In the news

January 15, 1999

The late Francois Mitterrand once described his friend Edith Cresson as "a woman for difficult times". It is just as well.

In this country, the European Union education commissioner is probably best known for her comment that "in England, 25 per cent of men are homosexual".

In France, she is known for being one of the most unpopular prime ministers of recent times, forced out after less than a year by, she said, "a macho plot".

Now in Brussels, she is accused of poor administration of youth training and favouritism in awarding contracts.

Born nearly 65 years ago in Boulogne-Billancourt, she studied demography at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales.

After working in economic research institutes, she became a member of the Socialist Party's steering committee, then secretary responsible for youth and student affairs.

In 1977, she was elected mayor of Thure in Vienne and joined the European Parliament two years later.

By 1981, she had joined the French government as minister of agriculture, becoming minister of foreign trade and tourism, industrial redeployment and European affairs before being made prime minister in 1991.

She became European commissioner for research, science and development in 1994.

Married with two daughters, she is said to be highly articulate with "a regal air" and to "brim with confidence", although Austrian foreign minister Wolfgang Schussel once famously referred to her as "an old bag".

She is particularly enthusiastic about young people learning foreign languages at an early age and thought up the idea of a 200,000 European peace corps sending volunteers across continents spreading the message of a European happy family.

She is also a keen advocate of "second-chance schools" for young people who have passed through the system without gaining qualifications.

People is edited by Harriet Swain and researched by Lynne Williams.

Send all information to Lynne Williams. The THES Admiral House 66-68 East Smithfield London E1 9XYTel 0171 782 3375 Full listings of grants, appointments and honours appear on The THES website

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