Former EU Commission President Jacques Delors Dies at 98

REUTERS/Nathalie Koulischer/File Photo
European Union President Jacques Delors listens to a question during a press conference on the book “In search of Europe” October 21, 1994, at the EU headquarters.

PARIS (Reuters) – Former European Commission President Jacques Delors, a founding father of the European Union’s historic single currency project, died on Wednesday at the age of 98.

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

During Delors’ dynamic decade as Commission chief, the EU completed its integrated single market and agreed to introduce a single currency and build a common foreign and security policy.

The then 12-nation bloc also set the conditions on his watch for eventually admitting the ex-communist states of central and eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

His daughter, Martine Aubry, the socialist mayor of Lille, told AFP that her father died in his sleep at his Parisian home.

French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to his compatriot as an “inexhaustible architect of our Europe” and a fighter for human justice.

Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief negotiator during Britain’s divorce from the EU, said Delors had been an inspiration and a reason to “believe in a ‘certain idea’ of politics, of France, and of Europe.”

Delors, a staunch federalist, was a passionate defender of an “ever closer union” who at the helm of the EU executive frequently clashed with Britain’s then-prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who vigorously pushed back against any shift of power to Brussels.

Delors’ plans for monetary union led The Sun tabloid in Britain to famously run a front page headline in 1990 reading “Up Yours Delors.”

The announcement of Delors’ death came hours after news broke of the passing of Wolfgang Schaeuble, whose career in the German parliament spanned more than half a century, during which he helped secure his country’s place at the heart of Europe.

In an interview to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding Treaty of Rome in March 2007, Delors told Reuters he worried the EU could unravel within 20 years unless it reformed its institutions to streamline its decision-making.

A little over two decades later, Britain quit the bloc. Federalists still warn that planned further enlargement, perhaps as far east as Ukraine, risks bringing decision-making to a grinding halt if deeper reforms are not enacted.

Nevertheless, Delors at the time expressed pride in the EU’s record of spreading peace, prosperity, democracy and the rule of law on a continent scarred by war, dictatorship and atrocities.

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