Jacques Chirac, President of France between 1995 and 2007, died on 26 September at the age of 86. A dominating figure in French politics for five decades, Chirac will be remembered as a dynamic and charismatic leader who remained popular well after the end of his presidential mandate.
Having launched his career as a high-level civil servant, Jacques Chirac entered politics as a young junior minister under Charles De Gaulle and worked his way up to Élysée Palace following two separate stints as prime minister and nearly 20 years at the helm of the city of Paris.
His performance on the realm of political ideas was equally impressive, ranging from far-left student to anti-state, pro-market, privatising prime minister, before turning into a socially sensible president in favour of the European Union, the euro and even an EU constitution, the latter being ultimately rejected by the French people.
The defining moment of his presidency was without a doubt his refusal to participate in the US-led war against Iraq, having correctly foreseen the chaos it would create in the region. He was also the first French President to admit the country’s role in the deportation of Jews to concentration camps during the Second World War.
Despite universal admiration of his personal style and political skills, the final verdict on his achievements during a long period in office remains inconclusive, with his career also shadowed by a conviction for corruption during his time as Paris mayor. Critics also point out low scores on major state reforms and the preponderance of dilapidating divisions within his own party.
Neither the above, nor his failing health during his post-presidential years managed to tarnish his reputation and his image of statesmanship. In the minds of his fellow countrymen, Jacques Chirac will always be a symbol of classic French politics. His perception as a man of culture and charm, a leader who’s close to the people and faithful to the country’s image of itself, will shape his legacy in a more convincing and everlasting way than any political achievement could ever threaten or surpass.