10 Most Famous French politicians
If there is one thing French people are known for abroad, it is there very politicized relationship to state affairs. French citizens are usually very informed (although often superficially) about current affairs, and hold politics in great regards as a tool to both shape and preserve a nation.
French politicians have traditionally been very important figures in the public sphere. As a heritage from the monarchy, its head of State are usually prominent figures who crystalize a lot of power and symbolism.
Some French political figures are so important they have come to shape French citizens’ relationship to politics. In this article, I have decided to compile for you a list of the 10 most famous French politicians. These figures are unmissable, French people refer to them a lot in political or societal debates. Knowing about them is a prerequisite for being able to hold a conversation with a French native about politics, or simply to understand French history and current political scene better.
I have decided to divide this list in half: 5 alive and acting political figures, and 5 dead. You will note that they are almost all male – France has never had a woman as a head of state, and current political life is very concentrated into male hands.
Also, before we dive together into the lives of these unmissable political figures : if you are curious about all things French and Parisian, some locals are giving free tours to help you experience the French capital like a true Parisian. If you are willing to explore the hidden gems in each of Paris’ iconic neighborhoods and truly feel the city like a local, click here to book yours!
So, without further ado, let’s discover together the most Famous French politicians.
1. Emmanuel Macron
It would be very hard to begin without naming the current president of France. Emmanuel Macron was elected in 2017 and has completed one presidential term so far (2017 to 2022, expectedly).
He was elected in 2017 against Marine Le Pen (see below), the second far-right candidate of the Front National to ever make it to the second turn (first one was her father Jean-Marie Le Pen against Jacques Chirac in 2002).
To be elected, Emmanuel Macron founded his own political party (La République en Marche), which aimed at transcending France’s bipartisan political divide between left and right.
Even though Emmanuel Macron has only served two years in office so far, his term has been exceptionally agitated. His anti-terrorism law has faced popular backlash; and so did his reform of the Labor code in France.
However, the most marking event of his term yet has been the Gilets Jaunes uprisings that started in October 2018 to protest Macron’s economical policy that disfavored working class in favor of an increased privatization of France’s key public services. The uprising was one of the most important of the last few years in France, and resulted in Macron announcing a series of measures to quell the protests (one of the most symbolic being the suppression of the ENA, Ecole Nationale d’Administration, one of France’s most elitist schools that aimed at educating France’s political and administrative leaders).
Nowadays, unrest continues as Emmanuel Macron has decided to reform the current pension system of France, paying no consideration to the voice of the people who are hostile to this reform. Following Macron’s announcement of the reform, France went on an unprecedented strike for more than a month. This strike was the biggest since 1995 and only two metro lines remained open and functional during this period.
2. Marine Le Pen
Marine Le Pen is probably another one of the most famous French politicians. She was born in 1968 and is currently the President of the French National Rally, a political party on the far-right. She has been the head of party since 2011, and she is also the daughter of the party founder, infamous Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has become known for his racist and populist views.
Her party relies on populist discourses and a renewed attention to French labor and middle-class who have been neglected by mainstream political parties. As the contestation against national privatization has risen in France, her party gained more and more power, until in 2017, she was one of the two last contenders for becoming the French president, defeating all other candidates. She was defeated by Emmanuel Macron.
Her success since she succeeded to her father as head of party lies in a “de-demonization of the National Front”, trying to frame into a mainstream political party and erases its anti-Semitic, racist positions. However and despite her communication efforts, members of her party regularly come under the spotlight for their violent and controversial opinions.
She has always been very vocal about her opposition to the United States, and has made it her battle to save France from the influence of NATO and USA.
3. Nicolas Sarkozy
Even though Nicolas Sarkozy has served only one term as French president(2007 to 2012), he has left his mark on the 2010’s in France. He was called the “Bling president” as he was nothing like the other French presidents who were considered to be more elegant. His term was marked by several controversies, from partying in luxury restaurants in the midst of French austerity, or his infamous “Casse-toi pauvre con” (F*ck off you f*cker) that he said to a man who refused to shake his hand at the Agriculture Salon.
Nicolas Sarkozy is famous for France’s involvement in Libya and his resolutely atlantist foreign policy (he reintegrated France in the NATO), as well as his tough attitude regarding immigration in France. His term was marked by the 2008 financial crisis.
He was defeated in 2012 against François Hollande, and then failed to win his party’s primary elections at the next presidential elections. He has since announced that he retired from France’s political life. He is also famous for being the husband of supermodel and singer Carla Bruni.
4. Jean-Luc Mélenchon
Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the head of the France Insoumise party in France (a leftist party). He is famous for his pugnacity in defending what he believes is right, as well as his perceived megalomaniac and controversial tantrums whenever he does not feel acknowledged or respected by the media.
5. François Hollande
François Hollande is the second socialist president to be elected since 1959 (first one was François Mitterrand, see #4). He has completed one term as a French president (2012 to 2017). When he was elected, he attempted to position himself as the opposite of “Bling” president Nicolas Sarkozy. As such, was often called the “Normal” president.
He is very famous for the law that made gay marriage possible in France in 2013. This law sparked an incredible amount of controversy in France, and divided the country between pro and anti-gay marriage for the five years of his term.
While this law was the one that took all media attention, Hollande’s term was marked by France’s controversial involvement in Mali, Syria and Iraq, as well as two terrorist attacks that choked French political opinion in January and November 2015, against Charlie Hebdo’s journalists and the Bataclan. These events left a lasting mark on France’s political life and marked a securitization turn with Hollande declaring a State of Urgency shortly after.
While Hollande did his best to direct media attention of liberal and progressist societal measures (such as ratifying the Paris Agreement), his harsh economic policy and his willingness to restructure Labor law in France made him increasingly unpopular, to a point where he renounced on the idea of pursuing a second term – he was the first ever elected president to give up on being reelected.
7. Louis XIV (1638- 1715)
Louis XIV, also known as “Louis the Great”, the “Sun King” or the “Absolute King”, is to my mind the most famous king of France. His name is forever tied to the name of Versailles, a town he completely shaped from scratch (swamps, more precisely), to build the masterpiece that is the Castle of Versailles.
Louis XIV is considered by many historians a despotic monarch, who concentrated all power between his hands and governed France alone and unrivaled.
In today’s money and considering inflation, the castle he built is considered by historians and scholars to have cost between two and three hundred billion dollars. This hard to believe sum was used to build what would remain a masterpiece of French classical architecture, with 700 rooms, 1200 fireplaces and 67 staircases.
If you want to learn more about this unbelievable place, check out 10 versailles fact you should know to impress your friends.
And if you are curious about what remains of the court of Louis XIV, head to The nobility and aristocrats in France.
8. Louis XVI (1754-1793)
Louis XVI is an ill-fated king of France; actually the last one before the French revolution. He was famously executed during the Revolution and became a symbol of everything that was wrong with French monarchy.
His wife, Marie-Antoinette, also went down in history as one of the most queens of France (check out our Top 4 movies about Marie-Antoinette). And if your morbid curiosity is not satisfied, you can go read about the guillotine during the French Revolution.
If you want to learn more about the French revolution and the storming of the Bastille, you can check out our Top 10 Interesting Facts About Bastille Day.
And if you are curious about French history in general, then check out our Top 10 historical events that happened in Paris. You will discover how much French history has come to shape Paris’ contemporary monuments and shape.
9. Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821)
Napoléon Bonaparte is an absolutely unmissable French Politician. He was emperor of France and is known for his mastermind at battling; his war campaigns are still studied in military strategy schools all around the world. His desire to submit entire people and states to his willpower make it one of the most controversial French politicians, too.
If you are one of the many who grew fascinated by this ambivalent leader, you can check out Where is napoléon Bonaparte buried and why?
10. Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle completed two terms as French president (1959 to 1966 and 1966 to 1969).
If there is one name you should remember from this article, it should be the name of Charles de Gaulle. The first French president under the 5th Republic, he is somewhat of an institution here in France. He is famous for his very specific and strong governing style, focused on perpetuating and expanding “France’s Greatness” (this should remind you of the political slogan of a certain current American president) and strengthening the figure and powers of the French president.
As such, his governing style was accused to be a “perpetual coup” by French president François Mitterrand.
After serving in the French army as an officer during World War 1, De Gaulle’s fame skyrockets during World War Two. He famously refused the armistice that French president Pétain wanted to sign with Hitler’s Germany. De Gaulle then flew to London, where he launched the all too famous call to resistance from the BBC radio on June 18th, 1940. Called “l’appel du 18 Juin” in France, this speech is considered a founding event in French politics; De Gaulle urged all French to resist to Germany’s occupation and France’s collaboration.
He was elected president in 1958 during Algeria’s war; after admitting to Algeria’s independence with his famous “I understood you” speech, he started negotiating Africa’s decolonization while ensuring France was still influent on the continent.
During his term, he famously bluffed by pretending to retire during the crisis of May 1968 in France, to break the strikes. He then eventually resigned in 1969, and died 18 months later.