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Valéry Marie René Georges Giscard d'Estaing ( ; born 2 February 1926) is a Frenchmarker centre-right politician who was President of the French Republic from 1974 until 1981. , he is a member of the Constitutional Council of France.

His tenure as President was marked by a more liberal attitude on social issues — such as divorce, contraception, and abortion — and attempts to modernize the country and the office of the presidency, notably launching such far-reaching infrastructure projects as the high-speed TGV train 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, unfortunately combined with the official discourse that the "end of the tunnel was near". Furthermore, Giscard faced political opposition from both sides of the spectrum: from the newly-unified left of François Mitterrand, and from a rising Jacques Chirac, who resurrected Gaullism on a right-wing opposition line. All this, plus bad public relations, caused his unpopularity to grow at the end of his term, and he failed to secure re-election in 1981.

He is a proponent of the United States of Europe and, having limited his involvement in national politics after his defeat, he became involved with the European Union. He notably presided over the Convention on the Future of the European Union that drafted the ill-fated Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. He took part, with a prominent role, to the annually held Bilderberg private conference. He also became involved in the regional politics of Auvergnemarker, serving as president of that region from 1986 to 2004. He was elected to the French Academy, taking the seat that his friend and former President of Senegalmarker Léopold Sédar Senghor had held. As a former President, he is a member of the Constitutional Council. It is a prerogative that he has taken recently.

Early life

Valéry Marie René Giscard d'Estaing was born in Koblenzmarker, Germanymarker, the son of Jean Edmond Lucien Giscard d'Estaing (1894 - 1982), a civil servant, and his wife, Marthe Clémence Jacqueline Marie (May) Bardoux, who was a daughter of senator and academic Achille Octave Marie Jacques Bardoux and a great-granddaughter of minister of state education Agénor Bardoux, also a granddaughter of historian Georges Picot and niece of diplomat François Georges-Picot, and also a great-great-great-granddaughter of King Louis XV of France by one of his mistress, Catherine Eléonore Bernard (1740 - 1769) through his great-grandfather Marthe Camille Bachasson, Count of Montalivet, and by whom Giscard d'Estaing was a multiple descendant of Charlemagne. Despite the addition of "d'Estaing" to the family name by his grandfather, Giscard is 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.

In 1948, he spent a year in Montrealmarker where he worked as a teacher in Collège Stanislas.

He studied at Lycée Blaise-Pascal in Clermont-Ferrandmarker, École Gerson and Lycées Janson-de-Saillymarker and Louis-le-Grandmarker in Parismarker. He graduated from the École Polytechniquemarker and the École nationale d'administrationmarker (1949 - 1951). He acceded to the Inland Revenue Service, then joined the staff of Prime Minister Edgar Faure (1955 - 1956).

Member of National Assembly

In 1956, he was elected to Parliament as a deputy for the Puy-de-Dômemarker 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.

In government

In 1962, while Valéry Giscard d'Estaing had been nominated Minister of Economy and Financemarker, his party broke with the Gaullists and left the majority coalition. The CNIP reproached President Charles de Gaulle with his euro-scepticism. But VGE refused to resign and founded the Independent Republicans (RI). It was the small partner of the Gaullists in the "presidential majority".

However, in 1966, he was dismissed from the cabinet. He changed the RI in 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...". 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 in this function after the 1968 legislative election. In 1969, unlike most of FNRI’s elected officials, he advocated a "no" vote in the referendum about 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 and 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, whose profile was as "technocrats".

In 1974, after the sudden death of President Pompidou, he 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 Giscard was the best candidate to prevent the election of Mitterrand. VGE crushed Chaban-Delmas in the first round, and then narrowly defeated Mitterrand in the second with 50.8% of the vote.


Valéry Giscard d'Estaing (1986).

In 1974, he was elected President of France at 48, the third youngest president in French history, after Louis Napoleon 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.

In 1975, he invited the heads of government from West Germanymarker, Italymarker, Japanmarker, the United Kingdommarker and the United Statesmarker to a summit in Rambouilletmarker, to form the Group of Six (now the G8, including Canadamarker and Russiamarker) major economic powers.

He pursued a controversial course in foreign policy. In 1977, in the Opération Lamantin, he ordered fighter jets to deploy in Mauritaniamarker and go to war against the Polisario guerillas fighting against Mauritanian military occupation of Western Saharamarker. But not even overt military backing proved sufficient to rescue the French-installed Mauritanian leader Mokhtar Ould Daddah, as he was overthrown by his own army some time later, and a peace agreement was signed with the Sahrawimarker resistance.

Most controversial, however, was his involvement with the Bokassa regime of the Central African Republicmarker and with a diamond smuggling scandal involving the dictator, by which he personally profited. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was at first a friend of its ruler, Jean-Bédel Bokassa; he supplied Bokassa's regime with much financial and military backing. However, the growing unpopularity of that government led Giscard to begin distancing himself from Bokassa.

In 1979 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.

In a related incident, Giscard was reported by the Canard Enchaîné to have accepted diamonds as personal gifts from Bokassa — who fled to France with looted millions from the Central African Republic's treasury, but was still given asylum in France. Presidential official gifts legally are property of the Republic of France instead of d'Estaing. Giscard supporters contended that the diamonds were industrial-grade and thus had no sizeable monetary value.

In home policy, the president’s reforms worried the conservative electorate and the Gaullist party. A rivalry appeared with his prime minister Jacques Chirac, who resigned in 1976. Raymond Barre, called the "best economist in France", succeeded him. He led a policy of strictness in a context of economic crisis (Plan Barre). Unemployment grew.

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. VGE reacted by founding a centre-right confederation, the Union for French Democracy (UDF).

Giscard was defeated in the 1981 presidential election by Mitterrand. At the time, Chirac ran against Giscard in the first round of runoff voting and declined to call his voters to elect Giscard, though he declared that he himself would vote for Giscard. Since then, Giscard has always attributed his defeat to Chirac, and he is widely said to loathe Chirac. Certainly, on many occasions, Giscard has criticised Chirac's policies, despite supporting Chirac's governing coalition.

Although he said he had "deep aversion against capital punishment" and in his 1974 campaign proclaimed his opposition to the death penalty, 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 Union to apply the death penalty. These executions would be the last ever in France.

After 1981 defeat

After his defeat, he retired temporarily from politics. In 1984, he regained his seat in Parliament and won the presidency of the regional council of Auvergnemarker. In this position, he tried to encourage tourism to the région, founding the "European Centre of Volcanology" and theme park Vulcaniamarker.

In 1982, along with his friend Gerald Ford, he co-founded the annual AEI World Forum.

He hoped to become prime minister of France during the first "cohabitation" (1986–88) or after the reelection 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 "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 humiliating defeat when he was defeated in a bid for the mayoralty of Clermont-Ferrandmarker.

In 2000, he made a parliamentary proposal to reduce the length of a presidential term from 7 to 5 years. President Chirac held a referendum on this issue, and the "yes" side won. He did not run for a new parliamentary term in 2002. His son Louis Giscard d'Estaing was elected in his constituency.

Following his defeat in the regional elections of March 2004, he decided to leave partisan politics and to take his seat in 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 Senatemarker.

In 2003, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing was admitted to the Académie française, amid controversy; critics pointed out that Giscard had written only a single novel, Le Passage, of dubious quality.

He has also served on the Trilateral Commission after being president, writing papers with Henry Kissinger.

He is currently serving as:

European activities

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing has, throughout his political career, always been a proponent of 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 2002 to 2003 he served as President of the Convention on the Future of Europe.

On 29 October 2004, the European heads of state, gathered in Romemarker, 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. Speaking at the London School of Economicsmarker on 28 February 2006, he said that, "The rejection of the Constitutional treaty by voters in France was a mistake that should be corrected."

Giscard opposes Turkeymarker's joining the European Union because of Turkey’s geographic, ethnic and religious differences from the rest of Europe. He told Le Monde, "In my opinion, it would be the end of Europe."

Giscard and the Irish Lisbon Treaty referendum

Giscard d'Estaing gained some notoriety in the June 2008 Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty. One quote of his in particular, from an article he wrote for Le Monde and published in that newspaper on 15 June 2007, that "public opinion will be led to adopt, without knowing it, the proposals we dare not present to them directly", was consistently highlighted by "No" campaigners as evidence of an alleged insidious agenda to fool the European public into accepting the text. 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 organised 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

Political career

President of the French Republic : 1974-1981

Member of the Constitutional Council of France : Since 2004

Governmental functions

Secretary of State for Finance : 1959-1962

Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs : 1962-1966

Minister of Economy and Finance : 1969-1974

Minister of State, minister of Economy and Finance : March-May 1974 (Became President of the French Republic in 1974)

Electoral mandates

Member of the National Assembly of France for Puy-de-Dômemarker : 1956-1959 (Became minister in 1959) / 1966-1969 (Became minister in 1969) / 1984-1989 (Became member of European Parliamentmarker in 1989) / 1993-2002

Member of European Parliamentmarker : 1989-1993 (Reelected member of the National Assembly of France in 1993)

Mayor of Chamalièresmarker : 1967-1974 (Became President of the French Republic in 1974)

General councillor of Puy-de-Dômemarker : 1958-1974 (Became President of the French Republic in 1974) / 1982-1988

President of the Regional Council of Auvergne marker : 1986-2004

Political functions

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

Personal life

His name is often shortened to "Giscard" or even "VGE" by the French media. A less flattering nickname is l'Ex (the Ex). He was the only surviving ex-president since he left office until the end of Jacques Chirac's term on 16 May 2007, with the exception of a brief period between François Mitterrand's retirement in 1995 and death in early 1996.

On 17 December 1952, Giscard married his cousin Anne-Aymone Sauvage de Brantes, a daughter of Count François Sauvage de Brantes, who died in a concentration camp in 1944, and his wife, the former Princess Aymone de Faucigny-Lucinge. Their children are: Valérie-Anne, Marie-Aymone, Henri (Edmond Marie Valéry), Louis (Joachim Marie François) and Jacinte (Marguerite Marie). His son Louis is a French conservative Representative, and his son Henri is the President of the tourism company Club Méditerranée.

In 2003 he received the Charlemagne Award of the German city of Aachenmarker. He is also a Knight of Malta.

He is an uncle of artist Aurore Giscard d'Estaing, who is married to the American actor Timothy Hutton.

He travels the world giving speeches on European union.

In 2005 he and his brother bought the castle of Estaing, a famous place in the French district of Aveyron and formerly a possession of the above mentioned admiral d'Estaing who was beheaded in 1794. The castle is not used as a residence but it has symbolic value. The two brothers explained that the purchase, supported by the local municipality, is an act of patronage. However a number of major newspapers in several countries questioned their motives and some hinted at self-appointed nobility and an usurped historical identity .

Giscard wrote his second romantic novel, published on October 1, 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..

See also


  1. See French Wikipedia
  2. Mon tour de jardin, Robert Prévost, p. 96, Septentrion 2002
  4. La Chiraquie veut protéger son chef quand il quittera l'Elysée, Libération, 14 January 2005
  5. See also the constitutional amendment proposals by senator Patrice Gélard [1][2]
  7. Le Monde 24 dec. 04, AFP Toulouse 23 dec. 04, Le Figaro 22 jan. 05, Neue Zürcher Zeitung 15 feb. 05, The Sunday Times 16 jan. 05

External links

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