As a permanent member in the UN Security Council, France is a powerful nation, and an influential player in global affairs. As such, the French Presidency is a powerful institution, not just in France, but in the world at large. The French President is directly elected to be the nation's Head of State, and makes many of the country's most important diplomatic and national security decisions. The French President’s greatest power is that he is the only person or institution that can appoint a Prime Minister. However, the power to impeach one lies with the national assembly. Other powers include promulgating laws, to dissolve parliament, to order use of nuclear weapons, to receive foreign ambassadors, among others. Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte is considered the first President of France. He was elected in 1848 during the time of the Second Republic.
Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle distinguished himself as an Army General during the Second World War, unifying the French in exile at a time when Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany had captured and occupied France. After the end of the war in 1945, de Gaulle formed a new government. Two months later, in January of 1946, he resigned. In 1958, the Fourth Republic collapsed, and de Gaulle returned to national politics, and began his second term. He oversaw the passing of a new constitution which established the Fifth Republic. He ruled from 1959 to 1964, and died in 1970.
Francois Mitterrand was the longest-serving French President in history, beginning his first term in 1981. A leader of the Socialist Party, Francois was the first Left-wing President under the Fifth Republic, and was vocal in uniting the Left. As President, he tried to create jobs and eliminate unemployment. He also abolished the death penalty. After completing his second term in 1995, Francois resigned. He died in 1996.
Jacques Chirac was born on November 29, 1932, and served as president from 1995 until 2007. He also served as the prime minister of France from 1974 until 1976 and from 1986 through 1988, as well as serving as the mayor of Paris from 1977 until 1995. One of his main policies was cutting on government spending to enable France to use the Euro, the single common European currency. The Euro replaced France’s currency the franc in 2002. During his second term, France under his leadership opposed the US’s invasion of Iraq, a fact that made him unpopular with the George Bush administration. His policies included cutting tax rates, removing price controls, and severe punishment for crimes of terrorism.
Nicholas Sarkozy was born on January 28, 1955, and was president of France from 2007 until 2012. During his term, France lived through the financial crisis of 2008, followed by the recession and debt crisis that ensued. Afterwards came the "Arab Spring", a period of political upheaval in Tunisia, Libya, and Syria. In 2008, Sarkozy oversaw the passing of constitutional reforms that would introduce changes in the powers of parliament and the presidency. Sarkozy has the distinction of being the first French President not to be reelected for a second term.
Francois Hollande was born on August 12, 1954. His political career started when he attempted to be elected to a position in the French National Assembly in 1981. Running against Jacques Chirac, Hollande lost. He later became an advisor to President Mitterrand and government spokesman. In 1988 he was elected to the National Assembly. He is the current French President who was elected in 2012. One of his first actions as president was to reduce his own salary, as well as those of the Prime Minister and other government officials by 30%, requiring each of them to sign a code of ethics.