The former president of the European Commission and prominent figure of the French left died on Wednesday at the age of 98.
European Union leaders have paid tribute to the late Jacques Delors.
He was “a visionary who made our Europe stronger” and whose “work… shaped entire generations of Europeans”, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wrote on X.
“His life’s work is a united, dynamic and prosperous European Union… Let us honor his legacy by constantly renewing our Europe,” she added.
Delors, himself a former president of the Commission between 1985 and 1995, died on Wednesday at his home in Paris, according to his daughter.
From Brussels, he has shaped the contours of contemporary Europe: establishment of the single market, signing of the Schengen agreements, the Single European Act, launch of the Erasmus student exchange program, reform of the common agricultural policy, setting in motion the Economic and Monetary Union which led to the creation of the euro.
Delors “went down in history as one of the builders of our Europe,” declared European Council President Charles Michel, calling him “a great Frenchman and a great European.”
He “led the transformation of the European Economic Community towards a true Union based on humanist values and supported by a single market and a single currency”, added Michel.
Former Minister of the Economy under François Mitterrand, Delors dashed the hopes of the left by refusing to run in the 1995 presidential election, even though he was a clear favorite in the polls.
At the end of 1994, his spectacular renunciation of a presidential candidacy, announced after six months of suspense live on television in front of 13 million viewers in Anne Sinclair’s show “7 sur 7”, stunned the French.
“I will be 70 years old, I have worked tirelessly for 50 years and it is more reasonable, in these conditions, to consider a lifestyle more balanced between reflection and action,” he declared, his blue eyes lowered before the ‘camera.
His political career then ended and, from the mid-1990s, Delors continued to fight almost as a simple activist.
With his think tanks, the “Club Témoin” and “Notre Europe” (later becoming the “Jacques-Delors Institute”, with offices in Paris, Brussels and Berlin), he advocated until the end for federalism stronger European, calling for more “audacity” in the face of Brexit and attacks from “populists of all stripes”.
In March 2020, he called on EU heads of state and government to show greater solidarity as they vied for a common response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Born in Paris on July 20, 1925 into a Catholic family, Delors moved from parish patronage to the Young Christian Workers (JOC), to which he remained attached throughout his life.
He was the son of a Parisian bank clerk.
Admirer of Pierre Mendès France, he waited until 1974 and 49 years old to join the PS, in the hope of “making himself useful”.
Director of public finances under Mitterrand, he was one of the initiators of the austerity measures introduced in 1982, preventing France from sinking into inflation.
In 1948, he married Marie Lephaille, a colleague who shared his trade union and religious beliefs, and died in 2020. They have two children: Martine Aubry, born in 1950, and Jean-Paul, born in 1953, died of leukemia. in 1982.
In 2021, he told Le Point that he had “no regrets” about his career, even though he had made it clear that he had not always been right.
“I was too preoccupied with independence and I felt different from those around me. My way of doing politics was not the same.”
President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to Delors on Wednesday via X, formerly Twitter, hailing him as an “inexhaustible architect of our Europe”.
“His commitment, his ideals and his righteousness will always inspire us. I salute his work and his memory, and share the pain of his loved ones,” wrote the French Prime Minister.
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