Simone Veil: A European life

Article published on Feb. 4, 2008
Article published on Feb. 4, 2008

The beacon of female leadership in France and first president of the European Parliament from 1979 to 1982, has just passed away. Here is a tribute to her autobiography, which was published in 2008. 

As a survivor of the Auschwitz camp during World War II, to which she was deported along with her sister and mother, Simone Veil could have easily renounced the continent that had abused her and her family. In 1945, "my sister and I were alive, but like many other families, the Jacob family [NB. Veil's maiden name] was pained by the Nazi fury. Very fast, we understood that we would not see neither Dad nor Jean [NB. her brother] anymore. Milou, scrawny and bitten by foils, was tremendously weakened by typhus." 

“The reactionary attitude of certain judges”

Against all odds, life got back to its normal course, and Simone took on studies at the Institute of Political Science and then at the Law University of Paris Assas. Her first assignments as a magistrate were about renovating prison life in France. It was in 1974 that Simone Veil made her first appearance in French political life. Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister of the President Valérie Giscard d’Estaing at the time, entrusted her with the health department. The biggest challenge that she faced was the legalisation of abortion. “It had been years since I had been worrying about the abortion matter; not only as a woman, but also as a magistrate. Like most of my colleagues, I was alarmed about the dramas I could hear. And the reactionary attitude of certain judges shocked me […] they kept on suing doctors who practiced abortions in order to prevent them from ever practicing medicine again.”

The next year, after a memorable speech at the National Assembly, the legislative text on the termination of pregnancy was passed. But the woman from Nice had new ambitions. Not for herself or for her career, but for France and her new love: Europe. “… as soon as the prospects of the first European Parliament election using the universal suffrage became clearer […] I jumped on the occasion. Besides some need of changing, I had the feeling that I couldn’t move on anymore.”

The need for European unity

For three years, she buckled down to reform the EU organisation: budget, vote, diplomacy, Simone Veil foresaw the tests that the European Union would have to take. “… on the diplomatic level, more than ever, Europe needs unity face to the ongoing international tensions, and the Iraqi crisis tragically showed how it was hard to speak up with one voice in order to be heard.” It is true that the Old Continent went through way worse. Two bloody wars, a wall that caused its division... but for Veil, the future was not as dark as some described it. Indeed “this is here [in Europe], where the absolute evil was perpetrated, that willingness must be reborn from a fraternal world, a world based on the respect of  human being and of its dignity.”

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Quotes pulled from A Life, Simone Veil's autobiography.