For more than 40 years, she was the architect of the French political centre that she helped organize and compile under a new movement, launched in 2008 with François Bayrou. Vice President of the Democratic Movement Party or MoDem, Marielle de Sarnez, has died today at the age of 69.
Marielle de Sarnez, then Minister for European Affairs, attached to the Minister for Europe and Foreign affairs, with Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign affairs.
Photo: Frédéric de la Mure / MEAE
Faithful to the culture of political engagement of her father, a resistance fighter who became a UDR Deputy, but rebel to the Gaullist political background of her family, Marielle de Sarnez already began to take part in the political events of her time at 17, occupying the Lycée Jean-Baptiste Say in May of 1968 with other like-minded students. In the eyes of a young women who grew up under the portrait of General de Gaulle, modernity could be found in another face, that of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Breaking away from her family and with her baccalaureate in hand, she entered the workforce, first as a sales assistant in a boutique selling furs and doing door-to-door sales for professional directories, before entering politics when she became the Secretary of the Young Independent Republicans, just before Giscard d’Estaing was elected President in 1974.
She who, very early on, had taken part in political debates, led her first campaign at age 23, and prepared for battle by selling “Giscard à la barre” (Giscard at the helm) T-shirts. As she learned how politics worked, she was noted for her organizational skills. She quickly became the leader of the Young Giscardians where she came to the firm conclusion that a strong centre, less dependent on the right, was needed. In 1978, she thus helped found the Union for French Democracy or UDF, which brought together the non-Gaullist centre-right in support of Valéry Giscard d´Estaing, and met François Bayrou, who would be a decisive influence in her life. The Parisian autodidact would find her alter ego in this prestigious scholar from Béarn, and would form with him one of the most solid political and amicable duo over the next forty years. She became his Deputy in 1992 when he was appointed Secretary General of the UDF, then followed him to the Ministry of National Education as an adviser then Director of his Private Office, becoming the first French woman who had not attended ENA, to hold such a senior position. He was his campaign director during the presidential campaigns of 2007 and 2012.
Navigating with ease behind the scenes of politics, she overcame the shyness that had been holding her back to take centre stage at the start of the 2000s. She could be seen in her signature jeans and ballet flats all over TV at the time of European elections and tirelessly campaigning across Paris during municipal elections and across France during the general election. After serving as a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2017, a Councillor for Paris from 2001 to 2010 and from 2014 to 2020, she was appointed Minister responsible for European Affairs in May 2017. She was elected Deputy of the 11th constituency of Paris on 18 June 2017 and focused her energy on her work in office, and particularly on international issues when she became chair of the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
Very committed to an inclusive Europe, she called the attention of European leaders to the urgent nature of the migration crisis starting in 2014, travelling several times to Lampedusa, to the border of Syria and on the Balkans route to meet with migrants and humanitarian organizations. She believed in an independent and autonomous Europe that is balanced socially, economically and environmentally, a Europe that she wanted to “make people love”, as could be seen in the title of the small dictionary she published in 2009, Petit dictionnaire pour faire aimer Europe.
Throughout her career, Marielle de Sarnez worked to shape the French political centre in the image of this “Thought at the Meridian” of which Camus spoke, a thought which ignores neither rebellion nor measure, but prefers pragmatism to Manichean polarizations of action, the reconciliation of the desirable and the possible. The President of the Republic and his wife commend this woman who was as true to her convictions as she was to her friendships. They have lost a friend and send their heartfelt condolences to her children, her relatives and close friends, and to her entire political family.
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