Portrait of Simone Veil
3 July 2017

1927-2017. Simone Veil has died

A committed pro-European, on 30 June 2017 Simone Veil has died at the age of 89.
Inspiring both admiration and affection, Simone Veil became one of France’s best loved personalities. Returning from the camps at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen in May 1945, she had been saved from despair through her courage and determination. After starting a family, and later beginning a career as a magistrate in 1974, she became, overnight, the most celebrated and popular female politician in France, succeeding during her time as Minister of Health in passing the law on abortion which would bear her name.  An emblematic figure in the fight for women’s rights, she held positions, both within public administration and in politics, which had previously been inaccessible to women – the first woman secretary of the Supreme Judicial Council (CSM), the first woman to sit on the board of the French radio and television broadcasting agency, ORTF (1972), the first woman President of the first directly-elected European Parliament (1979), and the first woman Ministre d’État (when Minister of Health and Social Affairs in 1993). She was a member of the Constitutional Council from 1998 to 2007 and in 2008 became the sixth woman to be elected to the Académie Française, entering the Dome in March 2010 where she followed Paul Claudel, Pierre Loti and Pierre Messmer in occupying seat number 13, which had also been that of Jean Racine.  

A European citizen of the highest order

After five years at the Ministry of Health, Simone Veil embarked on her important European chapter. In her eyes, the construction of Europe was the only way to avoid repeating the horrors of the past. She had been firmly convinced of this since her return from the camps. President Giscard d’Estaing invited her to stand for the UDF (Union for French Democracy) in the first direct elections to the European Parliament on 10 June 1979. This was her electoral debut – a victorious debut which she won convincingly. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing then supported Simone Veil’s candidacy for presidency of the European Parliament, seeing it as a strong symbol of Franco-German unity and European construction. "That a former deportee should become the first President of the new European Parliament seemed to him a good sign for the future", wrote Simone Veil about this in her memoirs.
Elected President of the European Parliament on 17 July 1979, by 192 votes – three votes more than an absolute majority –, Simone Veil became a European citizen of the highest order. It was a position she held for 30 months until January 1982, yet her work in Europe did not end there. As President of the Liberal group, she continued her active involvement in European political life, in particular heading the Parliament’s legal service until 1993.