Valéry Giscard D’Estaing, who died on Wednesday at the age of 94, was the first, and perhaps the last, liberal president of the V French Republic until Emmanuel Macron arrived at the Elysee Palace in 2017. Like Macron, he was also the youngest at the time. He was one of the last survivors of the generation of leaders that lived through the Second World War and knew firsthand the price of the European tear. That is why he was one of those who, together with his friend, German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, most insisted on promoting European construction. At the same time, he was a single-term head of state and an unloved leader who, to the end of his days, projected an image of an aristocratic and arrogant man. The cause of death, which occurred at his residence in the municipality of Authon, in central France, was covid-19. "According to his will, the funeral will take place in the strictest family privacy," said the Valéry Giscard D'Estaing Foundation in a message on the social network Twitter.
With Giscard, president between 1974 and 1981, a politician from another era disappears, a man who knew the war in his youth, reached adulthood in the postwar period, began to work in the office under General de Gaulle and, already in the power, laid the foundations of economic integration and the single currency of the EU. With the aura of a center-right reformist, he helped liberalize French society with measures such as the decriminalization of abortion. Modernization, however, had its limits: the president refused to abolish the death penalty, which would remain in force in France until the arrival of the socialist François Mitterrand on the Elysee. And his economic ambitions crashed with the consequences of the oil shock and stagnation that ended, during his tenure, three decades of growth – the time now remembered with nostalgia for the Glorious thirty– and inaugurated a period of endemic unemployment that has not ended yet.
Giscard, who became president at 48 and left it at 55, lived several more political lives. He was a deputy in the National Assembly, a MEP in Strasbourg and Brussels, mayor and regional president, member of the French Academy and the Constitutional Council, and president of the Convention that, at the beginning of this century, designed a Constitution for the EU that in 2005 it would end up rejected in a referendum in its own country. Meanwhile he published several novels, the last, Loin du bruit du monde (Far from the noise of the world), at the beginning of November, and another a few years earlier in which he novel an imaginary romance of a president with a British princess who bore similarities to Lady Di. At the beginning of 2020, a German journalist denounced him for an alleged sexual assault during an interview in 2018 in his office on the central Saint-Germain boulevard in Paris.
From Kennedy to Louis XV: the chronicler of Le Monde François Fressoz summed up Giscard's career as president some time ago. He conquered the Elysee palace with a reputation as a child prodigy: son of a family of high officials and politicians with roots in the Auvergne region, pupil of the best lyceums and schools, fighter in 1944 with the French Army in Germany and Austria, for what was decorated with the Cross of war, and precocious politician. Despite being Minister of Finance in Gaullist governments, he kept his distance from this movement and wanted to embody a French liberalism. In the documentary about his victorious presidential campaign, 1974: une partie de campagneRaymond Depardon's appears as a modern, technocratic candidate with a sought-after Kennedian air. Once in the presidency, and wrapped in the monarchical tinsel of the Fifth Republic, this image was cut short amid the fights between the Giscardian right and the Gaullist, and finally with the scandal over the diamonds that the Central African dictator Jean- Bedel Bokassa. Like a disowned king, he left the Elysee on foot to boos after Mitterrand's victory in 1981.
When evoking, in an interview in October 2019 with EL PAÍS and other media, his experience as a soldier at the end of World War II, Valéry Giscard D'Estaing said: “The first time I saw Germans was through the sight of a tank on the banks of the Rhine ”. Later, he added: "And a few years later I was working with Helmut Schmidt to build, little by little, a common project." It was a way of explaining that, for him and for his peers, the European Union was not something they took for granted, nor an abstraction. "Narciso, head of state," called his prime minister Raymond Barre the man who presided over France during Spain's transition to democracy and participated in negotiations — not always easy with Madrid — for entry into what was then the EEC. "You have to be proud of how we live in Europe today," he said in the interview a year ago before the ominous speeches about the EU. And he said goodbye with advice: "Be optimistic."