“My father, the best after de Gaulle”

“My father, the best after de Gaulle”
“My father, the best after de Gaulle”

In the town hall of Chamalières, we opened our eyes wide when we saw this tall man with a slightly curved silhouette take a small brush from his pocket and comb the back of his head. We would have thought we were five decades back, when Raymond Depardon was filming Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, young but experienced Minister of Finance, in the middle of the presidential campaign. Sometimes with her daughters, often in the car and never without her comb.

On April 8, 1974, he stood as a candidate in the municipal council room of this Auvergne commune to “look France in the eye”. She will elect him a month later.

In April 2024, the rebellious mayor of Chamalières, it is his son, Louis, 65, who places “VGE” in the history of the Fifth Republic. On top. “My father considered that he was, after General de Gaulle, one of the best presidents,” he remembers. He had worked with the General and with Georges Pompidou. And, after seven years, his record was superior, from his point of view, to that of Pompidou, who had not been able to complete his mandate, because he was able to bring new impetus and a capacity comparable to that of De Gaulle, and to represent France in the world. » Creation of the G6, now G7, of the European Council, with German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, bringing together heads of state and government from the continent. He too had a “certain idea of ​​France”. But also of Europe, of which he was one of the architects.

My father suggested opening the window of France

Louis Giscard d’Estaing

Entering his former office in Chamalières, which remains that of the mayor, we are attracted by a portrait of Simone Veil, recently offered by a French painter living in the United States. It makes the link with the other part of the family political heritage. “He gave new rights: majority at 18, the decriminalization of abortion, divorce by mutual consent,” underlines his son, occasionally letting out a very Giscardian hiss. “My father proposed to open the window of France,” wrote Valérie-Anne, his eldest daughter, nicely upon his death at the end of 2020. It was also during his seven-year term that the construction of dozens of nuclear power plants and TGV, due to the first oil shock.

Looking for a photo of himself, taken during the Tour de France, Louis Giscard d’Estaing recalls other reforms, less visible, which still punctuate our news. The weekly session of questions to the government in the Assembly, the possibility for parliamentarians to refer the matter to the Constitutional Council or… the arrival of the Tour on the Champs-Élysées. “It was Bernard Thévenet, winner in 1975, who reminded me, “LGE” smile, graying beard collar and laughing eyes. It was he who gave him the yellow jersey on the Champs, in July 1975! » It seems that the idea was born in the mind of journalist Yves Mourousi, but the enthusiastic head of state had it implemented. History will be satisfied with it.

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The former Minister of Finance brings politics into a new era

In his Auvergne office, the president of the Valéry-Giscard-d’Estaing Foundation then opens a large box, containing t-shirts crossed out with the famous slogan “Giscard at the helm”, 500 copies of which were reprinted for the fiftieth anniversary of his election. “Brigitte Bardot wore it on the day of the vote and the president of the office asked her to put something on it! » says Louis, in front of a photo of the icon dressed again.

In a smoky France, which wears bell-bottom pants, drives an R5 and watches three channels on TV, the former Minister of Finance is bringing politics into a new era. That of communication and people, example taken from John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Giscard in power is also a style, photographed by Paris Match at the wheel of a DS, in the heart of Paris, left hand on the wheel, right hand saluting the camera. “An apartment outside the palace and no driver. Valéry refuses to be a president like the others,” says our magazine two weeks after his narrow victory (424,599 voters ahead) against François Mitterrand.

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In his office as mayor of Chamalières (Puy-de-Dôme), April 10. The councilor is wearing one of the reprinted t-shirts from the 1974 presidential campaign.

Paris Match / © Virginie Clavieres

Modern, in contact with the French, breaking the codes, the VGE of 1974 is the exact opposite of the image it sent in 1981, after a rich mandate but shaken by economic crises. He remains popular, but his appearance, his words are mocked, and the press caricatures him as Louis XV. Did he not also have a certain idea of ​​himself? “He actually had a form of shyness,” explains Patrice Duhamel, political journalist and former editorial boss, who worked with him in power, then until the end of his life. But the arrogant and self-confident president, I always took issue with that. He thought he suffered from his tall size and looks. He isolated himself like all presidents, and the pledges of proximity he wanted to give, such as going to dinner with French people, turned against him. »

He dominated Chirac intellectually and politically

Louis Giscard d’Estaing

“He was too confident in 1981,” adds LGE, reinforced by the results of the 1978 legislative elections, where he managed to keep the absolute majority; the last time under the 5th. But his defeat can also be explained by the affair of the Bokassa diamonds, actually offered in 1973 and of a much lower value than what has been written, and the attacks of Jacques Chirac. The only Prime Minister who ran against the one who appointed him! » The grudge will be tenacious – and reciprocal. “He dominated Chirac intellectually and politically,” says Louis, who was a deputy in the Chirac majority from 2002 to 2007. But, in the 1995 presidential election, he supported him against Balladur, who had bypassed him, siphoning off the barons of the UDF of which he was nevertheless the president. »

Far from the low blows of power, the former president recharged his batteries in the middle of the woods, halfway between Paris and Auvergne, in the Château de l’Étoile, built in the 19th century, in Authon (Loir-et-Cher ). He and his wife moved there from June 1974. One month after the victorious presidential election. “This election is just happy memories,” smiles Anne-Aymone Giscard d’Estaing, getting off a green golf cart. Her “mount”, at 91 years old, to take care of the immense wooded park and the plant cloister that she created, adjoining a 12th century abbey chapel, where their youngest daughter, Jacinte (died in 2018), is is married. “It was a spontaneous campaign and so young! » she recalls.

Macron went to see him to ask him for advice. He listened but didn’t take it into account

Louis Giscard d’Estaing

Elected at 48, VGE remained the youngest president of the Fifth Republic, until the election of Emmanuel Macron in 2017. “Neither right nor left”, dynamiting the landscape… the latter had everything to please him. “So much the better if, in Emmanuel Macron’s reflection, there are references to the liberal, center-right current of thought, and to the way in which he was a model of government,” praises Louis. But there are many points of differentiation. The experience of elected official mattered to my father, who also stayed in government for twelve years. He was a deputy from 1956, general councilor, mayor, then, after the defeat of 1981, he became general councilor again in 1982, then regional president for eighteen years, saying: “A former president is useful for something. he resumes functions.” And he created the Zenith, Vulcania, which has attracted 7 million visitors since 2002.” Macron’s inexperience was a “problem” for him. “Macron went to see him to ask him for advice. He listened but didn’t take it into account. My father spoke to him about the Franco-German relationship, for him the European engine. »

A stone’s throw from the Château de l’Etoile, near a tufa stone statue representing the dog Samba, the presidential labrador welcomed during his seven-year term, a small white bench has been installed to pray in front of the grave of the former president , which he drew himself. His final “goodbye”

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