Friday, 8 March 2019
Woman of the Year: a brief commemoration
I had wanted to write more about my impressions of the toweringly great Simone Veil's autobiography, Une Vie. But perhaps a more pressing need is to salute her on International Women's Day, as a pioneer of the possible and the first President of the European Parliament 40 year ago (this July, to be precise).
A figure of unimpeachable integrity, she had survived Auschwitz and the 'death march' from there before liberation. She had seen the vital need for peace and unity in a continent which was still unsettled. In her inaugural speech, she pointed out how
localised wars have proliferated. The situation of peace that has prevailed in Europe has been a remarkable piece of good fortune, but none of us should estimate its fragility. Need I stress that this situation is new for Europe, whose history is marked by constant fratricidal and bloody wars?
Like its predecessors, our Assembly has, whatever our differences, a fundamental responsibility to maintain this peace, which is probably the most precious asset for all Europeans. The tensions prevailing in the world today make this responsibility particularly heavy, and it is to be hoped that the legitimacy bestowed on our Assembly by its election by universal suffrage will help us to bear it and to spread this peace of ours to the outside world.
Worth quoting to those who still rabbit on about 'the unelected bureaucrats in Brussels', though I suspect they are deaf beyond help now if they still persist. Pictured below: Veil at a sitting of the European Parliament in October 1979.
Veil also acknowledged the difficulties of a federation of national voices all needing to be heard, which is the other subject of Robert Menasse's magnificent very rich new novel The Capital, just published in a beautiful English translation by Jamie Bulloch. I'll be reviewing that on The Arts Desk on Sunday. Veil, briefly, on that theme:
The new Parliament will make it possible for the views of all Community citizens to be voiced at European level, and will, at the same time, raise awareness among the different sectors of society of the need for European solidarity over and above their immediate concerns, however legitimate, for these must never mask the fundamental interests of the Community.
Economics are also a theme of the speech, but let's leave those aside since that seems to be all that's at stake right now. You can read the rest in one of the autobiography's appendices. Meanwhile can I salute some of Veil's standard-bearers of integrity on the UK political scene: the late Jo Cox, Caroline Lucas, Anna Soubry, Tulip Saddiq, Jess Phillips, Nicola Sturgeon, to select a few at random. Today is one to forget those who disgrace Parliament, including our shameful so-called leader, so I won't give them a namecheck.