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Valery Giscard d'Estaing

Inspector of finances, member of the French Academy and former European parliamentarian, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing [aka VGE] was the third president of the Fifth French Republic (19 May 1974-19 May 1981). The political career of Valery Giscard d'Estaing spanned the post- World War II history of France. By the age of 26, Giscard d'Estaing was already a highranking civil servant in the Finance Ministry. He pursued elective and appointive careers alternatively and at the age of 36 became one of France's youngest Ministers of Finance and Economic Affairs ever, holding this position for a total of nine years. At 48, he became the Fifth Republic's youngest President.

In his book French Democracy, Giscard d'Estaing asserted the presence in the electorate of a "vast central group, already a majority, characterized by a comportment, a style of life, an education, a way of viewing the world, a culture and aspirations which are tending to become homogeneous". According to Giscard, this group which extends from the center right (left wing of the RPR), to the center left (right wing of the PS), desires significant reforms based on social concerns, but rejects Marxist dogma and massive restructuring of french society. The UDF (Union pour la Democratie Francaise) was to serve as the vehicle for mobilizing this center in support of Giscard.

Reform had been the central theme of President Giscard d'Estaing's administration. Already enacted are reforms of the nation's abortion laws, divorce laws, national television system, and urban-growth and real-estate laws. Further, at the suggestion of the President, the vote has been given to everyone over 18 years of age. The President is now pushing forward with the enactment of France's first capital gains tax and sweeping changes in business laws.

Valery Giscard d'Estaing was born in Coblenz, Germany, during the French occupation of the Rhineland, on February 2, 1926. His father, Edmond Giscard d'Estaing, was an inspecteur des finances, an elite group of national public auditors who oversee the finances of the state. He had moved from that to the business world.

President Giscard d'Estaing's mother, May Giscard d'Estaing, came from a distinguished French political family. Her grandfather, Agenor Bardoux (1829-1897), had been Minister of Public Instruction (1877-1879) in the MacMahon government and vice president of the Senate. Her father, Jacques Bardoux (1874-1959), was an influential member of the National Assembly from the department of Puy-deDome in the Auvergne region of France. (Of historical note, Tom Paine, author of Common Sense, was elected to the Convention, the first French assembly after the French Revolution, by the electors of the department of Puy-de-Dome.)

Valery was less than one year old when his family went home to the Auvergne where he spent his early childhood. He was very young when his teachers perceived that they had a~brilliant student. He pursued his studies at the Lycees Janson de Sailly and Louis-le-Grand in Paris and at the Lycee Blaise Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand.

It was during this period that one of the most dramatic events occurred in young Giscard d'Estaing' s life - the German occupation of France. He was in the Auvergne, in the heart of France, when the French surrendered and he saw the Germans march into Clermont Ferrand in 1940. His mother took him back to Paris to pursue his studies at the Lycee Janson, but the young man wanted to participate in the struggle against the Germans. He joined a section of the French Resistance, "Defense de la France", and participated in its clandestine activities by delivering anti-occupation literature and later arms. In 1943 he wanted to go to London, but was prevented from doing so when the Resistance organization he was working with was broken up by the Germans. But when Paris was liberated, Giscard d'Estaing managed to make his way to General de Lattre' s First Army where he participated in the final stages of the war in France and Germany as a tank soldier. He was decorated with the Croix de Guerre.

France liberated, Giscard d'Estaing went back to his studies. He pursued his education in two of France's most prestigious schools -the Ecole Polytechnique and the Ecole Nationale d' Administration. The latter (known as ENA) is a school for advanced studies in public administration. The most brilliant graduates of both these schools generally enter the government, industry or the diplomatic service. In 1952 he was named inspecteur des finances, like his father. With this background and education, the road to the political career he wanted was open to him, but the young Giscard d'Estaing had to prove himself. For three years he served as the number two man on the staff of the Finance Minister and then Premier of France, Edgar Faure, and on January 2, 1956 was elected to the National Assembly from the Puy-de-Dome department.

Charles de Gaulle returned to power in France in 1958 and in January 1959 appointed Giscard d'Estaing junior minister of finance in the government of Premier Michel Debre. In this first high-level government post, Giscard d'Estaing served first under Finance Minister Antoine Pinay and then Finance Minister Wilfred Baumgartner. In January 1962 De Gaulle decided that the young man's apprenticeship was over-he named him Minister of Finance. He was 35 years old. Giscard d'Estaing was to serve a total of nine years in this key job in the French government-1962-1966 and 1969-1974, the latter five years during the presidency of Georges Pompidou. His services as Finance Minister were marked by the modernization of the institutions of the Ministry, stabilization of the French economic situation and the rising strength of the French franc, and by a tough campaign against tax fraud. It was during this period that the young Finance Minister traveled widely and met with some of the world's top leaders, including Presidents John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon of the United States, German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

During his period out of government (1966-1969), Giscard d'Estaing concentrated on building his new political party which won important victories in the legislative elections of March 1967. Giscard himself was reelected to the National Assembly from the Puy-deDome and for the first time, the UDR party realized that it would not have a majority without the support of the Independent Republican Party. Thus was born a government coalition which has survived until today. New legislative elections were held in June 1968, after the student riots of May 1968, and Giscard d'Estaing was once more elected to the National Assembly. In 1969 President de Gaulle submitted a referendum to the public on regionalization. Giscard d'Estaing publicly advocated a "no" vote on the referendum and when it was defeated President de Gaulle resigned, paving the way for the election of Georges Pompidou, who on taking office recalled Giscard d'Estaing to the Finance Ministry.

During all this period, Giscard d'Estaing was also elected to other political responsibilities. In France, a political leader can hold a number of political offices at the same time. For example, Giscard d'Estaing was simultaneously a member of the National Assembly, member of the General Council of Puy-de-Dome for the rural canton of Rochefort-Montagne (elected in 1958) and Mayor of Chamalieres, a town of 20,000 inhabitants near Clermont-Ferrand (elected in September 1967).

He was also elected to the National Assembly and served as mayor of Chamalieres, a town near Clermont-Ferrand. Deputy for the Puy-de-Dôme (2nd Circuit: Clermont Nord and Sud-Ouest) (1967-69) Chairman of the Committee on Finance, General Economics and the Plan of the National Assembly (1967-68) President (1970) of the Council of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Minister of Economy and Finance (1969-74) Minister of State, Minister for the Economy and Finance (1 March-27 May 1974).

With the death of President Pompidou, the race for his succession was on. Giscard d'Estaing chose Chamalieres as the site for the announcement of his candidacy. His election as President of the French Republic on May 19, 1974 came at the end of the most dramatic political campaign France has seen since, at the suggestion of President Charles de Gaulle, the French adopted an amendment to the Constitution in 1962 providing for the election of the chief executive by universal suffrage. The election had been caused by the premature death of President Georges Pompidou on April 02, 1974. Three important candidates entered the race to succeed President Pompidou: Valery Giscard d'Estaing; Jacques Chaban-Delmas, former Premier of France and a leading member of the UDR, the party founded by Charles de Gaulle; and Franc;:ois Mitterrand, the First Secretary of the French Socialist Party and the candidate of the Unified Left parties in France, including the French Communist Party.

Giscard d'Estaing's task was not easy. The Independent Republican Party, which he had formed with his political allies in 1966 and which he headed, was the junior partner of the Gaullist coalition, dwarfed in size and importance by the UDR. To be elected President, it was vital for Giscard d'Estaing to run ahead of Chaban Delmas in the first round of the presidential election. None of the candidates was expected to receive the necessary dear-cut majority and Mitterrand was expected to lead.

That Giscard d'Estaing succeeded was a tribute to his personal campaign style and his effective presentations on radio and television in debates with Mitterrand. As predicted, Mitterrand led in the first ballot, with Giscard d'Estaing easily outdistancing Chaban-Delmas. In the second ballot of the election, on May 19, Giscard d'Estaing won a narrow victory over Mitterrand. His margin was 342,000 votes out of 26 million cast. His percentage was 50.80%.

President Giscard d'Estaing' s election brought to power a man with a different vision of the political needs of his nation. For the new, young Chief of State, France is a great country with great potential but its political institutions are badly in need of reform. Those who had known Giscard d'Estaing since his youth were not surprised at the accent the new President put on reform. He had been born into a politically oriented family, and at a very young age had manifested a desire to play a part in the political life of his country.

In a press meeting, July 25, 1974, he stated "The problem as far as our institutions in France are concerned is not a permanent one. But there is a problem in the way these institutions evolve. As you know, our present system, the Fifth Republic as amended by the referendum of 1962, is a "presidentialist" system that is one in which the powers of the President of the Republic are very important regarding the momentum he gives to policy. It is not a presidential system per se because within the framework of our Constitution Parliament has its own powers which permit it to use a motion of censure to reopen debate on the direction of the policy followed by the government, that the President of the Republic has named."

During his term of office, until 1981, he played a key role in several crucial international initiatives, including the establishment of the European Council, the election by universal suffrage of the European Parliament, the creation of the European monetary system (a project presented jointly by France and Germany in 1978), and the inauguration of world summits of chiefs of state and heads of governments of the principal industrialized democracies. The first summit was held at Rambouillet, France, in 1975.

He met with President Gerald Ford (1) in Martinique in December 1974 and in Rambouillet in November 1975. He also met with Soviet Communist Party chief Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow in October 1975. He has received a number of world leaders (2) and has visited a number of countries (3). He has worked out an increasingly close working relationship with German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and is actively working with other European leaders toward an old post-World War II dream, the creation of a political Europe.

President Giscard d'Estaing has also taken a number of significant international initiatives to deal with the pressing economic problems. He was the instigator of the idea of a dialogue between the rich countries, the developing countries and the oilproducing states of the world which resulted in the North-South Conference. He also organized the Rambouillet conference in 1975 at which leaders and heads of state from the United States, France, West Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Japan discussed world economic and monetary matters.

In a press meeting, October 24, 1974, he stated ".. . France's foreign policy ... shows four characteristics. First of all, sovereignty of decision: France intends to be free to make the decisions that affect the development of international relations and therefore free to make these decisions on her own, while naturally respecting the treaties and agreements she has signed. Secondly, it is a world-oriented policy because I am convinced that at the present time the problems facing us do in fact face us on a world scale and that we must therefore use this perspective, the world scale, in seeking the answers. It is a policy of consultation, putting consultation before confrontation. And lastly, the fact that it is a liberal policy means that France, with a liberal policy at home, must also have a liberal policy and a liberal image abroad."

In a television broadcast, March 25, 1975, he was asked about An Independent Defense Policy "I have thought at length about this problem and I have reached the conclusion - the same one reached by General de Gaulle-that France has to have an independent defense system. France is part of an alliance, but she must guarantee her defense herself, in an independent manner. This implies two things: first of all, that we ourselves must have the means needed to guarantee our defense and secondly, that we ourselves must decide on the circumstances under which we should use these means. These are the principles that currently guide France's independent defense policy."

Interviewed in Le Figaro, November 12, 1975, he stated "Of all the countries with which the Soviet Union enjoys bilateral cooperation, France is the one with which it has the best relationship. Of course, there are countries that have greater economic and industrial means than we do, but taking into account the scale of means, French-Soviet cooperation works the best. I think this is because our economy has an overall structure, half state-run, half liberal, that enables us to adjust more easily than others to the mechanisms of the Soviet economy. And the atmosphere during our talks about cooperation was very positive."

The UDF was initially made up of the Republican Party (PR), the Center for Social Democrats (CDS), the Radical Socialists (Radicals), the Democratic Socialist Movement of France (MSDF), the Democratic Socialist Party (MSD), the Christian Democratic Party (CD) and some of the Center for National Independents (CNI). The PR was by far the largest with about 14 percent of the national vote (the CDS - 5 percent, Radicals 2 percent, etc.).

Historically, attempts to unify the center had foundered on a combination of personality conflicts and differing programs. The creation of the UDF effectively made Giscard the spiritual leader of the component parties (reducing the importance of the personalities of the individual party leaders) and the government's program provided the common ground for their individual party programs. The UDF controlled the presidency, the prime ministry, the government and its levers of power. There were sufficient "spoils" and each party had a vested interest in unity. Also, a Giscardian generation is slowly assuming power within the parties and their political futures are linked to the president's. Thus a basis for unity existed.

Giscard's goal remained to govern from the center, weaken the political extremes, and allow eventually for some form of cooperation with the moderate opposition. The PS having broken the communist domination of the left's electorate, the UDF must gain control of the majority's electorate. In theory, if the UDF and PS could shift power to the center, cooperation would be possible. The Gaullists and communists would be relegated to a second position, and France could participate in the general social democratic trend of development in Western Europe.

In 1977 Giscard was low in public esteem, generally considered ineffective and hesitant, and up against a left electoral coalition which was an odds on favorite to deprive his government of a parliamentary majority. A year later, he had never looked stronger. He has gotten through the election with his majority intact and with the reputation of having made a personal contribution to the victory through two well-timed interventions in the campaign. He inspired the creation of a major political organization devoted to his philosophy.

He managed to look innovative in his co-sponsoring (with Schmidt) of a new European monetary system and in his disarmament proposals (and to win some support for them at the UN special session on disarmament) and to look decisive in his dispatch of French troops to Shaba to protect European citizens there. He kept the lid on social unrest while promulgating an economic program with potentially radical structural implications. And he maintained an unprecedented popularity level in the opinion polls. The French president appeared to have no challenger among European leaders in the degree of flexibility he enjoys for implementing his policies.

To his early reputation as an academic wunderkind, he sought to add (with considerable success in the public eye) the qualities of rationality, humanis, and steadiness. His press conferences, his speeches, and his periodic "seminars" with his cabinet reflect a leader fully on top of his brief, with a clear idea of where he wants to go, and a tranquil confidence that he knows how to get there. He had a knack for exploiting the humane aspects of his polices-e.g. on the Shaba rescue operation and the decision to cancel the reprocessing deal with Pakistan. He showed an ability to turn luck to advantage; his well-publicized conviction that the majority would win the March 1978 election brought him more of the credit for its victory than he deserved.

President Giscard d'Estaing traveled widely in the United States, as a student, as a journalist (he did an interview of the late Senator Robert Taft for Paris-Presse), and as a parliamentarian. He has been a parliamentary member of the French delegation to the United Nations. As Minister of Finance, he represented France at a number of the meetings of the International Monetary Fund in Washington. President Giscard d'Estaing speaks English.

Giscard d'Estaing always liked sports. He played football (called soccer in the United States) and is an accomplished skier. In 1967, along with Maurice Herzog, the conqueror of Annapuma, he was the first person to ski down the north face of Mont Blanc. He piloted airplanes and helicopters. He was an avid reader and a lover of good music, particularly Mozart. He himself played the piano and the accordion. He had a country house, l'Etoile, near Authon, in the Loir-et-Cher department where he spent many weekends with his family.

The President was married to Anne-Aymone de Brantes.

After he left the presidency, Giscard d'Estaing was again elected to the National Assembly from Puy-de-Dôme and served from 1984-1989; he was reelected in 1993 and 1997. Elected as a deputy to the European Parliament in 1989, Giscard d'Estaing served in that capacity until 1993. In October 1997, he was elected president of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions and reelected in 2001. In December 2001, the European Council appointed him president of the Convention on the Future of Europe.

By 2003 former president of France, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, headed the 105-member convention working on the European constitution. He says when completed, the document will represent a major crossroads in European history, much as the US Constitution did in American history. “The Philadelphia Convention in 1787 was such a determining moment in American history,” the former president said. “The 12 or 13, because as you know one abstained, 13 newly independent founding states of the United States of America were economically weak, financially almost bankrupt, internally divided with the population of about 3.5 million, including slaves, and still exposed to external threats.” Despite a very strict deadline and a sometimes idiosyncratic presidency by the aging former French president Giscard d‘Estaing, the Convention fulfilled its task.

The rejection of Europe‘s Constitution by a comfortable majority of voters in France on May 29 (54.7%) and a few days later on June 1 in the Netherlands (61.6%) delivered a painful end to a constitutional process that had started under very good auspices.


  • Adjoint to the Inspectorate of Finance (1952), Inspector of Finance (1954)
  • Deputy Director of the cabinet of Edgar Faure (Chairman of the Board, June-December 1954) member of the Puy de Dome (1956-1959)
  • Member of the French delegation to the eleventh session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (1956-57)
  • General conseiller of the canton of Rochefort-Montagne (1958-74)
  • Secretary of State for finance (January 1959)
  • Ministre of Finance (January-April 1962)
  • Ministre finance and Economic Affairs (April-November 1962)
  • Depute of Oregon (November-December 1962)
  • Ministre finance and Economic Affairs (1962-1966), reinstated to the Inspectorate of Finance (1966-67)
  • President of the National Federation of Republican independent (1966)
  • Depute of Oregon (2nd circ.: Clermont North and Southwest) (1967-69)
  • President of the Finance Committee, the general economy and the plan of the National Assembly (1967-68)
  • President (1970) of the Council of the Organization for cooperation and development (OECD)
  • Ministre of the economy and finance (1969-74)
  • Ministre of State, Minister of economy and finance (March 1 - May 27, 1974)
  • President of the Republic (May 19, 1974 - may 19, 1981)
  • retrouver this media www.ina.fr
  • Paris, may 27, 1974, date of the official installation of Valéry GISCARD D'ESTAING in his duties as president of the French Republic.
  • Member of right of the Constitutional Council (since 1981)
  • Municipal conseiller of Chamalières (1974-77)
  • General conseiller of the Puy de Dome (canton of Chamalières) (1982-1988)
  • Depute UDF of Oregon 2nd District (1984-89)
  • President of the regional Council of Auvergne (1986-2004)


  • Democratie French (1976)
  • Two French three (1984, 2nd ed. 1985)
  • The power and life (1988)
  • The ' confrontation (1991)
  • The passage (novel, 1994)
  • In five years, year 2000 (essay, 1995).
  • The French, thoughts on the destiny of a people (2000)
  • The Princess and the President (2009)

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Page last modified: 28-09-2017 18:31:08 ZULU