Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
- Birth Date:
- Death date:
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- Person's maiden name:
- Valéry René Marie Georges Giscard d’Éstaing
- Extra names:
- Valerī Žiskārs d'Estēns, Валери Жискар д’Эстен, Валери́ Рене́ Мари́ Жорж Жиска́р д’Эсте́н, Valerī Marī Renē Žoržs Žiskārs d'Estēns
- COVID-19 , Member of Parliament, Minister, Nominee, Politician, President
- Set cemetery
Valéry Marie René Georges Giscard d'Estaing ( 2 February 1926 – 2 December 2020), also known as Giscard or VGE, was a French politician who served as President of France from 1974 to 1981.
After serving as Minister of Finance under prime ministers Jacques Chaban-Delmas and Pierre Messmer, he won the presidential election of 1974 with 50.8% of the vote against François Mitterrand of the Socialist Party. His tenure was marked by a more liberal attitude on social issues—such as divorce, contraception, and abortion—and attempts to modernise the country and the office of the presidency, notably launching such far-reaching infrastructure projects as the TGV and the turn towards reliance on nuclear power as France's main energy source. However, his popularity suffered from the economic downturn that followed the 1973 energy crisis, marking the end of the "thirty glorious years" after World War II. Giscard d'Estaing faced political opposition from both sides of the spectrum: from the newly unified left of François Mitterrand and a rising Jacques Chirac, who resurrected Gaullism on a right-wing opposition line. In 1981, despite a high approval rating, he was defeated in a runoff against Mitterrand, with 48.2% of the vote.
As a former President of France, Giscard d'Estaing was a member of the Constitutional Council. He also served as President of the Regional Council of Auvergne from 1986 to 2004. Involved with the European Union, he notably presided over the Convention on the Future of Europe that drafted the ill-fated Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. In 2003, he was elected to the Académie française, taking the seat that his friend and former President of Senegal Léopold Sédar Senghor had held. At age 94 years and 304 days, Giscard was the longest-lived French President in history.
Valéry Marie René Giscard d'Estaing was born on 2 February 1926 in Koblenz, Germany, during the French occupation of the Rhineland.
He was the elder son of Jean Edmond Lucien Giscard d'Estaing (29 March 1894 – 3 August 1982), a high-ranking civil servant, and his wife, Marthe Clémence Jacqueline Marie (May) Bardoux (6 May 1901 – 13 March 2003).
His mother was a daughter of senator and academic Achille Octave Marie Jacques Bardoux, making her a great-granddaughter of minister of state education Agénor Bardoux. She was also, through her own mother, a granddaughter of historian Georges Picot, a niece of diplomat François Georges-Picot, and a great-great-great-granddaughter of King Louis XV of France by one of his mistresses, Catherine Eléonore Bernard (1740–1769), through her great-grandfather Marthe Camille Bachasson, Count of Montalivet, by whom Giscard d'Estaing was a multiple descendant of Charlemagne.
Giscard had an older sister, Sylvie (1924–2008). He had a younger brother, Olivier (born 1927), as well as two younger sisters: Isabelle (born 1935) and Marie-Laure (born 1939). Despite the addition of "d'Estaing" to the family name by his grandfather, Giscard was not descended from the extinct noble family of Vice-Admiral d'Estaing, that name being adopted by his grandfather in 1922 by reason of a distant connection to another branch of that family, from which they were descended with two breaks in the male line from an illegitimate line of the Viscounts d'Estaing.
He joined the French Resistance and participated in the Liberation of Paris; during the liberation he was tasked with protecting Alexandre Parodi. He then joined the French First Army and served until the end of the war. He was later awarded the Croix de guerre for his military service.
In 1948, he spent a year in Montreal, Canada, where he worked as a teacher at Collège Stanislas.
He studied at Lycée Blaise-Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand, École Gerson and Lycées Janson-de-Sailly and Louis-le-Grand in Paris. He graduated from the École polytechnique and the École nationale d'administration (1949–1951) and chose to enter the prestigious Inspection des finances. He acceded to the Tax and Revenue Service, then joined the staff of Prime Minister Edgar Faure (1955–1956). He was fluent in German.
Early political career
First offices: 1956–1962
In 1956, he was elected to the National Assembly as a deputy for the Puy-de-Dôme département, in the domain of his maternal family. He joined the National Centre of Independents and Peasants (CNIP), a conservative grouping. After the proclamation of the Fifth Republic, the CNIP leader Antoine Pinay became Minister of Economy and Finance and chose him as Secretary of State for Finances from 1959 to 1962.
Member of the Gaullist majority: 1962–1974
In 1962, while Giscard had been nominated Minister of Economy and Finance, his party broke with the Gaullists and left the majority coalition. The CNIP reproached President Charles de Gaulle for his euroscepticism. But Giscard refused to resign and founded the Independent Republicans (RI), which became the junior partner of the Gaullists in the "presidential majority". It was during his time at the Ministry of the Economy that he coined the phrase "exorbitant privilege" to characterise the hegemony of the U.S. dollar in international payments under the Bretton Woods system.
However, in 1966, he was dismissed from the cabinet. He transformed the RI into a political party, the National Federation of the Independent Republicans (FNRI), and founded the Perspectives and Realities Clubs. He did not leave the majority, but became more critical. In this, he criticised the "solitary practice of the power" and summarised his position towards De Gaulle's policy by a "yes, but ...". As chairman of the National Assembly Committee on Finances, he harassed his successor in the cabinet.
For that reason the Gaullists refused to re-elect him to that position after the 1968 legislative election. In 1969, unlike most of FNRI's elected officials, Giscard advocated a "no" vote in the constitutional referendum concerning the regions and the Senate, while De Gaulle had announced his intention to resign if the "no" won. The Gaullists accused him of being largely responsible for De Gaulle's departure.
During the 1969 presidential campaign he supported the winning candidate Georges Pompidou, after which he returned to the Ministry of Economy and Finance. On the French political scene, he appeared as a young brilliant politician, and a preeminent expert in economic issues. He was representative of a new generation of politicians emerging from the senior civil service, seen as "technocrats".
Presidential election victory
In 1974, after the sudden death of President Georges Pompidou, Giscard announced his candidacy for the presidency. His two main challengers were François Mitterrand for the left and Jacques Chaban-Delmas, a former Gaullist Prime Minister. Supported by his FNRI party, he obtained the rallying of the centrist Reforming Movement. Moreover, he benefited from the divisions in the Gaullist party. Jacques Chirac and other Gaullist personalities published the Call of the 43 where they explained that Giscard was the best candidate to prevent the election of Mitterrand. In the election, Giscard finished well ahead of Chaban-Delmas in the first round, though coming second to Mitterrand. In the run-off on 20 May, however, Giscard narrowly defeated Mitterrand, receiving 50.7% of the vote.
President of France
Giscard was finally elected President of France, defeating Socialist candidate François Mitterrand by 425,000 votes —still the closest election in French history. At 48, he was the third youngest president in French history at the time, after Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte and Jean Casimir-Perier. He promised "change in continuity". He made clear his desire to introduce various reforms and modernise French society, which was an important part of his presidency. He for instance reduced from 21 to 18 the age of majority and pushed for the development of the TGV high speed train network and the Minitel, a precursor of the Internet. He promoted nuclear power, as a way to assert French independence. In 1975 he invited the heads of government from West Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States to a summit in Rambouillet, to form the Group of Six major economic powers (now the G7, including Canada). Economically, Giscard's presidency saw a steady rise in personal incomes, with the buying power of workers going up by 29% and old age pensioners by 65%.
Giscard billed himself as "a conservative who likes change," and initially tried to project a less monarchical image than had been the case for past French presidents. He wore an ordinary business suit to his inauguration and eschewed the traditional motorcade down the Champs-Elysées in favour of strolling down the street. He took a ride on the Métro, ate monthly dinners with ordinary Frenchmen, and even invited garbage men from Paris to have breakfast with him in the Élysée Palace. However, when he learned that most Frenchmen were somewhat cool to this display of informality, Giscard became so aloof and distant that his opponents frequently attacked him as being too far removed from ordinary citizens.
In home policy, the president's reforms worried the conservative electorate and the Gaullist party, especially the law by Simone Veil legalising abortion. Although he said he had "deep aversion against capital punishment", Giscard claimed in his 1974 campaign that he would apply the death penalty to people committing the most heinous crimes. He did not commute three of the death sentences that he had to decide upon during his presidency (although he did so in several other occasions), keeping France as the last country in the European Community to apply the death penalty. These executions would be the last ever in France; further death sentences were handed down in France for the remaining four years of Giscard's term but were all commuted in 1981, when capital punishment was abolished.
A rivalry arose with his Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, who resigned in 1976. Raymond Barre, called the "best economist in France" at the time, succeeded him. He led a policy of strictness in a context of economic crisis ("Plan Barre").
Unexpectedly, the right-wing coalition won the 1978 legislative election. Nevertheless, relations with Chirac, who had founded the Rally for the Republic (RPR), became more tense. Giscard reacted by founding a centre-right confederation, the Union for French Democracy (UDF).
In 1975 Giscard pressured the future King of Spain Juan Carlos I to leave Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet out of his coronation by stating that if Pinochet attended he would not. Having been told by Juan Carlos I not to attend the coronation, Pinochet left Spain having only attended the funeral of Francisco Franco during his visit. Although France received many Chilean political refugees, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's government secretly collaborated with Pinochet's and Videla's junta as shown by journalist Marie-Monique Robin.
Giscard continued de Gaulle's African policy. It was supported with French military units, and a large naval presence in the Indian Ocean. Over 260,000 Frenchmen worked in Africa, focused especially on delivering oil supplies. There was some effort to build up oil refineries and aluminium smelters, but little effort to develop small-scale local industry, which the French wanted to monopolize for the mainland. Senegal, Ivory Coast, Gabon, and Cameroon were the largest and most reliable African allies, and received most of the investments. In 1977, in the Opération Lamantin, he ordered fighter jets to deploy in Mauritania and suppress the Polisario guerrillas fighting against Mauritania. However, the French-installed Mauritanian leader Moktar Ould Daddah was overthrown by his own army some time later, and a peace agreement was signed with the Sahrawi movement.
Most controversial was his involvement with the regime of Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Republic. Giscard was initially a friend of Bokassa, and supplied the regime. However, the growing unpopularity of that government led Giscard to begin distancing himself from Bokassa. In 1979's Operation Caban, French troops helped drive Bokassa out of power and restore former president David Dacko. This action was also controversial, particularly since Dacko was Bokassa's cousin and had appointed Bokassa as head of the military, and unrest continued in the Central African Republic leading to Dacko being overthrown in another coup in 1981.
1981 presidential election
In the 1981 presidential election, Giscard took a severe blow to his support when Chirac ran against him in the first round. Chirac finished third and refused to recommend that his supporters back Giscard in the runoff, though he declared that he himself would vote for Giscard. Giscard lost to Mitterrand by 3 points in the runoff, and ever since blamed Chirac for his defeat. In later years, it was widely said that Giscard loathed Chirac; certainly on many occasions Giscard criticised Chirac's policies despite supporting Chirac's governing coalition.
Return to politics: 1984–2004
After his defeat, Giscard retired temporarily from politics. In 1984, he was re-elected to his seat in the National Assembly and won the presidency of the regional council of Auvergne. In this position, he tried to encourage tourism to the région, founding the "European Centre of Volcanology" and the theme park Vulcania. He was President of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions from 1997 to 2004.
In 1982, along with his friend Gerald Ford, he co-founded the annual AEI World Forum. He took part, with a prominent role, in the annual Bilderberg private conference. He has also served on the Trilateral Commission after being president, writing papers with Henry Kissinger.
He hoped to become prime minister during the first "cohabitation" (1986–88) or after the re-election of Mitterrand with the theme of "France united", but he was not chosen for this position. During the 1988 presidential campaign, he refused to choose publicly between the two right-wing candidates, his two former Prime Ministers Jacques Chirac and Raymond Barre. This attitude was interpreted as indicating that he wanted to regain the UDF leadership.
Indeed, he served as President of the UDF from 1988 to 1996, but he was faced with the rise of a new generation of politicians called the rénovateurs ("renovationmen"). Most of the UDF politicians supported the candidacy of the RPR Prime Minister Édouard Balladur at the 1995 presidential election, but Giscard supported his old rival Jacques Chirac, who won the election. That same year Giscard suffered a setback when he lost a close election for the mayoralty of Clermont-Ferrand.
In 2000, he made a parliamentary proposal to reduce the length of a presidential term from seven to five years. Later that year, President Chirac held a referendum on this issue, and the "yes" side won. Giscard did not run for a new parliamentary term in 2002. His son Louis Giscard d'Estaing was elected in his constituency.
Retired from politics: 2004–2020
In 2003, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was admitted to the Académie française.
Following his narrow defeat in the regional elections of March 2004, marked by the victory of the left wing in 21 of 22 regions, he decided to leave partisan politics and to take his seat on the Constitutional Council as a former president of the Republic. Some of his actions there, such as his campaign in favour of the Treaty establishing the European Constitution, were criticised as unbecoming to a member of this council, which should embody nonpartisanship and should not appear to favour one political option over the other. Indeed, the question of the membership of former presidents in the Council was raised at this point, with some suggesting that it should be replaced by a life membership in the Senate.
In the later years of his life, Giscard occasionally expressed opinions about current affairs. On 19 April 2007, he endorsed Nicolas Sarkozy for the presidential election. He supported the creation of the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents in 2012 and the introduction of same-sex marriage in France in 2013. In 2016, he supported former Prime minister François Fillon in The Republicans presidential primaries.
A 2014 poll suggested that 64% of the French thought he had been a good president. He was considered to be an honest and competent politician, but also a distant man.
On 21 January 2017, with a lifespan of 33,226 days, he surpassed Émile Loubet (1838–1929) in terms of longevity, and became the oldest former president in French history.
Giscard was, throughout his political career, a proponent of a greater European union. In 1978, he was for this reason the obvious target of Jacques Chirac's Call of Cochin, denouncing the "party of the foreigners".
From 1989 to 1993, Giscard served as a member of the European Parliament. From 1989 to 1991, he was also chairman of the Liberal and Democratic Reformist Group.
From 2001 to 2004 he served as President of the Convention on the Future of Europe. On 29 October 2004, the European heads of state, gathered in Rome, approved and signed the European Constitution based on a draft strongly influenced by Giscard's work at the Convention.
Although the Constitution was rejected by French voters in May 2005, Giscard continued to actively lobby for its passage in other European Union states. Giscard d'Estaing attracted international attention at the time of the June 2008 Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty. In an article for Le Monde in June 2007, he said that "public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals we dare not present to them directly". Although the quote is accurate, it was part of a critique, taken out of context, of a suggestion made by some unnamed persons. In the next paragraph Giscard goes on to reject the idea of this course of action by saying, "This approach of 'divide and ratify' is clearly unacceptable. Perhaps it is a good exercise in presentation. But it would confirm to European citizens the notion that European construction is a procedure organized behind their backs by lawyers and diplomats." In the following paragraphs he goes on to appeal for an "honest treaty" and "total transparency" to allow citizens to hear the debate for themselves.
In 2008 he became the Honorary President of the Permanent Platform of Atomium Culture, an innovative structure composed of some of the most authoritative universities, newspapers and businesses in Europe for the selection, exchange and dissemination of the most innovative European research, to increase the movement of knowledge across borders, across sectors and to the public at large. On 27 November 2009, Giscard publicly launched the Permanent Platform of Atomium Culture during its first conference, held at the European Parliament, declaring: "European intelligence could be at the very root of the identity of the European people." A few days before he had signed, together with the President of Atomium Culture Michelangelo Baracchi Bonvicini, the European Manifesto of Atomium Culture.
President of the French Republic: 1974–1981.
Member of the Constitutional Council of France: Since 1981.
Secretary of State for Finances: 1959–1962.
Minister of Finances and Economic Affairs: 1962–1966.
Minister of Economy and Finances: 1969–1974.
Minister of State, minister of Economy and Finances: March–May 1974 (Resignation, became President of the French Republic in 1974)
Member of European Parliament: 1989–1993 (Reelected member of the National Assembly of France in 1993).
National Assembly of France
Member of the National Assembly of France for Puy-de-Dôme: 1956–1959 (Became minister in 1959) / Reelected in 1962, but he stays minister / 1967–1969 (Became minister in 1969) / Reelected in 1973, but he stays minister / 1984–1989 (Became member of European Parliament in 1989) / 1993–2002. Elected in 1956, re-elected in 1958, 1962, 1967, 1968, 1973.
President of the Regional Council of Auvergne: 1986–2004. Reelected in 1992, 1998.
Regional councillor of Auvergne: 1986–2004. Reelected in 1992, 1998.
General councillor of Puy-de-Dôme: 1958–1974 (Resignation, became President of the French Republic in 1974) / 1982–1988 (Resignation). Reelected in 1964, 1970, 1982.
Mayor of Chamalières: 1967–1974 (Resignation, Became President of the French Republic in 1974). Reelected in 1971.
Municipal councillor of Chamalières: 1967–1977. Reelected in 1971.
President of the National Federation of the Independent Republicans (Independent Republicans): 1966–1974 (Became President of the French Republic in 1974).
President of the Union for French Democracy: 1988–1996.
Giscard's name was often shortened to "VGE" by the French media. A less flattering nickname was l'Ex (the Ex), used mostly by the weekly satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné.
In May 2020, Giscard was accused of groping a German journalist's buttocks during an interview in 2018. He denied the accusation.
On 17 December 1952, Giscard married his cousin Anne-Aymone Sauvage de Brantes, a daughter of Count François Sauvage de Brantes, who had died in a concentration camp in 1944, and his wife, the former Princess Aymone de Faucigny-Lucinge. Their children were: Valérie-Anne Marie Aymone (1953 –), Henri Marie Edmond Valéry, Louis Joachim Marie François and Jacinte Marguerite Marie (1960 – 2018). Louis was a French conservative Representative; Henri is the president of the tourism company Club Méditerranée.
Giscard's private life was the source of many rumours at both national and international level. His family did not live in the presidential Élysée Palace, and The Independent reported on his affairs with women. In 1974, Le Monde reported that he used to leave a sealed letter stating his whereabouts in case of emergency.
He was an uncle of artist Aurore Giscard d'Estaing, who was formerly married to American actor Timothy Hutton.
Possession of the Estaing castle
In 2005 he and his brother bought the castle of Estaing, a famous place in the department of Aveyron and formerly a possession of the above-mentioned admiral d'Estaing who was beheaded in 1794. The castle was not used as a residence but it had symbolic value. The two brothers explained that the purchase, supported by the local municipality, was an act of patronage. However, a number of major newspapers in several countries questioned their motives and some hinted at self-appointed nobility and a usurped historical identity.
Questions about his 2009 novel
Giscard wrote his second romantic novel, published on 1 October 2009 in France, entitled The Princess and The President. It tells the story of a French head of state having a romantic liaison with a character called Patricia, Princess of Cardiff. This fuelled rumours that the piece of fiction was based on a real-life liaison between Giscard and Diana, Princess of Wales. He later stressed that the story was entirely made up and no such affair had happened.
Health and death
On 14 September 2020, Giscard was hospitalized for care for breathing complications at the Hôpital Européen Georges-Pompidou in Paris. He was later diagnosed with a lung infection. He was hospitalized again on 15 November, but was discharged on 20 November.
Giscard died of complications from COVID-19 on 2 December 2020. He was 94 years old.
- Grand-croix (and former Grand Master) of the Legion of Honour
- Grand-croix (and former Grand Master) of the Ordre National du Mérite
- Croix de guerre 1939–1945
In 2003 he received the Charlemagne Award of the German city of Aachen. He was also a Knight of Malta.
Giscard d'Estaing travelled the world giving speeches on the European Union. During a visit to Ireland, he was made an Honorary Patron of the University Philosophical Society, Trinity College, Dublin.
Foreign honours As Minister of Finance
- Italy: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (10/1973)
- Norway: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olav (1962)
As President of France
- Brazil: Grand Collar of the Order of the Southern Cross (26 April 1976)
- Denmark: Knight of the Order of the Elephant (12 October 1978)
- Portugal: Grand Collar of the Order of Saint James of the Sword (14 October 1975)
- Portugal: Grand Collar of the Order of Prince Henry (21 October 1978)
- Spain: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic (1963)
- Spain: Knight with Collar of the Order of Isabella the Catholic (1976)
- Spain: Knight with Collar of the Order of Charles III (1978)
- Sweden: Knight of the Order of the Seraphim (6 June 1980)
- United Kingdom: Honorary Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (22 June 1976)
- Sovereign Order of Malta: Bailiff Grand Cross of Honour and Devotion of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta
- Sovereign Order of Malta: Grand Cross pro Merito Melitensi
Giscard d'Estaing's coat of arms as a knight of the Swedish Order of the Seraphim
President Giscard d'Estaing was granted a coat of arms by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark upon his appointment to the Order of the Elephant. He was also granted a coat of arms by King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden, for his induction as a Knight of the Seraphim.