Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
Valéry Marie René Georges Giscard d'Estaing (UK: / /, US: / -/, French: [valeʁi maʁi ʁəne ʒɔʁʒ ʒiskaʁ dɛstɛ̃] (listen); 2 February 1926 – 2 December 2020), also known as Giscard or VGE, was a French politician and writer. He was the 20th President of France from 1974 to 1981 during the Fifth Republic.
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
Giscard d'Estaing in 1975
|President of France|
27 May 1974 – 21 May 1981
|Preceded by||Georges Pompidou|
|Succeeded by||François Mitterrand|
Valéry Marie René Georges Giscard d'Estaing
2 February 1926
|Died||2 December 2020 (aged 94)|
Authon, Loir-et-Cher, France
|Cause of death||COVID-19|
Anne-Aymone Sauvage de Brantes (m. 1952)
|Children||4, including Henri and Louis|
|Years of service||1944–1945|
|Awards||Croix de Guerre|
Born in Koblenz, Germany, Giscard d'Estaing began his political career as a Gaullist and slowly began to change his political thinking around the time he was the Minister of Finance when Jacques Chaban-Delmas and Pierre Messmer were prime ministers.
He won the presidential election of 1974 with 50.8% of the vote against François Mitterrand of the Socialist Party. His presidency was seen as liberal for his focus on divorce, contraception and abortion. His presidency helped modernise the country through his creation and growth of TGV and support of nuclear power as France's main energy source. However, he became unpopular because of a bad economy and the 1973 energy crisis, which many felt that it was the end of the "Trente Glorieuses". In 1981, he lost his re-election campaign to Mitterrand, with 48.2% of the vote.
After his presidency, he was a member of the Constitutional Council. He also was President of the Regional Council of Auvergne from 1986 to 2004. Giscard d'Estaing focused on the European Union after his presidency. He was in charge of the Convention on the Future of Europe that created the unsuccessful treaty that would have created a constitution for Europe. In 2003, he was elected to the Académie française.
Giscard d'Estaing was born on 2 February 1926 in Koblenz, Germany, during the French occupation of the Rhineland. He was the oldest son of Jean Edmond Lucien Giscard d'Estaing and his wife Marthe Clémence Jacqueline Marie (May) Bardoux.
He joined the French Resistance and was part of the Liberation of Paris where he protected Alexandre Parodi. He then joined the French First Army. He was later awarded the Croix de guerre for his military service.
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. He later joined the Inspection des finances. He worked in the Tax and Revenue Service, then joined the staff of Prime Minister Edgar Faure from 1955 to 1956.
Early political careerEdit
In 1956, he was elected to the National Assembly as a deputy for the Puy-de-Dôme département. He joined the National Centre of Independents and Peasants (CNIP), a conservative group. After the creation 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 majorityEdit
In 1962, when Giscard was nominated as Minister of Economy and Finance, his party split up with the Gaullists and left the majority coalition. At first, Giscard was a supporter of French president Charles de Gaulle. Giscard did not support this and founded the Independent Republicans (RI). During this time, he supported the United States dollar as a form of international payments.
In 1966, he was removed from the cabinet. He made the RI into a political party, the National Federation of the Independent Republicans (FNRI), and founded the Perspectives and Realities Clubs. In 1969, Giscard supported a "no" vote in the constitutional referendum which focused on the regions and the Senate. De Gaulle had said that he would resign if the "no" won. After De Gaulle resigned, many of his supporters blamed Giscard for being responsible for De Gaulle's resignation. From 1967 to 1974, he was Mayor of Chamalières.
Presidential election victoryEdit
In 1974, after the 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. Jacques Chirac explained that Giscard was the best candidate to stop Mitterrand from being elected. In the election, Giscard beat Mitterrand by a small number of votes, winning 50.7% of the vote.
President of FranceEdit
In 1974, Giscard was elected President of France, beating Socialist candidate François Mitterrand by 425,000 votes. At 48, he was the third youngest president in French history at the time, after Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte and Jean Casimir-Perier.
When Giscard made it easier for people to get political asylum, he expanded health insurance, lowered the voting age to 18, and modernised the divorce law. He supported the creation of the TGV high speed train network and the Minitel telephone upgrade. He supported nuclear power.
Giscard initially tried to make the presidency look less like a monarchy. He rode the Métro, ate monthly dinners with citizens, and even invited garbage men from Paris to have breakfast with him in the Élysée Palace. Many of his critics believed that Giscard was not formal enough to be president.
Many conservatives that supported him slowly began to criticise him because he helped legalise abortion. Even though he was against the death penalty, Giscard said in his 1974 campaign that he would support the death penalty for some criminals. He did not remove three death sentences that happened during his presidency, making France the last country in the Europe to take part of death penalty.
Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, who resigned in 1976, began to critise Giscard and later became political enemies with him. Raymond Barre, called the "best economist in France" at the time, replace him Chirac.
Giscard was a close friend of West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and together they helped create the European Monetary System. They also helped make the Soviet Union support the Helsinki Accords.
In 1975 Giscard made the King of Spain Juan Carlos I to ban Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet from his coronation by saying that if Pinochet went, he would not. Although France accepted many Chilean political refugees, Giscard d'Estaing's government secretly worked with Pinochet's and Argentina's Jorge Rafael Videla's dictatorship governments.
Giscard supported de Gaulle's African policy where supported delivering oil supplies to and from Africa. In 1977, in the Opération Lamantin, he ordered the French military to go to Mauritania and stop the Polisario guerrillas fighting against Mauritania.
Giscard became controversial for his support of Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Republic. Due to the growing unpopularity of that government, he began to slowly criticise Bokassa. In 1979's Operation Caban, French troops helped remove Bokassa from power and made former president David Dacko the new leader.
The Diamonds Affair, known in France as l'affaire des diamants, was a major political scandal in the Fifth Republic. In 1973, while Minister of Finance, Giscard d'Estaing was given diamonds by Bokassa. Many believe this is what made him lose his re-election.
1981 presidential electionEdit
In the 1981 presidential election, Giscard's re-election was in trouble because former Prime Minister Chirac ran against him. Chirac finished third and did not tell his supporters to vote for Giscard in the second round of the election. Giscard lost to Mitterrand by 3 points in the runoff and blamed Chirac for his defeat.
Giscard d’Estaing was seen as an important person in modernising France and making the European Union strong. He was popular because his presidency passed many small social reforms, such as lowering the voting age by three years, allowing divorce by common consent, and legalising abortion.
However, he was unable to fix the great economic crisis of his term, a worldwide economic recession caused by a massive increase in oil prices. His foreign policy was remembered for his close relationship with West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, and together they helped expand and made Europe's economic power stronger as they pushed for the European Monetary System and helped create the G-7 system.
After he lost in 1981, Giscard retired for a short time from politics. In 1984, he was re-elected to his seat in the National Assembly and won the presidency of Auvergne. He was President of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions from 1997 to 2004.
He hoped to become prime minister during after the re-election of Mitterrand, but he was not chosen for this job. During the 1988 presidential campaign, he did not support two of his two former Prime Ministers Jacques Chirac and Raymond Barre.
He was President of the UDF from 1988 to 1996. Most of the UDF politicians supported the candidacy of the RPR Prime Minister Édouard Balladur at the 1995 presidential election, but Giscard supported Chirac, who won the election.
In 2000, he created a proposal to limit the length of a presidential term from seven to five years, a proposal that eventually won its referendum proposal by President Chirac. Following his retirement from the National Assembly his son Louis Giscard d'Estaing was elected.
In 2003, Giscard d'Estaing became a member of the Académie française. In 2004, he became a member of the Constitutional Council. His support for creating a European Constitution, were criticised. Many believed Giscard should have been removed from the council and be given a life membership in the Senate.
On 21 January 2017, he became the oldest former president in French history.
Giscard was a supporter of a stronger European Union. From 1989 to 1993, Giscard was 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 was President of the Convention on the Future of Europe. On 29 October 2004, the European heads of state approved and signed the European Constitution based on a draft supported by Giscard's work at the Convention. Although the constituion was rejected by French voters in May 2005, Giscard continued to support for its passage in other European Union states.
In 2008 he became the Honorary President of the Permanent Platform of Atomium Culture. On 27 November 2009, Giscard started the Permanent Platform of Atomium Culture during its first meeting, held at the European Parliament.
On 17 December 1952, Giscard married Anne-Aymone Sauvage de Brantes. His family did not live in the presidential Élysée Palace during his presidency. In 1974, Le Monde reported that he used to leave a letter about where he was in case of an emergency.
In 2005, he and his brother bought the castle of Estaing. However, many newspapers in different countries why they bought with many believing they wanted to become French nobility. It was put up for sale in 2008 for €3 million It is now owned by the Valéry Giscard d'Estaing Foundation.
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 leader having a romantic affair with a character called Patricia, Princess of Cardiff. This caused many rumours that the book was based on a real-life affair between Giscard and Diana, Princess of Wales. He later said that such an affair never happened and that the book was fictional.
On 14 September 2020, Giscard d'Estaing was hospitalised for breating problems at the Hôpital Européen Georges-Pompidou in Paris. He was later diagnosed with a lung infection. He was hospitalised again on 15 November, but left the hospital on 20 November.
He died of problems caused by COVID-19 on 2 December 2020 during the pandemic in France at his Authon, Loir-et-Cher home, aged 94. His funeral and burial was held on 5 December in Authon with forty people going the event.
Honours and awardsEdit
In 1966, he was made Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic. In 1973, Giscard was honored with the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. In 1975, Giscard was honoured with Portugal's Grand Collar of the Order of Saint James of the Sword. In 1976, he was honoured with the Order of the Bath, and Order of the Southern Cross.
In 1978, he was made Knight of the Order of the Elephant and honoured with the Grand Collar of the Order of Prince Henry by Portugal and of the Order of Charles III by Spain. In 1980, Giscard was honoured with the Order of the Seraphim.
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