There were only two leaders of the Fourth Republic in France who were genuinely popular: one was the radical Pierre Mendes-France and the other was the conservative Antoine Pinay. Pinay was presented as a man of modest demeanour, an average Frenchman, and an ordinary person. Yet he was no naif. He was a skilful publicist and a good judge of public opinion, introducing, for example, the practice of giving prime ministerial radio talks over the heads of the parliamentarians. These had appeal because of his style, which was apparently guileless. He was always careful to appear to be backing into the limelight. His use of public opinion in this way enabled him to keep the deputies behind him in the Assembly.
Although he had a political career at local, national and international level which spanned three Republics and Vichy France, Pinay is now chiefly remembered for his brief time (long by Fourth Republic standards) as Prime Minister, from 6 March to 22 December 1952. Pinay gave France back a confidence in its own institutions and its own abilities which was a by no means negligible achievement. At a time of inflation, he introduced austerity measures to restore confidence in the French economy. In a Fourth Republic under siege from interest groups he said: "I will not give anything away, but what I will give to everybody is that purchasing power will cease to deteriorate."
He was also both a shrewd party leader and took careful advice from technical economists. In political terms Pinay was seen as an Orleanist parliamentary conservative, hostile to public-sector growth, planning technocrats, dirigisme, and sympathetic to business. He was the representative of a small-time conservative France which has disappeared and a consummate practitioner of a style which has likewise gone. He was, like most non-Gaullist conservatives, pro-Nato.
Pinay was born in 1891 the son of a hat-maker and he was himself a tanner. He was a volunteer in the First World War and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He was elected mayor of Saint-Chamond, in central France, in 1929 and retained that post for nearly 50 years. He was elected to the Assembly in 1936 and to the senate in 1938. He voted full powers to Marshal Petain in 1940 and agreed to serve on the Vichy regime's National Council (which never met). At the Liberation, in 1946, he was returned to the Constituent Assembly for the Loire and remained a deputy until 1958: he headed the Independents and Peasants Group for Social Action in the Assembly from 1956 to 1958.
Although he had been Minister of Works in the four governments before his own in 1952, Pinay was unknown to public opinion. Few observers expected him to be able to form, or hold together, what was the first avowedly right-wing coalition in France for 20years and his success was important because it showed that conservatives were no longer shut out of Republican government. He was backed by the Socialist President, Vincent Auriol, and supported by the Christian Democrats and Radicals.
When Pinay came to power France was completing its post-war reconstruction and living standards were rising but the country was gripped by an inflation in which wages and prices were chasing each other up in a frightening spiral. Pinay took the unpopularpost of Finance Minister along with that of Prime Minister and introduced measures to deal with the crisis. Pinay presented his plan as commonsensical and himself as the defender of the consumer and the franc. To stabilise prices Pinay cut public spending plans, reducing the budget of 3,500 billion francs by F110bn and freezing public investment. Pinay also introduced a sliding scale to index wages to prices, cut taxes and vetoed an electricity price rise.
At the same time Pinay issued a government loan - the "emprunt Pinay" - which with its attractive terms to lenders including exemption from death duties, indexation to the price of gold and a 3.5 per cent return, was enormously successful. Pinay's reputation as a reliable financial manager and his popularity were made in a very short time but were lasting. He took strong measures against the Communists, who were then in street-fighting mode, and this did him no harm with his backers. Pinay's government
fell on 22 December over plans to cut back family allowance funds. He expressed his philosophy thus: "Order in finance is accompanied by order in the economy, and order in the state itself by order in the behaviour of its members." The French economy hadbeen seen as an Augean stable awaiting its Hercules.
Pinay was very fortunate in the conditions under which the "Pinay experiment" was tried and the success of the financial readjustment was dependent on the government's ability to use the conjuncture. There was a recession in 1952 and the overheating of the world economy (the result of the Korean war) was being dissipated with prices - wholesale and retail - falling. The slowing down of the economy also reduced the demand for credit and this too brought down inflation. Pinay's amnesty for tax fraud was probably not helpful, although it was, like the loan, popular. Although Pinay did restore faith in the franc, he did so at the cost of a fall in investment, and balance of payments problems; the talk of a balanced budget was rhetoric. Ther e were other costs as well in the neglect of the Algerian question, of the Empire, of the Indo-China war and the postponed problem of the European Defence Community.
Although a conservative in a party associated with colonial diehards, Pinay supported indpendence for Morocco and did not support the "last-ditch" aim of keeping Algeria French. He was briefly foreign secretary in the government of Edgar Faure from February 1955 to the end of that year and represented France at the Messina negotiations to promote European integration to which he was well disposed. He was never again Prime Minister, although he tried to form an administration on several occasions.
In the crisis of May 1958 and the collapse of the Fourth Republic's authority, Pinay was the first leader to go to Colombay les Deux Eglises to support de Gaulle. He was made Finance Minister in de Gaulle's government of June 1958, and was associated with de Gaulle's stabilisation policies as well. The plan, which was also highly successful and widely praised, had the originality of freeing 90 per cent of French trade. However it involved a devaluation of 17.5 per cent (which Pinay opposed), raising
taxes on wine, alcohol and cigarettes (which he opposed), cutting subsidies and raising social security contributions.
This was a policy developed in the main by the liberal economist Jacques Rueff and de Gaulle's economic adviser Roger Goetz, although Pinay sponsored it. There was also another government loan which recovered $750m in gold.
Pinay's remaining time in de Gaulle's government was not comfortable. He was in dispute with the Prime Minister, Michel Debre, over the powers of his office, and at loggerheads with de Gaulle. In a famous encounter, Pinay raised the matter of de Gaulle'sattitude to Nato at a cabinet meeting. This, perfectly constitutional, request was met with "Monsieur le Ministre des Finances is interested in foreign policy problems". Pinay, who had extensive foreign contacts, would have none of this and persisted, so de Gaulle closed the meeting. De Gaulle later accused Pinay of being in the wrong Republic. Pinay was dismissed on in January 1960.
Pinay thereafter played a secondary role but an important one. The possibility of his candidacy for the 1965 presidential election was floated; but there were few takers, so it was dropped. In 1969 Valery Giscard d'Estaing, then Finance Minister, urged him to run for the presidency but he declined. However Giscard made him the first French Ombudsman, a post which he held for a year, and he continued as mayor of Saint-Chamond until 1979.
Pinay was not forgotten. He was visited regularly by politicians seeking advice, into his second century. He never really quit the political scene.