Sad news of the death on 27 December 2023 of former European Commission president and architect of economic and monetary union of the European Union, Jacques Delors.
YCW leader and unionist
Born on 20 July 1925, Jacques Delors joined the French JOC as a teenager and always regarded his experience of the movement as vital.
“I was in the JOC mainly from 1936 to 1940 and then after 1944. At that time, the major problems were those of the working class, its role, the absence of Christians or the lack of a Christian presence in that world.
“And as soon as I began work at the Banque de France, I joined the union (Confédération Française de Travailleurs Chrétienne or CFTC, later the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail or CFDT).
“Regarding my union membership, my participation in the JOC taught me a great deal because many of friends had not had the opportunity to complete high school. They left school at the age of fourteen or fifteen.
“All that taught me a great deal about inequalities. Frankly, my great motivation was the battle against inequality more than Europe!”
Jacques Delors was indeed an active union leader while working at the Banque de France, assisting in the transformation of the CFTC from a Christian trade union to the secular CFDT.
This reflected above all his belief in the autonomy of the secular world, following in the tradition of Marc Sangnier and the Sillon movement, which he admired greatly, as well as the thinking of the personalist philosopher, Emmanuel Mounier.
Nevertheless, to the surprise of some if not many, he continued to remain an active Catholic.
“Etre catholique, être croyant, pour moi, ce n’est pas important, c’est vital,” he once told France 5 television. “To be a Catholic, to be a believer, for me is not just important but vital.”
Architect of European unity
In 1974, he joined the Socialist Party. He was elected to the European Parliament in 1979, serving until 1981, becoming chairman of its Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs.
After François Mitterand became French president in 1981, Delors served as Economics and Finance Minister from 1981 to 1983, and Economics, Finance, and Budget Minister from 1983 to 1984.
Nevertheless, it is for his role in the development of the European Union that Jacques Delors will be most remembered. As president of the European Commission from 1985 to 1995, he played a key role in the formation of a single market with its single currency, the euro.
This commitment to European unity reflected both the experience of his own father who had fought in the bloody trenches of World War I and the influence, which he openly acknowledged, of Marc Sangnier.
Around 2010, I myself heard him give a talk at the original Sillon centre in Boulevard Raspail, Paris, where he spoke passionately not only of all that Sangnier and the Sillon had meant to him but also of the ongoing importance of that democratic tradition.
In 1999, many expected – and hoped – that he would accept nomination as the Socialist candidate for the French presidency, a nomination he declined. I suspect that one reason at least for declining may have been to ensure that he did not compromise what he had achieved with the European Union, particularly at a time just before the adoption of the single currency.
In an editorial, the French newspaper, Le Figaro commented:
On s’interrogera à l’infini sur ce que fût devenue la France sous la présidence de Jacques Delors. On le savait profondément chrétien, vivant sa foi au quotidien, sans ostentation. On le savait disciple d’Emmanuel Mounier, le théoricien – chrétien, lui aussi – du « personnalisme communautaire » visant à placer l’homme au cœur de tout dessein politique. On le savait modeste dans ses goûts et sa manière de vivre, travailleur acharné, aimant le pouvoir non pour ses vanités mais pour les moyens qu’il procure de faire avancer les choses. On le savait aussi non sectaire, dans un milieu où les idées toutes faites prennent parfois valeur de dogme.
We will forever wonder what France may have become under the presidency of Jacques Delors. We knew that he was profoundly Christian, living out his faith on a daily basis without ostentation. We knew he was a disciple of Emmanuel Mounier – also a Christian – of “communitarian personalism” aiming to place the human person at the heart of all political designs. We knew he was modest in his tastes and his way of working, a very hard worker, who loved power not for its vanities but the means that it provided for making things happen. We knew also that he was non-sectarian in an environment where ready made ideas often took on the status of dogma.
Delors was married to Marie Lephaille until she died in 2020. Their daughter, Martine Aubry, served as the First Secretary of the French Socialist Party from 2008 to 2012, and has been the mayor of the northern city of Lille since 2001. Their son, Jean-Paul Delors, a journalist, died from leukaemia in 1982 at the age of 29.
And, as the Agence France Presse noted in an obituary published on France 24, Jacques Delors retained his links to the JOC “for his whole life.”
Jacques Delors (Wikipedia)
Interview de Jacques Delors (Paris, 16 décembre 2009) – Extrait: les origines de sa sensibilité pour la construction européenne (Luxembourg for Contemporary and Oral History/CVCE.eu)
Jacques Delors, influencé par Emmanuel Mounier (INA mediaclip)