By Michel Rose
PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron praised the late Jacques Delors at a service of national tribute on Friday for giving European Union integration some of its greatest leaps forward during his time as European Commission president.
Delors, an ardent advocate of post-war European integration, died on Dec. 27 at the age of 98. He served as president of the European Commission, the EU executive, for three terms – longer than any other holder of the office – from January 1985 until the end of 1994.
During Delors’ dynamic decade as Commission chief, the EU completed its integrated single market and agreed to introduce a single currency and build a common foreign and security policy.
“Jacques Delors has driven our continent forward like few others have,” Macron said in his eulogy, describing him as an astute negotiator who constantly sought to build bridges and strike compromises to push the bloc forward.
The ceremony was attended by current and former European leaders, including, to the surprise of some commentators, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a frequent EU critic.
He and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde all stood as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”, the EU’s anthem, played.
Delors’ death comes just six months before the EU holds European parliament elections in which eurosceptics are expected to make record gains, according to opinion polls, amid a sense of fatigue after an inflation crisis and war in Ukraine.
However, Delors’ spirit lives on, Macron said in the ceremony at the Invalides monument in Paris, where France usually pays tribute to its great figures. “He has just passed us the baton,” he said.
(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Alison Williams)