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France: Fifth Republic (1959-) - Presidential standards

Last modified: 2007-08-12 by ivan sache
Keywords: fifth republic | de gaulle (charles) | pompidou (georges) | giscard d'estaing (valery) | mitterrand (francois) | president | cross: lorraine (red) | letters: cg (yellow) | letters: gp (yellow) | chirac (jacques) |
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Charles de Gaulle (1959-1969)

A short biography of Charles de Gaulle

In June 1944, de Gaulle was aware of the project of allied administration of France and was able to ruin it. Five days after the allied landing in Normandy on 6 June 1944, de Gaulle landed on the French territory in Courseulles. The popular support he received definitively convinced the allied leaders of his representativity. His influence on the strategy to be set up to liberate France increased. He was able to impose Leclerc's IInd Armoured Division (2e DB) as a peak unit. The 2e DB was the first to enter Paris, where de Gaulle went down the Champs-Elysées on 26 August, along with the leaders of the Resistance still alived, acclamated by one million of Parisians.
On 3 September, de Gaulle appointed a provisory government, based on the government he had been presiding for one year in Algiers. The new government was based on tripartisme, including six Communist ministers, Socialists and members of the Catholic MRP (Mouvement Républicain Populaire, often nicknamed Mon Révérend Pere).
The Third Reich capitulated on 8 May 1945 and France was officially represented during the Nuremberg trial. However, de Gaulle was not invited to the Yalta conference, where he had expected to limit the Soviet stranglehold on Eastern Europe.
De Gaulle realized in autumn 1945 that he would have a lot of problems with the political parties, including the MRP. He supported a new Constitution, which was adopted by referendum, and resigned on 20 January 1946.
It is highly probable that de Gaulle expected to be immediatly called back by the public opinion and the parties, which did not happen. He believed that the régime des partis was ruining France. He proposed a new Constitution, very close to the future Constitution of the Vth Republic, and founded on 7 April 1947 the RPF (Rassemblement du Peuple Français).
Originally, the RPF had a very wide range of voters and some of his leaders were from left parties, but the world situation - the Cold War and the War of Indochina - made the RPF evolve to a very conservative, anti-Communist party. However, the régime des partis progressively got rid of the RPF, which was disbanded in 1953.
De Gaulle retired in his estate in Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, traveled and wrote his Mémoires de Guerre. This period of withdrawal from the public life is known as la traversée du désert (the crossing of desert), an expression coined by Andre Malraux.

At the end of 1957, rumors started to spread around Colombey. De Gaulle said, privately, that the emancipation of Algeria was the only solution to the independence war that had broken out and complained about the lack of power granted to the government. In spring 1958, more and more people called for the return of de Gaulle to the power, which was prepared by Minister of National Defense Jacques Chaban-Delmas in Algiers. The insurrection broke out in Algiers on 13 May; on 15 May, de Gaulle said he was "prepared to conduct the powers of the Republic". Four days later, he said publicly he would respect the law ("Aged 67, I won't start a dictator's career"). On 29 May, President of the Republic René Coty invited de Gaulle, "the most famous of the French", at the Elysée and appointed him Head of the Government with full powers to revise the Constitution. On 1 and 2 June, de Gaulle exposed his projects at the National Assembly in a very modest way and rallied a large majority, including the MRP and the Socialists. The new Constitution, drafted during summer 1958, was approved by referendum (80% yes). In January 1959, a college of 80,000 notables elected de Gaulle President of the Fifth Republic.

De Gaulle had three main tasks: rebuilding the state, restore the currency and find a solution in Algeria. After several visits in Algeria, de Gaulle set up his strategy: first, a military victory, and then the peace and discussion on the self-determination of Algeria. On 16 September 1959, de Gaulle proposed three choices: francisation, association, warmly encouraged, and independence. However, de Gaulle's plan was perceived in Algeria as an attempt of liquidation of the Algérie Française. On 18 January 1960 and 22 April 1961, de Gaulle was challenged by a street insurrection in Algiers, commanded by four retired generals supported (or manipulated) by the OAS (Organisation Armée Secrète). On the two instances, de Gaulle, wearing a military uniform, gave a strong-minded speech on the national TV and turned the tables. The agreement signed in Evian on 18 March 1962 with the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) prepared the autodetermination of Algeria. The OAS started a violent terrorist campaign, which killed any residual possibility of coexistence in Algeria. The Evian agreement was therefore more the procedure of liquidation of the French interests in Algeria. For a few years, France preserved access to Algerian oil and used the Saharian part of the country for nuclear tests.

De Gaulle's foreign policy was based on three principles: the relations between countries, even allied, shall be considered in terms of a power struggle; the nations are more important than ideology; France must be on the first rank, for the benefit of all. Following these principles, de Gaulle refused to follow automatically the American point of view and withdrew from the operational command of NATO. After having failed to build a tripartite Atlantic directory with Britain and the USA, de Gaulle attempted to convince the German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer to build a Franco-German alliance, to no avail. De Gaulle also developed relations with the USSR and contributed to the East-West detente. He supported the emancipation of the eastern European states from the Soviet rule, which ended with the invasion of Czechoslovakia. De Gaulle then turned to the Third World, recognizing the People Republic of China in 1964 and supporting the Arab countries after the war with Israel in 1967.

In 1962, de Gaulle revised the Constitution adopted in 1958 in order to increase the powers of the President of the Republic, who would then be elected via universal suffrage for seven years and have extended powers thanks to his domaine réservé (reserved area). However, this new system, expected to give the President a large and everlasting majority in the Parliament, completely blocked the evolution of the institutions and increased the split in trends of public opinion. A students' revolt broke out in May 1968, quickly supported by factory workers, unionists etc.. From 3 to 30 May, de Gaulle partially lost control of the country; on 29 May 1968, he left Paris in helicopter to Colombey and then diverted the flight to Baden Baden (Germany). He stayed there with General Massu for a 2.5 hours maximum and flew back to the original destination, his residence at Colombey. On 30 May, he was back to Paris and made one of his famous press conferences.
Prime Minister Georges Pompidou eventually got the situation back to normal, but the May 1968 events dramatically modified the country. De Gaulle decided to test his legitimity by calling a referendum on 27 April 1969. The question asked in the referendum was fairly complicated, mixing questions on the regionalization and the Senate. Andre Malraux called this referendum a "suicide". The majority of the voters answered "no" to the referendum. On the evening of 27 April, short before midnight, de Gaulle announced in a communique that he had ceased to exert his office of President of the Republic.
De Gaulle, aged 78, retired in Colombey, where he wrote his (uncompleted) Mémoires d'espoir. In June 1969, he traveled to Ireland during the presidential election won by Georges Pompidou. De Gaulle died on 9 November 1970.

Source: Jean Lacouture. Gaulle (Charles de). Encyclopaedia Universalis

Ivan Sache, 9 November 2004

De Gaulle's presidential standard

[De Gaulle's standard]         [De Gaulle's standard]

De Gaulle's standard
Left, as kept in the Navy archives - Image by by Željko Heimer, 9 November 2004
Right, as shown by Herzog & Wolf - Image by Ivan Sache, 24 March 2005

The flag used by President Charles de Gaulle is kept in the private archive HCC (Habillement, Couchage, Casernement - Outfit, Bedding, Barracks) of Direction du Commissariat de la Marine (Direction of the Admiralty Board) in Toulon. The flag is a French Tricolore flag with in the middle of the white stripe the letters C G in gold, and underneath a red Cross of Lorraine.

Armand du Payrat, 30 June 1998

Herzog & Wolf (Flaggen und Wappen, Leipzig, 1966) depict de Gaulle's presidential standard as a Tricolore with a red Cross of Lorraine in the white panel and with a golden fringe, while Pedersen [ped70] says the initials were placed under the cross without informing about the colours of the letters.

Jan Oskar Engene, 17 September 1996

Georges Pompidou (1969-1974)

[Pompidou's standard]

Pompidou's standard - Image by Željko Heimer, 27 September 2004

Georges Pompidou (1911-1974) was born in the small village of Montboudif, in Cantal (Upper Auvergne). His parents were school teachers. Pompidou graduated in the Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques, and was agrégé (the highest qualification available for teachers at the secondary level) in literature. He tought literature in Marseilles and Paris from 1935 to 1944.
Pompidou started his political career as chargé d'affaires of General de Gaulle in 1944. After de Gaulle's resignation, Pompidou was Deputy Minister of Tourism (1946-1948) and maître de requêtes (Counsel) at the State Council (1946-1954).
From 1956 to 1962, Pompidou worked for the Rotschild brothers as an Administrator and Director General of several companies. From 1 June 1958 to 7 January 1959, he was de Gaulle's directeur de cabinet (principal private secretary). He was also appointed member of the Constitutional Council in 1959. In 1961, he was sent to Switzerland to negociate with the leader of the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), the main independentist party in Algeria.
On 16 April 1962, Pompidou succeeded Michel Debré as the Prime Minister of President de Gaulle. The National Assembly defeated him on 5 October, but de Gaulle appointed him again Prime Minister on 28 November, as well as the leader of the presidential majority. Pompidou remained Prime Minister until 10 July 1968, when he had te resign following the insurrection of May 1968. He was succeeded by Maurice Couve de Murville.

Pompidou went back to local political affairs in Cantal. He was elected Municipal Councillor in Cajarc (1965-1969) and Deputy (March-May 1967; June 1968-June 1969) in the circonscription of Saint-Flour-Mauriac. After the negative result of the referendum on the Senate and the regions, held on 27 April 1969, General de Gaulle resigned from the Presidency of the Republic. The political bureau of UDR (Union pour la Défense de la République) appointed Pompidou as its official candidate for the Presidential election. Pompidou was elected at the second round on 15 June, with 11,064,371 votes (58.22%) against Alain Poher, President of the Senate, who got 7,943,118 votes. Pompidou attempted to preserve the Gaullist heritage: he strengthened the cohesion of the Presidential majority, developed the regional organization of the country and increased the European coopeation. He promoted the nuclear dissuasion force and national independence, apart from the "blocks". Pompidou officially visited the USA, the USSR and Subsaharian Africa. In September 1973, he was the first western head of government received in Beijing, where he met Mao Zedong.
During 1973 and the beginning of 1974, repeated health problems experienced by Pompidou created a weird atmosphere around the Presidency. In October 1973, a proposal of limitation of the Presidential mandate to five years (instead of seven) confirmed that Pompidou was very ill. However, the President refused to resign and passed away on 2 April 1974.

Georges Pompidou was fond of modern art. He promoted the revamping of the borough of Beaubourg-Saint-Martin, located in the IIIrd district of Paris. The Centre National d'Art et Culture Georges-Pompidou, better known as Centre Beaubourg, was built by the architects Rogers and Piano in 1977. The building houses the Bibliothèque Publique d'Information (BPI), a public library and the Muée National d'Art Moderne (MNAM), which includes the Centre de Création Industrielle (CCI). A neighbouring building houses the Institut de Recherche et de Coordination Acoustique-Musique (IRCAM). The Stravinsky fountain, located below the building, was designed by the Swiss artist Nikki de Saint-Phalle.

Ivan Sache, 1 October 2004

The flag used by President Georges Pompidou is kept in the private archive HCC (Habillement, Couchage, Casernement - Outfit, Bedding, Barracks) of the Direction du Commissariat de la Marine (Direction of the Admiralty Board) in Toulon. The flag is a French Tricolore flag with in the middle of the white stripe the letters G P in gold.

Armand du Payrat, 30 June 1998

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (1974-1981)

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing replaced the initials with a lictors' fasces, which was often erroneously interpreted as a Petainist francisque.

Ivan Sache, 29 June 1998

François Mitterrand (1981-1995)

François Mitterrand replaced the initials FM in his first flag with a "mix" of oak and olive-tree to symbolize Northern and Southern France.
Flags of both the President and the Prime Minister are erroneously depicted as rectangular in Talocci's French edition [tal93].

Ivan Sache, 29 June 1998

Jacques Chirac (1995-2007)

[Presidential Standard]         [Car flag]

Personal flag of President Jacques Chirac, left, flag at sea; right, car flag - Images by Željko Heimer, 23 September 2001

President Chirac did not choose any symbol. Thus his personal standard is now exactly the same as that of the French Prime Minister, that is a square flag with three blue-white-red stripes, and the optical proportions.
The presidential car flag is in proportion 7:8 with a golden fringe (not shown here).

Armand du Payrat & Željko Heimer, 23 September 2001

Every French town hall shall display the official picture of the President of the Republic. There is one and only one such official picture, made by a photograph selected by the President.
Jacques Chirac's official picture shows something weird: the Tricolore French national flag appears to be red-white-blue. The reversion of the colours was caused by a sudden wind gust when the photograph Bettina Rheims took the picture. She pointed out the problem, but Jacques Chirac found the picture really good and refused to have another shot.

Wind gusts caused another weird effect during the funerals of President François Mitterrand in Jarnac. The Tricolore flag covering the coffin was blown away by a wind gust two times during the ceremony.

Ivan Sache, 18 April 2001

A weird French flag often seen behind Jacques Chirac (and François Mitterrand?)

[Weird Presidential Standard]

The French flag with a narrow white stripe - Image by Jorge Candeias, 11 February 1998

A French Tricolor flag with a narrow white stripe has been regularly shown behing President Jacques Chirac during official events.
The flag can be seen on a color picture published in the scientific magazine La Recherche, # 342 (May 2000). The picture was taken during the 10th World Conference on AIDS in Abidjan (Côte d'Ivoire), in December 1997.
As far as I am aware, this is the oldest reported appearance of that weird flag.

In February 1998, the French President Jacques Chirac went to Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica, short after the murder of Préfet Claude Erignac. He gave there an official speech, as usual standing by flags of European Union and France. Nothing worth being noted, but... Jorge Candeias noticed that the French flag had a narrow white stripe.
On 26 March 1999, this very same flag was highlighted in a letter to the Editor by Jean Nicolas, published in the daily newspaper Le Pays (Belfort release). The letter can be translated into English as follows:

I have been having my doubts for years under the Presidency of François Mitterrand; his successor, Jacques Chirac, confirmed my doubts. Indeed, our national emblem, born during the Revolution, was modified on the sly and nobody reacted. Our flag shall be made of three vertical blue, white and red of equal size, which is no longer the case, at least for the flag of Elysée. The white stripe was reduced by half under the Presidency of François Mitterrand, and his successor seems to put up with this flag. How can a man, even if he is the President of the Republic, assume the right of changing our flag? I know well that white symbolizes royalty and that by "Republicanism" François Mitterrand wanted to make a lasting impression, but there are probably texts, regulations and maybe a law defining precisely our emblem. I know well that today the "Prince" sometimes decides on his own, against the course of history. It is great time to come back to a more Republican conception of our emblem and one of our Deputees or our Senator should ask a question to the Government on this matter.

The only interesting point in that rant is the description of the erroneous flag. There is no evidence that the change in the width of the white stripe was decided by François Mitterrand. He ended his second seven-year mandate in 1995, and the letter quoted above is dated 1999. There was a trend in France to portray Mitterrand as a modern Machiavel who spent all of his time manipulating people and information, but even his worst detractors never noticed the alleged change in the flag. To my knowledge, the erroneous flag was seen for the first time in 1997 (see above - but see below). Since then, the flag was regularly seen behind Jacques Chirac, always during official ceremonies. This is therefore a flag used indoor behind Jacques Chirac and not the flag hoisted over the Presidential Palace of Elysée as the text quoted above seems to indicate it.

A picture in the magazine Armées d'Aujourd'hui (Today's Armed Forces), sponsored by the Ministry of Defense, shows Jacques Chirac on 25 November 2000 in Mitrovica (a town in Kosovo where French troops try to maintain a very unstable equilibrium between Albanians and Serbs) during a press release.
The French Tricolor has the white stripe clearly narrower than the two others. It is, however, not possible to state clearly the proportion of the flag, because of the folds in the flag.

What kind of flag could it be?

  • It was suggested it could be the new flag of the President of the Republic. Such a change is highly improbable. First, the Presidency would probably have sent some official communique about such a change, and at least Armand du Payrat, Editor of Album des Pavillons [pay00], would have been informed. Second, the flag placed in such official instances behind the President has always been until now the national flag of France, not the President's personal standard.
  • It was also suggested that a (huge) manufacturer's mistake was initially not noticed and that the faultive flag continued to be in use until now without causing trouble.
  • In April 2002, Franciae Vexillae [frv] suggested that: "These proportions were, apparently, calculated to look equal on a TV screen when the President is filmed in close shot."

Ivan Sache, 5 September 2002

On 23 May 2002, Senator Jean-Louis Masson asked the following question (as a written question sent to Michèle Alliot-Marie, Minister of National Defense) : "Should the tricolore flag have its three stripes of equal dimensions ?" Furthermore, he asked which proportion the stripes should have if not equal. The question was not answered. Masson asked it again on 11 July and got an answer on 22 August (Senate Official Gazette, 22 August 2002, p. 1864).
The answer doesn't give any clue on the weird flag and rather implies such a flag should not exist:

Ordered by the Law of 27 Pluviôse of the Year II, the national flag was made of three colours disposed in three equal stripes, placed vertically. Article 2 of the Constitution of 1946 quoted these dispositions stating that the "national emblem is the tricolore blue, white, red flag with three vertical stripes of equal dimensions. Article 2 of the Constitution of the 4 October 1958 also states that the tricolore blue, white, red flag is the national emblem of France, but does not give any precision about the width of each stripe; therefore, the former dispositions should be considered as unchanged.
It should be added, however, that the use is different in the Navy. Initially, the Law of 27 Pluviôse of the Year II stated that the proportions of the stripes of the jack and ordinary ensigns should follow the custom and that the masthead pennant should be made of three stripes "1/5th blue, 1/5th white, and 3/5th red". This unequal width of the stripes for the ensign and the masthead pennant was confirmed in the XIXth century. A plate dated 1836 prescribed the following widths, which are still in force : for the ensign : blue 30%, white 33%, red 37%; for the pennant : blue 20%, white 20%, red 60%.

Olivier Touzeau, 29 September 2002

On 14 January 2003, the German Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder met the French Président de la République Jacques Chirac in Paris. They presented together their new project for Europe. Unsurprisingly, the French tricolor flag placed behind the speakers, along with the German national flag and the European Union flag, had its usual narrow white stripe.
The very same flag was seen once again behind Jacques Chirac during the Franco-British Summit hold in Le Touquet on 4 February 2003

Ivan Sache, 15 January 2003

A photography showing Jacques Chirac, published in the Economia (economy) supplement to the Público newspaper on 28 March 2005, shows an interesting coexistence of the two current "versions" of the french national flag: the flag representation in the podium is normal and the actual flag behind Chirac is the one with narrow middle stripe.

Jorge Candeias, 1 June 2005

The very same flag appears in the TV program Mots croisés, showing images of President François Mitterrand interviewed by Jean-Pierre Elkabbach in 1994.

Marin Montagnon, 5 March 2005