Former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard has died in a Paris hospital aged 85. A staunch proponent of the EU, Rocard nevertheless supported the idea of the UK leaving the bloc before it could "wreck it."
Michel Rocard was a Socialist who served as prime minister under President Francois Mitterrand for three years from 1988 to 1991. Admired on the political Left and the Right as one of the brightest politicians of his generation, Rocard's political achievements included the creation of a minimum welfare benefit system in France as well as the introduction of reforms in the financing of the public benefits system.
"A great figure of the Republic and the Left has just disappeared," President Francois Hollande said in a statement. Rocard was a staunch supporter of Hollande's.
"Francois Hollande has never run away from intelligent people who could overshadow him. That's the difference. That's the way to be governed," he told the Reuters news agency in an interview earlier this year.
Pushing the Left closer to the Center
Born on August 23, 1930 in Paris, Rocard attended the elite National School of Administration ENA. He later became the co-founder in 1960 of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU), a leftist group that later played a role in the May 1968 student-worker uprising. He ascended the leadership of the part in 1967 as the French Left battled for unity between traditionalists and modernizers and two years later stood for the presidency.
He also defended then-unpopular anti-colonialist views during the Algerian War in the 1950s and early 1960s. Rocard later joined the Socialist party in 1974 under Francois Mitterrand following an unsuccessful bid for the presidency. He also developed his own political style in the Socialist Party in the 1980s, pushing for more pro-business and reformist policies, trying to combine traditional Marxist views with a free market economy.
When Mitterrand won a second term as President in 1988 Michel Rocard was appointed French premier, serving until the end of the First Gulf War in 1991.
A pro-EU Brexiteer
After his position as prime minister, Rocard spent 15 years in the European Parliament until he resigned in 2009. He was a staunch defender of the European Union and a supporter of the federal system. In 2014 he criticized Britain's special role in the EU, urging Brits to exit the bloc.
"Get out of Europe before you wreck it," Rocard wrote then in the headline of an opinion piece published by Britain's Guardian newspaper and France's Le Monde.
"You do not like Europe," he said, blaming Britain for Europe's failures and accusing Brits of selfishness and an obsession with trade over the project for political unity.
ss/bw (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)