PARIS - France is mourning the death of its former president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, as a result of contracting the COVID-19 virus. Giscard led France for seven years, from 1974 to 1981 and many now remember him as a reformer and a champion of European unity.
After several hospitalizations over the last few months, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing died on Wednesday at the age of 94 in his chateau – a two hours’ drive from Paris, according to his family.
The former head of state left the public stage years ago but the announcement of his death late Wednesday shocked and saddened the nation.
At the French Senate, France’s culture minister Roselyne Bachelot paid tribute to Giscard d’Estaing.
The minister said she feels emotional after Giscard d’Estaing’s passing. She paid tribute to his memory as he led many reforms which still impact French society today.
Giscard d’Estaing led France for a single seven-year term from 1974-1981, during which the country made great strides in nuclear power, high-speed train travel as well as lowering the voting age to 18. It was also during his time that France legalized abortion.
His seven-year mandate transformed France," President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement.
Giscard was also active on the international stage at a crucial time, during the Cold War. In 1976, he visited Washington to meet then-President Gerald Ford and address the U.S. Congress.
“Is there a future for freedom in the world we are building for our children?,” he asked.
Europe was at the heart of his foreign policy: monetary union and greater cooperation. German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid tribute to former French leader on Thursday, saying "France had a statesman and Germany a friend, and we have all lost a great European," in a tweet posted by her spokesperson.
Deeply involved in the construction of a united Europe, Giscard d’Estaing expressed sadness at the announcement of a Brexit. This is what he said in one of his last interviews, earlier this year, to Associated Press.
“In today’s world where you have big structures such as China, the United States of America with the first economy of the world, the European Union is too small. The changes will be big in Britain. It is a very serious problem for them because they must organize their situation, their relationships, their diplomacy, etc. I wish they rejoined (Europe).”
Giscard's family said that according to his wishes, funeral ceremonies would take place in the "strictest intimacy.”