René Coty

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René Coty (1954)

René Jules Gustave Coty (born March 20, 1882 in Le Havre ; † November 22, 1962 ibid) was a French politician and statesman and from January 16, 1954 to January 8, 1959, the 17th President of the French Republic, or the second and last of the Fourth French Republic and the " French Union " (which existed until 1958, including the former colonies).


Born into a Catholic family of teachers, Coty studied law and philosophy at Caen University . In 1907 he married Germaine Corblet, the daughter of a shipowner. As a soldier in World War I , he took part in the Battle of Verdun . From 1923 to 1940 he was a member of the Parliament of the Third Republic without interruption , first as a center-independent deputy for the constituency of Seine-Inférieure , then as Senator for Normandy. Coty held temporary state secretary posts in various governments and was a member of the general council of his home department.

After France's military defeat against Nazi Germany, Coty voted on July 10, 1940 for the Enabling Act, on the basis of which Marshal Philippe Pétain was able to establish the collaborationist regime of the " Etat Français " in Vichy . René Coty soon joined the resistance. His services in the Resistance contributed to his being elected to the Constituent National Assembly on June 2, 1946 . He held ministerial offices in several of the short-lived coalition governments at the end of the 1940s (→ Fourth French Republic # Prime Minister ), among other things, from November 24, 1947 to September 7, 1948, he headed the important department for reconstruction and urban development (Ministère de la Reconstruction et de l'Urbanisme). From 1948 to 1954, Coty was Vice President of the Conseil de la République , the second chamber of Parliament (forerunner of the Senate ). In January 1949, Coty founded the conservative and economically liberal party Center national des indépendants (et paysans) (CNI).

On December 23, 1953, Coty was elected President of the French Republic by the two houses of Parliament. After the exponent of the conservative camp, Coty's party colleague and Prime Minister Joseph Laniel , failed in eleven rounds due to resistance from the opposition Gaullists (who rejected him because of his support for the highly controversial European Defense Community (EDC)), Coty entered the 12th round as Compromise candidate and was finally elected President in the 13th ballot with 477 votes (against 329 for the socialist Marcel-Edmond Naegelen ). His impeccable administration and winning character made him extremely popular. The sudden death of his wife Germaine - affectionately known as "Mémé" (Grandma) in public - on November 12, 1955 brought him additional sympathy. He was generally considered to be the most popular president France had until then.

Although the Constitution of the Fourth Republic, which came into force in early 1947, narrowly limited presidential powers, the fragmentation and incapacity of the parties meant that Coty could play an active role and make a number of important decisions. In June 1954 he appointed the radical and leading reformer Pierre Mendès France as prime minister. He managed to end the Indochina War after the defeat of Điện Biên Phủ . Coty also pushed for the independence of the North African protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco . He campaigned for the return of the sultan, who would later become King Mohammed V, who was ousted in 1953 and banished to Madagascar, to Morocco.

René Coty at a flag ceremony (center)

In late 1955, after a procedural conflict, Coty dissolved the National Assembly, but the result of the early elections in January 1956 only worsened the country's ungovernability. After the relative success of the center-left alliance Front républicain - to the exclusion of the communists - Coty decided not to entrust Mendès-France, as was generally expected, but to his adversary, the party leader of the Socialists ( SFIO ), Guy Mollet , with the formation of a government. This turned out to be correct because, unlike Mendès-France, Mollet was tolerated by both the communists and the Christian Democrats ( MRP ). At 16 months, he had the longest term in office of any Prime Minister of the Fourth Republic before the Suez crisis resulted in the end of his government.

In the fall of 1957, Coty single-handedly “invented” a new head of government in the person of the young technocrat Félix Gaillard from the ranks of the Radical Party. Its successful economic policy was undone by foreign policy failures caused by the Algerian war . On the "hardliners" on the Algeria question like Georges Bidault , Coty tried unsuccessfully to have a moderating effect. He repeatedly made use of his pardon to protect independence fighters sentenced to death from the guillotine and was therefore attacked by right-wing agitators.

Recognizing the institutional weakness of the system of government, which was bitterly opposed on the left by the communists and on the right by Gaullists and Poujadists, Coty advocated constitutional reform.

The fact that Coty was elected president only after 13 rounds of voting clearly showed the continuing crisis of the Fourth Republic . It collapsed in the colonial conflicts with the lost Indochina war in 1955, the loss of Tunisia and Morocco and a radicalizing situation in Algeria , where the French settler population clung to their privileges. There the ultra-right army forces were in charge and after the Putsch d'Alger on May 13, 1958 - in Algiers a "welfare committee" of the military took power under the leadership of General Jacques Massu and Corsica was occupied by the military in the Opération Résurrection - President Coty denied national emergency and appointed Charles de Gaulle as Prime Minister with special powers. This sought a presidential constitution, which found an almost 80 percent majority in the referendum on the constitutional amendment in September 1958.

After winning the election, De Gaulle replaced Coty as President of what was now the Fifth Republic in January 1959. As a former head of state, Coty automatically belonged to the newly created Conseil constitutionnel . Unlike his predecessor Vincent Auriol , who boycotted the committee, Coty took part in its work and made his voice clearly audible. In 1962, shortly before his death, he opposed de Gaulle's desired constitutional amendment, with which the popular election of the head of state was definitely introduced.

Individual evidence

  1. René Coty (1882–1962), on the website of the Elyseepalast (archive)
  2. ^ René Coty in the French language Wikipedia
  3. ^ Roll- call voting list (PDF).
  4. ^ Loi constitutionnelle du 10 juillet 1940
  5. in the Schuman I, Marie and Schuman II cabinets
  6. During the EVG vote, Coty was in hospital for prostate surgery; therefore he hadn't voted. (Daniel Amson (2002), La République du flou , p. 79 ( online ))
  7. Center historique des Archives nationales Paris (CHAN), Une biographie complète et détaillée du Président Coty [archive]
  8. ^ Michel Winock: L'agonie de la IVe République. May 13, 1958. Gallimard, Paris 2006, ISBN 2-07-077597-6 .

Web links

Commons : René Coty  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
predecessor Office successor
Vincent Auriol President of the French Republic
January 16, 1954–8. January 1959
Charles de Gaulle
Vincent Auriol Co-Prince of Andorra
Charles de Gaulle