PARIS (Reuters) – 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.
Giscard, France’s leader from 1974 to 1981, had recently been hospitalized in Tours, in 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 hospitalized again in mid-November.
Giscard was known for steering a modernization of French society during his presidency, including allowing divorce by mutual consent and legalizing abortion, and was one of the European integration architects.
Elected president at 48, he came to power after Charles de Gaulle’s long rule, seeking to liberalize 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 Francois Mitterrand, in the aftermath of the global economic downturn of the 1970s.
Tributes poured in across the political spectrum in France. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy said Giscard had “worked his whole life to reinforce European nations’ relations.”
The head of President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party in parliament, Christophe Castaner, said: “His modern and resolutely progressive policies … will long mark his legacy.”
In Europe, he forged a close relationship with former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Together, they laid the foundations for the euro single currency, setting up the European Monetary System.
He was also 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 lead European Union negotiator in talks with Britain over Brexit, said: “For Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Europe needed to be a French ambition and France a modern nation. Respect.”