EU parliament pays tribute to ex-president Simone Veil

(FILES) This file photo taken on March 18, 2010 shows French Simone Veil, an Auschwitz survivor and the first elected president of the European parliament, posing as she leave the Institut de France after her entry ceremony as member of the prestigious Academie Francaise in Paris, the guardian of the French language. Simone Veil, an Auschwitz survivor who played a leading role in legalising contraception and abortion in France, died on June 30, 2017, aged 89, her son said. Veil, an icon of French politics and the first president of the European Parliament, died at her home, Jean Veil said. FRANCOIS GUILLOT / AFP

The European Parliament on Monday honoured Simone Veil, a women’s rights icon who served as the body’s first elected president in 1979, with lawmakers observing a minute’s silence.

Veil died at her home in France on Friday at age 89.

Current EU parliament president Antonio Tajani described her as “one of the great figures of our time, who marked the history of Europe and made a notable contribution to the development of our parliament”.

Meanwhile French lawmakers, gathered at the Versailles palace on Monday to hear a speech by French President Emmanuel Macron, also paid tribute to Veil with a minute’s silence.

After surviving Auschwitz, Veil went on to become one of France’s most respected politicians, serving as health minister under president Valery Giscard d’Estaing.

Veil’s standout achievement as a politician came when she shepherded a 1974 abortion law through parliament after a 25-hour debate during which she endured a torrent of abuse, with some lawmakers likening pregnancy terminations to the Holocaust.

The legislation — named the “Loi Veil” (Veil Law) — is today considered a cornerstone of women’s rights and secularism in France.

After a second term as health minister under Socialist president Francois Mitterrand, Veil last held major public office between 1998 and 2007, when she was a member of France’s Constitutional Council.

She served as EU Parliament president for three years.

A second tribute is planned for Tuesday, Tajani said.

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