Edith Cresson

Edith Cresson

Cresson, Edith, 1934-, French politician, b. Edith Campion. After studying at the École des Hautes Études Commerciales, she became a consultant in private industry. Active in the Socialist party, she became national secretary of the party (for youth) in 1974 and was elected to the European Assembly in 1979. She then held a series of ministerial appointments, including agriculture and forestry (1981-83), trade and tourism (1983-84), and industrial redeployment and foreign trade (1984-86). From 1986 until her resignation in 1990, she was a member of the national assembly. In May, 1991, President François Mitterrand recalled her to replace Michel Rocard as premier, but she resigned in Apr., 1992, and was replaced by Pierre Bérégovoy. In 1995, Cresson was appointed to the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union (EU), but allegations of corruption led her and 19 other commission members to resign in 1999. She was charged in 2003 by Belgium with fraud relating to contracts prepared by her EU office in the late 1990s, but the charges were dropped in 2004. In 2006, however, the EU ruled that she had violated her official duties, but she was not penalized.

Édith Cresson (born on 27 January 1934 as Édith Campion in Boulogne-Billancourt, near Paris) is a French politician. She was the first and so far only woman to have held the office of Prime Minister of France.

French Prime Minister

Cresson was well known for making outspoken and often controversial comments. She was very critical of "Anglo-Saxon" nations and often condemned the culture and people of the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom. She often described male homosexuality as being a largely Anglo-Saxon "problem" that had little relevance in France, which some considered merely ignorant. Her strong criticism of Japanese trade practices, going so far as to compare the Japanese to "yellow ants trying to take over the world" that some considered her also to be a racist. The Japanese government officially condemned her statements, while Cresson refused to retract her words nor to make any apology.

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 has so far spent the shortest time in office for any French Prime Minister of the Fifth Republic.

Her political career, promoted by Mitterrand, ended in allegations of corruption.

European Commissioner

While a European Commissioner she 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.

Appointing a friend

When Cresson took up her functions, she wished to appoint one of her close acquaintances, Philippe Berthelot, a dental surgeon, as a "personal adviser". Because he was 66 years old, Berthelot could not be appointed as a member of a Commissioner’s Cabinet, and Cresson was advised accordingly. Moreover, when Cresson took up office, her Cabinet was already fully staffed, as far as personal advisers were concerned. She asked the administration to consider how it might be possible to appoint him. Berthelot was then engaged as a "visiting scientist" from September 1995 until the end of February 1997.

Although appointment as a visiting scientist implies that the person concerned is mainly to work either in the JRC or the services dealing with research, Berthelot worked exclusively as a personal adviser to Cresson. On the expiry of his contract on 1 March 1997, Berthelot was offered another visiting scientist’s contract, for a period of one year expiring at the end of February 1998. His appointment as a visiting scientist thus lasted for a total period of two and a half years, whereas the rules specify a maximum duration of 24 months.

On 31 December 1997, Mr Berthelot requested the termination of his contract from that date, on medical grounds. His application was accepted. Following a complaint by a Member of Parliament, a criminal investigation concerning Berthelot’s file 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, taking the view that there was no ground for continuing the criminal procedure.

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.


Cresson's Ministry, 15 May 1991 - 2 April 1992

Édith Cresson - Prime Minister

Personal life

Cresson is married and has two daughters.

External links

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