presidency (1974-81) began with the entry into the Chirac government (1974-76) of centrists and radicals not connected to the left, resulting in a left-right polarization that excluded the presence of intermediate forces. In a year there were major reforms, but the global economic crisis favored a conservative retreat. Tensions increased between the Giscardians (pro-Europeans and liberalists) and the neo-Gaullists (nationalists and more in favor of state intervention in the economic field), who, while constituting the greatest parliamentary force, they had no presidency and no good part of the ministries. Rivalry and divergences regarding the remedies of the crisis led to the replacement of Chirac with R. Barre (1976-81): the neo-Galilists thus also lost the post of prime minister.

The 'French May' and the after de Gaulle