Michel Rocard (born 23 August 1930) is a French politician, member of the Socialist Party (PS). He served as Prime Minister under François Mitterrand from 1988 to 1991, during which he created the Revenu minimum d'insertion (RMI), a social minimum welfare program for indigents, and led the Matignon Accords regarding the status of New Caledonia. He is currently a member of the European Parliament, and has been strongly involved in European policies. Rocard opposed the Directive on the patentability of computer-implemented inventions. As of August 2007, he has accepted a mission in a Commission under the authority of Sarkozy's Minister of Education, Xavier Darcos.
Having left the SFIO because of Guy Mollet's position towards the Algerian war, he led the dissident Unified Socialist Party (PSU) from 1967 to 1974. He took a part during the May 68 in France crisis, supporting the auto-gestionary project. He ran in the 1969 presidential election but obtained only 3,6% of votes. Some months later, he was elected deputy of the Yvelines département, defeating the former Prime minister Maurice Couve de Murville. He lost his parliamentary seat in 1973, but retook it in 1978.
In 1973-74, he participated in the LIP conflict, selling watches with the workers and participating, behind the scenes, in the attempts to find an employer who would take back the factory, which was on the verge of being liquidated .
In 1974, he joined François Mitterrand and the renewed Socialist Party (PS), which had replaced the old SFIO. Most of the PSU members and a part of the French and Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) trade union — generally known in France as the non-Marxist, "Second Left" — followed him.
Elected mayor of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine in 1977, he led the opposition to Mitterrand inside the Socialist Party (as a candidate of the right-wing of the party). After the unexpected defeat of the left at the 1978 legislative election, he tried to take the lead of the party. In spite of his alliance with Pierre Mauroy, the number 2 of the PS, he lost the Metz Congress (1979). Being the most popular of the Socialist politicians (included Mitterrand himself), he announced that he would run for president but failed his "Call of Conflans". Minoritary in the PS institutions, he renounced. Mitterrand was the Socialist winning candidate for the 1981 presidency.
From the 1970s to the 1990s, Michel Rocard's group inside the Socialist Party, known as "les rocardiens", advocated a re-alignment of French socialism through a clearer acceptance of the market economy, more decentralisation and less state control. It was largely influenced by Scandinavian Social Democracy, and stood in opposition to Mitterrand's initial agenda of nationalization, programmed in the 110 Propositions for France. Nonetheless, the "rocardiens" always remained a minority.
Under Mitterrand's first presidency, he was Minister of Territorial Development and Minister of Planning from 1981 to 1983 and Minister of Agriculture from 1983 to 1985. He resigned from the cabinet in due to his opposition to the institution of the proportional system for the legislative elections. He hoped, in vain, that Mitterrand would not run for his re-election in order to be the PS candidate at the 1988 presidential election.
After Mitterrand's re-election, he was chosen as Prime Minister (May 1988 - May 1991). Indeed, Rocard was popular and his position, in the right-wing of the PS, corresponded with the slogan of the electoral campaign, "a United France". He formed a cabinet including 4 center-right ministers. As Prime Minister, he led the Matignon Accords regarding the status of New Caledonia, which ended the troubles in this overseas territory. His record in office also include a decrease in unemployment and a large-scale reform of the welfare state's financing system. He created a minimum living wage revenue, the RMI. Michel Rocard's poor relations with François Mitterrand, notably during his mandate as Prime Minister, were notorious. Besides, he was supported by a relative parliamentary majority.
In 1991, when his popularity decreased, President Mitterrand forced him to resign. However, according to Mauroy, who led the party, Rocard stood as the "natural candidate" for the following presidential elections. After the 1993 electoral disaster, he became head of the PS in advocating a political "big-bang", that was to say a questioning of the right/left rift. His speech didn't have any effects.
Rocard stood as leader of the Socialist Party during only one year, in part because of the PS's complete defeat during the 1994 European elections. The defeat was in part due to the success of the list of the Left Radicals Movement, which was covertly supported by President Mitterrand . Consequently, he was toppled by the left-wing of the party and lost his last chance to run for president the next year.
Having lost his deputy's seat in 1993, he became Senator of Yvelines from 1995 to 1997. His supporters within the Socialist Party became allies of candidate Lionel Jospin, who was Prime Minister in 1997-2002, and then Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Since 1994, he has been a member of the European Parliament, and chaired the Committee on Development and Cooperation (1997-1999), the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs (1999-2002) and the Committee on Culture, Youth, Education, the Media and Sport. Michel Rocard is known for his hostility for the proposed directives to allow software patents in Europe, and has been an outspoken opponent of what he considers to be sneaky manoeuvres to force the decision on this issue . He has thus played an instrumental role in causing the European Parliament rejects software patents seeking to enforce software patents on 6 July 2005.
On the French political scene, Rocard presented himself as the political heir of Pierre Mendès-France, known for his moral rigour, and as the politician who "speaks true". After Mitterrand's death, he caused controversy when he said, about the former president, "he was not an honest man". An impersonator mocked him for his problems of elocution.
In the run up to the presidential elections in 2007, Rocard called for an alliance between the Socialists and the centrist UDF party of François Bayrou in an effort to defeat UMP candidate Nicolas Sarkozy. Ségolène Royal, the PS candidate, rejected any such compromise, lamenting that she was once again obliged to face obstacles from within her own party. Rocard also publicly admitted, after the election, having asked Ségolène Royal to step down in his favor in March 2007, one month before the first round of voting .
As other Socialist politicians, such as Jack Lang or Hubert Védrine, who accepted similar propositions, Rocard accepted to participate to the Committee on the re-evaluation of the teachers' profession, which was to be placed under the "high authority" of Sarkozy's Minister of Education Xavier Darcos . Criticized by Medhi Ouraoui, national delegate of the PS, Rocard claimed it was a "democrat's duty" to participate in such Commissions and that he was "not concerned" by the "game of the President of the Republic [consisting of making of such left-wing participations] political symbols" . He furthermore explained that he had accepted to speak before the Gracques' spring university (a group of senior left-wing civil servants who advocated a centrist strategy) because political parties were not suited any more to serious reflexion . Finally, he again claimed that the (Marxist) SFIO had been created in 1905 on a fundamental "ambiguity," that of which to accept market economy or to reject it .