Former French President Giscard dies

Valery Giscard d'Estaing was known for steering a modernisation of French society.
Valery Giscard d'Estaing was known for steering a modernisation of French society.

Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, a key architect of European integration in the early 1970s, has died aged 94 after contracting COVID-19.

Giscard, who was France's leader from 1974 to 1981, had recently been hospitalised in Tours, in western France.

He died at his family home nearby after suffering from complications linked to the virus, a foundation he had set up and chaired said in a statement.

He had been admitted to hospital in September with respiratory complications and was hospitalised again in mid-November.

Giscard was known for steering a modernisation of French society, including allowing divorce by mutual consent and legalising abortion, and was one of the architects of European integration.

Elected president at 48, he came to power after Charles de Gaulle's long rule, seeking to liberalise the economy and social attitudes and credited with launching major projects including the high-speed TGV train network.

He lost his re-election bid, however, to Socialist Francois Mitterrand in the aftermath of the global economic downturn of the 1970s.

Tributes poured in across the political spectrum in France on Wednesday.

Former President Nicolas Sarkozy said Giscard had "worked his whole life to reinforce relations between European nations".

The head of President Emmanuel Macron's ruling party in parliament, Christophe Castaner, said his "modern and resolutely progressive policies" would long mark his legacy.

In Europe, he forged a close relationship with former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt and together they laid the foundations for the euro single currency, setting up the European Monetary System.

He was also an ardent Anglophile and took office a year after Britain joined the European Economic Community.

Australian Associated Press