Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
Valéry Marie René Georges Giscard d'Estaing (French pronunciation: [valeʁi ʒiskaʁ destɛ̃]; born 2 February 1926), also known as Giscard or VGE, is a French centrist politician and a member of the Constitutional Council of France. He served as President of the French Republic from 1974 until 1981.
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, combined with the official discourse that the "end of the tunnel was near".
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, as well as 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, in the annually held Bilderberg private conference.
He also became involved in the regional politics of Auvergne, 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 Senegal Léopold Sédar Senghor had held. As a former President, he is a member of the Constitutional Council.
- 1 Early years
- 2 Member of National Assembly
- 3 President of France, 1974–1981
- 4 After 1981 defeat
- 5 European activities
- 6 Irish Lisbon Treaty referendum
- 7 Political career
- 8 Personal life
- 9 Honours
- 10 Heraldry
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Valéry Marie René Giscard d'Estaing was born on 2 February 1926 in Koblenz, Germany, during the French occupation of the Rhineland. He is the elder son of Jean Edmond Lucien Giscard d'Estaing (1894–1982), a high-ranking 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 mistresses, Catherine Eléonore Bernard (1740–1769) through her great-grandfather Marthe Camille Bachasson, Count of Montalivet, and by whom Giscard d'Estaing was a multiple descendant of Charlemagne.
Giscard had an older sister, Sylvie (1924–2008). He has a younger brother, Olivier, as well as two younger sisters: Isabelle (born 1935) and Marie-Laure (born 1939). 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.
He joined the French Resistance and participated in the Liberation of Paris; during the liberation he was tasked with protecting Alexandre Parodi. He then joined the French First Army and served until the end of the war. 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 (1949–1951) and chose to enter the prestigious Inspection des finances. He acceded to the Tax and 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-Dôme 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 1962, while Giscard had been nominated Minister of Economy and Finance, his party broke with the Gaullists and left the majority coalition. The CNIP reproached President Charles de Gaulle for his euro-scepticism. But Giscard refused to resign and founded the Independent Republicans (RI), which became the junior partner of the Gaullists in the "presidential majority".
However, in 1966, he was dismissed from the cabinet. He transformed the RI into 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 ...". As 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 to that position after the 1968 legislative election. In 1969, unlike most of FNRI’s elected officials, Giscard advocated a "no" vote in the constitutional referendum concerning 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, after which he 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, seen as "technocrats". e.
In 1974, after the sudden death of President 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. 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 that Giscard was the best candidate to prevent the election of Mitterrand. In the election, Giscard finished well ahead of Chaban-Delmas in the first round, though coming second to Mitterrand. In the run-off on 20 May, however, Giscard narrowly defeated Mitterrand, receiving 50.7% of the vote.
President of France, 1974–1981
In 1974 Giscard was elected President of France, defeating Socialist candidate François Mitterrand by 425,000 votes—still the closest election in French history. At 48, he was the third youngest president in French history at the time, after Louis-Napoléon 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 and the Minitel, a precursor of the Internet. He promoted nuclear power, as a way to assert French independence. In 1975 he invited the heads of government from West Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States to a summit in Rambouillet, to form the Group of Six major economic powers (now the G7, including Canada).
Giscard billed himself as "a conservative who likes change," and initially tried to project a less monarchial image than had been the case for past French presidents. He wore an ordinary business suit to his inauguration and eschewed the traditional motorcade down the Champs-Elysées in favour of strolling down the street. He took a ride on the Métro, ate monthly dinners with ordinary Frenchmen, and even invited garbage men from Paris to have breakfast with him in the Élysée Palace. However, when he learned that most Frenchmen were somewhat cool to this display of informality, Giscard became so aloof and distant that his opponents frequently attacked him as being too far removed from ordinary citizens.
He pursued a controversial course in foreign policy. In 1977, in the Opération Lamantin, he ordered fighter jets to deploy in Mauritania and go to war against the Polisario guerrillas fighting against Mauritanian military occupation of Western Sahara. 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 Sahrawi resistance.
Most controversial however was his involvement with the regime of Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Republic and with a diamond smuggling scandal involving Bokassa, by which he personally profited. Giscard was initially a friend of Bokassa, and supplied the 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. Legally, official gifts to the President are property of the Republic of France, not the President; 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, especially the law by Simone Veil on abortion. A rivalry arose with his Prime Minister Jacques Chirac, who resigned in 1976. Raymond Barre, called the "best economist in France" at the time, 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. Giscard reacted by founding a centre-right confederation, the Union for French Democracy (UDF).
In the 1981 presidential election, Giscard took a severe blow to his support when Chirac ran against Giscard in the first round. Chirac finished third and refused to recommend that his supporters back Giscard in the runoff, though he declared that he himself would vote for Giscard. Giscard lost to Mitterrand in the runoff, and since then has blamed Chirac for his defeat. To this day, it is widely said that Giscard loathes 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", Giscard claimed in his 1974 campaign that he would apply the death penalty to people committing the most heinous crimes. 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 and, had executions not resumed in the United States, the last in the Western world, as was the case until 1979 when John Spenkelink was executed by Florida. Death sentences were continually handed out in France for the remaining four years of Giscard's term but were all commuted in 1981, when capital punishment was abolished.
After 1981 defeat
After his defeat, Giscard retired temporarily from politics. In 1984, he regained his seat in Parliament and won the presidency of the regional council of Auvergne. In this position, he tried to encourage tourism to the région, founding the "European Centre of Volcanology" and theme park Vulcania.
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-Ferrand.
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 on 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 criticized 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 Senate.
In 2003, Giscard was admitted to the Académie française, amid controversy.
He is currently serving as:
- President of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions
- A member of the Académie française (French Academy)
- As a de jure member of the French Constitutional Council
Giscard 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".
On 29 October 2004, the European heads of state, gathered in Rome, 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 Economics on 28 February 2006, he said: "The rejection of the Constitutional treaty by voters in France was a mistake that should be corrected."
From 2008 he is the Honorary President of the Permanent Platform of Atomium Culture, an innovative structure composed of some of the most authoritative universities, newspapers and businesses in Europe for the selection, exchange and dissemination of the most innovative European research, to increase the movement of knowledge across borders, across sectors and to the public at large.
On 27 November 2009, Giscard publicly launched the Permanent Platform of Atomium Culture during its first conference, held at the European Parliament, declaring: "European intelligence could be at the very root of the identity of the European people." A few days before he had signed, together with the President of Atomium Culture Michelangelo Baracchi Bonvicini, the European Manifesto of Atomium Culture.
Irish Lisbon Treaty referendum
Giscard 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.
President of the French Republic: 1974–1981.
Member of the Constitutional Council of France: Since 2004.
Secretary of State for Finances: 1959–1962.
Minister of Finances and Economic Affairs: 1962–1966.
Minister of Economy and Finances: 1969–1974.
Minister of State, minister of Economy and Finances: March–May 1974 (Resignation, became President of the French Republic in 1974)
National Assembly of France
Member of the National Assembly of France for Puy-de-Dôme: 1956–1959 (Became minister in 1959) / Reelected in 1962, but he stays minister / 1967–1969 (Became minister in 1969) / Reelected in 1973, but he stays minister / 1984–1989 (Became member of European Parliament in 1989) / 1993–2002. Elected in 1956, reelected in 1958, 1962, 1967, 1968, 1973.
President of the Regional Council of Auvergne (region): 1986–2004. Reelected in 1992, 1998.
Regional councillor of Auvergne (region): 1986–2004. Reelected in 1992, 1998.
General councillor of Puy-de-Dôme: 1958–1974 (Resignation, became President of the French Republic in 1974) / 1982–1988 (Resignation). Reelected in 1964, 1970, 1982.
Mayor of Chamalières: 1967–1974 (Resignation, Became President of the French Republic in 1974). Reelected in 1971.
Municipal councillor of Chamalières: 1967–1977. Reelected in 1971.
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.
Giscard's name is often shortened to "VGE" by the French media. A less flattering nickname is l'Ex (the Ex), used mostly by the weekly satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné. 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 had died in a concentration camp in 1944, and his wife, the former Princess Aymone de Faucigny-Lucinge. Their children are: Valérie-Anne, Henri (Edmond Marie Valéry), Louis (Joachim Marie François) and Jacinte (Marguerite Marie). Louis was a French conservative Representative; Henri is the President of the tourism company Club Méditerranée.
Giscard's private life was the source of many rumors at both national and international level. His family did not live in the presidential palace, and several publications such as Le Monde, The Economist, the International Herald Tribune and The Independent reported on his affairs with women. In 1974, Le Monde reported that he used to leave a sealed letter stating his whereabouts in case of emergency.
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 a usurped historical identity.
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 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.
- Grand-croix (and former Grand Master) of the Legion of Honour
- Grand-croix (and former Grand Master) of the Ordre National du Mérite
- Croix de guerre 1939–1945 
As Minister of Finance
- Italy: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (10/1973)
- Norway: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olav (1962)
As President of France
- Denmark: Knight of the Order of the Elephant (12 October 1978)
- Portugal: Grand Collar of the Order of Saint James of the Sword (14 October 1975)
- Portugal: Grand Collar of the Order of Prince Henry (21 October 1978)
- Spain: Knight with Collar of the Order of Isabella the Catholic (1976)
- Sweden: Knight of the Order of the Seraphim (6 June 1980)
- SMOM: Bailiff Grand Cross of Honour and Devotion of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta
- SMOM: Grand Cross pro Merito Melitensi
President Giscard d'Estaing was granted a coat of arms by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark upon his appointment to the Order of the Elephant, which was recognised by King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden (Photo), for his installation as a Knight of the Seraphim.
- See French Wikipedia
- Mon tour de jardin, Robert Prévost, p. 96, Septentrion 2002
- Lewis, Flora (20 May 1974). "France Elects Giscard President For 7 Years After A Close Contest; Left Turned Back". New York Times. Retrieved 22 December 2020. Check date values in:
- History of the Minitel
- Thompson, Wayne C. (2013). The World Today 2013: Western Europe. Stryker-Post Publications. ISBN 978-1-4758-0505-5.
- "La Chiraquie veut protéger son chef quand il quittera l'Elysée", Libération, 14 January 2005
- See also the constitutional amendment proposals by senator Patrice Gélard  
- [dead link]
- "The Honorary President of Atomium Culture Valéry Giscard d'Estaing speaks at the public launch and first conference, Atomium Culture". Atomiumculture.eu. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
- Von Joachim Müller-Jung (27 November 2009). "Atomium Culture: Bienenstock der Intelligenz – Atomium Culture – Wissen". Faz.Net. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
- Lichfield, John (3 February 1998). "French get peek at all the presidents' women". The Independent. Retrieved 17 January 2014.
- "Hemeroteca La Vanguardia, November 30th 1974 (Spanish)".
- Le Monde 24 December 04, AFP Toulouse 23 December 04, Le Figaro 22 January 05, Neue Zürcher Zeitung 15 February 05, The Sunday Times 16 January 05
- "Giscard hints at affair with Diana". Connexion. 21 September 2009. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
- "Giscard: I made up Diana love story". Connexion. 24 September 2009. Retrieved 3 June 2011.
- Académie française, Valéry GISCARD d’ESTAING
- Italian Presidency Website, GISCARD D'ESTAING S.E. Valery, "Cavaliere di Gran Croce Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana", when Minister of Economy and Finance
- borger.dk, Ordensdetaljer, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, Hans Excellence, fhv. præsident for Republikken Frankrig
- Coat of arms in the chapel of Frederiksborg Castle
- Portuguese Presidency Website, Orders search form : type "ESTAING Valéry Giscard" in "nome", then click "Pesquisar"
- Heraldry of the Order of the Seraphim
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- (French) Personal blog of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
- (French) Biography on the French National Assembly website
- (French) First and second-round results of French presidential elections