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Pierre Messmer

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Subject: Jacques Chirac, Georges Pompidou, Michel Debré, French legislative election, 1973, Jacques Chaban-Delmas
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Pierre Messmer

Pierre Messmer
Prime Minister of France
In office
6 July 1972 – 27 May 1974
President Georges Pompidou
Preceded by Jacques Chaban-Delmas
Succeeded by Jacques Chirac
Personal details
Born 20 March 1916
Vincennes, Seine (now Val-de-Marne), France
Died 29 August 2007(2007-08-29) (aged 91)
Paris, France
Political party UDR
Occupation Civil Servant
Religion Roman Catholic

Pierre Joseph Auguste Messmer (French pronunciation: ​; 20 March 1916 – 29 August 2007) was a French French Foreign Legion, he was considered as one of the historical Gaullists, and died aged 91 in the military hospital of the Val-de-Grâce in August 2007. He was elected a member of the Académie française in 1999.[1]


  • Early career 1
  • After World War II 2
    • Governor of Cameroun 2.1
    • Minister of Armies (1959–1969) 2.2
  • From the 1970s to the 2000s 3
    • Messmer's cabinet (July 1972 – May 1974) 3.1
    • Later career 3.2
  • Political career 4
  • Honours 5
  • Messmer's First Ministry, 6 July 1972 – 2 April 1973 6
  • Messmer's Second Ministry, 6 April 1973 – 1 March 1974 7
  • Messmer's Third Ministry, 1 March – 28 May 1974 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • See also 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12

Early career

Pierre Joseph Auguste Messmer was born in Vincennes in 1916. He graduated in 1936 in the language school Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales and the following year at the Ecole nationale de la France d'outre-mer (National School of Oversea France).[1] He then became a senior civil servant in the colonial administration and became a Doctor of Laws in 1939. In the outbreaks of World War II, he was sous-lieutenant of the 12th regiment of Senegalese tirailleurs, and refused France's capitulation after the defeat.[1] He then hijacked in Marseille an Italian cargo, along with Jean Simon, and sailed first to Gibraltar, then London and engaged himself in the Free French Forces as a member of the 13th Demi-Brigade of the French Foreign Legion.[1][2] Messmer then participated to the campaign in Eritrea, in Syria, in Libya, participating to the Battle of Bir Hakeim, and in the Tunisia campaign.[1] He also fought at the Battle of El Alamein in Egypt.[3] He joined in London General Koenig's military staff and participated to the landings in Normandy in August 1944 and the Liberation of Paris.[1]

Named Compagnon de la Libération in 1941,[2] he received the Croix de guerre (War Cross) with six citations after the Liberation, as well as the medal of the Resistance.[1]

After World War II

After World War II, he returned to the colonies and was a prisoner of war of the Vietminh, during two months in 1945, after the outbreaks of the First Indochina War.[1] He was named the following year general secretary of the interministerial committee for Indochina and then head of staff of the high commissary of the Republic.[1]

In the 1950s, he pursued his career in Africa as a colonial administrator. Messmer began his high-level African service as governor of Mauritania from 1952 to 1954, and then served as governor of Ivory Coast from 1954 to 1956. He came back to Paris in 1956, in the staff of Gaston Defferre, Minister of Overseas Territories who enacted the Deferre Act granting to colonial territories internal autonomy, a first step towards independence.

Governor of Cameroun

Nominated as governor general of Cameroun in 1956, where a civil war had started the preceding year following the outlawing of the independentist Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC) in July 1955. Messmer initiated a decolonization process and imported the counter-revolutionary warfare methods theorized in Indochina and implemented during the Algerian War (1954–62).[4] Visiting de Gaulle in Paris, he was implicitly granted his authorization for the new turn implemented to the policies in Cameroon, substituting repression to negotiations with the UPC.[4]

A "Pacification Zone" – the ZOPAC (Zone de pacification du Cameroon) was created on 9 December 1957, englobing 7,000 square km controlled by seven infantry regiments.[4] Furthermore, a civilian-military intelligence apparatus was created, combining colonial and local staff, assisted by a civilian militia.[4] Mao Zedong's people's war was reversed, in an attempt to separate the civilian population from the guerrilla.[4] In this aim, the local population was rounded-up in guarded villages located on the main roads, controlled by the French Army.[4]

Minister of Armies (1959–1969)

He then briefly served as high commissioner of French Equatorial Africa from January 1958 to July 1958, and finally served as high commissioner of French West Africa from 1958 to 1959.

From 1959 to 1969, under Army and adapted it to the nuclear era.[1]

Along with the Minister of Research, Gaston Palewski, Messmer was present at the Béryl nuclear test in Algeria, on 1 May 1962, during which an accident occurred. Officials, soldiers and Algerian workers escaped as they could, often without wearing any protection. Palewski died in 1984 of leukemia, which he always has attributed to the Beryl incident, while Messmer always remained close-mouthed on the affair.[5][6]

De Gaulle said of Messmer that, along with Maurice Couve de Murville, he was "one of his two arms.[3] " In May '68, he advised de Gaulle against the use of the military.[1]

Messmer became a personality of the elected President in 1969.[3] He quit the government after de Gaulle's resignation and founded the association Présence du gaullisme (Presence of Gaullism).[1]

From the 1970s to the 2000s

He occupied cabinet positions again in the 1970s, serving first as Minister of state charged of the Overseas Territories in 1971,[7] then as Prime Minister from July 1972 to May 1974.

Messmer's cabinet (July 1972 – May 1974)

He succeeded in this function to Jacques Chaban-Delmas, who had adopted a parliamentary reading of the Constitution, which Messmer opposed in his investiture speech.[7] Messmer had been chosen by Pompidou as a guarant of his fidelity to de Gaulle, and his cabinet included personalities close to Pompidou, such as Jacques Chirac, named Minister of Agriculture.[8]

Due to President Arthur Conte, a personal friend of Pompidou.[8]

Under his government, the Union des Démocrates pour la République (UDR) presidential majority negotiated with Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's Independent Republicans an electoral alliance, which enabled it to win the 1973 elections despite the left-wing union realized with the 1972 Common Program.[8] Messmer's second cabinet excluded several Gaullists, among whom Michel Debré, while he named several Independent Republicans members, such as Michel Poniatowski, close to Giscard, himself named Minister of Economy and Finances.[8] A Ministry of Information was also re-created and put under the authority of an ultra-conservative, Philippe Malaud.[8] In June 1974, he initiated the construction of 13 nuclear plants in order to confront the "choc pétrolier" (oil crisis).[1][9]

In 1974, when Pompidou died, those close to Messmer encouraged him to run for president. He accepted at the condition of Chaban-Delmas, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and Edgar Faure's withdrawals. Faure accepted, as well as Giscard on the condition that Chaban-Delmas also withdrew himself. However, Chaban-Delmas, despite the Canard enchaîné 's campaign against him, maintained himself, leading Messmer to withdraw his candidacy. Finally, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, a conservative rival of the Gaullists, was elected. He served as prime minister for another few weeks after Pompidou’s death, ending his term after the presidential elections. Jacques Chirac replaced him on 29 May 1974.[10] After the election of Giscard, he never held again ministerial offices, and became one of the historical voices of Gaullism.[3]

Later career

He remained however a member of Parliament for the Moselle department until 1988, and served as President of the Lorraine regional assembly from 1968 to 1992. He was mayor of the town of Sarrebourg from 1971 to 1989. Messmer was also president of the Rally for the Republic (RPR) parliamentary group during the first cohabitation (1986–1988), under Jacques Chirac' government.[1] In 1997 he testified as a witness during the trial of Maurice Papon, charged of crimes against humanity committed under the Vichy regime, and declared: "The time has come when the Frenchmen could stop hating themselves and begin to grant pardon to themselves.".[11] Along with some other former Resistants, he demanded Papon's pardon in 2001.[1]

He died in 2007 aged 91, just four days after fellow Prime Minister Raymond Barre. He was the last surviving major French Politician to have been a member of the Free French forces.

Political career

Governmental functions

  • Prime Minister: 1972–1974
  • Minister of State, Minister of Departments and Overseas Territories: 1971–1972
  • Minister of Armies: 1960–1969

Electoral mandates

National Assembly

Regional Council

  • President of the Regional Council of Lorraine: 1978–1979
  • Regional councillor of Lorraine: 1968–1992

General Council

  • General councillor of Moselle: 1970–1982

Municipal Council


An important figure of the French Resistance during World War II, Pierre Messmer was a member of the Ordre de la Libération, and the recipient of numerous decorations including the highest rank of the Légion d'honneur. In 2006, he was named Chancellier de l'Ordre de la Libération after the death of General Alain de Boissieu.[2] He was also an officer of the American Legion.[2]

In 1992 he became president of the Institut Charles de Gaulle and, in 1995, of the Fondation Charles de Gaulle.[1]

He also became elected as a member of the Académie française (the French language academy) in 1999, replacing a Gaullist comrade, Maurice Schumann.[1] He was also a member of the French Academy of Moral and Political Sciences since 1988, and, since 1976, of the Académie des sciences d'outre-mer (Academy of Sciences of Overseas Territories). He was named perpetual secretary of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences in 1995.[2] He was also chancellor of the Institut de France (1998–2005) before becoming honorary chancellor.[2]

In October 2001, Messmer succeeded to the General Jean Simon as President of the Fondation de la France libre (Foundation of Free France).[2]

Messmer's First Ministry, 6 July 1972 – 2 April 1973


  • 15 March 1973 – André Bettencourt succeeds Schumann as interim Minister of Foreign Affairs.
  • 16 March 1973 – Pierre Messmer succeeds Pleven as interim Minister of Justice.

Messmer's Second Ministry, 6 April 1973 – 1 March 1974


Messmer's Third Ministry, 1 March – 28 May 1974


  • 11 April 1974 – Hubert Germain succeeds Royer as interim Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.


  • 1939 Le Régime administratif des emprunts coloniaux. Thesis for his Doctorate of Laws (Librairie juridique et administrative)
  • 1977 Le Service militaire. Débat avec Jean-Pierre Chevènement (Balland)
  • 1985 Les Écrits militaires du général de Gaulle, in collaboration with Professor Alain Larcan (PUF)
  • 1992 Après tant de batailles, Mémoires (Albin Michel)
  • 1998 Les Blancs s’en vont. Récits de décolonisation (Albin Michel)
  • 2002 La Patrouille perdue (Albin Michel)
  • 2003 Ma part de France (Xavier de Guibert)

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Thomas Ferenczi, Le gaulliste Pierre Messmer est mort, Le Monde, 29 August 2007 (French)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Pierre Messmer est mort, Le Figaro, 29 August 2007 (French)
  3. ^ a b c d Messmer, légionnaire et baron gaulliste, Radio France International, 30 August 2007 (French)
  4. ^ a b c d e f David Servenay, Pierre Messmer, un soldat que le Cameroun n'a pas oublié, Rue 89, 30 August 2007 (French)
  5. ^ La bombe atomique en héritage, L'Humanité, 21 February 2007 (French)
  6. ^ Pierre Messmer : désinformation et opacité sur le nucléaire civil et militaire, Sortir du nucléaire, HNS, 2 September 2007 (French)
  7. ^ a b Discours de politique générale (General Politics Speech) of Messmer during his 1972 investiture, French government's website (French)
  8. ^ a b c d e Le gouvernement de Pierre Messmer,, (French)
  9. ^ Interview of Pierre Messmer on 3 June 1974 (film), on the French government's website (French)
  10. ^ Video of the passing of powers between Messmer and Chirac (French)
  11. ^ French: "Le temps est venu où les Français pourraient cesser de se haïr et commencer de se pardonner", quoted by Thomas Ferenczi in Le gaulliste Pierre Messmer est mort, Le Monde, 29 August 2007 (French)

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Pierre Guillaumat
Minister of the Armies
Succeeded by
Michel Debré
Preceded by
Minister of Overseas Departments and Territories
Succeeded by
Preceded by
René Pleven
interim Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
Jean Taittinger
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