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Jacques Delors, former president of the European Commission, has died at the age of 98

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Former European Commission President Jacques Delors has died at the age of 98.

His daughter, Martine Aubry, mayor of Lille, told the AFP news agency that her father, who also served as French finance minister from 1981 to 1984, died in his sleep at his Paris home.

A staunch advocate of post-war European integration, Delors served as president of the body for three terms – longer than any other holder of the post – from January 1985 to the end of 1994.

The Frenchman, a socialist, is also the founding father of the historic single currency project of the European Union.

“Yours, Delors”

In the UK, he is best remembered as the object of The Sun’s wrath in 1990 and one of its most famous songs: “Up Yours Delors”.

The front page perfectly summed up the newspaper’s attitude towards the growing power of the EU at the time.

Jacques Delors is greeted by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at Downing Street in 1984. Photo: AP
Picture:
Jacques Delors and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at Downing Street in 1984. Photo: AP

French President Emmanuel Macron called him “the inexhaustible architect of our Europe” and a fighter for human justice.

Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Delors had been a source of inspiration and a reason to “believe in a ‘certain idea’ of politics, France and Europe”.

Current European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Delors “was a visionary who made Europe stronger.”

Former Belgian President Guy Verhofstadt said Delors was “a source of inspiration” and that Europe, he added, “needs his vision more than ever.”

His battles with Margaret Thatcher

Delors’ tenure was marked by rapid changes in Europe’s nascent union.

It was marked by direct clashes between those who passionately believed in an “ever closer union” and some, like British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who staunchly resisted any transfer of power to Brussels.

The Sun’s famous headline was published at the height of these tensions.

Former Conservative chancellor Lord Clarke of Nottingham told Radio 4’s Prime Minister that the two men “hated each other for personal and political reasons”.

“If you saw them together, it was painful. He thought she was a stupid right-wing woman and she thought he was an irritating French intellectual obsessed with creating the United States of Europe.”

Jacques Delors with his wife Marie, after voting in the 1995 French presidential elections.
Picture:
Jacques Delors with his wife Marie, after voting in the 1995 French presidential elections


A “nasty pantomime for Conservative MPs”

Sky’s chief political correspondent Jon Craig called him a “giant of European politics” who acted as a “pantomime villain for Tory MPs”.

“He clashed many times with Margaret Thatcher and later with (her successor as prime minister) John Major,” Craig said.

“He will be much mourned in France,” he added, and “left a big mark.”

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EU enlargement at a time of rapid change

Jacques Lucien Jean Delors was born in Paris in 1925 and, after studying economics at the Sorbonne, went into banking.

A Catholic trade unionist, he oversaw the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, establishing the European Union, and worked tirelessly to launch the single market, one of the EU’s defining achievements, in 1993, before resigning the year next.

Jacques Delors arrives at the extraordinary European summit in July 1994
Picture:
Jacques Delors arrives at the extraordinary European summit in July 1994

He oversaw a period of rapid enlargement, with the ten-member European Community, as it was then called, growing to twelve with the 1986 accession of Spain and Portugal, then Sweden, Austria and Finland in 1995.

This era was defined by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany.

Delors’ commitment to a united Germany led to close ties with then-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and helped cement the Franco-German relationship that remains at the heart of the EU.

Opinions about him differed, with some finding him abrasive, while others were impressed by his intellect.

Describing himself, Delors once said: “I don’t hide. I make mistakes, I lose my temper. But people say: ‘This guy, he’s human.’ I will never be a great politician because I can’t care about my image.”

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