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Former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing dead at 94

Published: (Updated: ) in European News by .

Giscard, a key architect of European integration, died due to COVID-19.

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the former French president and a preeminent architect of the European Union, died Wednesday night at the age of 94 due to COVID-19, his foundation said.

Giscard, often referred to simply as VGE, died in his family home in Loir-et-Cher, France, after his health had deteriorated, the Fondation Valéry Giscard d’Estaing said in a tweet.

A leading figure of the French center-right, VGE led France from 1974, when he defeated François Mitterrand, until 1981, when Mitterrand won the presidency. He was known for his reformist tenure, distancing itself from Charles de Gaulle’s legacy on the right. His government legalized abortion and divorce by mutual consent, and lowered the voting age to 18.

VGE was also a firm believer in Europe and key proponent of European integration in the 1970s, together with close ally Helmut Schmidt, the former chancellor of West Germany. VGE proposed the creation of the European Council in 1974 to formalize meetings between European heads of state. He inaugurated Strasbourg’s Palace of Europe a year after the 1976 Electoral Act was passed, which led to the first European direct elections in 1979. VGE also co-created with Schmidt the European Monetary System, a regime of fixed but adjustable exchange rates between European currencies, between 1978 and 1979.

Later he was elected to the European Parliament, serving from 1989 to 1993.

Among younger generations, VGE is also known for his concession speech after his defeat to Mitterrand, saying “Au revoir” to the French people before theatrically leaving his desk.

Two former French presidents remain alive: Nicolas Sarkozy, who led the country from 2007 to 2012, and François Hollande, his successor, who served until 2017. Former President Jacques Chirac died last year at age 86.

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Sarkozy said in a Twitter post that Giscard had “worked his whole life to reinforce the bonds between European nations, sought and achieved the modernization of political life, and dedicated his great intelligence to analyzing the most complex international issues.”

Both chambers of the French parliament, which were in session Wednesday night, held a minute of silence to honor VGE.

“For Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Europe had to be a French ambition, and France a modern nation. Respect,” tweeted the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who belongs to the same political family as VGE.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković was among the first European leaders to offer his condolences on Twitter, saying France had lost “a great president and a builder of Europe.”

This article has been updated.


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