Georges Pompidou

Georges Jean Raymond Pompidou (/ˈpɒmpɪd/ POMP-id-oo, French: [ʒɔʁʒ pɔ̃pidu] (listen); 5 July 1911  2 April 1974) was a French politician who served as President of France from 1969 until his death in 1974. He previously was Prime Minister of France from 1962 to 1968—the longest tenure in the position's history. He had long been a top aide to President Charles de Gaulle; as head of state, he was a moderate conservative who repaired France's relationship with the United States and maintained positive relations with the newly independent former colonies in Africa.

Georges Pompidou
Pompidou in 1969
President of France
In office
20 June 1969  2 April 1974
Prime MinisterJacques Chaban-Delmas
Pierre Messmer
Preceded byCharles de Gaulle
Succeeded byValéry Giscard d'Estaing
Prime Minister of France
In office
14 April 1962  10 July 1968
PresidentCharles de Gaulle
Preceded byMichel Debré
Succeeded byMaurice Couve de Murville
Member of the Constitutional Council
In office
5 March 1959  14 April 1962
Appointed byCharles de Gaulle
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byBernard Chenot
Personal details
Georges Jean Raymond Pompidou

(1911-07-05)5 July 1911
Montboudif, France
Died2 April 1974(1974-04-02) (aged 62)
Paris, France
Resting placeOrvilliers Cimetiere
Orvilliers, France
Political partyUnion for the New Republic (Before 1968)
Union of Democrats for the Republic (1968–1974)
Claude Cahour (m. 1935)
Alma materÉcole Normale Supérieure
Sciences Po
Military service
Allegiance France
Branch/serviceFrench Army
Years of service1940
Unit141st Alpine Infantry Regiment
Battles/warsSecond World War
Awards Croix de Guerre

He strengthened his political party, the Union of Democrats for the Republic ("Union des Democrates pour la Ve République" or UDR), to make it a bastion of the Gaullist movement. Pompidou's presidency is generally held in high esteem by French political commentators.


Pompidou was born in the commune of Montboudif, in the department of Cantal in central France.[1] After his khâgne at Lycée Louis-le-Grand, where he befriended future Senegalese poet and statesman Léopold Sédar Senghor, he attended the École Normale Supérieure, from which he graduated with a degree of agrégation in literature.

He first taught literature at the lycée Henri IV in Paris until hired in 1953 by Guy de Rothschild to work at Rothschild. In 1956, he was appointed the bank's general manager, a position he held until 1962. Later, he was hired by Charles de Gaulle to manage the Anne de Gaulle Foundation for Down syndrome (de Gaulle's daughter Anne had Down syndrome).

Prime Minister

Jacques Chirac served as an aide to Prime Minister Pompidou and recalled:

The man gave the appearance of being secretive, wily, a little cunning – which he was, to a degree. However, it was primarily his intelligence, culture, and competence that conferred indisputable authority on him and commanded respect.... I remember his untamed eyebrows, his penetrating, very kindly gaze, his perceptive smile, full of humour and mischievousness, his voice with its wonderful low, warm, gravelly tone, and a figure that was both powerful and elegant. Naturally reserved, little given to emotional outbursts, Pompidou did not forge very close ties with his colleagues.[2]

He served as prime minister of France under de Gaulle after Michel Debré resigned, from 14 April 1962 to 10 July 1968, and to this day is the longest serving French prime minister under the Fifth Republic. His nomination was controversial because he was not a member of the National Assembly. In October 1962, he was defeated in a vote of no-confidence, but de Gaulle dissolved the National Assembly. The Gaullists won the legislative election and Pompidou was reappointed as Prime Minister. In 1964, he was faced with a miners' strike. He led the 1967 legislative campaign of the Union of Democrats for the Fifth Republic to a narrow victory. Pompidou was widely regarded as being responsible for the peaceful resolution of the student uprising of May 1968. His strategy was to break the coalition of students and workers by negotiating with the trade-unions and employers (Grenelle conference).

However, during the events of May 1968, disagreements arose between Pompidou and de Gaulle. Pompidou did not understand why the President did not inform him of his departure to Baden-Baden on May 29. Their relationship, until then very good, would be strained from then on. Pompidou led and won the 1968 legislative campaign, overseeing a tremendous victory of the Gaullist Party. He then resigned. Nevertheless, in part due to his actions during the May 1968 crisis, he appeared as the natural successor to de Gaulle. Pompidou announced his candidature for the Presidency in January 1969. Some weeks later, his wife's name was mentioned in the Markovic affair, thus appearing to confirm her husband's status as a cuckold. Pompidou was certain that de Gaulle's inner circle was responsible for this smear.

In social policy, Pompidou's tenure as prime minister witnessed the establishment of the National Employment Fund in 1963 to counter the negative effects on employment caused by industrial restructuring.[3]


After the failure of the 1969 constitutional referendum, de Gaulle resigned and Pompidou was elected president of France.[4] In the general election of 15 June 1969, he defeated the centrist President of the Senate and Acting President Alain Poher by a wide margin (57%–42%).[5] Though a Gaullist, Pompidou was more pragmatic than de Gaulle, notably facilitating the accession of the United Kingdom to the European Community on 1 January 1973. He embarked on an industrialisation plan and initiated the Arianespace project, as well as the TGV project, and furthered the French civilian nuclear programme. He was sceptical about the "New Society" programme of his prime minister, Jacques Chaban-Delmas. In 1972, he replaced Chaban-Delmas with Pierre Messmer, a more conservative Gaullist. While the left-wing opposition organised itself and proposed a Common Programme before the 1973 legislative election, Pompidou widened his presidential majority by including Centrist pro-European parties. In addition, he paid special attention to regional and local needs in order to strengthen his political party, the UDR (Union des Democrates pour la Ve République), which he made it a central and lasting force in the Gaullist movement.[6]

Foreign affairs

The United States was eager to restore positive relations with France after de Gaulle's departure from office. New US President Richard Nixon and his top adviser Henry Kissinger admired Pompidou; the politicians were in agreement on most major policy issues. The United States offered to help the French nuclear programme. Economic difficulties, however, arose following the Nixon Shock and the 1973-75 recession, particularly over the role of the American dollar as the medium for world trade.[7]

Pompidou sought to maintain good relations with the newly-independent former French colonies in Africa. In 1971, he visited Mauritania, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Cameroons, and Gabon. He brought a message of cooperation and financial assistance, but without the traditional paternalism. More broadly, he made an effort to foster closer relations with North African and Middle Eastern countries in order to develop a hinterland including all nations bordering the Mediterranean.[8]

Modernising Paris

Pompidou's time in office was marked by constant efforts to modernise France's capital city. He spearheaded construction of a modern art museum, the Centre Beaubourg (renamed Centre Pompidou after his death), on the edge of the Marais area of Paris. Other attempts at modernisation included tearing down the open air markets at Les Halles and replacing them with the shopping mall of the same name, building the Montparnasse Tower, and constructing an expressway on the right bank of the Seine.

Death in office

While still in office, Pompidou died on 2 April 1974, at 9 PM, while in his apartment,[9] from Waldenström's macroglobulinemia. His body was buried on the 4th of April, in the churchyard of Orvilliers, where he had bought an old baker's house and turned it into a weekend home.[10]

The official memorial service was held at Notre-Dame de Paris with more than 2000 Dignitaries in attendance (included about 40 heads of state and representatives from about 100 countries). UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, EU President Jean Rey, NATO Secretary General Joseph Luns, interim French President Alain Poher, USA President Richard Nixon, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, British Prime Minister Edward Heath, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, King Hassan II of Morocco, Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba, Italian President Giovanni Leone, Finnish President Urho Kekkonen, USSR Leader Nikolai Podgorny, Yugoslav Premier Peter Stambolic, Danish Prime Minister Poul Hartling, Swedish Prime Minister Tage Erlander, Spanish Crown Prince Juan Carlos, Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, Luxembourg Grand Duke Jean and Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka were among the guests there.[11]

Pompidou's wife Claude Pompidou would outlive him by more than thirty years.[12] The couple had one (adopted) son, Alain Pompidou, who went on to serve as president of the European Patent Office.[12]

France withdrew from the Eurovision Song Contest 1974, which took place just four days after Pompidou's death, as a mark of respect.[13]


  • Anthologie de la Poésie Française, Livre de Poche/Hachette, 1961
  • Le Nœud gordien, éd. Plon, 1974
  • Entretiens et discours, deux vol., éd. Plon, 1975
  • Pour rétablir une vérité, éd. Flammarion, 1982


See also


  1. Wall, E. H. (1976). "Pompidou, Georges Jean Raymond". In William D. Halsey (ed.). Collier's Encyclopedia. 19. Macmillan Educational Corporation. p. 236.
  2. Jacques Chirac, M Life and Politics" (2011) p 24
  3. Kresl, Peter Karl; Gallais, Sylvain (1 January 2002). "France Encounters Globalization". Edward Elgar Publishing. Retrieved 14 September 2018 via Google Books.
  4. Robert J. Jackson, "The Succession of Georges Pompidou: The French Presidential Election of 1969, Political Quarterly (1970) 41#2 pp 156-168
  5. Berstein, Serge; Rioux, Jean-Pierre (2000). The Cambridge History of Modern France: The Pompidou Years, 1969–1974. Cambridge University Press. pp. 14–15.
  6. Frank L. Wilson, "Gaullism without de Gaulle," Western Political Quarterly (1973) 26#3 pp. 485-506 in JSTOR
  7. Trachtenberg, 2001
  8. Edward A. Kolodziej, French Foreign Policy under de Gaulle and Pompidou: The Politics of Grandeur (1974).
  9. Robertson, Nan (3 April 1974). "President Pompidou Dead after almost Five Years as De Gaulle's Successor". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  10. Kamm, Henry (5 April 1974). "Pompidou is Buried in Village Cemetery". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  11. "Georges Pompidou Notre Dame Pictures and Images". Getty Images. 5 April 1974. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  12. "Claude Pompidou". The Daily Telegraph. 5 July 2007. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  13. "Brighton 1974". Eurovision. 2002–19. Retrieved 3 April 2019.CS1 maint: date format (link)

Further reading

National Assembly of France
Preceded by
Jean Sagette
Member of the National Assembly
for Cantal's 2nd constituency

Succeeded by
Jean Sagette
Succeeded by
Pierre Raynal
Political offices
Preceded by
Michel Debré
Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by
Maurice Couve de Murville
Preceded by
Charles De Gaulle
President of France
Succeeded by
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
Legal offices
New office Member of the Constitutional Council
Succeeded by
Bernard Chenot
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Charles de Gaulle
Co-Prince of Andorra
Served alongside: Ramon Malla Call (Acting),
Joan Martí Alanis
Succeeded by
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Charles de Gaulle
Honorary Canon of the
Archbasilica of St. John Lateran

Succeeded by
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
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