Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was born in Germany during the French occupation of the Rhineland.
An early graduate of Michel Debré’s post-war Ecole Nationale d’Administration, Giscard was a member of the prestigious Finance Inspectorate until he entered the National Assembly as an Independent in 1956, inheriting his grandfather’s seat for Puy-de-Dôme.
He served as finance minister under the presidencies of Charles de Gaulle (1962 – 1966) and Georges Pompidou (1969 – 1974) but remained outside the Gaullist movement, projecting himself as leader of a ”new centre”: European, Atlanticist, and committed to enhancing parliament’s role.
After Pompidou’s death in office in 1974, Giscard narrowly defeated the socialist François Mitterrand on a program of social and political reform and became president of France at the age of 48 (appointing the Gaullist Jacques Chirac as his prime minister).
He secured divorce and abortion law reforms early on, reduced the voting age to 18, and amended the constitution to enable the parliamentary opposition to refer legislation to the Constitutional Council.
In Europe, he helped initiate the new Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1978 and direct elections to the European Parliament from 1979.
Faced with increasingly difficult economic circumstances, in 1976 he brought in Raymond Barre to replace Chirac as prime minister, and to manage a deflationary programme. In 1978 he founded a broad-based confederation, the Union pour la Démocratie Française (UDF), and led it until 1996.
Defeated by Mitterrand in 1981, he was re-elected to the National Assembly in 1984, resigning in 1989 in order to sit in the European Parliament.
In 2003, Giscard was admitted to the Académie Fançaise amid controversy, with critics pointing out that he had written only a single novel, Le Passage, of dubious quality.