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The Seventh Republic of France is remarkable for its position as the greatest maritime power on Earth, and the only nation to have entire provinces beneath the waves. It owes this reputation to the Programme Pelagique, the great French mission to colonise the seas.


De Gaulle's Rise

After the Second World War, France was shattered and thrown into political turmoil. The re-establishment of the pre-war constitution as the Fourth Republic failed spectacularly in 1952, with the coup by Charles De Gaulle, and the foundation of the fascist Fifth Republic. It's worth noting that despite a commonality of ideology, De Gaulle's "Union des post-Démocrates pour la République" were violently opposed to their German brothers - German agitation along the Rhine frontier being one of the final triggers for the coup.

Problems of the Fifth Republic

French fascism, though, had two chief problems - an inability to manipulate the business community, as in Germany, leading to rampant corruption, as well as simply unethical and damaging business practices, and a lack of allies. Apart from the similarly ruined Britain, De Gaulle had few friends, having alienated the Americans during the bungled Operation Torch, and ideologically opposed to the USSR and China.

He needed a big project to unite the country, and in 1956, he found a man with big ideas, Jacque-Yves Cousteau, a minor war-hero and naval scientist, now making short-run underwater documentaries. In perhaps the most fateful leap of faith in French history, he appointed the 44-year-old Cousteau, with no political experience, to the Ministry of Science.

Cousteau's dream

Cousteau's plan was ambitious and daring - and he had already laid the public relations groundwork with his award-winning film 'The Silent World' (1956). He proposed that instead of racing for the stars, France become the first power to colonise the bottom of the ocean, and partake of its unimaginable riches. Results quickly followed - by 1961, two years before Yuri Gargarin's moonwalk, France had a permanent research base just south of Brest - the Atlantisse I. By 1965, with the domination of Algiers assured by Cousteau's experimental sub-sea military bases, De Gaulle was becoming worried about the power of his protege. De Gaulle was raising taxes and slashing services to pay off the war bonds now coming due, but Cousteau gave the people nothing but good news.

Sur les pavés, notre sang!

On the cobblestones, our blood!

On May Day, 1965 De Gaulle had ordered the troops onto the streets of Paris for the fifth time that year, to deal with a noisy student protest. When the students pelted troops on the Champs-Elysee with cobblestones at 12.30pm, the troops opened fire, killing 21 in the opening seconds. Compounding the disaster was the ordered encirclement of the protest route by the post-Democratique paramilitary, the Organisation de l'Armée Nationaliste, who also opened fire on the trapped students. By the time the field commander, Major Jean-Michel Dujardin, could relay the order to cease fire, more than 230 students were dead, including Jacque's son, Phillipe Cousteau.

Sous les pavés, la plage!

Beneath the cobblestones, the beach!

By 2.00pm, Jacques Cousteau had been placed under arrest, and only learnt of his son's death early the next morning from a fellow detainee. Events were now moving too fast for De Gaulle to control, as Parisians called a general strike, and the army sided with them against the ODAN forces rampaging indiscriminately through the streets. Similar scenes erupted throughout the major cities of France, but most notably in Marseilles and Tours, where the army similarly turned against the paramilitaries.

De Gaulle was placed under house arrest by his own bodyguard on the 4th of May, but Parisians, suspecting it was a ploy to save his life, stormed the house, and hung their former leader from a lamp-post. Cousteau, one of the last popular members of the government, and considered blameless in the riots, was freed from prison the same day, and put forward by the army as a potential president. By the next week, the riots were subsiding, and Cousteau, yet to bury his son, was proclaimed President of the Sixth French republic, with surviving parliamentarians of the fourth invited to reform a parliament.

Cousteau's legacy

Although the French people had lost their appetite for fascism, their enthusiasm for the policy that Cousteau was soon to formalise as the Programme Pelagique (Deep-sea program) was undiminished. A chastened and ashamed army was put under tight civilian controls, and stacked with leaders amenable to parliamentary government. The ODANs were disbanded, but not before many were killed in brutal reprisals for their reign of terror.

Most importantly for the two great French problems, Cousteau had no love for the business community, and showed them no mercy for their role in the Fifth Republic's collapse; and though his socialist policies alienated the British, they attracted a much more powerful and important ally - the USSR, keen to deal with any power bearing Germany such a fierce emnity.

The Slow Empire

Cousteau also realised that despite his program's popularity, he could not afford to overspend on it - any diminution of living standards would not be tolerated by the French people. Announcing his Programme Pelagique to the French people, he coined the famous phrase that would be used to describe the French by supporters and critics of the policy - the doctrine of the "Slow Empire", one which prioritised growth before expansion, and the citizens before the state.

There is no doubt that this policy stunted potential French expansion, but, on the other hand, the notoriously rebellion prone French nation has gone nearly 300 years without a major uprising, and consistently ranks at the top of national contentment surveys.

The Empire since Cousteau

The Seventh Republic was officially declared in 2249, with the incorporation of the Province of Atlantis, a network of cities and aquacultural plantations stretching hundreds of kilometres into the Atlantic, and comprising more than 1 million citizens.

In 2347, France announced the official unveiling of the colony of Cousteau on the planet Callisto, 5,600 meters below sea level, and the first human colony on the sea-covered moon. In 2360, it attempted to claim sovereignty over the entire, unbroken undersea landmass of Callisto, and seems set to succeed in gaining international acquiesence by the end of the decade.

France Today

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