The French president of the European Commission, Jacques Delors (born 1925) was former minister for the economy and finance of France. He was the chief architect of Western Europe's drive toward market unity by 1992.
The son of an employee of the French Central Bank, Jacques Delors was born in Paris on July 20, 1925. During his secondary school studies he went to two different schools: Lycée Voltaire (Paris) and Lycée Blaise-Pascal (Clermont-Ferrand). In 1943 Delors studied law at the University of Clermont-Ferrand. His studies were interrupted when the Germans closed the university in World War II. He was back in Paris in October, 1944, and soon found a job as an intern at the French Central Bank. In 1950 he was promoted to staff member for the director-general for securities and financial markets. During this period he became an active militant of a Christian trade union, the CFTC (Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens). He was put in charge of the trade union's studies center. In 1957 he became the expert for a CFTC publication called Reconstruction. In 1955 Delors had joined a political party called Jeune République (Young Republic). He left this party in 1960 shortly after he helped it merge with a small left-wing party to form the new Unified Socialist Party.
Moving Through Government Ranks
In 1959 Delors became a member of the Planning and Investments Department of France's Economic and Social Council. He left the CFTC when he became a high government official to avoid conflicts of interests. In 1962 he became head of the Social Affairs Department of the Planning Commission. During this period he developed what would become one of the main principles of his political action in the future: the contractual policy. This means that some economic decisions (for example, the policy on salaries) should be reached through negotiations not only with the trade unions inside the company or industry concerned, but also with the authorities at the national level. Maybe because it was too revolutionary for that period, Delors' idea did not find its way into the council's Fifth Plan (1962-1965). Georges Pompidou, France's prime minister from 1962 to 1968 (and later president), would partly refer to this concept in his social policy.
In April of 1969, Delors became secretary-general of the Interministerial Committee for Professional Training. From 1969 to 1973 he also acted as adviser for social and cultural affairs to the new prime minister, Jacques Chaban-Delmas, and later as chargé de mission for economic, financial, and social affairs. In 1972, when Pierre Messmer became prime minister, Delors went back to the secretariat-general for professional training. He was dismissed from this post a few months later because he was accused of favoritism towards left-wing organizations. He started lecturing courses in company management at the University of Paris IX in 1973. That same year he returned to the French Central Bank as a member of its general council; a position he kept until 1979.
Restarting a Political Career
In 1974 Delors decided to restart his political career by joining the Socialist Party (PS). At first, he had to face hostility from some of the party's leaders, due to his earlier participation in the right-wing Chaban-Delmas government. But thanks to the support of François Mitterrand, at that time secretary-general of the party, Delors became a member of the board of directors of the PS.
In 1979 Delors was elected as a member of the European Parliament (a body with little real legislative power within the European Community), where he soon became chairman of the Economic and Monetary Committee of the European Parliament. When François Mitterrand became French president in 1981, Delors was named minister for economy and finances. He was one of the most moderate members of the Pierre Mauroy government, which conducted rather far left economic and social policies. In 1984 Mitterrand chose Laurent Fabius to succeed Mauroy as prime minister, instead of Delors. Delors was disappointed but, given his interest and experience in European affairs, France strongly supported his nomination to the post of president of the European Commission, the permanent executive and administrative branch of the European Community.
When he became president of the European Commission in January 1985, Delors had to face the member states' unwillingness to make any further progress towards a closer integration inside the European Community (EC). The Council of the European Ministers, the ultimate governing body of the EC, was not able to undertake the indispensable changes toward this goal. This was due to disagreements among member states on a common European policy and their perception that the EC could not help them in coping with the economic crisis. This period of stagnation of the integration process is known as the period of "Eurosclerosis."
European Frontier-Free Market
To solve the crisis, Delors launched in 1985 the idea of a European frontier-free market by the end of 1992. This ambitious long-term program (total free movement of persons, goods, services, and capital inside the European Community) was formalized into a commission White Paper. At first glance, it dealt only with the economic aspects of European integration. But it was obvious that it could not be achieved without important institutional changes. Therefore, the commission urged member states to modify some provisions of the existing EC treaties in order to prepare for the necessary transfers of power from the member states to the EC. In 1986 a new treaty, called the "Single European Act," was approved by the member states. This act took over the commission's 1992 program and made it possible for the council (the real legislative power of the community) to make all the decisions concerning its achievement by majority (instead of the previously required unanimity). It also gave new powers to the community's institutions. This major progress in the European integration process represented a huge personal success for Delors.
During his first mandate Delors also strove for greater efficiency of the EC budget and for progress on such community issues such as agriculture, research and development, and external commercial relations. A second mandate as president of the European Commission was unanimously granted to him by the member states, who considered that he was the best qualified person to achieve the ambitious 1992 program he had promoted.
During his second four-year mandate, which started in January, 1989, Delors stressed the need for a wider social dimension to the EC's future single market. Unfortunately, the social charter approved by the council in December 1989 lacked real efficiency, despite the support of the European Parliament and of some influential member states, such as France. In 1989 Delors presented a report by the commission on the European Economic and Monetary Union for the creation of a new central bank of Europe and a single European currency.
Another important initiative on the road toward greater European integration was the European Political Union. In reaction to the dramatic events in Eastern Europe in late 1989, François Mitterrand launched the idea of a European confederation which would include the EC member states and the Eastern European countries. Fearing that any action undertaken to foster such a confederation could delay or even stop completely the whole European Community's integration process, Delors stressed the absolute priority that had to be given to reinforcing the European Political Union of the twelve members before considering the inclusion of Eastern Europe into a confederation. Delors favored the creation of a European federation of the twelve member states as a first step before moving to Mitterrand's European Confederation.
The End of a Presidency
Delors' mandate as president of the European Commission expired at the end of 1993. Both supporters and detractors agreed on the importance of Delors' ten-year presidency of the commission. He was an architect of the program to create a single market and of the Single European Act; he was the driving force behind the social charter and the social chapter; his report on economic and monetary union led to the Maastricht treaty; and his advocacy of the European economic area not only helped to create a market of over $370 million but has led to the prospect of new members joining.
The key to Delors' success was his unique contribution of strategic sense, fierce dedication and negotiating skill. Though born and brought up in a Paris working-class district and without a university education, he became a top-flight politician on the international level. As commission president, Delors could set the agenda but he relied on his relations with community leaders, above all with Helmut Kohl, for the implementation of his proposals.
The press often presented Delors as a potential candidate for the French presidency in 1995. He declined to run for the office, however, citing personal and political reasons. Delors was one of the most credible candidates on the political left, and polls had given him a clear lead. Delors knew his decision not to stand would sadden, even anger his supporters, but citing his age and his fears of sharing power with a right-wing parliament, he could not represent the Socialists. "I'm for a radical change in the way we regard politics. I want the French people to play an active role in our democracy and to help change society. I wouldn't have been able to guarantee that as president," Delors commented. In February 1997, Delors was selected as the recipient of the Erasmus Prize for exceptional services to Europe.
When away from his Brussels office Delors shares an apartment in Paris with his wife, Marie. They have a married daughter, Martine. Delors has served as television commentator for the annual Tour de France.
Further Reading on Jacques Delors
Additional information on Jacques Delors can be found in his biography, Fabriel Milesi, Jacques Delors (Paris: 1985), written in French, with detailed background information on the evolution of the French political situation. Books written by Delors include Les Indicateurs Sociaux (Paris: 1971) and Changer (Paris: 1975). "The President of the European Commission presents the Commission's annual program to the European Parliament" provides insight on his work. The speeches of Delors can be found in the European Community Bulletins (edited by the European Commission) for the period 1985-1990.