Fillon, François (France)

Reference work entry


François Fillon was appointed prime minister on 17 May 2007 by the recently-elected centre-right president, Nicolas Sarkozy. A former ally of Jacques Chirac, Fillon backed Sarkozy as the UMP presidential candidate and was a leading architect of his election campaign. Fillon held office for nearly 5 years, in the process becoming France’s longest-serving prime minister since Georges Pompidou in the 1960s.

Early Life

François Fillon was born on 4 March 1954 in Le Mans, Sarthe. He took an MA in public law at the Université du Maine in Le Mans in 1976, before further study at the Université de Paris V: René Descartes. He subsequently received a DEA in political science from the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques in Paris. From 1977 he was a parliamentary assistant to Joel le Theule, the deputy for Sarthe, continuing when Theule became minister of transport in 1978, then minister of defence in 1980.

Fillon’s parliamentary career began in June 1981 when he was elected deputy of the 4th district of Sarthe, representing the conservative-Gaullist Rally for the Republic (RPR). He was also elected to serve on the council of Sable-sur-Sarthe, becoming town mayor in 1983, a position he would hold for 18 years. Fillon was appointed minister of higher education and research in 1993, serving under the RPR prime minister Édouard Balladur until 1995. Fillon then became minister for information technology and the post office. He regained his National Assembly seat at the 1997 elections, although Chirac’s ruling centre-right grouping lost its parliamentary majority to a coalition of Socialists, Communists and Greens against a backdrop of rising unemployment and public discontent. That year Fillon was elected national secretary of the RPR and in 1998 he became president of the regional council of Pays de la Loire.

In the aftermath of Chirac’s landslide re-election as president in April 2002, Fillon co-founded the UMP to fight in the forthcoming legislative elections. Formed from the merger of the RPR, Liberal Democracy (DL) and the Union for French Democracy (UDF), it won control of the government in the elections of June 2002. Fillon was named minister of social affairs in the administration of Jean-Pierre Raffarin, introducing controversial reforms to the 35 h working week and to the pensions system.

As minister for education and research from 2004–05, Fillon’s proposals for sweeping reforms to the national curriculum met with mass student protests. Nevertheless, the ‘Fillon law’ was adopted in April 2005. He was not given a ministerial position in Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin’s administration, formed in May 2005, and pledged his loyalty to Nicolas Sarkozy in the subsequent presidential election. Later in 2005 he was elected senator for the Sarthe département.

Fillon won plaudits for his management of Sarkozy’s slick election campaign, which saw Sarkozy consistently polling ahead of rival Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal. Sarkozy emerged as president in the run-off on 6 May 2007 and on 17 May 2007 he appointed Fillon as prime minister.

Career Peak

Fillon took control of a slimmed-down government of 15 ministers, half its previous number. At the legislative elections of June 2007 the UMP won a majority, claiming 314 of 577 seats, down from 359. Fillon was expected to play a leading role in President Sarkozy’s programme of employment and welfare reform, although these plans attracted a hostile response from public sector workers during the government’s first months in office (and again in the autumn of 2010). In late 2008 Fillon threatened to nationalize banks unless they responded positively to the global credit crisis and lent more to French companies. Fillon won a parliamentary vote of confidence in March 2009, sparked by a debate over plans to rejoin NATO’s military command, and retained the premiership in a cabinet reshuffle in June. He survived a further reshuffle in March 2010 following poor results for the UMP in regional elections and another in Nov. 2010 in the wake of social discontent over the government’s pension reforms.

Fillon and his cabinet resigned in May 2012 following Sarkozy’s loss in the presidential elections to Socialist François Hollande.

Later Life

In Nov. 2012 Fillon engaged in a bitter leadership battle with Jean-François Copé over the helm of the UMP by challenging the outcome of the contested party election that saw him lose to Copé. The disputed election has brought the UMP to the verge of splitting. The divisions within the UMP were further fuelled in May 2013 when Fillon announced that he would run in the 2017 presidential election. In Nov. 2016 he won the nomination to be the candidate for the Republicans (the successor of the UMP), defeating fellow former prime minister Alain Juppé in the second round of the party’s primary. However, he was eliminated in the first round in April 2017 coming third behind Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen.

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