France and the world owe a great deal to former President Francois Mitterrand, who passed away on Jan. 8.
Mitterrand's Socialist Party, largely revived by him in the early 1970s, defanged the French Communist Party and brought the Left into harmony with democracy, market economics, and the Gaullist Constitution. This last was no mean feat. During the 23 years of conservative rule beginning with Charles De Gaulle, the Left insisted that the Constitution was unfair to it and must be changed. Mitterrand showed that not only could the Left win elections under the Fifth Republic at both the parliamentary and presidential levels, but that French democracy was mature enough for cohabitation - a president of the Left and a parliament of the Right.
Mitterrand also stood for a united Europe and he carefully tended the Franco-German relationship basic to the final goal. German reunification owes much to his steadfast stand with NATO during the cold war's end. He will be remembered as one of the European Union's founding fathers.