“I have no regrets”, but “I’m not saying I was right”. Jacques Delors, former president of the European Commission, one of the fathers of the Euro and the single market, who died today at the age of 98, left this sort of political testament in an interview with Le Point in 2021. Born in Paris in 1925 in a Catholic environment, Delors held the position of Minister of Economy under the president François Mitterrand (1981-1984) before arriving in Brussels, marking a unique era in the Old Continent. Here he remained at the head of the Commission from 1985 to 1995, holding three consecutive mandates (the only case so far) during which the single market was established, the common agricultural policy was reformed and the Single European Act, the Schengen agreements and above all the Treaty of Maastricht, which established the European Union, setting in motion the economic and monetary union that will lead to the creation of the Euro.
His political activity was inspired by trade unionism steeped in social Catholicism, before moving to the Socialist Party. Founder of the discussion group and the magazine Citoyens 60, Delors also collaborated with far-left magazines in an intellectual path that took him from the social Gaullism of the prime minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas up to the socialism of François Mitterrand. In the end he summed up his thoughts in one sentence: “I am a social democrat.”
In 1994 he dashed the hopes of the French left by refusing to run in the 1995 presidential elections despite being the big favorite in the polls: a spectacular renunciation announced on TV in front of 13 million viewers. Married in 1948 to a colleague who shared his trade union and religious beliefs, Marie Lephaillethen died in 2020, Jacques Delors he had two children: Martine Aubry, born in 1950, and Jean-Paul, born in 1953 and died of leukemia in 1982. It was his daughter, socialist mayor of Lille, who announced her father’s death, specifying that he died «in his home in Paris, in sleep”. In March 2020, Delors returned to the spotlight once again by calling on the heads of state and government of the European Union for greater solidarity at a global level, at a crucial moment for the 27 who were struggling with the search for a common response of in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. With his think-tanks, ‘Club testimonè o’ Notre Europè (which later became the ‘Institute Jacques-Delors’ with offices in Paris, Brussels and Berlin), he advocated a strengthening of European federalism, calling for more “audacity” in the face of Brexit and populist attacks.
The French president Emmanuel Macron he remembered him in a tweet as a “statesman of French destiny”, an “inexhaustible craftsman of our Europe”, paying homage to his work and memory. For the president of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, he was “a visionary who made our Europe stronger”.
“With the passing of Jacques Delors, a personality who marked, on the basis of Christian values, the path to strengthening Europe is missing”, tweeted Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani. While Enrico Letta, president of the Jacques Delors Institute, greeted him thus: «Modern Europe today loses its founding father. We mourn his passing, we bow before his strength and moral authority, we will carry forward his ideas with even greater commitment.”