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Jacques Delors, former European Commission president, dies aged 98 | World News


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

His daughter, Martine Aubry, the 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 Parisian home.

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

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

‘Up yours, Delors’

He is most remembered in the UK as the object of The Sun’s anger in 1990 and one of its most famous headlines: ‘Up Yours Delors’.

The front page neatly summed up the paper’s attitude to the rising power of the EU at the time.

Jacques Delors is greeted by UK Prime Minister  Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street in 1984. Pic: AP
Jacques Delors and UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street in 1984. Pic: AP

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

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

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

While former Belgian president, Guy Verhofstadt, said Delors was “inspirational” and Europe, he said, “needs his vision more than ever”.

His battles with Margaret Thatcher

Delors’s time in office was one of rapid change in Europe’s emerging union.

It was marked by forthright clashes between those who believed passionately in an “ever closer union”, and some, like UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who firmly resisted any shift of power to Brussels.

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

Conservative former chancellor Lord Clarke of Nottingham told Radio 4’s PM that the pair “hated each other for personal and political reasons.

“If you saw them together it was painful. He thought she was a silly right-wing woman and she thought he was an irritating French intellectual obsessed with creating a united states of Europe.”

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

A ‘pantomime villain for Tory MPs’

Sky’s chief political correspondent, Jon Craig, called him a “giant of European politics” who played the role of “pantomime villain for Conservative MPs”.

“He clashed many, 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 quite an imprint”.

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EU enlargement in 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 Maastricht Treaty in 1992, establishing the European Union, and worked tirelessly to launch the single market, one of the EU’s defining achievements, in 1993, before stepping down the following year.

Jacques Delors arrives for the extraordinary European summit in July 1994
Jacques Delors arrives for the extraordinary European summit in July 1994

He oversaw a period of rapid enlargement, with the 10-member European Community, as it was then called, growing to 12 with the accession in 1986 of Spain and Portugal and then adding Sweden, Austria and Finland in 1995.

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

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

Opinions of 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, ‘that guy, he’s human’. I shall never be a great politician because I cannot get concerned about my image.”

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