Valéry Giscard d'Estaing
(b. 1926) French statesman, President 1974–81
(b. 2 Feb. 1926).
President of France 1974–81 Born the son of a French official in the occupied German city of Koblenz, he became a parliamentary Deputy in 1956. As leader of a group of Independent Republicans, he occupied a central political role from 1962 to 1968, when the Gaullists needed his support to form a government. He was Minister of Finance 1961–6 and 1969–74. Elected President in part because the Gaullists failed to agree upon a strong candidate themselves, he at first impressed with a populist style. His liberal policies included lowering of the voting age to 18 and the legalization of abortion within the first ten weeks of pregnancy. He pursued the goal of improving social equality through the introduction of comprehensive secondary schools. His popularity decreased owing to difficulties at coping with the 1973 oil-price shock. Although strengthened to some extent by the foundation in 1978 of the UDF (Union pour la Démocratie Française), he was increasingly weakened by his rocky relationship with the Gaullists led by Chirac. This relationship deteriorated even further in 1976, when he dismissed Chirac from the office of Prime Minister and appointed the UDF's Raymond Barre (b. 1924) instead. He lost his bid for another term in office as a result of public impatience with his increasingly patricianly and distant style, a renewed economic crisis, and a rejuvenated left led by Mitterrand. He continued to exert considerable influence as an elder statesman and president of the UDF until 1996, and remained an influential critic of Chirac thereafter. His career experienced a renaissance in 2002, when he became the chair of the Constitutional Convention of the EU.