Former French Socialist PM Michel Rocard dies aged 85

Michel Rocard served as prime minister under President Francois Mitterrand from 1988 to 1991.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

FIle photo of former French prime minister Michel Rocard, who poses for Reuters in his office in Paris, France, November 5, 2009.

Former French Socialist Prime Minister Michel Rocard who had advised Britain to leave the EU died on Saturday at the age of 85.

Rocard, who served under President Francois Mitterrand from 1988 to 1991, resigned in 2009 after spending 15 years in the European Parliament.

The former prime minister sharply criticised Britain’s role in the EU bloc and advised the country to get out “before you wreck it” in a 2014 article published by Britain's Guardian newspaper and France's Le Monde.

"You do not like Europe," he told Britons, blaming them for Europe's failures and accusing them of selfishness and an obsession with trade over the project for political unity.

"You never shared the true meaning of the project... always putting the national interest first - you reintroduced these ideas and made them contagious," he wrote.

As current Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in a tribute to Rocard, the “visionary statesman" predicted the June 23 referendum in which Britons voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU.

"A great figure of the Republic and the Left has just disappeared," President Francois Hollande said.

Rocard, considered as one of the brightest politicians of his generation during his time in office, created a minimum welfare benefit and reformed the financing of the welfare system.

Despite having a political career in the shadow of then President Mitterrand, he was admired by the Left and the Right.

He contributed to France’s Marxist Socialists’ progress towards a market-friendly social democracy.

Rocard was co-founder in 1960 of the Unified Socialist Party (PSU), a leftist group that played a role in the May 1968 student-worker uprising. He ran for president in 1969 but won just 3.6 percent of the vote. After that he gradually moved to the centre-left in the 1970s and joined the Socialist party in 1974 after Mitterrand reunited it.

He decided not to stand in Mitterrand's way as the latter successfully won a second term in 1988, after which he was appointed premier.

Rocard served in the post for three years before being "fired" following the Gulf War.

In later life, Rocard was a staunch supporter of Hollande who is struggling with record low poll ratings and a deeply divided party.

"Francois Hollande has never run away from intelligent people who could overshadow him. That's the difference. That's the way to be governed," he told Reuters in an interview in February this year.

TRTWorld and agencies