Raymond Barre (born 1924) served as prime minister of France from 1976 until 1981, heading the last of the Gaullist-Giscardian governments that dominated the first quarter-century of the Fifth Republic. He remained politically active, noted for his expertise as a professional economist and his commitment to reducing the state's role in directing the economy.
Raymond Barre was born in 1924 on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. After completing secondary school there, he went to Paris to study law and economics, earning degrees from the Institute for Political Studies in Paris and passing the aggrégation exam which allows individuals to teach in the university system.
Barre then pursued an academic career. At age 26 he joined the economics department of the University of Caen and subsequently taught at the Institute for Political Studies. He was appointed to the chair in political economy at the University of Paris in 1963.
Barre's early career was not restricted to academe. In the early years of the Fifth Republic (1958 to the present), he held a variety of advisory posts. For example, he served on the staff of the minister of industry from 1959 until 1962. In 1966, he was a consultant on wage and price policy for the Economic Planning Commission.
From 1967 until 1972, Barre served as vice president of the commission of the European Communities (Common Market) in charge of all economic and financial questions. He also helped develop French housing policy and served as a member of the board of directors of the Bank of France from 1973 until 1976.
Until then, Barre had never run for political office. His formal political career began in January 1976 when then Prime Minister Jacques Chirac appointed him minister of the economy and finance. That position did not last long. In August, President Giscard d'Estaing asked for and received Chirac's resignation and, in a surprising move, appointed Barre to succeed him as prime minister while retaining the Economics and Finance portfolio. Barre remained prime minister until Giscard's defeat in the 1981 presidential elections by François Mitterrand.
The years 1976-1981 were hard ones for the French economy. Like many other nations, France was still reeling from the slump that followed the 1973 oil embargo by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Although France actually was outperforming most of its competitors, Giscard and Barre thought the only longterm solution was to minimize state involvement and move toward a more classical market-driven economy. Therefore, they tried to loosen the general power the government had over investment, plant location, production, and other decisions. They refused to help out firms that were in danger of bankruptcy. The one area in which the Giscard-Barre team continued to strengthen state intervention was in aiding selected companies that could become "national champions, " single strong firms in each industrial area that would be competitive in both the domestic and international markets.
Those policies did not stem the decline or produce a new spurt of economic growth. Many observers felt that Barre and his policies were responsible for France's economic slump which persisted after 1976. For others, including Barre himself, the problems were seen as a necessary start in restructuring the economy, the benefits of which would only become apparent late in the 1980s or 1990s. Largely as a result of this economic decline, Giscard lost the presidency and the Gaullist-Giscardian coalition lost its majority in the National Assembly when elections were held in 1981. Barre was reelected to the Assembly and became one of the leading opponents of President Mitterrand and his Socialist government's economic policies.
The French presidential elections in 1988 saw Barre running for the position as a candidate from the Gaullist party. Although he was defeated by the incumbent, Mitterand, Barre continued to keep active in politics after his unsuccessful presidential campaign by backing Lyon, France as the home of the Central Bank of the United Europe.
Further Reading on Raymond Barre
There are no biographies of Raymond Barre. On his role in the Giscard years, see J. R. Frears, France in the Giscard Presidency (London, 1981), and for the ideas he and Giscard tried to implement, see Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, French Democracy (1977).
Concerning Barre's activities after leaving the post of the Prime
Minister see "Barre, Barre Black Sheep" in Economist (April 2, 1988), and "M. Rocard's Umbrella" in Spectator (July 30, 1988).