Pulse.ng logo
Go

Simone Veil French political icon eulogised as 'best of France'

Simone Veil, the Auschwitz survivor who became a towering figure in French politics after pushing to legalise abortion in the face of fierce opposition, was hailed Friday as the best of France, following her death at 89.

  • Published: , Refreshed:
Simone Veil, who has died aged 89, experienced personal tragedies before cultivating significant political success play

Simone Veil, who has died aged 89, experienced personal tragedies before cultivating significant political success

(AFP/File)

Simone Veil, the Auschwitz survivor who became a towering figure in French politics after pushing to legalise abortion in the face of fierce opposition, was hailed Friday as the best of France, following her death at 89.

Veil, a women's rights icon who served as the first elected president of the European Parliament, died at her home, her son Jean Veil said.

Expressing his condolences, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted: "May her example inspire our fellow citizens, as the best of what France can achieve."

Macron's office announced a state funeral for Veil on Wednesday, adding that EU flags would fly at half mast on the day with French flags on public buildings bearing a black ribbon in her memory.

Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande said Veil "embodied dignity, courage and moral rectitude".

"France has lost a figure the likes of which history produces few," French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe added in a tweet.

'Exceptional woman'

Former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing, whom Veil served as health minister in the 1970s, said: "She was an exceptional woman who experienced life's greatest joys and its greatest sadnesses."

Veil -- a model of composure who always wore her hair in a sleek bun and dressed in Chanel suits -- was seen as something of a secular saint for her unwavering stance on moral issues.

As French minister for health Simone Veil, seen alongside then prime minister Jacques Chirac, shepherded a 1974 abortion law through parliament but endured abuse and "hatred" as a result from some lawmakers play

As French minister for health Simone Veil, seen alongside then prime minister Jacques Chirac, shepherded a 1974 abortion law through parliament but endured abuse and "hatred" as a result from some lawmakers

(AFP/File)

Her standout achievement as a politician was shepherding a 1974 abortion law through parliament after a 25-hour debate during which she endured a torrent of abuse

"I never imagined the hatred that I would unleash," the former health minister said later.

Some French lawmakers at the time likened pregnancy terminations to the Holocaust

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hailed Veil, saying she had been "committed for several decades and with great energy to the process of European unification."

In a message addressed to Macron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier hailed a "great European" whose life embraced "both the horror and the hopeful construction of 20th-century Europe."

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker also wrote to Macron saying that Veil "suffered personally from the tragic tearing asunder of Europe and managed, through her political engagement, to help build sustained peace in Europe".

In the evening a crowd, some from feminist groups, gathered in a central Paris square to pay homage to Veil

I wouldn't be the woman I am today without Simone Veil," said 42-year-old Johanna Nizard, one of those who gathered in the iconic Place de la Republique.

Some groups hailed her as a "heroine" deserving to be buried in the Pantheon in Paris, to join the likes of Voltaire, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Marie Curie.

Parents died in death camps

Born Simone Jacob in the Mediterranean city of Nice on July 13, 1927, Veil was deported to Auschwitz in 1944.

Her father, mother and brother died in the Nazi death camps, while she and her two sisters, one of whom later died in a car crash, survived.

After the war she studied law and married Antoine Veil, who died in April 2013. The couple had three sons.

As a young judge she lobbied for improved conditions in French prisons before throwing herself into the battle to end backstreet abortions.

A staunch believer in European integration, she became the first elected president of the European Parliament in 1979, a post she held for three years.

Polls consistently showed her to be one of France's most popular and trusted figures.

She also frequently took part in World War II commemorations and spoke out against the far-right National Front (FN).

FN leader Marine Le Pen said Veil had "undeniably left her mark on French political life".

Do you ever witness news or have a story that should be featured on Pulse Nigeria?
Submit your stories, pictures and videos to us now via WhatsApp: +2349055172167, Social Media @pulsenigeria247: #PulseEyewitness & DM or Email: eyewitness@pulse.ng. More information here.