European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek inaugurated two new public spaces, the "Solidarność 1980 Esplanade" and the "Simone Veil Agora", in front of Parliament's Altiero Spinelli building in Brussels on Tuesday. These spaces are designed to honour two giants of post-war Europe: the Polish trade union "Solidarność", whose activities led to the collapse of communism in central Europe, and Simone Veil, the first President of the directly-elected EP in 1979.
"Madame Simone Veil was the President of the European Parliament when Solidarność was born in Poland. Not many believed then that Europe would change so quickly. But Simone Veil was one of those few with enough faith. Thank you for that", said President Buzek during the ceremony. He added "25 years ago we used to say in Poland: 'There is no freedom without Solidarity'. Today, here in Brussels, at the heart of Europe we say: 'There is no Europe without solidarity'. (...) The value of solidarity is today indispensable in Europe, but also all over the world."
Ms Veil said she was moved that the area in front of the EP will be named after her. "This place is a symbol of the fight against divisions which are hard to imagine today for young generations. We managed here to bring cruel and endless conflicts to an end. And today Europe can be a model for the whole planet." She also stressed that the financial crisis was a real danger for the European model and called on political leaders to build an atmosphere of trust in the EU.
Bogdan Borusewicz, Marshall of the Polish Senate and one of the founders of Solidarność, referred to the fight of north African nations for freedom. "We won our fight thanks to help from western Europe. We fought for freedom, for civil rights. People in north Africa are fighting for these things today and we have to remember them."
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme, former Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, former European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering, French European affairs minister Jean Leonetti, Minister-President of the Brussels Region Charles Picqué and Mayor of Ixelles Willy Decourty also took part in the official ceremony and in the unveiling of the commemorative plaques.
The "Solidarność 1980 Esplanade" runs parallel to Rue de Trèves between Chaussée de Wavre and Rue Belliard. The central part of the esplanade, between the EP Altiero Spinelli building and Place du Luxembourg has been named the "Simone Veil Agora".
Simone Veil: witness, fighter for women's rights, committed European
Simone Veil was born in 1927 to a Jewish family in Nice, France. With her family, she was arrested in 1944 and sent to the Nazi concentration camps in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bobrek and finally Bergen-Belsen. Her parents and brother died in the camps.
Ms Veil became France's Minister of Health in 1974 and is most famous for leading the legalisation of abortion in 1975. Between 1979 and 1982 she presided over the first directly-elected European Parliament and remained an MEP until 1993, when she returned to French politics.
Ms Veil was elected to the "Académie Française" in 2008 and remains enormously popular in France.
Solidarność, a milestone in Europe's recent history
Following its emergence in 1980 during the strike in the Gdańsk shipyards, Solidarność transformed Poland, leading to the collapse of the communist regime in 1989. It still operates in Poland as a trade union and remains an inspiration to people fighting for democracy.
It was formed when workers came together to demand rights including independent trade unions, the right to strike, freedom of speech and the release of political prisoners. The authorities bowed to these demands and the two sides signed an agreement in August 1980. Membership reached 9.5 million in September 1981 - a third of the working population.
However, amid fears of Solidarność's growing influence in other communist bloc countries, the regime introduced martial law in Poland on 13 December 1981, banning Solidarność and arresting its leaders. The movement went underground, surviving the regime and going on to play a crucial role in the transformation negotiations. It took part in the first free elections in 1989 and Lech Wałęsa become the first democratically-elected president of Poland in 1990.
Solidarność has already marked its presence in the European Parliament. The steel flagpoles standing in the front of the European Parliament building in Strasbourg were provided by the Gdańsk Shipyard were the union was born.