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Born in 1942 in Normandy, the daughter of a doctor and the granddaughter of primary school teachers, she was awarded a degree in law in 1962 at the age of 20, the diploma of the Paris Institute of Political Studies in 1964 and a doctorate in public law in 1969. She is a lawyer and a member of the bar of the department of Hauts-de-Seine.

For almost 20 years Nicole FONTAINE had national responsibility for the sensitive issue of relations between the private education sector and the public authorities at the Secrétariat général de l'Enseignement catholique (Catholic Education Secretariat), first of all as legal adviser, then as Deputy Secretary-General from 1972 to 1981 and finally as chief representative from 1981 to 1984. She was closely involved in discussions concerning and often the driving force behind the legislative and statutory changes which, over a period of two decades, shaped the legal framework which provides for balanced relations between the State and the private establishments linked by contract to the public education service.

Republished four times and widely distributed, her doctoral thesis on relations between the State and private teaching establishments linked by contract to the public sector has become the standard reference work in that area.

Nicole FONTAINE was a member of the Conseil supérior de l'Education nationale (National Education Council) from 1975 to 1981 and a member of its standing committee from 1978 to 1981. Between 1980 and 1984 she was a member of the Conseil économique et social (Economic and Social Council), to which she submitted a report on publishing policy.

She was elected to the European Parliament in June 1984, in the wake of the major demonstration in Paris in favour of private education which ultimately led to a settlement based on the principle of freedom of education. During her first term of office, her work focused on an area whose importance for the future is still underestimated, given the predominance of economic issues: a citizens' Europe. In that connection, she concentrated more particularly on projects concerning youth, community life and the mutual recognition of diplomas, the key to professional mobility and freedom of establishment throughout the European Community.

She carried out work primarily as a member of three parliamentary committees: the Committee on Legal Affairs and Citizens' Rights, the Committee on Culture, Youth, Education and the Media and the Committee on Women's Rights.

In July 1989 she was re-elected to the European Parliament on the centrist list led by Mrs Simone Veil and elected Vice-President of the European Parliament. In that capacity, she was a member of Parliament's Bureau and represented the Assembly on the European Parliament - National Parliaments Joint Delegation.

In January 1994 she was appointed by her political group, the European People's Party, to sit as a permanent member on the Conciliation Committee established by the Maastricht Treaty; the role of that committee is to settle disputes outstanding at the end of legislative procedures involving the European Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. She is the only French permanent member of the committee.
She is also chairman of the European Parliament delegation to COSAC (conference of bodies specialising in Community affairs), which is the forum for cooperation between the national parliaments and the European Parliament.

In the run-up to the European elections in June 1994 she published a work intended to make the general public more familiar with the European Parliament, entitled Les députés européens: Qui sont-ils? Que font-ils? (MEPs: who are they? what do they do?).

In June 1994 she was re-elected to the European Parliament for a third term of office. In July she was also re-elected a Vice-President of the Assembly and became, by virtue of the number of votes obtained, first Vice-President of the European Parliament. She retained that position in January 1997. In that capacity, she co-chaired the Conciliation Committee with the President-in-Office of the Council of Ministers.

In August 1997 she published a guide to Community aid schemes, entitled L'Europe de vos initiatives, and then in October 1998 a layman's guide to the Amsterdam Treaty entitled Le traité d'Amsterdam, à l'attention de ceux qui aimeraient s'intéresser à l'Europe si elle était moins obscure (the Amsterdam Treaty for those who would like to take an interest in Europe but find it difficult to understand).

At national level, Nicole FONTAINE is Vice-President of the UDF and, ex officio, a member of the UDF's Executive Committee and Political Bureau.

In second place on the list led by Mr François BAYROU, Nicole FONTAINE was re-elected to the European Parliament in June 1999.

Standing against Mario SOARES for the post of President of the European Parliament, she was elected by a majority of the votes cast in the first round on 20 July 1999.
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