Founded in 1901 as Republican, Radical and Radical-Socialist Party (Parti républicain, radical et radical-socialiste), it was the oldest active political party in France at the time of its dissolution. Coming from the Radical Republican tradition, the Radical Party upheld the principles of private property and secularism. The Radicals were originally a left-wing group, but with the emergence of the French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) in 1905, the Radicals shifted towards the political centre. In 1972 the left wing of the party split off to form the centre-left Radical Party of the Left (PRG). The Radical Party then affiliated with the centre-right, becoming one of the founder parties of the Union for French Democracy (UDF) in 1978. In 2002 the party split from the UDF and became an associate party of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and were represented on the Liaison Committee for the Presidential Majority, prior to launching The Alliance (ARES) in 2011 and the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI) in 2012.
After the 2017 presidential and legislative elections, negotiations to merge the Radicals and the PRG began. The refounding congress to reunite the parties into the Radical Movement was held on 9 and 10 December 2017.
After the collapse of Napoleon I's empire in 1815, a reactionary Bourbon Restoration took place. The Republicans constituted the left-wing opposition, but they were also named "Radicals", a word coming from the British political language. It was systematically used during the July Monarchy (1830–1848) because the law forbade parties to define themselves as "Republican". The conservative turn of the July Monarchy reinforced the audience of the radical opposition. Some politicians such as Alexandre Ledru-Rollin and Louis Blanc formulated a Radical doctrine. They advocated democratic reforms (notably universal suffrage, freedom of the press, right of assembly, etc.) as a vehicle of social progress. They defended the small private property against the socialist projects and the great landowners.
The Radicals took a major part in the 1848 Revolution and the foundation of the Second Republic. For a few months, Alexandre Ledru-Rollin was Interior Minister in the provisional government. However, the conservatives won the 1848 legislative election, the first election by universal suffrage. The repression of the June 1848 workers' demonstrations disappointed the left-wing supporters of the new regime. Alexandre Ledru-Rollin obtained only 5% of votes at the December 1848 presidential election, which was won by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, who established the Second Empire after the 1851 coup.
From opposition, Radicals criticized personal power and the attacks on freedoms. At the end of the 1860s, with the Belleville Programme (supported by Léon Gambetta), they advocated the election of civil servants and mayors, the proclamation of the so-called "great liberties", free public teaching, and the separation of Church and State.
After the collapse of the Second Empire following the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, the Third Republic was proclaimed in September 1870. The Orléanist and Legitimist monarchists together won the first elections in February 1871, but couldn't come to an agreement on the type of monarchy they wanted to restore. Eventually the Republicans won the 1876 elections, leading to the firm establishment of the Republic. The "Radicals" defined the uncompromising part of the Republican Left. In this, Radicals formed the far-left opposition to the moderate Republican ("Opportunist Republicans") governments. Georges Clemenceau was the leader of the parliamentary group, who criticized colonial policy as a form of diversion from "revenge" against Prussia, and, due to his ability, was a protagonist of the collapse of many governments.
In the 1890s, Léon Bourgeois renewed the Radical doctrine, including social reforms such as the progressive income tax and social insurance schemes. After the Dreyfus Affair, Radicals joined forces with other Republicans and some Socialists in Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau's cabinet (1899–1902). The 1901 Act on the right of association was voted, and the Radicals created their party in 1901 in order to defend governmental policy from the Roman Catholic Church's influence and the conservative opposition.
The Republican, Radical and Radical-Socialist Party was the first large political party established at a national level in France, which contrasted with previous parliamentary groups or local electoral committees. The first congress of the Radical Party was held in June 1901. Delegates represented 476 election committees, 215 editorial boards of Radical newspapers, 155 Masonic lodges and parliament members, mayors and members of municipal councils.
The existence of a national party immediately changed the political scene. Several Radical figures had already been presidents of the Council (Ferdinand Buisson, Emile Combes, Charles Floquet, etc.) and the Radicals already benefited from a strong implantation in the country. The party was composed of an heterogeneous alliance of electoral committees, masonic lodges, and sections of the Ligue des droits de l'homme (Human Rights League) and the Ligue française de l'enseignement (French Teaching League demanded non-religious education for all, an aim achieved by the Jules Ferry Laws of 1881 and 1882 which established free, compulsory and secular primary education). The secularization cause was led by Combes' cabinet start of the 20th century. They identified the Catholic Church, with its conservatives and monarchists, as the political enemy.
At 1902 legislative election, the Radicals allied themselves with the moderates of the Democratic Republican Alliance and with the Socialists in the Bloc des gauches (Left-Wing Block) coalition and became the main political force. Émile Combes took the head of the Bloc des gauches cabinet and led a resolute anti-clerical policy culminating in the 1905 secularity law which, along with the Jules Ferry laws on public education voted in the 1880s, formed the backbone of laïcité, France's separation of Church and State.
After the withdrawal of the Socialist ministers from the government following the International Socialist Congress of Amsterdam in 1904, the coalition dissolved and the Radicals went alone into the 1906 legislative elections. Nevertheless, the Radical Party remained the axis of the parliamenary majorities and of the governments. The cabinet led by Georges Clemenceau (1906–1909) introduced the income tax and workers' pensions, but is also remembered for the repression of industrial strikes.
For the latter part of the Third Republic (1870–1940), Radicals, generally representing anti-clerical peasant and bourgeois voters, were usually the largest party in parliament, but with their anti-clerical agenda accomplished, the party lost their driving force. Its leader before World War I, Joseph Caillaux, was generally more noted for his advocacy of better relations with Germany than for his reformist agenda.
During World War I (1914–1918), the Radical Party was the keystone of the Sacred Union and its historical leader, Georges Clemenceau, led the cabinet again from 1917 to 1919. He appeared as the "architect of victory", but his relationship with the party deteriorated and Radicals lost the 1919 legislative election.
By the end of the First World War the Radical Party, now led by Édouard Herriot, were generally a moderate centre-left party, faced with the rise, on its left, of the socialist French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO) and French Communist Party (PCF). With these political forces, Radicals shared anti-clericalism and the struggle for "social progress". But, unlike the other left parties, the Radicals defended the principle of private property. Besides, the Radical Party faced conservative groupings which were reinforced after World War I. In this, some Radicals participated in governments dominated by right-wing politicians after the 1919 election.
In 1924, Radicals formed electoral alliances with the SFIO: the Cartel des Gauches (Coalition of the Left). It won the 1924 legislative election and Édouard Herriot took the head of the cabinet. But then Radicals gradually drifted to the right, moving from Radical governments supported by the non-participating Socialists to a coalition of "Republican concentration" with more conservative parties in 1926.
Two years later, at the Angers Congress, the left wing of the party obtained the withdrawal of Radicals from the cabinet and the return to a policy of alliance with the Socialists. Édouard Daladier was elected party leader. However, a section of the party's right wing defected and formed the Independent Radicals group, who opposed left-wing alliances and were close to the conservative Democratic Alliance.
The second Cartel des gauches won the 1932 legislative election but its two main components were not able to establish a common agenda and, consequently, the SFIO chose to support the second government led by Édouard Herriot without participation. The coalition fell on 7 February 1934, following riots organized by the far-right leagues the night before. Radical Camille Chautemps's government had been replaced by a government led by his popular party rival Édouard Daladier in January, after accusations of corruption against Chautemps' government in the wake of the Stavisky Affair and other similar scandals.
This pattern of initial alliance with a socialist party unwilling to join in active government, followed by disillusionment and alliance with the right seemed to be broken in 1936, when the Popular Front electoral alliance with the Socialists and the Communists led to the accession of Socialist leader Léon Blum as Prime Minister in a coalition government in which the Radical leaders Camille Chautemps and Édouard Daladier (representing left and right of the Radical Party respectively) took important roles. For the first time in its history, the Radical Party obtained less votes than the SFIO.
Over the tempestuous life of the coalition, however, the Radicals began to become concerned at the perceived radicalism of their coalition partners. Hence, they opposed themselves to Blum's intention to help the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), forcing him to adopt a non-interventionist policy. Following the failure of Blum's second government in April 1938, Daladier formed a new government in coalition with conservative parties.
After 29 September 1938 Munich Agreement, which handed over Sudetenland to Germany in exchange for what proved to be a temporary peace, Daladier was acclaimed upon his return to Paris as the man who had avoided war. However, with the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, two days later the French government led by Daladier made good on its guarantees to Poland, by declaring war alongside Britain. Following the 23 August 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union, Daladier engaged in an anti-communist policy, prohibiting PCF's activities and the party's newspaper, L'Humanité.
Furthermore, Daladier moved increasingly to the right, notably repealing the 40-hour work week which had been the Popular Front's most visible accomplishment. Daladier would eventually resign in March 1940, and take part in Paul Reynaud's (Democratic Republican Alliance', center-right) government as minister of National Defense and of War. After the defeat of the Battle of France, the French army being overwhelmed by the Nazi Blitzkrieg, the French government declared Paris an "open city" on 10 June and flew to Bordeaux. The same month, Daladier escaped to Morocco in the Massilia. Thus, he was not there during the controversial 10 July 1940 vote of full powers to Marshal Philippe Pétain. Charles de Gaulle and several historians (Michel Winock, etc.) refused to recognize this vote, arguing that although it had superficially respected legality, it had taken place amid lies from Pierre Laval, pressure on deputies, and the absence of the main political figures such as Daladier, despite the 1875 Constitutional amendments which prohibited any interference with the Republican nature of the regime (see Vichy France).
After World War II the Radicals, like many of the other political parties, were discredited by their earlier support for granting emergency powers to Marshal Philippe Pétain on 10 July 1940, which led to the establishment of the Vichy regime (État Français), although such senior Radical leaders as Édouard Herriot, then President of the Chamber of Deputies, had been ambivalent.
Daladier was tried in 1942 by the Vichy regime (see the Riom Trial), which accused him, as well as other political leaders such as Socialist Léon Blum and conservative Paul Reynaud, of being morally and strategically responsible for the loss of the Battle of France.
After the war, the Radical Party was reconstituted, and formed one of the important parties of the Fourth Republic (1946–58), but never recovered its dominant pre-war position. It failed to prevent the adoption of the projects of the Three-parties coalition (nationalizations, Welfare State etc.). Along with Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance, it formed an electoral entity, the Rally of the Republican Lefts (RGR). From 1947, after the split of the governmental coalition, it participated to the Third Force coalition with the SFIO, the Christian-democratic Popular Republican Movement and the liberal-conservative National Centre of Independents and Peasants.
In the early years of the Fourth Republic the party returned to the moderate left under the leadership of Pierre Mendès-France, a strong opponent of French colonialism whose premiership from 1954 to 1955 saw France's withdrawal from Indochina and the agreement for French withdrawal from Tunisia. Mendès-France, a very popular figure who helped renew the Radical Party after its discredit, was indeed elected on the pledge to stop Indochina War (1946–54).
Mendès-France hoped to make the Radicals the party of the mainstream centre-left in France, taking advantage of the difficulties of the SFIO. The more conservative elements in the party, led by Edgar Faure, resisted these policies, leading to the fall of Mendès-France's government in 1955. They split and transformed the RGR in a centre-right party distinct from the Radical Party. Under Pierre Mendès-France's leadership, the Radical Party participated to a centre-left coalition, the Republican Front, which won the 1956 legislative election. Another split, this time over France's policy about the Algerian War (1954–62), led to his resignation as party leader and the party's move in a distinctly conservative direction.
The Fourth Republic was characterized by constant parliamentary instability because of divisions between major parties over the Algerian War, which was officially called a "public order operation" until the 1990s. Mendès-France opposed the war and colonialism, while the SFIO led by prime minister Guy Mollet supported it. Because of the start of the Cold War, all political parties, even the SFIO, opposed the French Communist Party (PCF), which was very popular due to its role during the Resistance (it was known as the parti des 75,000 fusillés, "party of the 75,000 executed people"). The PCF was also opposed to French Algeria and supported its independence.
In the midst of this parliamentary instability and divisions of the political class, Charles de Gaulle took advantage of the May 1958 crisis to return to power. On 13 May European colonists seized the Governor-General's building in Algiers, while Opération Résurrection was launched by the right-wing insurrectionary Comité de Salut Public. De Gaulle, who had deserted the political arena for a decade by disgust over the parliamentary system and its chronic instability (the système des partis which he severely criticized), now appeared as the only man able to reconcile the far-right and the European settlers, which were threatening a coup d'état, with the Republic. He was thus called to power and proclaimed the end of the Fourth Republic, according to him too weak because of its parliamentarism, and replaced it by the Fifth Republic, a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system tailored for himself.
The Radical Party supported de Gaulle at this crucial moment, leading Pierre Mendès-France to quit the party. Opposed to the proposed constitution, Mendès-France campaigned for the "no" on the 28 September 1958 referendum. However, the new Constitution was finally adopted and proclaimed on 4 October 1958.
Popular figure Pierre Mendès-France thus quit the Radical Party, which had crossed the threshold to the centre-right, as early moderate Republicans did at the beginning of the Third Republic, when the Radical Party, appearing to their left, pushed them over the border between the left-wing and the right-wing, a process dubbed sinistrisme.
Mendès-France then founded the Centre d'Action Démocratique (CAD), which would later join the Autonomous Socialist Party (PSA, which had split from the SFIO), which in turn fused into the Unified Socialist Party (PSU) on 3 April 1960. This new socialist party thus gathered all the dissidents from the Radical Party and the SFIO who were opposed to both the Algerian War and the proclamation of the new presidential regime. Mendès-France would officially become a member of the PSU in 1961, a year before the 18 March 1962 Evian Accords which put an end to the Algerian War.
The Radical Party returned from support of the government to opposition in 1959 and declined throughout all the 1960s. Allied with the SFIO in the Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left, it supported François Mitterrand for the 1965 presidential election. This federation later split, in 1968.
Under the leadership of Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, President since 29 October 1969 issued from the left-wing, the party again made tentative moves to the left in the 1970s, but stopped short of an alliance with Socialist Party (PS) leader François Mitterrand and his Communist allies, leading to a final split in 1972 when the remaining centre-left Radicals left the party and eventually became the Movement of the Radical-Socialist Left. This group, which wanted to be a part of the left-wing Common Programme, broke away to create the Movement of the Left Radicals (MRG) and supported the candidate of the left-wing, François Mitterrand, at the 1974 presidential election.
Henceforth, the Radical Party began to be known as valoisien, from the location of its national headquarters at the Place de Valois in Paris, in order to distinguish it from the MRG. Opposed to an electoral alliance with the PCF, which was the foundation of the 1972 Common Programme, the Radicals were still anti-Gaullists. They allied with the Christian Democrats in the Reforming Movement in order to propose another way between the Common Programme 's parties and the "Presidential Majority" led by Gaullists. Finally, they joined it after the election of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing to the presidency of France in 1974. They supported most reforms of Giscard d'Estaing's presidency (in particular the authorization of the contraceptive pill, recognition of women's rights, etc.). This evolution, brought by Servan-Schreiber's influence, would end with the latter's failure during the 1979 European elections.
Following the left-wing scission in 1971, the Radical Party valoisien maintained the judicial rights to the official name of Republican, Radical and Radical-Socialist Party and is its legal continuation.
After the failure of the alliance with the Christians Democrats into the Reforming Movement, the Radical Party maintained its influence by participating in the foundation of Giscard d'Estaing's Union for French Democracy (UDF) in 1978. The Radical Party was one of its six components, along with the centrists of the Centre of Social Democrats, the liberals of the Republican Party and of the National Federation of Perspectives and Realities Clubs, the social democrats of the Socialist-Democratic Movement and of the new members of the UDF. Through the UDF, the Radical Party participated to all of the governments issued from parliamentary majorities of the Rally for the Republic (RPR).
An important split took place after the 1998 regional elections during which some members of the party composed electoral alliances with the far-right National Front party. Those members created the Liberal Democratic Party, while the Radical Party remained a member of the UDF. During the 2002 presidential election, François Bayrou presented himself as a candidate for the UDF, while the Radical Party supported his rival, Jacques Chirac (RPR).
After Chirac's re-election in 2002, most radicals participated to the creation of his new party, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP). The Radical Party then quit the UDF to associate itself with the UMP, sharing its memberships and budget with the latter. Some members, however, such as Thierry Cornillet, continue to be part of UDF. It was then headed by Jean-Louis Borloo and André Rossinot.
After the rise of Nicolas Sarkozy to the leadership of UMP, Radicals launched a sort of re-foundation of their party in order to create a counterbalancing moderate and social wing within the UMP. The party soon started to attract other centrists (as Jean-Louis Borloo, Renaud Dutreil, Véronique Mathieu and Françoise Hostalier) and even some anti-Sarkozy neo-Gaullists (as Serge Lepeltier and Alain Ferry). As a result, the Radical Party had a comeback in French politics. It then had 21 deputies (four more from those elected in 2002), 6 senators (two more from 2002), 4 MEPs and 8,000 members. Jean-Louis Borloo was a high-ranking minister in François Fillon's second government as minister of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and Transport and minister of State from 2007 to 2010, when he chose not take part to Fillon's third government. It was the first time since 1974 that Radicals were not represented in a centre-right government.
On 7 April 2011 Borloo announced the creation of a centrist coalition. On 14–15 May, during a party congress, the Radicals decided to cut their ties with Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), of which they had been an associate party since 2002. On 26 June, during a convention, the party officially joined The Alliance (ARES), alongside New Centre and other centrist parties, as an alternative to the UMP. The Alliance was replaced with the Union of Democrats and Independents (UDI) in September 2012.