MEPs recollect memories of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing

Giscard d'Estaing, who died last week aged 94, was the president of France from 1974-81 and became a champion of European integration.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

07 Dec 2020

His office said he passed away in his family home in the Loir-et-Cher region, in central France, after contracting COVID-19. He had earlier been hospitalised last month with heart problems.

Born in 1926 in Koblenz, Germany, where his father was a financial director of the post-World War I French occupation administration, he grew up with a pan-European view. He worked on writing a European Constitution which was formally presented in 2004, but rejected by French and Dutch voters.

Giscard also wrote the article in the EU charter that allowed Brexit to happen - the brief measure that allows a Member State to leave the bloc. He later said he deeply regretted the UK’s departure.

Dacian Cioloș, the leader of the European Parliament’s Renew Europe grouping of liberal MEPs, said, “Europeans are in mourning. President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was a great European of heart and will. My condolences to his family and to the French people.”

Centre-Right EPP group leader Manfred Weber said, “We regret the death of a great European.”

Socialist leader Iratxe Garcia told this site, “Beyond our political differences, I keep from Valéry Giscard d'Estaing the image of a convinced European who worked so hard for European construction and Franco-German friendship that he embodied so well alongside [former German Chancellor] Helmut Schmidt.”

"Giscard d'Estaing played a decisive European role during his presidency of the French Republic in establishing the European Council and by promoting, with Helmut Schmidt, the establishment of the European Monetary System, the precursor to the single currency" Former European Parliament President Pat Cox

Further comment came from Denis MacShane, a former UK Europe Minister, who said, “He entered and left office a young man but his seven years as president saw more reforms in France and one of the fastest modernisations of the nation, as well as laying the foundations of today’s European Union.

“The biggest reform of Giscard’s presidency was to make France a builder of Europe.”

Former European Parliament President Pat Cox told this site, “Building on the tireless work of Jean Monnet's Action Committee, Giscard d'Estaing played a decisive European role during his presidency of the French Republic in establishing the European Council and by promoting, with Helmut Schmidt, the establishment of the European Monetary System, the precursor to the single currency.”

Cox, a former Liberal MEP, said, “He returned to European politics in 1989 with his election to the European Parliament where he was elected to the presidency of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party, a group that I joined as a first-time MEP that same year.”

“To the surprise of many of his group colleagues he switched to the EPP halfway through the mandate but not long after retired from the Parliament.”

The Irishman added, “The Convention on the Future of Europe which he chaired in 2002-03 saw him return to the centre of European politics. Dismissed by some critics on his appointment as 'the man from the day before yesterday,' his energy and determination was to prove them wrong.”

“It is with great personal sadness that I received the news of the death of Giscard, He was a formidable French statesman, but at the same time a committed and true European. I had a great honour of working with him during the European Convention on the Future of Europe" Danuta Hübner MEP

“He had a decisive influence on the outcome of the Convention, an exercise in Treaty reform and consolidation which he finally steered in the direction of becoming a constitutional treaty.”

Cox said, “To his chagrin, a referendum in his native France saw his project fall at its first test by referendum, a reminder of the difficulty in trying to strike the right balance between the popular and the perfect in shaping the EU's future. This is an elusive challenge that persists to this day. Giscard's interest in European affairs never dimmed.”

He went on, “He brought the weight of a statesman, a powerful intellect, a strong personality and a patrician manner to his public role. He remained remarkably active for a man of his years. He lived a long and productive life. May he rest in peace.”

Polish EPP deputy Danuta Hübner, told The Parliament Magazine, “It is with great personal sadness that I received the news of the death of Giscard. He was a formidable French statesman, but at the same time a committed and true European. I had a great honour of working with him during the European Convention on the Future of Europe."

She added, "Europe was his political passion until the end. It was a great pleasure to listen to his arguments, always clear and rational. He combined a Cartesian rationality with a Pascalian emotion for what he believed in. He believed incessantly in a united Europe."

“He had close ties with Poland and he considered my country a European nation that shared the common heritage of the continent. His voice will be sorely missed, especially now.”

Former UK MEP Sir Graham Watson, leader of the Liberal ALDE Group in the parliament 2002-09, told this site, “Valéry Giscard d’Estaing brought hope to his country in 1974 and was still providing hope for Europe over 30 years later.”

“His career was remarkable. Having tried to merge the centre with the right in the European Parliament, he will be remembered more fondly in the annals of federalism than in those of Liberalism.”

“But his contribution to the strengthening of the EU as a whole will be celebrated by all mainstream political forces.”

French politicians also paid tribute to Giscard’s legacy with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy voicing his “deep sadness”, while his successor, François Hollande called Giscard "a statesman who had chosen to open up to the world and was thinking that Europe was a condition for France to be greater."

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