BRUSSELS — Jacques Delors, who headed the European Commission between 1985 and 1995 and is seen as one of the most important architects of a European internal market and single currency, died on Wednesday, aged 98.
A pivotal figure in reanimating the pursuit of a united Europe after World War II, Delors is best known for presiding over the Single European Act of 1987, which set Europe on a course toward borderless economic integration, and the Maastricht Treaty of 1993 that created the European Union and charted a path for countries to join the euro currency.
Perhaps most significantly in forging the concept of a united European democracy, the Maastricht Treaty also created EU citizens, who would take part in European Parliament elections.
Born in Paris in 1925, Delors worked at the Banque de France until 1962. A committed Christian and active in the trade union confederation, he entered politics as a member of the Socialist Party in 1974 and was appointed as finance minister by President François Mitterrand in 1981. Faced with a recession, he started off by delivering the traditional medicine of increased spending, but ultimately convinced Mitterrand to switch tack to greater alignment with market economics.
The Jacques Delors Institute said his name would be associated with many of the most fundamental binding structures of the European project in addition to the single market and the euro: the Schengen passport-free travel area, enlargement, Erasmus student exchanges and cohesion funds to help development in poorer countries.
French President Emmanuel Macron was quick to pay tribute.
“Statesman of French destiny. Inexhaustible craftsman of our Europe. Fighter for human justice. Jacques Delors was all of that. 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,” the French president said in a statement on X.
Delors’ death was confirmed by his daughter, Martine Aubry. “He died this morning at his home in Paris in his sleep,” said Aubry, the socialist mayor of the French city of Lille, according to French media.
His current successor as European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, called Delors “a visionary who made our Europe stronger.”
European Council President Charles Michel added: “Jacques Delors led the transformation of the European Economic Community towards a true Union, based on humanist values and supported by a single market and a single currency, the euro. He was a passionate and concrete defender of it until his last days. A great Frenchman and great European, he went down in history as one of the builders of our Europe.”
EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell said: “Europe has just lost one of its giants.”
In Britain, Delors was sometimes viewed with more hostile eyes, particularly when he ran up against figures such as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who were more skeptical of deeper European integration.
Notoriously, one of the most famous front pages of the Sun tabloid greeted Delors’ moves toward currency union with two raised fingers and the headline “Up Yours, Delors.”
Despite these run-ins with the British, Delors himself was opposed to Brexit and said U.K. membership of the bloc benefited both parties.
Ultimately, his old sparring partner, the Sun, acknowledged on Wednesday that he “was respected as a passionate and hardworking politician.”