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|French Presidents and
Prime Ministers learn their political
trade in local government
July 2020: It is almost obligatory for French presidents, prime ministers and cabinet ministers to start their political careers in local government. Since the formation of the Fifth Republic in October 1958, five of France’s eight heads of state were mayors prior to being elected to the country’s highest office. Jacque Chirac was Mayor of Paris for more than 18 years. Other former presidents such as Giscard d’Estaing, François Mitterand, Nicolas Sarcozy and François Hollande all served their political apprenticeships in local government. Only the Fifth’s Republic’s first two presidents, Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou and the current president Emmanuel Macron did not serve as mayors.
Of the 24 French prime ministers since 1958, some 18 also served as mayors before, during and after their appointments to the Hôtel Matignon, the official residence of French prime ministers. Among them were the Fifth Republic first prime minister Michel Debré, Jacque Chirac, before he became president, Alain Juppé, the Mayor of Bordeaux, and Manuel Valls, who served as head of government from 2014 to 2016. The latter, born in Barcelona to a Spanish father and Swiss mother, was Mayor of Évry (south of Paris) from 2001 to 2012. In 2019 he ran for Mayor of Barcelona but failed to dislodge the incumbent Ada Coloau.
President Emmanuel Macron’s first Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe, was Mayor of the port city of Le Havre. He was re-elected to that post in July 2020, days before he was replaced as Prime Minister by Jean Castex. The new French Prime Minister served as Mayor of Prades from 2008 until 3 July 2020. The majority of French cabinet ministers during the past 60 years have also had local government experience.
Under French law, prime ministers and cabinet ministers have to step aside from any local government offices when they join the government. Their municipal duties are usually performed by an acting official. Presidents of the French Republic, upon taking office, are obliged to relinquish any other posts.
Until April 2017, parliamentarians in the French Assembly, the country’s second chamber, the Senate, and the European Parliament were also allowed to serve as mayors, and a large number did so. However, a new law, originally drafted in 2014 under President François Hollande, now prohibits mayors from serving as parliamentarians in the country’s upper and lower houses as well as the European Parliament.
Presidents and prime ministers of the
French Fifth Republic who served as mayors
Copyright City Mayors Foundation