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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Profile: Lionel Jospin
Lionel Jospin
Mr Jospin never abandoned his didactic style
A sound legacy of social reform and a reputation for honesty were not enough to endear Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to French voters.


I assume responsibility for this defeat and I will draw from conclusion by retiring from politics after the end of the presidential elections

Lionel Jospin
After his shock defeat by the French far-right in the presidential election he has announced his retirement from politics - doing the decent thing, as ever, with a minimum of emotion.

Even those supporters who wept as he fell on his sword acknowledged that he was a poor campaigner, happiest discussing the minutiae of his policies with qualified economists.

Whipping up enthusiasm among voters was not his style.

He came across as exactly what he was - a worthy intellectual with a didactic style inherited from his days as a polytechnic lecturer.

Trotskyist ghosts

Born into a middle-class family in the Paris suburb of Meudon in 1937, Mr Jospin is a member of France's small Protestant minority, a community with a reputation for diligent austerity.

In 1963 he went to the elite Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA), where he became a Trotskyist. Inducted into the Internationalist Communist Organisation (OCI) he took the code-name Comrade Michel.

This came back to haunt him after he became prime minister in 1997, not because he had been on the revolutionary left - which in 1960s France was not unusual - but because he later lied about it.

He has still not denied claims that he fed information to the OCI after joining Francois Mitterrand's Socialists in 1971.

Lionel Jospin at a campaign meeting
Advisors told Jospin to put on some snappier suits
His circle of friends remains that of the left-bank artists and "intellos". His wife, Sylviane Agacinski, is a feminist philosopher with a son by the world-renowned structuralist Jacques Derrida.

Successively Socialist Party secretary and education minister, Jospin came to be identified in the early 1990s with a current in the party that was critical of Mitterrand's last years as president - tainted by charges of corruption and political dishonesty - and as a result he was chosen as candidate to run against Gaullist leader Jacques Chirac in 1995.

The result was a narrow defeat, avenged two years later when, following Mr Chirac's disastrous dissolution of parliament, Mr Jospin led the left to victory and became prime minister.

Reformer

In office, Mr Jospin abandoned significant chunks of the ideologies he had adopted in his youth, pushing through a series of major privatisations, including those of Air France and France Telecom.

Under his tenure, the country has seen a sustained period of growth and a big fall in unemployment, thanks in part to his audacious introduction of a 35-hour working week and measures to boost youth employment.

He also championed other popular social causes such as the Civil Solidarity Pact, the legalised union for gays, and a law on parity that promotes the equal representation of women in politics.

And despite lingering hostility over the way he handled the revelations about his Trotskyite past, Mr Jospin managed to maintain a clean-cut image while others became bogged down in sleaze.

He was never troubled by the kind of allegations faced by his rival, incumbent President Jacques Chirac, accused of corruption during his time as Mayor of Paris and as president of the Gaullist RPR Party.

But French voters have appeared inured to scandal, a phenomenon which some observers attribute to a general cynicism about the country's politicians.

Mr Chirac thrives in public, never happier than plunging into a pool of adoring fans.

Mr Jospin was criticised both for failing to reveal any warmth or charisma, and for omitting to convey any clear campaign message.

There were some classic moments of arch-sobriety.

As photographers got ready to snap the Socialist leader kissing a baby girl, Mr Jospin turned around and said: "I don't have the mother's permission".


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20 Feb 02 | Europe
19 Mar 02 | Europe
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