Former president of France Valery Giscard d’Estaing passed away on Wednesday at the age of 94, with Greece bidding farewell to a great philhellene and supporter.
Giscard d’Estaing, who was the president of France from 1974 to 1981, had a long friendship with Greece’s then Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis, who served from 1974-1980, and was instrumental in the country’s accession to the European Economic Community (now the European Union) in 1980.
Karamanlis returned to Greece on July 24, 1974 on Giscard d’Estaing’s presidential aircraft, after the fall of the military dictatorship. It was a gesture of support for the restoration of democracy in Greece, and at the same time a very personal gesture of friendship to Karamanlis.
Giscard d’Estaing’s political support was crucial at the time, as the seven-year junta regime had led to Greece being isolated from the rest of the world.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis bid a final farewell to the French politician with the following tweet:
“Democracy returned to our country on his airplane. And with his support our country joined the European family. With gratitude and grief, Greece bids farewell to its great friend Valery Giscard d’Estaing.
Με το αεροπλάνο του επέστρεψε η Δημοκρατία στη χώρα μας. Και με τη στήριξή του εντάχθηκε στην ευρωπαϊκή οικογένεια. Με ευγνωμοσύνη και συγκίνηση η Ελλάδα αποχαιρετά τον μεγάλο της φίλο Βαλερί Ζισκάρ Ντ’ Εστέν.
— Prime Minister GR (@PrimeministerGR) December 3, 2020
Giscard d’Estaing and Greece
The French politician was familiar with the sociopolitical situation in Greece. Serving in France’s Ministry of Finance from 1959 until 1966, he had visited Greece before the 1967 military coup and learned first-hand about Greek politics and finance at the time:
“I had known Greece before the military dictatorship, when I was Minister of Finance,” he had stated in an interview with Le Monde. “At that time, the country showed a state of decline and disorganization. This unrest at the highest state level led to the establishment of the dictatorship of the colonels.
“During this period, in which relations between Paris and Athens were completely severed, I had met with the former Prime Minister, Konstantinos Karamanlis, who was in exile in Paris and had gathered around him many of his compatriots.”
Giscard d’Estaing was elected president only two months before the fall of the junta in Greece. The French President was gratified to be able contribute to the restoration of democracy in the country where democracy was born:
“Shortly after my election, the colonels were ousted from power due to their clumsy initiative in Cyprus,” he told Le Monde. “Konstantinos Karamanlis was called upon to lead a government of national unity.
“I offered him a plane and he returned to his country in a Falcon of the French presidency. Of course, this image had a huge impact. In the years that followed, we first signed a military alliance with Athens. Then came the question of joining the EEC (European Economic Community).”
The French president played a pivotal role in the negotiations for Greece to become the eighth member of the EEC:
“There have been many reservations from our partners,” Giscard d’Estaing said. “The country was disorganized, its democracy had not yet been consolidated, it had no common borders with any member state. I made the decision, stressing that this had to be done to strengthen democracy… I signed the deed for the accession of Greece to the Community, on May 28, 1979 in Athens.”