On 17 July 1979 Simone Veil was elected President of the European Parliament following the first European elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. The collection of documents from her private office constitutes a very important early corpus since it also contains some of the papers of earlier Presidents that may otherwise have been lost.
This collection offers us an insight into the activities of Parliament's highest political and administrative body not only for the period of Simone Veil's term of office (17 July 1979 to 19 January 1982), but also for the preceding years and for a number of years thereafter. The period covering the late 1970s and early 1980s was packed with events of major international, social, economic and political significance. The President's private office thus became a crossroads and a privileged place from which to observe events which Simone Veil was dealing with at the highest institutional level.
For this reason the Archives and Documentation Centre has selected a small number of documents which it considers to be significant and which illustrate the activities of the President's private office in response to certain major events that occurred during that brief period of the last century.
The collection is organised by subject. Each subject is illustrated with documents drawn from Simone Veil’s papers.
Authority over the budget is certainly one of the most contentious issues in relations with the other institutions. Since the 1970s and the Treaties of Brussels and Luxembourg, this issue has fuelled a debate amongst the three main Community institutions (Parliament, Council and Commission) which has come close to causing a breakdown. A notable occasion in the early days was the failure to approve the 1980 budget. A similarly thorny issues is that of the European development funds, on which the European Parliament wishes to be consulted.
This issue is so important that each of the institutions resorts to all legal means at its disposal to press its case. The following ‘confidential’ note, which illustrates the efforts made by Parliament to re-establish an equilibrium in the ‘balance of powers’, dates from 1973.
There is no shortage of disputes over purely procedural matters either. On 15 June 1976 the Conservative Group proposed for discussion in plenary a motion of censure vis-à-vis the Commission, which it accused of not having consulted Parliament in the course of an interinstitutional procedure. The motion did not obtain the required number of votes and was rejected.
Shortly after the end of her term as President, Simone Veil used a speech in Spain in February 1982 as an opportunity to assess the role played by Parliament.
One particular episode concerning relations between Parliament and the Council of Ministers is worth recalling. In 1981 Simone Veil officially invited Margaret Thatcher (then President-in-Office of the European Council) to address the Assembly. Apparently, the Council's custom of informing Parliament of the results of European Council meetings dates from that occasion. As Mrs Veil noted, this was a practice that would make a substantial contribution to the debate on the future of European unification and enhance the prestige of the Community Institutions.
Human rights have been a central concern throughout Parliament's history. Documents on this issue make up a major part of the Simone Veil collection. In the course of her term of office she received hundreds of letters from all over the world concerning situations in which human rights were being abused.
The press played a major role in Mrs Veil's political life, particularly after direct elections were introduced. The following four interviews illustrate how the general public saw her in her various roles as President, stateswoman and former Jewish deportee.
On 9 May 1980 (in the middle of her term as President) Simone Veil gave a speech commemorating the thirtieth anniversary of Robert Schuman's famous declaration. It was an occasion for reviewing the various stages in the laborious process of European integration.
Relations with developing countries – in particular with former colonies – are an important area of debate among the Community's Member States. In 1980 Simone Veil gave a speech which coincided with the expiry of the first Lomé Convention.
A speech to Parliament's plenary provided Simone Veil with an opportunity to express her views on the role played by Parliament in the interinstitutional legislative process a year after the first direct elections.
This collection of documents would not be complete without Simone Veil's contribution to the debate in 1984 on the Spinelli report on European Union, in which Mrs Veil spoke as a member of the Liberal Group.
Many international political events are dealt with in the papers contained in the Veil collection. Some are recorded by means of brief notes, others through more extensive exchanges of correspondence. Apparent in all these papers is the close attention paid to the international political situation.
Speech on the occasion of an official visit to Greece on 29 March 1980.
Telegram sent following the death of Marshall Tito, President of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Request from Christopher J. Dodd, a member of the US Congress, for a boycott of the Moscow Olympics following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and Simone Veil’s reply.
Invitation from the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, for Simone Veil to visit his country, and related correspondence.
File on relations with China.
Letter congratulating the Speaker of the Spanish Parliament following the failed coup d'état in Spain.
Speeches given by Simone Veil on the occasion of a visit by Anwar Sadat, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt.
The comments concerning the international political situation apply equally to the economic situation. At one of the most important international meetings at European level on the economic situation (the study days organised by the Centro Pio Manzù), Simone Veil provided an end-of-term review.
Simone Veil was asked on a number of occasions to speak on this topic. As a female president of a parliament elected by universal suffrage, she represented the successful outcome of many years' struggle by members of her sex to break into areas which had hitherto been the exclusive preserve of men. The speech she gave at a seminar organised by the Women's Political Association on 28 November 1981 is offered as an illustration of her commitment.
The last, but not least important, subject is the sensitive issue of relations with Israel and the international Jewish community, which features prominently in the Veil collection. 'Israel and Europe' – a commemorative speech in memory of Albert Cohen given in Geneva on 18 March 1982 – is offered as an illustration of Simone Veil's activities.