PARIS: Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a former French president, died on Wednesday after suffering from Covid-19. He’d been 94.
French and European leaders hailed him as an ambitious reformer and a true statesman in their tributes.
France made great strides in nuclear technology, high-speed rail travel and legalised abortion during its single seven-year term from 1974-1981.
In a post-war alliance with Germany, he put Paris at the centre of Europe and paved the way for the formation of the G7 community of world powers.
He was an open and media-savvy politician who loved greeting constituents, in comparison to his contemporaries, Georges Pompidou and Charles de Gaulle. Yet an often haughty attitude connected to his aristocratic heritage never shook him off.
In 1981, when he lost his bid to Socialist challenger Francois Mitterrand for a second term, his desire to go down as one of France’s greatest leaders was thwarted.
“In a statement, President Emmanuel Macron said, “His seven-year mandate changed France. “Our way still guides the direction he set for France.”
The death of a “great European” was mourned by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called Giscard a “hugely important figure in modernising France.”
A radical reform campaign that involved legalising abortion was initiated by Giscard, making it possible for families to divorce and reducing the voting age to 18.
In Europe, in collaboration with German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, he helped press for monetary integration by introducing a European exchange rate scheme that was a counterpart to the euro. Giscard was born in 1926 in the German city of Koblenz when in the aftermath of World War I, it was under French occupation.
It was at his initiative that representatives of the world’s richest nations first gathered in 1975, an experience that grew into the Group of Seven’s annual summits (G7).
Some observers likened Macron to the center-right Giscard, who became the youngest head of state in modern France at 48, a mark that Macron, who was 39 when he assumed office in 2017, has surpassed since.
Giscard’s social changes have remained “deeply relevant” to young people and women, said Prime Minister Jean Castex.
‘Not always understood’