The Provisional Government of the French Republic (gouvernement provisoire de la République française or GPRF) was an interim government of Free France between 1944 and 1946 following the liberation of continental France after Operations Overlord and Dragoon, and lasted until the establishment of the French Fourth Republic. Its establishment marked the official restoration and re-establishment of a provisional French Republic, assuring continuity with the defunct French Third Republic.
It succeeded the French Committee of National Liberation (CFLN), which had been the provisional government of France in the overseas territories and metropolitan parts of the country (Algeria and Corsica) that had been liberated by the Free French. As the wartime government of France in 1944–1945, its main purposes were to handle the aftermath of the occupation of France and continue to wage war against Germany as one of the major Allies.
Its principal mission beside the war was to prepare the ground for a new constitutional order that resulted in the Fourth Republic. It also made several important reforms and political decisions, such as granting women the right to vote, founding the École nationale d'administration, and laying the grounds of social security in France.
It was officially created by the CFLN on 3 June 1944, the day before Charles de Gaulle arrived in London from Algiers on Winston Churchill's invitation, and three days before D-Day. The CFLN itself had been created exactly one year earlier through the uniting of de Gaulle's (Comité national français, or CNF) and Henri Giraud's organisations. Among its most immediate concerns were to ensure that France did not come under allied military administration, preserving the sovereignty of France and freeing allied troops for fighting on the front.
After the liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944, it moved back to the capital, establishing a new "national unanimity" government on 9 September 1944, including Gaullists, nationalists, socialists, communists and anarchists, and uniting the politically divided French Resistance. Among its foreign policy goals was to secure a French occupation zone in Germany and a permanent UNSC seat. This was assured through a large military contribution on the western front.
The GPRF set about raising new troops to participate in the advance to the Rhine and the invasion of Germany, using the French Forces of the Interior as military cadres and manpower pools of experienced fighters to allow a very large and rapid expansion of the French Liberation Army (Armée française de la Libération). It was well equipped and well supplied despite the economic disruption brought by the occupation thanks to Lend-Lease, and grew from 500,000 men in the summer of 1944 to over 1,300,000 by V-E day, making it the fourth largest Allied army in Europe.
The French 2nd Armoured Division, tip of the spear of the Free French forces that had participated in the Normandy Campaign and liberated Paris, went on to liberate Strasbourg on 23 November 1944, thus fulfilling the Oath of Kufra made by its commanding officer General Leclerc almost four years earlier. The unit under his command, barely above company size when it had captured the Italian fort, had grown into a full-strength armoured division.
The spearhead of the Free French First Army that had landed in Provence was the I Corps. Its leading unit, the French 1st Armoured Division, was the first Western Allied unit to reach the Rhône (25 August 1944), the Rhine (19 November 1944) and the Danube (21 April 1945). On 22 April 1945, it captured the Sigmaringen enclave in Baden-Württemberg, where the last Vichy regime exiles, including Marshal Philippe Pétain, were hosted by the Germans in one of the ancestral castles of the Hohenzollern dynasty.
They participated in stopping operation Nordwind, the very last German major offensive on the western front in January 1945, and in collapsing the Colmar Pocket in January–February 1945, capturing and destroying most of the German XIXth Army.
The GPRF was dominated by the tripartisme alliance between the French Communist Party (PCF), claiming itself to be the parti des 75,000 fusillés ("party of the 75,000 shot") because of its leading role in the Resistance (though actual dead were much fewer), the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO, socialist party) and the Christian democratic Popular Republican Movement (MRP), led by Georges Bidault. This alliance between the three political parties lasted until the May 1947 crisis during which Maurice Thorez, vice-premier, and four other Communist ministers were expelled from the government, both in France and in Italy. Along with the acceptance of the Marshall Plan, refused by countries who had fallen under the influence of the USSR, this marked the official beginning of the Cold War in these countries.
Although the GPRF was active only from 1944 to 1946, it had a lasting influence, in particular regarding the enacting of labour laws which were put forward by the National Council of the Resistance, the umbrella organisation which united all resistance movements, in particular the communist Front National. The Front National was the political front of the Francs-Tireurs et Partisans (FTP) resistance movement. In addition to de Gaulle's edicts granting, for the first time in France, right of vote to women in 1944, the GPRF passed various labour laws, including the 11 October 1946 act establishing occupational medicine. It also appointed commissioners to fulfill its aims.
Vichy loyalists were put on trial by the GPRF in legal purges (épuration légale), and a number were executed for treason, among them Pierre Laval, Vichy's prime minister in 1942–44. The Marshal Philippe Pétain, "Chief of the French State" and Verdun hero, was also condemned to death but his sentence was commuted to life. Thousands of collaborators were summarily executed by local Resistance forces in so-called "savage purges" (épuration sauvage).
The provisional government considered that the Vichy government had been unconstitutional and that all its actions had thus been illegal. All statutes, laws, regulations and decisions by the Vichy government were thus made null and void. However, since mass cancellation of all decisions taken by Vichy, including many that could have been taken as well by republican governments, was impractical, it was decided that any repeal was to be expressly acknowledged by the government. A number of laws and acts were however explicitly repealed, including all constitutional acts, all laws discriminating against Jews, all acts against "secret societies" (e.g. Freemasons), and all acts creating special tribunals.
The provisional government also took steps to replace local governments, including governments that had been suppressed by the Vichy regime, through new elections or by extending the terms of those who had been elected no later than 1939.
The provisional government resumed the project started in 1936 by Jean Zay to create a national administration school (École nationale d'administration), which was founded on 9 October 1945, to ensure high-ranking civil servants of consistent high quality, as well as allow gifted people to reach these functions regardless of social origin.
The right to vote had been granted to women by the CFLN on 21 April 1944, and was confirmed by the GPRF with the 5 October 1944 decree. They went to the polls for the first time in the local elections of 29 April 1945.
Another main objective of the GPRF under de Gaulle leadership was to give a voice to the people by organizing elections which took place on 21 October 1945. The polls saw the victory of the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO), the French Communist Party (PCF) and the Popular Republican Movement (MRP), collecting three-quarters of the votes, and the referendum had an outcome of 96% of voters in favour of abolishing the Third Republic. Becoming a constituent assembly, the newly elected parliament was charged with drafting a constitution for a new fourth republic.
de Gaulle, favouring a stronger executive, resigned in disagreement with Communist ministers on 20 January 1946. A first draft constitution, supported by the left but denounced by de Gaulle and by centre and right-wing parties, was rejected by a referendum on 5 May 1946 resulting in the dissolution of parliament and the resignation of de Gaulle's successor Félix Gouin of the SFIO.
A new election for a constituent assembly was held on 2 June 1946, marked by a strengthening of the MRP and the decline of the left. The constitutional project then shifted from pursuing unicameralism to bicameralism. The constitution of the Fourth Republic, established under the chairmanship of Georges Bidault (MRP), was finally adopted by the 13 October 1946 referendum.
Following the elections for a new Chamber of parliament held on 10 November 1946, former Popular Front leader Leon Blum became the Chairman of the last interim government on 16 December. One month later, Vincent Auriol succeeded Blum as President of the Republic, marking the entry into force of the institutions of the Fourth Republic.