The Death of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing

Tremeur Denigot

Tremeur Denigot

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing died not long ago of Covid-19. Europe loses a great European, and France another of its former Presidents a year apart from the death of his great political rival.

He is a man of paradoxes who disappears after a very long life devoted to national and European politics. A long life exposes one to the evolution of the judgment of his contemporaries, and Giscard has been evaluated and understood differently according to the times, sometimes badly, and this also raises the question of timing for a man whose career has perhaps suffered because of that, as he arrived in France a little too early, and in Europe a little too late.

It is also difficult to place this pro-European liberal centrist in the preconceived boxes of French-style political analysis. Too much to the left for the right, not enough French, much too European, much too “modern” and politically liberal, although economically not enough (for Chirac), too much to the right for the left, too rigorist, too old-fashioned and distant, too big-bourgeois, too pre-Thatcherist, etc. France is certainly not a nation of center politics, or rather does not see itself as such. Giscard would have been much loved in Italy’s Christian-democratic party, a country where he is still appreciated. He will be regretted differently outside and inside. Undoubtedly excessively criticized in France, and praised perhaps just as excessively in Europe.

VGE will be considered as a young president of a Republic that was still largely Gaullist, national-centered, statist and conservative, and his record will undoubtedly be reassessed over time. Despite his major accomplishments, which have been complacently polished by his opposition, yet he has fewer corpses in his closet with regard to his analogous figures, albeit of high-profile in this regard, in the 5th Republic. But above all, he undoubtedly contributed to bringing France into modernity and letting its society evolve with major reforms, a great accomplishment for this Kennedy with the appearance of a provincial squire; at the same time, he carried out a policy of international and European openness, in particular with Schmidt, forming the Franco-German couple which became famous. We owe him the inventions of the ancestor of the G7 and the European Council, which show his visionary international activism and his multilateral prism through which he saw the states as major players, including in the EU, of which he always had a basically confederal vision.

As a former president, so whimsical and stylish, he did not hesitate to become again a simple national, then European deputy, and later also President of a Regional Council. Other ex-Presidents do not have this kind of simplicity, even if their style is more “people-friendly”.

He will then become President of the Convention on the future of Europe, coping with the federal goat and the intergovernmental cabbage, giving birth in this ill-communicated ambiguity to a failure sanctioned by his own country, which discovered, incredulous, the possibility of a political Europe without knowing what form it should really take. But did VGE have his own ideas on the matter? Despite this setback, he will continue his European activism by advocating a European core of more integrated countries, and being in favor of a fiscal union, but without ever arriving at thinking of a solution in federal terms.

VGE will be revived in posterity, time will do its work, and it will very likely be more European than national. Actually, he may not be the only President of the Fifth Republic to experience such a fate.

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