Wim Duisenberg found dead in French villa pool

1st August 2005, Comments 0 comments

AVIGNON, France, July 31 (AFP) - The first president of the European Central Bank, former Dutch finance minister Wim Duisenberg, was found dead Sunday in the pool at his villa in southeastern France, officials said.

AVIGNON, France, July 31 (AFP) - The first president of the European Central Bank, former Dutch finance minister Wim Duisenberg, was found dead Sunday in the pool at his villa in southeastern France, officials said.

The 70-year-old Duisenberg, who served as the first president of the ECB between 1998 and 2003, was found lifeless in the pool at his villa at about 11:30 am (0930 GMT). Rescuers said they were unable to revive him.

The mayor of the tiny village of Faucon, Danny Aubert, told AFP that Duisenberg's wife had called emergency personnel. An autopsy was underway late Sunday to determine whether Duisenberg fell or suffered a sudden illness.

Tributes quickly poured in from across western Europe to the man who was nicknamed 'Mr Euro' for his key role in the introduction of the single European currency in January 2002.

In Brussels, the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, said: "His devotion and his determination at the head of the ECB allowed the institution to quickly establish its independence, credibility and competence."

Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende paid tribute to "a special personality who enjoyed a great international reputation," in a message to his widow Gretta and his children, the Dutch ANP news agency reported.

French Finance Minister Thierry Breton hailed Duisenberg as a "great servant of Europe" and a man who "had played a central role in the successful launch of the euro and contributed to European economic stability."

In Berlin, German Finance Minister Hans Eichel called Duisenberg an "expert financier" with an "exceptional" reputation and a "calm demeanour" who tackled "difficult situations like public confidence in the euro".

But Duisenberg's time in office was marked by criticism that he failed to react to sluggish growth in the 12-member eurozone.

Born on July 9, 1935, in Heerenveen in the north of the Netherlands, Duisenberg was only 30 when he took a senior financial post at the International Monetary Fund in Washington where he served from 1965 to 1969.

A member of the Dutch Socialist party, Duisenberg was finance minister between 1973 and 1977. The oil shocks of the 1970s helped change his perspective from a Keynesian one, which argues that economic growth can be sustained by boosting public spending, to one of fiscal rigor.

He was also influential in developing the reforms of the Dutch economy that were later held up as a model of how to marry labour flexibility with strong social guarantees.

The tall, white-haired Duisenberg headed the Dutch central bank for 15 years from 1982, sealing his popularity by linking the Dutch guilder to the Deutsche Mark and making the Dutch currency almost as strong as the German mark.

Hans Tietmeyer, then president of the German central bank, saw Duisenberg as the incarnation of monetary stability and former German finance minister Theo Waigel also had warm praise for him.

Duisenberg was therefore the ideal candidate, from the German point of view, to take over as head of the ECB.

But the French saw him merely as a Bundesbank clone and it was perhaps their opposition that cast a shadow over his time in Frankfurt.

Former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing even went as far as to dismiss him as a "casting error".

Duisenberg was succeeded as ECB chief by France's Jean-Claude Trichet, leaving him leisure time to pursue his hobbies of golf, fishing, photography and wine-collecting.

Regarding his place in history as the first ECB president, Duisenberg joked only that "people will be able to see my signature on the banknotes for the next 10 years."

© AFP

Subject: French news

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