|Raymond Barre served as prime minister of France from 1976 to 1981. He had a 30-year political career. (Michel Lipchitz/Associated Press/File 1977)|
Raymond Barre, former prime minister of France; at 83
PARIS -- Raymond Barre, the tough-speaking former prime minister of France and an economist who refused to bow to protesters or political alliances, died yesterday, his family said. He was 83.
Mr. Barre died at Val de Grâce hospital in Paris, family members said. An exact cause of death was not immediately available, but he was admitted to the hospital on April 12, his 83d birthday, after suffering from heart problems in Monaco, where he was to give a speech on world finance.
Mr. Barre was prime minister of France from 1976 to 1981, during a 30-year political career that also included posts as vice president of the European Commission, French economics minister, and mayor of Lyon. He made an unsuccessful run for president in 1988.
Highly suspicious of the news media and political alliances, Mr. Barre spoke sparingly in public and kept his circle of friends small.
Mr. Barre never joined a political party, though he was linked to the center-right Union for the Defense of France. He used this position to his advantage by playing free agent as a lawmaker in the National Assembly, often voting with the left-wing opposition to the frustration of his conservative allies.
Still, top politicians from France's governing conservative party expressed their sorrow at Mr. Barre's death.
President Nicolas Sarkozy called Mr. Barre a "free and independent spirit" and hailed his "passion for France."
"His international experience and the loftiness of his views made of him . . . a unique personality among France's political players," Sarkozy said in a statement yesterday.
Prime Minister François Fillon said in a statement that Mr. Barre's career "showed that there is no other way than to tell the French people the truth and sometimes to take difficult measures."
Mr. Barre's longtime rival, former president Jacques Chirac, said in a statement that with Mr. Barre's death, "France has lost a great economist, a politician who was resolutely committed to the modernization of the country."
Born April 12, 1924, in Saint-Denis on the French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, Mr. Barre studied at the Reunion Law School before being mobilized into the army in 1944. Attached to an artillery unit stationed in Madagascar, the war finished before he could ship out.
He then moved to Paris, where he studied at the Institute of Political Science and received a doctorate in law and economics from the University of Paris in 1950.
He began his political career in 1959, working at the Ministry of Industry.
Charles de Gaulle asked Mr. Barre to represent France at the European Commission in Brussels in 1972, where he helped form the economic policies of the future European Union. Former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing called Mr. Barre "the best economist in France."
When he returned to France, Mr. Barre replaced Jacques Chirac as prime minister, sparking a rivalry that lasted into the 21st century and split the right in France. Mr. Barre served as prime minister from 1976 to 1981 under Giscard.
To combat an economic crisis of the late 1970s, Mr. Barre imposed strict policies to curb inflation and public spending that resulted in thousands of layoffs. When faced with strong opposition from the unions, Mr. Barre dismissed street protesters and told them to get back to work.
In response to these policies, Chirac led a group of defectors to found another right-wing party, the RPR. Mr. Barre remained close to the UDF.
Mr. Barre leaves his wife, Eva, and their two sons, Olivier and Nicolas. Arrangements for Mr. Barre's funeral were not immediately known.