Jacques Delors

Jacques Delors in Europe

Life and Work of Jacques Delors (1925-)

The Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union describes jacques delors (1925-) in the following terms: [1] After periods as a socialist in the European Parliament (1979-81) and a left of centre finance minister in President François Mitterrand’s administration (1981-5), Jacques Delors became president of the European Commission in 1985 and, having had his office twice renewed, served until 1995. During his presidency the European Union was enlarged and significantly deepened. He oversaw the Single European Act (1986), German reunification (1990) and the Maastricht Treaty (1992), and the Delors Report of 1989 made important recommendations on EMU (Economic and Monetary Union).

The only child of a working-class family, Delors did not have a university education, though he was intelligent and metaphysically inclined. From his early years he was much influenced by his ‘personalist’ Catholic faith – a doctrine which stresses communal (as opposed to collectivist or individualistic) values. In his maturity, he came to conceive of the moral body politic as the product of ‘solidarity’ between different groups with interdependent stakes in society. Economically, he absorbed the disastrous lessons of Mitterrand’s primitive anti-capitalism without ever becoming a genuine convert to free trade. No instinctive friend of parliamentary democracy, he was sensitive to criticism and instilled fear, as well as loyalty, in subordinates. His passionate work ethic, his determination and his consistent integrationist vision ensured him an ascendancy in the Commission unrivalled since the heyday of Walter Hallstein.

After introducing the Single European Act, with its crucial extension of qualified majority voting, Delors’ next step was a package of reforms (‘Delors I’) to enlarge the resources and lengthen the planning cycle of the Communitybudget, as well as to sharpen the targeting of the structural funds. He then turned to EMU, but although he got the Maastricht Treaty through, it was not a triumph for him. Its social dimension was slim and neither foreign affairs nor justice were ‘communitised’ to his satisfaction. He was also disappointed by Germany’s insistence on monetary and budgetary austerity. The EU now entered a bleak period of unemployment and exchange rate chaos during which the Treaty’s ratification nearly failed. Nevertheless, Delors saw to completion a new budgetary package (‘Delors II’) and the GATT Uruguay Round, before closing his Commission career with a paper entitled ‘Employment, Growth and Competitiveness’, in which he promoted a ‘social market economy’ boosted by programmes of public works.

Delors inherited from Jean Monnet the ‘spillover’ theory that integration of markets would lead – if necessary by stealth – to social, judicial and finally political unification. That it did not do so under his tutelage showed the limitations of the theory, once integration reached the point where it impinged on the consciousness and the choices of ordinary citizens. Moreover, though he reflected more deeply than his contemporaries on European questions, he approached the problem of the ‘democratic deficit’ from an elitist standpoint: in the last resort, it was not a standpoint from which a solution would be possible.

Delors’ unpopularity in the UK owed something to Margaret Thatcher’s antagonism, echoed by the tabloid press, but probably more to his patent distaste for liberal Anglo-Saxon ways, allied to the dawning British realisation that his model of the EU comprehended political as well as economic fusion, objectives at odds with the UK’s traditional concept of parliamentary sovereignty. His quintessentially French perspective also led to suspicions, belied by his integrity, that he used his presidential position to further French interests. In reality, he perhaps showed more partiality towards Germany, owing to his ‘blood brotherhood’ with Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his sense that, while he personally held the key to German reunification, Kohl held the key to the realisation of Delors’ own European dreams.

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Notas y References

  1. Based on the book “A Concise Encyclopedia of the European Union from Aachen to Zollverein”, by Rodney Leach (Profile Books; London)

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