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Édith Cresson

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Title: Édith Cresson  
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Subject: Michel Rocard, Pierre Mauroy, Pierre Bérégovoy, François Mitterrand, Martine Aubry
Collection: 1934 Births, Convention of Republican Institutions Politicians, Female Heads of Government, French Diplomats, French European Commissioners, French Ministers of Agriculture, French Roman Catholics, French Women in Politics, Government Ministers of France, Grand Croix of the Ordre National Du Mérite, Hec Paris Alumni, Living People, Members of the National Assembly of the French Fifth Republic, People from Boulogne-Billancourt, Politicians from Île-De-France, Prime Ministers of France, Socialist Party (France) Politicians
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Édith Cresson

Édith Cresson
Cresson at the Salon du Livre from Colmar in 2007.
European Commissioner for Research, Science and Technology
In office
23 January 1995 – 12 September 1999
President Jacques Santer
Manuel Marín (Acting)
Preceded by Antonio Ruberti
Succeeded by Philippe Busquin
Prime Minister of France
In office
15 May 1991 – 2 April 1992
President François Mitterrand
Preceded by Michel Rocard
Succeeded by Pierre Bérégovoy
Personal details
Born (1934-01-27) 27 January 1934
Boulogne-Billancourt, France
Political party Socialist Party
Spouse(s) Jacques Cresson
Alma mater HEC Paris
Profession Diplomat
Civil servant
Religion Catholicism

Édith Cresson (French pronunciation: ​; born Édith Campion, 27 January 1934) is a French politician. She was the first and so far only woman to have held the office of Prime Minister of France. Élisabeth Schemla in the biography, Édith Cresson, la femme piégée (1993) argues her failure and low approval ratings were largely due to the misogyny of the Socialist elites, the French political class, and the French media.[1] Her political career later ended in scandal when she was the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Technology.


  • French Prime Minister 1
  • European Commissioner 2
    • Appointing a friend 2.1
    • European Commission vs. Édith Cresson 2.2
  • Political career 3
  • Cresson's Cabinet, 15 May 1991 – 2 April 1992 4
  • Personal life 5
  • Selected publications 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

French Prime Minister

Cresson was appointed to the prime ministerial post by President François Mitterrand on 15 May 1991. She soon became strongly unpopular among the electorate and had to leave office after less than one year, following the Socialists' poor showing in 1992's regional elections. She spent the shortest time in office of any Prime Minister of the Fifth Republic so far. Her strong criticism of Japanese trade practices, going so far as to compare the Japanese to "yellow ants trying to take over the world", led some to consider her also to be a racist.[2][3][4] She also said, discussing the sexual activities of Anglo-Saxon males, "Homosexuality seems strange to me. It's different and marginal. It exists more in the Anglo-Saxon tradition than the Latin one."[4]

In social policy, Cresson's government enacted the Urban Framework Act of 1991,[5] which sought to ensure a “right to the city” for all citizens. The Act required “local bodies to provide living and dwelling conditions which will foster social cohesion and enable conditions of segregation to be avoided.”[6] The Cresson Government also placed considerable emphasis during its time in office on facilitating the international competitiveness of firms with under 500 employees.[7] A law was passed in July 1991 which included several measures aimed at improving access of people with disabilities to housing, work places, and public buildings.[8]

Cresson is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, an International network of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose mission is to mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.

European Commissioner

While a European Commissioner, Cresson was the main target in the fraud allegations that led to the resignation of the Santer Commission in 1999. Subsequent to a fraud inquiry the European Commission said that Cresson in her capacity as the Research Commissioner "failed to act in response to known, serious and continuing irregularities over several years". Cresson was found guilty of not reporting failures in a youth training programme from which vast sums went missing.[9]

Appointing a friend

When Cresson took up her functions, she intended to appoint dental surgeon Philippe Berthelot, one of her close acquaintances, as a "personal advisor". Because Berthelot was 66 years old, he could not be appointed as a member of a Commissioner’s Cabinet. When Cresson took up office, her Cabinet was already fully staffed with personal advisors. Berthelot was instead engaged as a "visiting scientist" in September 1995.[10]

Berthelot worked only as a personal advisor to Cresson. His contract expired on 1 March 1997, and he was offered another visiting scientist’s contract for a period of one year. EU rules specify a maximum duration of 24 months for visiting scientists, but Berthelot spent two and a half years in the position.[10]

On 31 December 1997, Berthelot requested the termination of his contract on medical grounds, and his application was accepted. A complaint was made by a Member of Parliament, and a criminal investigation concerning Berthelot was opened in Belgium in 1999. In June 2004, the Chambre du conseil of the Tribunal de première instance de Bruxelles (Court of First Instance, Brussels) decided that no further action should be taken in the case.[10]

European Commission vs. Édith Cresson

On 11 July 2006, in a judgment by the European Court of Justice on Case C-432/04 (Commission of the European Communities versus Édith Cresson), the Court declared that Édith Cresson acted in breach of her obligations as a European Commissioner. While the breach of the obligations arising from the office of Member of the Commission calls, in principle, for the imposition of a penalty, the Court held that, having regard to the circumstances of the case, the finding of breach constituted, of itself, an appropriate penalty and, accordingly, decided not to impose on Cresson a penalty in the form of a deprivation of her right to a pension or other benefits.

Cresson claimed that where the conduct complained of in criminal and disciplinary proceedings was the same, the findings of the criminal court were binding on the disciplinary authorities. However, the Court held that it was not bound by the legal characterisation of facts made in the context of the criminal proceedings and that it was for the Court, exercising its discretion to the full, to investigate whether the conduct complained of in proceedings brought under Article 213(2) EC constituted a breach of the obligations arising from the office of Commissioner. Accordingly, the decision of the Chambre du conseil of the Tribunal de première instance de Bruxelles that there was no evidence of criminal conduct on Cresson’s part could not bind the Court.

Political career

European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, 1995–1999.

Governmental functions

Prime minister, 1991–1992 (Resignation).

Minister of Agriculture, 1981–1983.

Minister of Foreign trade and Tourism, 1983–1984.

Minister of Industrial Redeployment and Foreign Trade, 1984–1986.

Minister of European Affairs, 1988–1990 (Resignation).

Electoral mandates

European Parliament

Member of European Parliament, 1979–1981 (Elected in parliamentary elections, and became minister in 1981). Elected in 1979.

National Assembly of France

Member of the National Assembly of France for Vienne (4th constituency), Elected in 1981, but she became minister in June / 1986–1988. Elected in 1981, reelected in 1986, 1988.

General Council

General councillor of Vienne, 1982–1998 (Resignation). Reelected in 1988, 1994.

Municipal Council

Mayor of Châtellerault, 1983–1997 (Resignation). Reelected in 1989, 1995.

Deputy-mayor of Châtellerault, 1997–2008. Reelected in 2001.

Municipal councillor of Châtellerault, 1983–2008. Reelected in 1989, 1995, 2001.

Mayor of Thuré, 1977–1983.

Municipal councillor of Thuré, 1977–1983.

Cresson's Cabinet, 15 May 1991 – 2 April 1992

Édith Cresson – Prime Minister

Personal life

Cresson is married and has two daughters.

Selected publications

  • 1976: Avec le soleil, Paris: Éditions Jean-Claude Lattès
  • 1989: L'Europe à votre porte: manuel pratique sur les actions de la CEE intéressant les opérateurs économiques, Centre français du commerce extérieur (with Henri Malosse)
  • 1998: Innover ou subir. Paris: éditions Flammarion ISBN 2-08-035504-X
  • 2006: Histoires françaises. Monaco: Éditions du Rocher ISBN 2-268-06015-2 (autobiography)


  1. ^ Raylene L. Ramsay (2003). French Women in Politics: Writing Power, Paternal Legitimization, and Maternal Legacies. Berghahn Books. p. 188ff. 
  2. ^ News Week Japanese Edition, 30 May 1991
  3. ^ The Mainichi Daily News, 21 June 1991
  4. ^ a b Rone Tempest, Los Angeles Times, 23. Juli 1991: Edith Cresson's Answer to TV Spoof: Hush Puppet! France's brutally frank premier says her caricature on one of the nation's most popular shows is sexist, unfair (englisch)
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Europe Cresson: The 'careless' commissioner, BBC News, 16 March 1999
  10. ^ a b c The Court declares that Mrs Edith Cresson acted in breach of her obligations as a European commissioner, 11 July 2006

Further reading

  • Northcutt, Wayne, ed. "Cresson, Edith" in Historical Dictionary of the French Fourth and Fifth Republics, 1946–1991 (Greenwood, 1992) pp 114–16
  • Schemla, Élisabeth. Édith Cresson, la femme piégée, Paris: Flammarion, 1993, ISBN 978-2080668400; argues her fate was largely due to the misogyny of the Socialist elites, the French political class, and the French media
  • Skard, Torild, "Edith Cresson" in Women of Power – Half a century of female presidents and prime ministers worldwide, Bristol: Policy Press, 2014, ISBN 978-1-44731-578-0

External links

  • Curriculum Vitae as Commissioner
  • How to Lose Friends and Alienate People at the Wayback Machine (archived February 24, 2002), TIME, 29 March 1999
  • Q&A on the Commission’s position in the case of Ms Cresson, 19 July 2004
Political offices
Preceded by
Pierre Méhaignerie
Minister of Agriculture
Succeeded by
Michel Rocard
Preceded by
Michel Jobert
Minister of External Commerce
Succeeded by
Roger Fauroux
Preceded by
Olivier Guichard
Minister of Tourism
Succeeded by
Michel Crépeau
Preceded by
Laurent Fabius
Minister of Industrial Redeployment
Succeeded by
Alain Madelin
Preceded by
Michel Rocard
Prime Minister of France
Succeeded by
Pierre Bérégovoy
Preceded by
Jacques Delors
French European Commissioner
Served alongside: Yves-Thibault de Silguy
Succeeded by
Pascal Lamy
Preceded by
Christiane Scrivener
Succeeded by
Michel Barnier
Preceded by
Antonio Ruberti
European Commissioner for Research, Science and Technology
Succeeded by
Philippe Busquin
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