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Last Updated: Monday, 19 May, 2003, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Profile: Giscard d'Estaing
Valery Giscard d'Estaing in 1993
VGE: Grand old man of French politics
Valery Giscard d'Estaing, commonly referred to in France by his initials VGE, likes to see himself as a GOM - Grand Old Man of French politics.

He has perhaps earned himself the right to be considered one of Europe's elder statesmen too, after spending the last year chairing the Convention on the future of the EU.

Born in Germany in 1926, where his father was a civil servant with the occupying forces after World War I, he had a precocious political career serving as finance minister for many years in the 1960s.

Then, in 1974, he launched a successful bid for the presidency, presenting himself at the time as a modern and moderate alternative to the austere conservatism of Gaullism.

He founded the UDF party, still today a force in France, as his political vehicle.

His seven-year term saw some important social reforms and as a convinced European he joined forces with the German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to launch the European Monetary System, the precursor to the European Monetary Union.

Diamond scandal

But Valery Giscard d'Estaing was mocked for his lordly and arrogant style.

There was a scandal over diamonds given to him by Emperor Bokassa of the Central African Republic, and in 1981 he was defeated by the socialist, Francois Mitterrand.

After that he based himself in his political heartland - the Auvergne region of central France - delivering regular pronouncements to newspapers and to television stations about the state of the nation.

His national standing sank so low that he became known as Monsieur Ex in Parisian political circles - but then came the call came to head the Convention.

His selection for the job was the result of intensive lobbying by French President Jacques Chirac, who is said to have insisted on it at the EU's summit in the Belgian town of Laeken in December 2001.

Many criticised the choice of a man in his late 70s for a job designed to bring the EU closer to the people, and especially the young.

French Resistance

Mr Giscard d'Estaing's own youth was disrupted by World War II.

Valery Giscard d'Estaing interviewed on BBC's Panorama programme
Giscard's political career has spanned half a century
He was a mere teenager when he joined the Resistance in occupied Paris in 1940.

He enlisted in a tank battalion in 1944, earning the Croix de Guerre in the last months of the war.

After nearly 40 years in French politics he also spent four years (1989-93) as a member of the European Parliament.

As president of the Convention he has steered a path between European federalists and those sceptical about any further integration.

The draft constitution it produces appears likely to strengthen the Council of the EU - in other words the member states , acting by agreement - rather than the European Commission (the EU's executive branch).

The Convention was originally designed as a consultation exercise that would provide ideas for an inter-governmental conference drawing up a new European treaty.

However, it has grown in authority - largely partly thanks to the fact that it has been joined by many government ministers.

The draft constitution Mr Giscard d'Estaing puts together may well differ little from the final version.




SEE ALSO:
Giscard calls for EU president
23 Apr 03  |  Europe
EU plots future course
15 Dec 01  |  Europe


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