Pierre-Étienne Flandin

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Pierre-Étienne Flandin (12 April 1889 – 13 June 1958) was a French liberal-conservative politician of the French Third Republic, Deputy for the Yonne, leader of the Democratic Republican Alliance (ARD), and Prime Minister of France in 1934/1935.[1] He was "an exponent of political and economic liberalism"[2] and completely opposed to the Communist Party in France.[3]


A military pilot during World War I,[4] Flandin held a number of Cabinet posts during the inter-war period. He was Minister of Commerce, under the premiership of Frédéric François-Marsal, for just five days in 1924. He was Minister of Commerce and Industry for Premier André Tardieu in 1931 and 1932 to whom he was closely associated. In 1931 Flandin was violently attacked by The Left for his alleged part in the Aeropostale scandal.[5] Between those posts, he served under Pierre Laval as Finance Minister.

In 1934 (6 February to 8 November), he was Minister of Public Works in the second cabinet of former President Gaston Doumergue's 'National Government', but was accused by Colonel de la Rocque of having plotted, together with Edouard Herriot, for its downfall. Flandin followed him as Premier in November 1934, and dropped Doumergue's Constitutional Reform proposals, being hailed as one of the saviours of democracy[6]. But his premiership lasted only until June 1935. However, a number of important pacts were negotiated during his term: the Franco-Italian Agreement of 1935, the Stresa Front, and the Franco-Soviet Pact of May 1935.[1] Flandin had been, at 45, the youngest Prime Minister in French history.[7] In the interval, Flandin was Minister of State without portfolio in the Laval Cabinet. Both men opposed the League of Nations sanctions imposed on Italy following the latter's invasion of Abyssinia. This government fell mainly on Foreign Policy issues, in January 1936.[8]

Flandin was briefly the French Foreign Minister in the Sarraut Cabinet when on March 3rd he refused again to subscribe to League oil sanctions against Italy, and when Germany reoccupied the Rhineland on 7 March 1936, he opted for doing nothing other than, oddly, submit the matter to the League.[9] During the Front Populaire Governments of 1936-7 Flandin became one of the principal leaders of the centre-right Opposition; and it was towards the end of 1937, after a visit to Berlin, that he began to preach openly his New Policy of 'retrenchment'.

Czechoslovakian crisis

In the course of 1937 he became the central figure in the French movement against supporting Czechoslovakia, and also the (communist) Spanish Government against whom he made a violent speech on 11 June 1937[10]. He also became one of the principal figures in the movement of Political Reaction in France, and became on increasingly good terms with Georges Bonnet, then Foreign Minister. He became more and more associated with Four-Power Pact ideas and during the British Royal Visit to Paris Flandin spoke at length with Lord Halifax[11]. In February 1938 in a major debate in the Chamber of deputies the united Left attacked him for his and Neville Chamberlain's 'appeasement' policies. In his reply Flandin said[12]:

Chamberlain knows that the time has come to act [over Czechoslovakia], because the Versailles Treaty is on its deathbed......far be it for me to suggest that we should repudiate our [treaty] obligations; but we ought to make sure whether we are able to observe them.

Flandin argued for a rapprochement with Germany, which would, amongst other things, put an end to the armaments race. He was then attacked by Paul Reynaud who quipped that he, Reynaud, now represented the "War Party". Premier Camille Chautemps agreed with his Foreign Minister Yvon Delbos's pledge to Czechoslovakia, and attacked the so-called "defeatists".[13] The Press now violently attacked the warmongers, and Léon Garibaldi writing in Eclaireur de Nice said:

The support that France might want to give Czechoslovakia would, in any case, be totally ineffective. Let us remember that the French people are not cannon fodder. No-one has the right to drag the French people into a war which does not affect our frontiers and our independence; and the bones of a little French soldier are worth more to us than all the Czechoslovaks in the world.[14]

Flandin stated in the London Evening Standard on 16 September 1938 that the French people would "refuse to fight a war to save peace"[15], and at the end of the month he firmly supported the Munich Agreement[16] and sent a telegram of congratulations to Hitler after it.[17]


After the German conquest of Poland in September 1939, Flandin asked the Chamber's Foreign Affairs Committee: "Is it really worth going on with this?" [the war].[18] On 3 June 1940 the Jewish Minister, Georges Mandel, told England's General Spears that Laval and Flandin, in that order, "were the most dangerous" people in the French Cabinet.[19]

Flandin supported the new Premier Philippe Pétain and helped Laval push through parliament Petain's plenary powers.[20] He had also proposed, in a speech on 7 July 1940, that President Lebrun resign and Marshal Pétain take his place.[21] Petain appointed Flandin Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister on 13 December 1940, replacing Pierre Laval who had been dismissed. USA Ambassador Leahy, writing to President Roosevelt on 25 January 1941, said "Flandin is a compromiser and he leans pretty far over to the German side of things".[22] He occupied that position for only two months. Following internal machinations and the objections by the Germans to Laval's dismissal, he was replaced by Admiral François Darlan in January 1941.[23]

Following the end of the war Flandin argued in political-social circles that he had always been right about the Communist threat, and he started writing an 'Advice from a Statesman' column in the Radical newspaper Aurore. In May 1952 the Premier, Antoine Pinay, who had been a Petainist, tried but failed to have Flandin elected to the Senate and Council of the Republic.[24]

Flandin's Cabinet, 8 November 1934 – 1 June 1935


  1. 1.0 1.1 "M. Pierre Flandin – A Former Premier of France". The Times. 14 June 1958. 
  2. Werth, Alexander, France and Munich, first published by Hamish Hamilton in 1939; reprint by Howard Fertig, New York, 1969, p.42.
  3. Werth, Alexander, The Twilight of France 1933-1940, Harper Brothers, New York, 1942; reprint by Howard Fertig, New York, 1966, p.159.
  4. Gunther, John (1940). Inside Europe. New York: Harper & Brothers, 196. 
  5. Werth, 1939/1969, p.42.
  6. Werth, 1939/1969, p.42.
  7. Gunther, 1940
  8. Werth, 1939/1969, p.42.
  9. "Berlin Talks on Reconciliation – Mr Flandin's Statement". The Times. 7 March 1936. 
  10. Werth, 1939/1969, p.174-5.
  11. Werth, 1939/1969, p.199 & 203.
  12. Werth, 1939/1969, pps:44-5 and 56-7.
  13. Werth, 1939/1969, p.58-60.
  14. Werth, 1939/1969, p.118-9.
  15. Werth, 1939/1969, p.261.
  16. Gunther, 1940.
  17. Werth, Alexander, France 1940-1955, Robert Hale, London, 92n.
  18. Werth, 1942/1966, p.347-8.
  19. Benoist-Méchin, Jacques, Sixty Days That Shook The West, G.P.Putnam's Sons, 1st American edition, New York, 1963, p.218.
  20. Werth, 1957, p/.92n & 97.
  21. Benoist-Mechin, 1963, p.571-8.
  22. Werth, 1957, p.92n.
  23. Dank, Milton (1974). The French against the French. London: Cassell, 365 & 338. ISBN 0-304-30037-3. 
  24. Werth, 1957, pps:419, 421, 567.