December 2nd, 2021 marks the first anniversary of President Valery Giscard d’Estaing’s passing. On this day, our first thoughts go to his family. He was a father, a citizen, and a prominent political figure in his native France and Europe. Aside from that, he was also Re-Imagine Europa’s President and Founder.
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was born in Coblenz (present-time Germany, then France) in 1926. He graduated from the prestigious École Polytechnique and the École Nationale d’Administration before entering the Inspection générale des finances. He had lived through World War II: even before his twentieth birthday, he had actively participated in the struggle for the liberation of France.
A few years afterwards, in 1962, aged 36, he served as Finance Minister under President Charles de Gaulle. In 1974, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was elected as the youngest president of the French Republic and the first non-Gaullist to hold the position after World War II.
His vision guided France through important reforms such as introducing divorce by mutual consent and the legalization of abortion. He was a great advocate of multilateralism even beyond the European borders: in 1975, he was the promoter of the first meeting of the Group of Six, which later became the G7. He was proud of the label of “conservative who likes change” and never betrayed this principle, supporting many progressive causes over the years, such as same-sex marriage.
Liberal and pro-European, he traced a path that was certainly ahead of its time. He was amongst the first proponents of a stronger and more cohesive Europe. His bright political flair allowed him to see clearly that his efforts, while not always rewarded with the results he hoped for, would certainly not be in vain. To put it in his own words: “We have sown a seed. Instead of a half-formed Europe, we have a Europe with a legal entity, with a single currency, common justice, a Europe which is about to have its own defence”.
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was also a long-time friend of Helmut Schmidt, Chancellor of West Germany from 1974 to 1982, with whom he shared ideas and projects for a more solid European Union. Of course, he was eager to avoid falling back into the horrors he had personally witnessed during wartime. Still, above all, his motivations originated from the fact that again anticipating the times, he understood the importance of preserving common European values in a world whose balances were (and still are) changing.
President Giscard d’Estaing was a great European and an inspiring leader, a man whose belief in Europe and whose need to keep up with the times have become founding principles for the way we work. A reformer and a modernist, President Giscard d’Estaing has left a mark on French and European history that will not be forgotten. The two foundations he established in the last decade of his life, the Fondation Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Re-Imagine Europa, will always carry on his struggles in a complementary way.
On this first anniversary of his demise, the European Parliament will pay tribute to him for the decisive role he played in building our European Institutions. We also want to remember him through this inspirational message about Europe which, in these difficult times, sounds like a wake-up call to all Europeans:
“This project belongs to you.
For it to be successful, you must cast aside negative ideas – political bias, personal ego and the fear of change, to name but a few – and, relying on the foundations of our history, believe in the sincere hope of building one of the great civilizations of the 21st century.
We ask that you succeed.”