Valery Giscard d’Estaing death: Former French president dies aged 94

Modernising, pro-European former leader dies after contracting Covid-19

Zoe Tidman
Thursday 03 December 2020 00:50
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Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a former French president, has died aged 94
Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a former French president, has died aged 94
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Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a former president of France and key architect of European integration in the early 1970s, has died aged 94. 

He died at home  surrounded by his family after suffering from complications linked to Covid-19, his office said.

Giscard d’Estaing , who served as French leader between 1974 to 1981, was known for steering a modernisation of French society during his presidency, including allowing divorce by mutual consent and legalising abortion.

As president he also helped forge a single Europe with Helmut Schmidt, who was both a close friend of his and the German chancellor. 

Together both men laid the foundations for the euro single currency, setting up the European Monetary System.

Born in Germany in the wake of World War I, Giscard d'Estaing helped liberate Paris from the Nazis in the next world war, and later laid the groundwork for the shared euro currency and helped integrate Britain into what became the EU in the 1970s.

He remained unfailingly optimistic in the European project, forecasting that the EU and the euro would bounce back and gradually grow stronger and bigger despite the challenges of losing a major member.

When he took office in 1974, Giscard d’Estaing began as the model of a modern French president, a conservative with liberal views on social issues.

Abortion and divorce by mutual consent were legalized under his term, and he reduced the age of majority from 21 to 18.

He played his accordion in working class neighbourhoods. One Christmas morning, he invited four passing binmen to breakfast at the presidential palace.  

He lost his re-election bid in 1981 to Socialist Francois Mitterrand.

Young Giscard d'Estaing studied at the prestigious Polytechnical Institute and then the elite National School of Administration, before mastering economics at Oxford.

President Charles de Gaulle named him finance minister at the age of 36.

After his defeat in the 1981 presidential election, he temporarily retired from politics.

He then found a second calling in the European Union. He worked on writing a European Constitution which was formally presented in 2004, but rejected by French and Dutch voters. However, it paved the way for the adoption of the Treaty on European Union in 2007.

At age 83, he published a romance novel called “The Princess and the President,” which he said was based on Princess Diana, with whom he said he discussed writing a love story.

Asked about the nature of their relationship, he said only: “Let us not exaggerate. I knew her a bit in a climate of a confidential relationship. She needed to communicate.”

Earlier this year, a German journalist accused Giscard of repeatedly grabbing her during an interview, and filed a sexual assault complaint with Paris prosecutors. Giscard's French lawyer said the 94-year-old former president "retains no memory" of the incident.

Former French president Francois Hollande paid tribute to “a stateman who had chosen to open up to the world and was thinking that Europe was a condition for France to be greater.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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