Simone Anne Veil


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(b. Nice, 13 July 1927)

French; Minister of Health 1974–9, MEP 1979–93, President of the European Parliament 1979–82, President of the Liberal and Democratic Group 1984–9, First Minister of State (Deputy Premier) and Minister of Housing, Social Affairs, Health, and Development of Cities 1993–95, Member of the French Constitutional Court 1998–2007 One of four children in a Jewish family from Nice, Veil was taken prisoner in the Occupation and sent to Auschwitz; her mother, father, and brother all died in captivity. She returned in 1945 and took up study of law and political science to qualify as a judge in 1956 but she entered the Ministry of Justice to become involved in a number of humanitarian and women's issues and adviser to the Minister of Justice in 1969. President Giscard d'Estaing launched her political career by making her Minister of Health in 1974 in Chirac's first Cabinet. As the first woman full Minister of the Fifth Republic she introduced the Loi Veil legalizing abortion. A law opening access to contraception and to information about birth control was passed in December of 1974. In January of 1975 the law legalizing abortion was passed, and was the start of an enduring popularity (and of venomous attacks). Mme Veil also undertook to reform or tackle other health issues and the reform of social security. No respecter of persons, a popular but not populist minister, she once noted that there is nothing more boring than an election meeting. She was a campaigner for women's issues and for the ‘downtrodden in society’ as well as a determined ‘centrist’ moderate (she set up the Club Vauban to bring together centrists who were, she felt, under pressure from party extremists). She became increasingly at odds with the politics of Barre. She resigned in June 1979 to lead the centre Giscardian list for the European Parliament (against the Gaullists) and was immediately elected President of the new European Parliament. In 1984 she led a list of Gaullists and centrists (despite Giscard's pressure), becoming leader of the Liberal and Democratic Group, and in 1989 led a centrist list against both the Gaullists and Giscard. Returning to French politics in 1993, Edouard Balladur appointed her as Minister of Housing, Social Affairs, Health, and Development of Cities, a position she held for two years. In 1998 she became a member of the Constitutional Council and, to the surprise of many, supported Sarkozy in the 2007 presidential elections. In 2008 she published a much-admired autobiography, My Life, and was also elected to the French Academy. She has become one of France's most admired and respected politicians.

Subjects: Politics.

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