Wim Duisenberg, the former European Central Bank chief who helped establish the euro currency, was found dead Sunday in his swimming pool in southeastern France, officials said. He was 70.
He was found at his home in the town of Faucon and could not be resuscitated, police said. An autopsy showed that Duisenberg had “died a natural death, due to drowning, after a cardiac problem,” said Jean-Francois Sanpieri, a state prosecutor in the nearby town of Carpentras. He did not give other details.
Duisenberg was the first head of the European Central Bank, serving from 1998 to 2003. Having shepherded the euro through its introduction in 1999, he became known as the father of the 12-nation European common currency.
“In his calm way, he helped create and strengthen the crucial foundation of trust among the population in the euro,” German Finance Minister Hans Eichel told Bloomberg News in an e-mailed statement.
“This made a decisive contribution to the successful establishment of European Economic and Monetary Union.”
Tall and stoop-shouldered, with a mane of white hair, Duisenberg sometimes appeared more of a professor than a heavyweight policy-maker. A chain-smoking lover of golf and classical music, he kept a decidedly low profile as the bank’s chief but was a major figurehead bearing overall responsibility for price stability in the euro zone of more than 300 million people.
During his tenure at the bank, Duisenberg was known for his cautious monetary policy and was eager to defend the euro through its early years.
He sometimes frustrated financial markets and politicians by sticking to the bank’s inflation-fighting stance, keeping rates higher than some investors and officials would have liked.
“I hear, but I don’t listen” to such pleas, was one of his typically blunt responses.
One of Duisenberg’s biggest achievements was the smooth introduction of euro notes and coins in early 2002. Twelve national currencies were removed from circulation by banks and shops and replaced with the new money in a huge logistical effort that defied predictions of long lines and consumer confusion.
Duisenberg, who unabashedly sought to model the European Central Bank on the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, was at times referred to as “Europe’s Greenspan,” a reference to Fed chief Alan Greenspan.
His selection as its chief was championed by Germany -- Europe’s biggest economy -- but faced controversy when France proposed its central banker, Jean-Claude Trichet, as a rival candidate.
The fight prodded Duisenberg to agree to step down before his term ended. When he left office in 2003, Trichet took over.
Germany awarded Duisenberg its Grand Cross 1st Class of the Order of Merit for his contribution to European unity and the stability of the euro.
Willem Frederik Duisenberg was born July 9, 1935, in Heerenveen, Netherlands. He became a member of the Dutch Labor party and received a doctorate in economics from the University of Groningen, writing his dissertation on the economic consequences of disarmament.
Duisenberg also served as finance minister and central bank chief in the Netherlands and once ran the European Monetary Institute -- a Central Bank predecessor -- in Frankfurt, Germany.
He is survived by his wife, Gretta Duisenberg-Bedier de Prairie, and two adult sons from his earlier marriage.