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Jacques Delors, architect of EU, Schengen, and Erasmus projects, dies at 98

Frenchman served as European Commission president in 1985-95 and helped shape the contours of modern-day EU, including the creation of a common market and the Euro

Jacques Delors, architect of EU, Schengen, and Erasmus projects, dies at 98

Jacques Delors, the key architect of the modern European Union and the founding father of the EU’s single currency project, has died aged 98, a statement from the Jacques Delors Institute, a think tank he founded.

“The teams of the Jacques Delors Institutes in Paris, Berlin and Brussels have just heard with great sadness that the man whose work they support with pride, synonymous with a Europe of unity and solidarity, passed away on December 27th 2023,” the statement said.

Delors began his career at Banque de France in 1945, like his father, before earning an economics degree from the Sorbonne University in Paris.

He was involved with the Christian Trade Union Confederation and became its economic adviser in 1950.

After 17 long years at the Banque de France, where he rose to executive-level ranks, Delors quit to lead the social affairs division of France’s General Planning Commission.

He advised then Prime Minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas on social affairs between 1969 and 1972 and taught at the University of Paris-Dauphine between 1974 and 1979.

He joined the Socialist Party in 1974, before getting elected to the European Parliament in 1979, chairing its economic and monetary affairs committee until 1981 when he became the French finance minister under then president Francois Mitterrand. He briefly served as mayor of Clichy between 1983 and 1984.

In January 1985, the Frenchman took over as the eighth president of the European Commission.

His decade-long presidency between 1985-95, the longest tenure in that role till date, helped shape the contours of modern-day EU, including the creation of the common market and the single currency, Euro.

“The single market, the Euro, Schengen (agreement for travel), and Erasmus (program for student exchanges), in addition to cohesion funds, social dialogue and aid for the most disadvantaged: the greatest achievements of European integration are deeply intertwined with the foresight, courage, convictions, perseverance and unrelenting efforts which distinguished Jacques Delors’ actions during his ten years at the helm of the European Commission,” the statement from the Jacques Delors Institute said.

“His combination of coherent agenda-setting and strong negotiating skills, acquired through long experience of trade union bargaining and years of ministerial responsibilities in turbulent times, puts Delors above other Commission Presidents, whether in terms of institutional innovation or the development of new

Europe-wide policies,” the European Parliament said in a report on Delors that was published in July 2020.

“He also showed himself able to react swiftly to external events, notably the collapse of the Soviet bloc, whilst building Europe’s credibility on the international stage,” the report said.

Ursula von der Leyen, the current European Commission President, wrote in French on X, “Jacques Delors was 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. Let us honor his legacy by constantly renewing our Europe.

Praising Delors as the “inexhaustible craftsman of our Europe” and “fighter for human justice,” French President Emmanuel Macron posted in French on X, “His commitment, his ideals and his righteousness will always inspire us. I salute his work and his memory and share the pain of his loved ones.”

“With heavy hearts, we bid farewell to one of the architects of our European Union – Jacques Delors, a man deeply committed to a united and peaceful Europe. His legacy lives on in the EU as we know it, with a vibrant single market and a strong common currency. To honor his legacy, let us keep working as a community of destiny towards an ever-stronger Union, filled with our collective soul,” the European Commission posted on X.

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