Former European Commission President Jacques Delors, a key figure in the creation of the euro currency, has died aged 98 on Wednesday, according to a statement from the Jacques Delors Institute, a think tank he founded.
Delors, a Socialist, had a high-profile political career in France, where he served as finance minister under President François Mitterrand in the early 1980s, before becoming president of the EU Commission in 1985.
His 10-year presidency remains the longest in the institution’s history and shaped the outlines of modern-day Europe.
Under Delors, the European Union changed considerably, introducing a number of key reforms including the Single European Act, the Schengen Agreement, the Erasmus student exchange program, an overhaul of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Economic and Monetary Union, which later led to the creation of the Euro currency.
In March 2020, he called on EU heads of state and government to show greater solidarity at a time when they were squabbling over a common response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Current Commission President Ursula von der Leyen paid tribute to Delors on X, calling the late statesman a “visionary who made our Europe stronger.”
“His life’s work is a united, dynamic and prosperous European Union. It has shaped entire generations of Europeans, including mine,” the Commission President added.
French President Emmanuel Macron called Delors “a statesman with a French destiny, inexhaustible architect of our Europe” and “a fighter for human justice.”
“His commitment, his ideals and his righteousness will always inspire us. I salute his work and his memory, and share the grief of his loved ones,” the French President added on X.
Delors began his career at the Banque de France — where his father had also worked – in 1945 and was later awarded an economics degree by Paris’ prestigious Sorbonne university. He became involved with the Christian Trade Union Confederation and was made its economic adviser in 1950.
Delors left the Banque de France, where he had reached the executive ranks, after 17 years. He went on to head the social affairs division of the state’s General Planning Commission. He served as chief adviser on social affairs to Prime Minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas from 1969 to 1972 and was a member of his cabinet. He was also an associate professor at the University of Paris-Dauphine from 1974 to 1979.
Delors joined France’s Socialist Party in 1974 and was elected to the European Parliament five years later. He chaired its economic and monetary affairs committee until May 1981, when he was appointed French Finance Minister by the then-President Francois Mitterrand. He also served as Mayor of Clichy from 1983 to 1984.
UK tabloid newspaper The Sun famously published an “Up Yours Delors” headline in 1990 in opposition to Delors’ plans for greater European Union integration.
When his term at the European Commission came to an end in 1995, Delors was considered as a serious contender for the French presidency. However, he chose not to run and, in 1996, founded his think tank. His only daughter, Martine Aubry, is a prominent French politician and former leader of the French Socialist Party.