Former French prime minister Michel Rocard dies, aged 85

Former French prime minister Michel Rocard in 2008
Former French prime minister Michel Rocard in 2008 Getty/Franck CRUSIAUX

Former French prime minister Michel Rocard has died aged 85. President François Hollande paid tribute to a "great figure of the republic and the left" who favoured "conciliation and dialogue". Rocard embodied the "modernisation of the left and the need to tell the truth", according to Prime Minister Manuel Valls.


Rocard, a Socialist who was a presidential candidate for the left-wing Unified Socialist Party (PSU) in 1969 before joining the Socialist Party in 1974, served as prime minister from 1988 to 1991 under president François Mitterrand, although the two men were political rivals.

In the 1970s Rocard was an architect of the "second left", which advocated decentralisation and opposed the total nationalisation of some companies proposed by Mitterrand's supporters.

Having started in the hard-left PSU, which was influential in students circles during the May 68 revolt, Rocard became one of the chief ideologues of the rightward drift of the Socialist Party, calling the French left "the most backward in Europe" in an interview with Le Point magazine the week before he died.

In 1989, while he was prime minister, he stirred up controversy by telling a TV interviewer, "France cannot take in all the misery of the world; she must remain what she is, a land of exile ... no more."

Another former Socialist prime minister, Lionel Jospin, hailed Rocard as "a realist but not a cynic" an "economic moderniser", who was not a neoliberal.

"The paradox is that François Mitterrand beat Michel Rocard politically and Michel Rocard won economically, when you look at the policies that were pursued later," Jospin told France Inter radio on Sunday.

Right-wing former president Nicolas Sarkozy hailed his lack of "sectarianism", while former prime minister Alain Juppé paid tribute to his "agile mind, historical culture, taste for debate without concession or sectarianism".

Former RFI boss André Larquié, who was an advisor to Rocard while he was prime minister, said that he had supported his efforts to expand RFI's reach on FM and expressed his "personal gratitude as a friend a great admiration for the man".

Rocard was a staunch advocate of the European Union and sat in the European parliament.

He was France's ambassador, appointed by Sarkozy, for international negotiations over the Arctic and Antarctic from 2009 until his death.

A national homage will be paid to him at an as-yet unnamed date and a tribute at the prime minister's office on 11 July.

Michel Rocard - a life in dates
  • 23 August 1930: Born in Courbevoie to Yves and Renée Rocard;
  • 1949: Joins the Autonomous Socialist Party, led by Erouard Depreux and Alain Savary;
  • 1954: Marries Geneviève Poujol, with whom he has two children, Sylvie and Francis;
  • 1958: Sent to Algeria as financial inspector, investigates displacement camps set up by French army for two million Algerian civilians;
  • 1959: Sends report on camps to civil servant Paul Delouvrier, deatails published in press;
  • 1960: Founder member of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU);
  • 1969: PSU presidential candidate, wins 3.61 percent, elected as MP;
  • 1972: Marries Michèle Legendre, with whom he has two children, Loïc and Olivier;
  • 1973: Loses parliamentary seat;
  • 1974: Supports François Mitterrand in presidential election, calls on PSU to join Mitterrand’s Socialist Party (PS) but fails, joins PS;
  • 1975: Elected to PS executive committee;
  • 1977: Elected mayor of Conflans-Saint-Honorine;
  • 1978: Reelected MP for Conflans;
  • 1979: As leader of “second left” clashes with Mitterrandists at PS national conference;
  • 1981-83: Planning minister under prime minister Pierre Mauroy;
  • 1983-1985: Agriculture minister under Mauroy;
  • 1988-1991: Prime minister under Mitterrand’s second presidency;
  • 1993-1994: First Secretary of Socialist Party:
  • 1994-2009: Member of European Parliament;
  • 1995-1997: Senator for Yvelines;
  • 2 July 2016: Dies in Paris.

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