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Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing dies of COVID-19

Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing sat at the country's helm for only one seven-year term, during which he attempted to modernize the European nation. Photo by David Silpa/UPI
Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing sat at the country's helm for only one seven-year term, during which he attempted to modernize the European nation. Photo by David Silpa/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, who attempted to modernize France and was instrumental in collating Europe into a union, died on Wednesday from complications related to COVID-19, his foundation said. He was 94.

His foundation announced his death Wednesday evening on Twitter, stating he died earlier in the day at his home in Loir-et-Cher, in central France.

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"His state of health had deteriorated and he died of COVID-19," the statement read. "In accordance with his wishes, his funeral will take place in the strictest family privacy."

The ambitious aristocrat was born in Germany in 1926 when his father was the director of finance at the High Commission of France in occupied Rhineland after World War One, according to his foundation.

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At 18, he joined the French military and returned to Germany, this time to defend his homeland against the land of his birth in the Second World War as part of a tank regiment, after which he established a career of his own in finance that would see him at the age of 33 advising several French government ministries.

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Giscard was elected president in 1974 at the age of 48, making him the nation's youngest leader since Napoleon Bonaparte, but he was ousted from the country's helm when he lost his bid for a second seven-year term in 1981 due to the perception he ruled France as a monarch.

During his presidency and despite economic difficulties, Giscard was able to grow the country's economy at the fastest pace outside of Japan though it occurred as unemployment rose.

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Though considered an expert in finance, he was also a political and social reformer and legislated for divorce to be permitted by mutual consent, decriminalized adultery and reorganized media to make it more free. He also worked to integrate people with disabilities into the workforce, lowered the voting age to 18 and legalized abortion, among other social reforms.

Christopher Castaner, the head of French President Emmanuel Macron's ruling party, said in a statement Wednesday that Giscard "wrote a strong page in the history of our Republic."

"His modern and resolutely progressive action in the service of French will long mark his legacy," he wrote.

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Giscard also worked to unify Europe, and launched the European Monetary System with German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt on March 13, 1979 -- a move that would eventually lead to the birth of the Euro.

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Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator concerning Britain's decision to leave the union, tweeted his respects to Giscard on Wednesday.

"For Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Europe should be a French ambition and France a modern nation," he said.

This work exceeded his presidency, and he headed a body of parliamentarians in charge of writing the constitution of the European Union, but received pushback from Turkey as he was against it joining the coalition as he claimed it was not a European nation.

During his final cabinet meeting as president in May of 1981, Giscard delivered an emotional farewell speech, stating that his administration had done as well as they could to help France.

"That's the answer that our conscience brings to the only question a man of politics should ask himself: Have I served France well? On a day like this one, the way of conscience is stronger than that of favor of the moment," he said.

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Richard "Dick" Thornburgh, former attorney general of the United States and former governor of Pennsylvania, takes a seat at the witness hearing after U.S. Chief Justice nominee Judge John Roberts testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on September 15, 2005. Thornburgh died on December 31 at age 88. Photo by Yuri Gripas/UPI | License Photo

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