The French politician Jacques Delors, architect of the eurozone, died Wednesday, his daughter announced. He was 98 years old.
Delors took over as president of the European Commission in 1985 and paved the way for a more unified continent. Over his decade at the top of the body, the longest of any president, he laid the groundwork for the euro as a common currency, and steadfastly stood by the concept of European unity through economic crises and political strife.
As southern European nations like Spain and Italy neared bankruptcy, Delors kept the union together amid desire from the U.K. especially, and other northern states to leave the less well-off behind. Migration also threatened to split up the union, causing political tensions which have risen again decades later.
Delors first envisioned the Euro in a 1989 report now named for him — a revolutionary idea of multiple, independent countries with a single currency — and the continent adopted the currency a decade later after contentious debate. It now spans 20 nations, a majority of EU members, and stands as one of the world’s strongest currencies.
His term at the EU also saw the adoption of the Schengen Zone, one of the union’s key policies which allows free and open movement between member states. The agreement allowed less wealthy workers from far-off parts of Europe to move to wealthier countries and make new lives, all without government interference.
It also spurred European tourism, tearing town border gates and passport checks across the continent.
Delors saw a unified Europe as a true rival to the United States and the rising economy of Japan, far from the war-torn continent of his childhood. Like many European communitarians, he saw unbreakable political and economic ties as the best brace against another global war.
In his retirement, he still urged for European cooperation. In 2020, he advised European heads of state to work together against COVID-19, a situation which saw member states squabbling with each other over travel and economic policy.
Delors warned that the virus, and rising nationalism worldwide, could spell the end for the union if its leaders didn’t embrace principles of unity.
“We are facing a crisis that is different from previous crises,” he told The Guardian. “The communitarian spirit of Europe is weaker today than 10 years ago.”
European leaders praised Delors Wednesday.
“His life’s work is a united, dynamic and prosperous European Union,” current European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, calling him a “visionary who made our Europe stronger.”
“It has shaped entire generations of Europeans, including mine,” she added.
French President Emmanuel Macron also lauded his fellow countryman. Delors served as an influential economics minister in multiple French governments before rising to EU leadership.
“His commitment, his ideals and his righteousness will always inspire us. I salute his work and his memory, and share the grief of his loved ones,” Macron said.
Delors is survived by his daughter Martine Aubry, a prominent French politician and former leader of the Socialist Party, of which he was also a member.
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