Popular Republican Movement

Popular Republican Movement
Mouvement Républicain Populaire
President Maurice Schumann (first)
Jean Lecanuet (last)
Founder Georges Bidault
Founded 1944 (1944)
Dissolved 1967 (1967)
Merged into Democratic Centre
Ideology Christian democracy[1]
Political position Centre-right[1][2]
National affiliation Tripartisme (1944-47)
Third Force (1947-58)
European affiliation None
International affiliation Christian Democrat International
European Parliament group Christian Democratic Group
Colours      White

The Popular Republican Movement (French: Mouvement Républicain Populaire, MRP) was a Christian democratic[3][4][5] political party in France during the Fourth Republic. Its leaders included Georges Bidault, Robert Schuman, Paul Coste-Floret, Pierre-Henri Teitgen and Pierre Pflimlin.

Origins of French Christian Democracy

In 1876, for the first time, the Republicans held a majority in the House of Deputies. One year later, they won the 1877 elections against President Mac-Mahon, following the 16 May 1877 crisis. Mac-Mahon wanted restoration of the monarchy. After his resignation in 1879, the Republicans controlled the legislative and executive powers.

The Catholic Church mistrusted the Republic and the ideas of the French Revolution, as well as popular sovereignty, which questioned the superiority of the spiritual power over the temporal. For this reason, it supported all the conservative governments of the 19th century, notably Mac-Mahon and his policy of "moral order".

In 1892, in his encyclical Au Milieu Des Sollicitudes, Pope Leo XIII advised the French Catholics to rally to the Republic. The previous year, another encyclical, Rerum novarum had denounced capitalistic society and the socialist ideology, and advocated creation of Catholic popular organizations. In 1894, students founded Le Sillon (The Furrow). Its leader, Marc Sangnier, campaigned for spiritual values, democracy and social reforms. It represented the progressive wing of French Catholicism. But it was dissolved in 1910 on an order from the papacy.

At the beginning of the 20th century, many organizations appeared: the Christian Workers Youth, the Christian Agricultural Youth, and the French Confederation of Christian Workers. In 1924, the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) was founded, but it remained a small centre-right party. However, the Christian Democratic ideas arose in intellectual circles. Emmanuel Mounier founded the review Esprit (mind or spirit) which denounced fascism and passivity of the Western democracies. In the paper L'Aube (the dawn), Francisque Gay and Georges Bidault shared similar theses. These circles participated actively in the anti-Nazi underground Resistance during the Second World War.

Foundation and height of the MRP

In 1944, some prominent French politicians wanted to rally all the non-Communist Resistance behind Charles De Gaulle. This project failed. The French Section of the Workers International (SFIO) was refounded and people from the Christian resistance movement founded the Popular Republican Movement. It claimed its loyalty to de Gaulle, who led the provisional government composed of Communists, Socialists and Christian democrats. At the November 1945 legislative election, the MRP was second (23.9%) after the French Communist Party (PCF) but ahead the SFIO.

The MRP benefited from the absence of real right-wing challengers to rally the conservative electorate. Indeed, among the three largest parties, it was the only one that was not Marxist. Furthermore, it appeared the closest to de Gaulle. It supported the reforms decided by the provisional government and inspired by the program of the National Council of Resistance written during the war: nationalization of banks and industrial companies such as Renault, the welfare state. That's why it was defined as a "centrist party with right-wing voters but a left-wing policy".

Nevertheless, the MRP disagreed with the institutional ideas of De Gaulle, who advocated a strong executive power, autonomous towards Parliament, seeking the national interest while the particular interests would be represented by the parties in Parliament. Wanting to achieve the complete integration of the Catholicism in the Republic, the MRP supported the principle of the parliamentary democracy against De Gaulle.

Relations with De Gaulle deteriorated. In January 1946, the president of the provisional government resigned in protest at the restoration of the "parties regime". The MRP ministers chose to stay in government. Nevertheless, the party called on voters to reject the proposed constitution in May 1946, fearing the election of a pro-Communist regime. After that, the MRP became the largest party in parliament after the June 1946 legislative election (28.2%) and Bidault took charge of the cabinet. In October 1946, the MRP, together with the SFIO and the PCF, presented a new proposed constitution. It was approved despite De Gaulle's call for a "no" vote. One year later, a Gaullist party was founded under the name of Rally of the French People (Rassemblement du peuple français or RPF).

The MRP became a mainstay of the Fourth Republic. It was allied with the Socialists and the Communists in the Three-parties alliance until spring 1947. Then, it joined the Third Force that brought together center-left and center-right parties against the Communists on the one hand and the Gaullists on the other hand. Two Christian Democrats led the cabinet: Georges Bidault (June-December 1946, October 1949-July 1950) and Robert Schuman (November 1947-July 1948, August-September 1948) who presented, as Foreign Minister, plans for what would become the European Community. Indeed, European unification was an important part of the MRP platform.

A gradual decline

With the creation of the Gaullist RPF and the reconstruction of the conservative right in the National Center of Independents and Peasants (Centre national des indépendants et paysans or CNIP), the MRP faced challengers to represent the right-wing electorate. At the 1951 legislative election, it lost half of its 1946 voters (12.6%). Furthermore, due to its propensity for integrating conservative politicians sometimes compromised by their association with Vichy, it was sardonically nicknamed the "Machine à Ramasser les Pétainistes" ("Machine for collecting Pétainists").

The MRP also dominated French foreign and colonial policies during most of the later 1940s and 1950s. Along with the French Socialist Party, it was the most energetic supporter in the country of European integration. It was also a strong backer of NATO and of close alliance with the United States, making it the most "Atlanticist" of French political parties.

Its leaders, especially Georges Bidault and Paul Coste-Floret (foreign and colonial ministers respectively in several French coalition governments) were primary architects of France's hard-line colonial policies that culminated in long insurgencies in Vietnam (1946-1954) and Algeria (1954-1962), as well as a series of smaller insurrections and political crises elsewhere in the French Empire. The MRP eventually divided over the Algerian question in the late 1950s (with Bidault being an avid supporter of the OAS).

After the 13 May 1958 crisis, the party supported De Gaulle's return and called for approval of the constitution of the Fifth Republic. It participated in the government of national unity behind De Gaulle, then broke with him in 1962 over his opposition to extending European economic integration into the realm of political integration. Besides, it was against presidentialization and de Gaulle's scorn towards Parliament.

Faced with the Gaullist hegemony

When De Gaulle proposed a referendum on presidential election by universal suffrage, the MRP took part in the "coalition of the no". De Gaulle dissolved the National Assembly and the MRP suffered a serious electoral defeat.

In 1963, Jean Lecanuet took the leadership in order to renew the party's image. He was a candidate at the 1965 presidential election and was third (15%) behind De Gaulle and the left-wing represented by François Mitterrand. Then he created the Democratic Centre, which came from the merger of MRP members with the National Center of Independents and Peasants (CNIP). The MRP itself disbanded in 1967, while some historical personalities of the party (such as Maurice Schumann) joined the Gaullist party Union of Democrats for the Fifth Republic.



French Parliament

National Assembly
Election year # of
overall votes
% of
overall vote
# of
overall seats won
+/– Leader
1945 4,780,338 (#2) 24.9
141 / 522
Maurice Schumann
1946 (Jun) 5,589,213 (#1) 28.22
166 / 586
Increase 25
Georges Bidault
1946 (Nov) 4,988,609 (#2) 25.96
173 / 627
Increase 7
Georges Bidault
1951 2,369,778 (#5) 12.60
95 / 625
Decrease 78
Georges Bidault
1956 2,366,321 (#6) 10.88
83 / 595
Decrease 12
Pierre-Henri Teitgen
1958 1,365,064 (#6) 7.5
57 / 466
Decrease 26
Pierre Pflimlin
1962 821,635 (#6) 5.45
36 / 465
Decrease 21
André Colin

See also

Ligue de la jeune République founded in 1912 by Marc Sangnier

Further reading


  1. 1 2 3 Startin, Nick (2005), "Maastricht, Amsterdam and beyond: The troubled evolution of the French right", French Relations with the European Union, Routledge, p. 64
  2. Gunlicks, Arthur B. (2011), Comparing Liberal Democracies: The United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union, iUniverse, p. 123
  3. David Hanley (1999). "France: Living with Instability". In David Broughton. Changing Party Systems in Western Europe. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 66. ISBN 978-1-85567-328-1. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  4. Hans Slomp (2011). Europe, A Political Profile: An American Companion to European Politics: An American Companion to European Politics. ABC-CLIO. p. 395. ISBN 978-0-313-39181-1. Retrieved 19 August 2012.
  5. Arthur B. Gunlicks (2011). Comparing Liberal Democracies: The United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union. iUniverse. p. 123. ISBN 978-1-4620-5724-5.
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