Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the president of France from 1974 to 1981 who became a champion of European integration, has died at the age of 94 after contracting Covid-19.
Mr Giscard d’Estaing’s office said he passed away in his family home in the Loir-et-Cher region, in central France. He had recently been admitted to hospital in the town of Tours with heart problems.
“In accordance with his wishes, his funeral will take place in strict privacy,” his office said.
As president, he helped forge a single Europe with his close friend, German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Together they laid the foundations for the euro single currency.
Mr Giscard d’Estaing wrote the article in the EU charter that allowed Brexit to happen – the brief measure that permits a member state to leave the bloc.
On the eve of Britain’s departure this year, Mr Giscard d’Estaing told The Associated Press it was a “step backward” geopolitically, but took the long view.
“We functioned without Britain during the first years of the European Union … So we will rediscover a situation that we have already known,” he said.
Seeing the Britons leave, “I feel great regret,” he said.
He remained unfailingly optimistic in the European project, forecasting that the EU and the euro would bounce back and gradually grow stronger and bigger despite the challenges of losing a major member.
When he took office in 1974, Mr Giscard d’Estaing began as the model of a modern French president, a conservative with liberal views on social issues.
Abortion and divorce by mutual consent were legalised under his term, and he reduced the age of majority from 21 to 18.
He played his accordion in working class neighbourhoods. One Christmas morning, he invited four passing garbage men to breakfast at the presidential palace.
He lost his re-election bid in 1981 to Socialist Francois Mitterrand.
After joining the French Resistance during World War II, he next saw Germany as a tank commander in the French military in 1944.
In 1952, he married Anne-Aymone de Brantes, the daughter of a count and heiress to a steel fortune. They had four children: Valerie-Anne, Louis, Henri and Jacinte.
Young Giscard d’Estaing studied at the prestigious Polytechnical Institute and then the elite National School of Administration, before mastering economics at Oxford.
President Charles de Gaulle named him finance minister at the age of 36.
He then found a second calling in the European Union. He worked on writing a European Constitution which was formally presented in 2004, but rejected by French and Dutch voters. However, it paved the way for the adoption of the Treaty on European Union in 2007.
At age 83, he published a romance novel called “The Princess and the President,” which he said was based on Princess Diana, with whom he said he discussed writing a love story.
Asked about the nature of their relationship, he said only: “Let us not exaggerate. I knew her a bit in a climate of a confidential relationship. She needed to communicate.”
Earlier this year, a German journalist accused Mr Giscard d’Estaing of repeatedly grabbing her during an interview, and filed a sexual assault complaint with Paris prosecutors. His French lawyer said the 94-year-old “retains no memory” of the incident.
Former French President Francois Hollande paid tribute to “a stateman who had chosen to open up to the world and was thinking that Europe was a condition for France to be greater.”
Mr Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, expressed his “deep sadness”, saying Mr Giscard d’Estaing “made France be proud”.