Former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a key architect of European integration in the early 1970s, has died at the age of 94 after contracting Covid-19.
Mr Giscard, who was France’s leader from 1974 to 1981, had recently been hospitalised in Tours, western France. He died at his family home nearby after suffering from complications linked to the virus, a foundation he had set up and chaired said in a statement.
He had been admitted to hospital in September with respiratory complications and was hospitalised again in mid-November.
Mr Giscard was known for steering a modernisation of French society during his presidency, including allowing divorce by mutual consent and legalising abortion, and was one of the architects of European integration.
Elected president at 48, he came to power after Charles de Gaulle’s long rule, seeking to liberalise the economy and social attitudes and credited with launching major projects including France’s high-speed TGV train network.
He lost his re-election bid, however, to Socialist François Mitterrand, in the aftermath of the global economic downturn of the 1970s.
Tributes poured in across the political spectrum in France. President Emmanuel Macron praised Mr Giscard’s achievements at home and abroad of the man whose “seven-year term transformed France”.
“He allowed young people to vote from the age of 18, women to legally terminate unwanted pregnancies, divorce by mutual consent, got new rights for people with disabilities,” he said.
Mr Macron will address the nation on Thursday evening to pay tribute to Mr Giscard, his office said.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy said Mr Giscard had “worked his whole life to reinforce relations between European nations”.
France’s prime minister Jean Castex praised his leadership during the economic turbulence of the 1970s, during which he “significantly advanced the building of Europe and the international influence of France, whose history he marked”.
In Europe, Mr Giscard forged a close relationship with former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt and together they laid the foundations for the euro single currency, setting up the European Monetary System.
“France has lost a statesman, Germany a friend and all of us a great European,” German chancellor Angela Merkel said in a tweet, via her spokesman.
President Michael D Higgins said that Mr Giscard’s contribution “will be remembered by those interested in the design of the European Union and its possible constitutional options”.
Mr Giscard was an ardent Anglophile, and took office a year after Britain joined the European Economic Community. “Complete love-hate relationship with our country,” Britain’s former Europe minister in the early 2000s, Denis McShane, said on a statement on Twitter, calling him a “big politician” who changed Europe.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s lead negotiator on Brexit, said: “For Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Europe needed to be a French ambition and France a modern nation. Respect.” – Reuters