Delors, Jacques (b. 1925)

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French economist and politician.

Jacques Delors's name remains associated with a "golden age" of European integration: president of the European Commission from 1985 to 1994, he embodied the relaunch of the dynamics of integration that took place with the Single European Act (1987) and the Treaty of Maastricht (1992).

Born into a modest Parisian family, Delors began his career as a civil servant in the Banque de France at the age of nineteen. Involved with trade unions and think tanks inspired by liberal Catholicism, he became in the 1950s a supporter of Catholic philosopher Emmanuel Mounier's "personalist" philosophy. Modernizing France, deepening democracy, opening the Catholic Church, and decolonizing Algeria were the major concerns of this generation who found in Pierre Mendès-France a model of political commitment. In the 1960s, inspired by the Scandinavian model, Delors became an expert in social affairs and trade unionism—a "social engineer," in his own words—first in the Commissariat Général au Plan (a governmental agency for planning) and then as a personal advisor for social affairs to the Gaullist prime minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas.

In 1974, convinced that the regime of the Fifth Republic led to bipolar politics and that his social and democratic ideals could only be defended within the Union de la gauche (Union of the Left), Delors joined François Mitterrand's Socialist Party. After a few years dedicated to university teaching and the promotion of lifelong learning—one of Delors's constant political ambitions—he became a member of the European Parliament in 1979 and the minister for finance of Mitterrand's first government in 1981. In this coalition of the Communist and Socialist parties, which symbolized the end of the Gaullist era and the first alternation of power since 1945, Delors was the face of the moderate Left, concerned with the fight against inflation and with gradual social progress. In 1983 Delors convinced Mitterrand that, in order to fight inflation and the devaluation of the franc, France should stay within the European Monetary System and adopt austerity measures, opposing the socialist Left's pleading for the "national way toward socialism." His name became synonymous with the tournant de la rigueur, which meant the end of the old-guard socialism, the choice for Europe, and the acceptance of market economics.

Jacques Delors's European career began in 1984, when he became president of the European Commission. The European Economic Communities (EEC) were deemed in a state of sclerosis. The 1960s had been dominated by Charles de Gaulle's unwillingness to deepen European integration, the 1970s by the first enlargement to Britain, Ireland, and Denmark and the incapacity of the nine member states to coordinate their policies to face the consequences of the oil crises. This period had, nevertheless, seen much reflection on the relaunch of European integration and the creation of flexible mechanisms of cooperation in the field of monetary policies and foreign affairs. When he became president of the commission, Delors knew the willingness to relaunch the EEC was widespread among the governments, and floated three ideas that had been widely discussed in the previous decade: monetary unification, coordination of defense policies, and institutional reform. Realizing that none of these three plans gathered a consensus, and unconvinced by the federalist strategy supported by the European Parliament, he chose to resume the "functionalist" mechanism of the founders. The governments should first agree on an ambitious yet realistic objective—completing the common market contemplated by the Rome treaty—and then make the necessary reforms of the decision-making rules, extending the scope of qualified majority voting. Delors knew this objective was supported by business organizations that would put pressure on the governments, and he hoped the realization of the "single market" would prompt new discussions on economic and monetary unification. Agreed to by the ten governments and the Spanish and Portuguese candidates, this strategy was codified in the Single European Act signed in 1987 and paved the way for an intensive legislative program of market deregulation and reregulation known as the "Objective 1992." Moved by his social ideals and his close contacts with trade unions, Delors also tried to relaunch, but with less success, a European social dialogue meant to counterbalance the deregulative effects of the formation of the single market.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Delors was again one of the kingpins of a second relaunch of European integration. Although the Treaty of Maastricht was primarily the outcome of a big bargain among the governments, the Delors report on monetary unification, written by a group of central bankers he chaired, helped them reach an agreement on this ambitious objective.

The last years of Delors's mandate as president of the commission, and the years that followed, were devoted to broad reflections on the future of European integration. After having refused to be the French Socialist Party's candidate for the presidential elections of 1995, for he believed there was no majority for his policies, Delors became an acute observer of and respected commentator on European integration. While supporting the accession to the European Union of the former socialist states of central and eastern Europe, he pleaded for the creation of an "avant-garde" of states that would deepen integration in the field of economic and social policies. He was less enthusiastic as far as foreign and defense policies were concerned. Convinced that the European nations are vital spheres of solidarity and democracy, he had always believed that the EU should be a "federation of nations" instead of a federal state: if the market and economic policies could be deeply integrated, foreign policies were too deeply marked by the individual histories of the European nations to be dealt with through similar methods and should remain the object of primarily intergovernmental coordination. Besides, Delors showed little interest in the constitutionalization of the European Union. His Christian and social ideals led him to see economic growth and solidarity as the major priorities of his time and to trust functionalist mechanisms of integration more than the federalist plans. In this respect, Delors bore witness to the persistence of the founders' distinctive doctrine.

See alsoEuropean Commission; European Union; Maastricht, Treaty of.


Delors, Jacques. L'unité d'un homme. Paris, 1996.

Delors, Jacques, with Jean-Louis Arnaud. Mémoires. Paris, 2004.

Drake, Helen. Jacques Delors: Perspectives on a European Leader. London, 2000.

Ross, George. Jacques Delors and European Integration. Cambridge, U.K., 1995.

Paul Magnette