Coty, René (France)
René Coty was the second and final president of the Fourth Republic. Serving from 1954–59, his term embraced the Indochina War, the Suez Crisis and the Algerian War. The crisis point reached in 1958 forced the emergency reinstatement of Charles de Gaulle as prime minister and the end of the Fourth Republic.
Coty was born in Le Havre on 20 March 1882. Coty took degrees in law and philosophy before becoming a solicitor at Le Havre in 1902. He was town councillor from 1907 and served in the 1914–18 War. In 1923 Coty was elected deputy of Seine-Maritime and, after a brief period as undersecretary of the interior in the Third Republic, became a senator in 1935. After the German invasion he voted to give Pétain full control of the Vichy government and then went into semi-retirement. He was minister of reconstruction between 1947–48 before returning to the Senate as its vice president.
In the 1954 elections Coty was nominated President on the 13th ballot, taking over from Auriol who declined to stand for re-election. He inherited an unstable government and a rocky economy, both of which continued to give trouble. While Coty was in office, eight prime ministers served—Joseph Laniel, Pierre Mendès France, Edgar Faure, Guy Mollet, Maurice Bourgès-Maunoury, Félix Gaillard, Pierre Pflimlin and finally Charles de Gaulle.
Throughout his term, Coty was forced by the constitution to leave much of the policy making to his prime ministers. But implementing policy was made near impossible by inter-party squabbling.
In 1954 there was disagreement over the European Defence Community (EDC), a plan originated by René Pleven, when prime minister under Auriol, and advanced by Robert Schuman. On 13 Aug. 1954 Gaullist ministers opposed to the EDC resigned with the result that the EDC was rejected by the Assembly. As one who supported the proposal, Coty was frustrated by political wrangling and favoured a strengthening of presidential authority.
Conflict dominated Coty’s presidency. No sooner was peace achieved in Indochina in 1954 than violence broke out in Algeria. The Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front; FLN) began their drive for independence. The FLN recruited other nationalist organizations to their cause and by 1956 they had set up their own provisional government. Open warfare in Algeria spilled over into France where terrorist activity caused more than 4,000 casualties. The Assembly was divided between those who were prepared to concede independence and those who believed Algeria was an integral part of France. In Jan. 1956 Jules Moch suggested splitting Algeria into two nations, part French, part Algerian Republic. Prime minister Mollet rejected the plan. Further fuel was added to the FLN’s campaign when both Morocco and Tunisia gained independence on 3 and 20 of Jan. 1956 respectively.
To add to Coty’s troubles, in July 1956 the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, responded to the withdrawal of American funding for the Aswan High Dam by announcing the nationalization of the Suez canal. Fearing the move would block oil supplies to Western Europe, France and Britain joined forces with Israel to oppose. On 29 Oct. Israeli forces invaded. Under the guise of a UN peace keeping force, France and Britain occupied the canal region a week later. Failing to gain support from the USA, the French and British forces withdrew on 22 Dec. The Israeli’s followed 3 months later.
By 1958 France had reached crisis point in the Algerian War. On 13 May Coty threatened to resign if de Gaulle was not made prime minister. The then prime minister Pflimlin resigned and de Gaulle was instated on 1 June. The following day de Gaulle was given full power to end the Algerian War with extended authority over domestic affairs. On 8 Jan. 1959 the Fourth Republic gave way to the Fifth with the installation of de Gaulle as president.
Coty retired to Le Havre and died of a heart attack on 22 Nov. 1962.