Tue, 26 Jan 2021

Former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who has died aged 94, brought a wind of change to French politics during his seven-year mandate in the 1970s, breaking with Gaullist conservatism that dominated France in the aftermath of World War II.

Elected in president in 1974, the centrist leader known to most French people simply as Giscard or VGE quickly ushered through a spree of radical reforms.

With a more relaxed presidential style than his predecessors Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou, he was sometimes seen in public playing soccer and the accordion.

An economic liberal, he was also more outward-looking than his predecessors, being an ardent pro-European and champion of increased integration.

Born on February 2, 1926 in Koblenz, Germany. He was the son of a senior civil servant, and grew up in a family of five children. At age 18, he joined the French resistance and took part in the World War II liberation of Paris from its Nazi occupiers in 1944. He then served for eight months in Germany and Austria in the run-up to the capitulation of the Third Reich. Graduating from the Ecole Polytechnique and the National School of Administration (ENA), Giscard began his career in 1951 with the General Inspectorate of Finance. In December 1952, Valery Giscard d'Estaing married Anne-Aymone Sauvage de Brantes. In 1956, he entered politics and was elected deputy for Puy-de-Dome, in France's central Auvergne region. In 1959, during the presidency of Charles de Gaulle, he was appointed Secretary of State for Finance in Prime Minister Michel Debre's government. From 1962 to 1966 he served as Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs under Georges Pompidou government. In 1966 he founded the Independent Republicans party, which eventually became the Union for French Democracy (UDF) -- a formation of disparate centre-right parties. In 1969 to 1972 he continued in his role as Finance minister under the governments of Jacques Chaban-Delmas and Pierre Messmer respectively. At the age of 48, Valery Giscard-d'Estaing was elected President of the French Republic serving a seven-year term from 1974 to 1981, and was viewed as a reformer and modernist. Durning his mandate, Giscard: Lowered the voting age from 21 to 18 Legalised abortion. Reformed divorce laws allowing for separation by mutual consent During his term in office, Gisgard had to deal with the oil crises of 1973 and 1979 and the challenge of mass unemployment. It was during Giscard's term that in January 1979 the Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ousted Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi from power. Giscard's October 1976 visit to Tehran for talks with the Shah remains to this day the last visit by a French head of state to Iran.

A consummate believer in European unification, Valery Giscard d´Estaing endeavored to ensure a lasting rapprochement between France and Germany. Seeking re-election in 1981, his campaign was plagued by the revelation that his budget minister Maurice Papon was responsible for the deportation of over 1,500 Jews under the Vichy regime. He was defeated by Socialist candidate Francois Mitterrand. After having chaired the UDF from 1988 to 1996, elected deputy for Puy-de-Dome and president of the Auvergne regional council, Valery Giscard d'Estaing was elected to the Academie Francaise in 2003 as a writer. On September 14, 2020, the former president was hospitalized at the Georges-Pompidou hospital, in Paris. He died this day at the age of 94 on his property in Authon in the Loir-et-Cher department of Covid-19. Valery Giscard d'Estaing is survived by three of his four children; Valerie-Anne, Henri, Louis. Daughter Jacinte Giscard d'Estaing died of a long illness at the age of 57 in 2018.

Orginally published on RFI

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