‘He would stand up to Thatcher’ – Welsh Erasmus founder says Delors was ‘greatest EU president’
Luke James, Brussels
Jacques Delors will be remembered as the European Commission’s greatest president, according to the Welsh former EU official who worked with him to establish the Erasmus student exchange.
Delors, the French socialist who also oversaw the creation of the single market as head of the Commission between 1985 and 1995, died last night at the age of 98.
Wales was one of the main beneficiaries of the substantial increases in social funding for the poorest parts of the European Union which were implemented during Delors’ two terms as president.
Dr Hywel Ceri Jones, who was head of the Commission’s education and social departments under Delors, described him as a “courageous” politician who was committed to the fight against poverty.
“He was extremely courageous,” Dr Jones told Nation.Cymru. “He didn’t fear anybody. He spoke his mind but he could also be a good diplomat as well. He was very clever and thoughtful.
“He was very innovative at thinking about policies across the board – he would have been wonderful in this period on climate change.
“I think he will be remembered as the greatest president of the Commission.”
Delors’ successful push for economic integration secured his legacy as ‘Mr Europe’ on the continent but made him one of the bogeymen of the right-wing media in Britain.
“Up yours Delors,” was the message from the Sun’s front page response to his plans for a common currency that would become the Euro.
He will be better remembered by the centre-left, whom he helped to win round to a pro-EU position with a famous speech on ‘the social dimension’ to the Trade Union Congress conference in 1988.
Delors’ conviction that ‘no one ever fell in love with a market’ was an appealing counterweight to many trade unionists after almost a decade of Margaret Thatcher in 10 Downing Street.
Dr Jones has said Delors “stood up to Thatcher”, including over the establishment of the Erasmus scheme, and believes their mutual opposition to the then Prime Minister solidified their relationship.
“I found him very easy to talk to, very friendly,” he said. He was passionate about bicycle racing and quite liked rugby. We talked about rugby and he knew I was very committed to Wales.
“Like him, I wouldn’t have liked the Thatcher period or the policies of Thatcher. He probably found me sympathetic to him on those grounds. He certainly didn’t agree with her.
“He had deep Christian values and he was very committed to the fight against poverty and social exclusion. He was the biggest advocate for linking social and economic policy.”
The European social funds which the Jacques Delors institute last night said would be one of its founders’ lasting legacies continue to be a political battleground in Wales despite Brexit.
Wales was in line to receive £1.4 billion between 2021 and 2025 under the EU Regional Development and Social Funds.
Wales will receive £772 million less under the UK Government’s post-Brexit scheme, according to the Welsh Government.
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