Police said Mr Duisenberg, who was Dutch and aged 70, was found dead in a swimming pool at a villa in the town of Faucon, near Orange, yesterday morning. The cause of death was not given but it is understood paramedics called to the scene tried at length to resuscitate him.
The French Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, paid tribute to the ''leading role'' played by Mr Duisenberg in the "creation and stability" of the European single currency during his time as president of the Central Bank from 1998 to 2003.
Strikingly white-haired and known as someone who enjoyed golf, good wine and food, Mr Duisenberg began his career as a university professor and moved to the International Monetary Fund in the 1960s. He was a socialist finance minister of the Netherlands between 1973 and 1977 and adopted hardline anti-inflation policies during the two oil crises of the decade.
He headed the Dutch central bank for 15 years, from 1982, before switching to European financial institutions. When the time came to choose a president for the European Central Bank, Mr Duisenberg was Germany's candidate but Paris wanted the French central banker Jean-Claude Trichet to be appointed. Under a compromise, Mr Duisenberg stepped down in 2003, after five years in the post, to hand over to M. Trichet.