Former French PM Raymond Barre dies at 83

27th August 2007, Comments 0 comments

Former French PM Raymond Barre dies at 83

PARIS, Aug 25, 2007 (AFP) - Raymond Barre, a prominent economist who served as French prime minister in the 1970s, has died Saturday aged 83, his family announced.

Barre, whom his mentor, former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, described as "the best economist in France" when he appointed him premier in August 1976, died at the Val de Grâce military hospital in Paris, where he had been since suffering cardiac problems in April.His funeral service is to be held Wednesday, in the hospital's chapel.
 
Before his stint as prime minister, which lasted until Giscard was ousted by the Socialist Francois Mitterrand in May 1981, Barre had been best known as the writer of a weighty economics textbook that was required reading for a generation of French university students.

Giscard on Saturday paid tribute to Barre, calling him "a statesman who did not pursue any personal aims but tried to ensure the wellbeing of our country through exceptional competence and untiring work."

For him, Barre was a "fellow traveller": "When we left power together in 1981, despite two oil crises France was in a better state than it has ever been since, with reduced debt, a budgetary deficit of 1.1 percent and a lower level of unemployment than today."

Other French leaders past and present also paid homage, including former president Jacques Chirac who said France had lost "a great economist, a politician committed to the country's modernisation and a great European."

President Nicholas Sarkozy said Barre was a "free and independent spirit" and "an exceptional person in French politics."

"He put his knowledge to the service of the French people, always faithful to his European, liberal and social beliefs," a statement from the Elysee palace said.

Barre was born on April 12, 1924 on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion.

After studying law in France, he entered the civil service in 1959 as a senior official in the ministry for industry under president Charles de Gaulle.

He went on to serve in Brussels as a member of the executive of the precursor of the European Union, the European Economic Community (EEC).

Barre was the EEC commissioner for economic and financial affairs from 1967 to 1973, a period which saw the tough negotiations that led to Britain finally overcoming French resistance and joining the community.  

The period also saw the student revolt and general strike of May 1968, which was followed several months later by a run on the French franc. Barre persuaded De Gaulle not to devalue, a stand which gained him a reputation as a defender of a strong currency.

The election of Giscard in 1974 was a major upheaval in French politics, as the new leader was not a Gaullist but a centrist.

Barre, who had a reputation more as a loyal technocrat than as a politician, was suited to the situation, and in 1976 Giscard appointed him first as foreign trade minister and then a few months later as both prime minister and minister for the economy.

As premier, Barre replaced the turbulent Gaullist politician Chirac, who had resigned abruptly as prime minister amid acrimony over a series of disagreements with the president.

A portly figure who made few concessions to modernity, Barre liked to describe himself as "a square man in a round body," and as premier he proceeded to enact what he himself described as "austerity" policies, including a freeze on consumer prices and wage rise restrictions.

This came as France was struggling to absorb the economic backwash from the 1973 oil price shock.

Barre was atypical in that he had never been elected to parliament when he became premier, but he was able to rectify that two years later by winning a seat that includes the southeastern city of Lyon.

After leaving power along with Giscard in 1981, Barre consolidated his base in Lyon and like many another former French prime minister, he sought to build an image as a potential future president.

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