Former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a key architect of European integration who sought to liberalise the economy and social attitudes after years of conservative Gaullist rule, died on Wednesday. He was 94.
France’s leader from 1974 to 1981, Giscard presided over a modernisation of French society, allowing divorce by mutual consent, legalising abortion and lowering the voting age to 18 years from 21.
In Europe, he 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.
Giscard sought to project the image of a young, modern president who was closer to the people than his predecessors, inviting himself to dinner at ordinary folks’ homes and playing the accordion.
But the global economic downturn of the 1970s and his perceived arrogance that rubbed many French voters the wrong way contributed to his losing his re-election bid to Socialist Francois Mitterrand.
An ardent anglophile, the dome-headed Giscard took office a year after Britain joined the European Economic Community and met every British leader from Edward Heath – the only one he described as a “true European” – to David Cameron.