EU 1979 EXHIBITION – Women’s Stories

EU 1979: A People’s Parliament

A Digital Art Exhibition on Democracy, Human Rights and Women’s Political Participation

Women’s Stories

Below is the story of Simone Veil  who was elected to the European Parliament in 1979 as an MEP for France.

Portrait of Simone VEIL, EP President 1979-1982

Simone Veil 

Simone Veil (1927-2017)was a French lawyer, politician and feminist, Holocaust survivor and first female President of the European Parliament. Simone Veil became a lawyer and then a judge. She became France’s Health Minister between 1974 and 1979 where, in 1974,  she presided over the first bill legalizing abortion and establishing women’s reproductive rights in France. In 1979 she became a Member of the European Parliament and was elected its President, remaining in the role until 1982. This made her the President of the first directly elected Parliament and the first female President of the new European parliament. Veil is recognised in France in particular for the legalisation of abortion and for improving the lives of women and the conditions of prisoners.  Veil championed the rights of incarcerated women and legislated for dual parental control of family legal matters, the rights for mothers and their children by undeclared fathers, and adoption rights for women. She is also known across Europe for honouring and preserving the memory of Jewish people killed in the Holocaust during the Second World War, and for her commitment to European values and unity. She is admired for both her political and personal courage, having survived the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Veil’s childhood and traumatic experiences during the Second World War sowed the seeds of a commitment to a unified Europe, a cause she would champion for the rest of her life. 

Early Life 

‘Each of us was just a number, seared into our flesh’.
Simone Veil Memoir ‘A Life’.

Simone Jacob was born on 13 July 1927 to a Jewish family in Nice, France. She and the other members of her family were arrested in 1944 and sent to the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bobrek, and finally Bergen-Belsen. While she and her two sisters survived, her parents and brother died in the camps. Simone’s father André was an architect and her mother Yvonne had studied chemistry before going on to have four children, Madeleine (nickname Milou ), Denise, Jean and Simone. Simone’s family were non-practicising Jewish people and they  suffered from the anti-semitic laws which forced Simone’s father out of work. When the Nazi-allied Vichy regime came to power in the southern part of France in June 1940, Simone’s father was forced to register his family on the ‘Jewish file’ which would later be used to assist the French police and German gestapo to round up and deport Jewish families.  

Simone was arrested by two members of the SS on 30 March 1944 having only just passed the Baccalaureate exam two days previously, aged 16. Shortly afterwards the rest of her family apart from her sister Denise who had joined the Resistance were also arrested. Simone and her family ‘were forced to suffer the fate reserved for France’s Jews during that dark period in history. The women (Yvonne, Simone and Madeleine) were deported to Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi death camps, on April 13, 1944, arriving after a ghastly three-day journey trapped in an overcrowded cattle cart.’ Over a month later, on 15 May 1944,  André and Jean boarded Convoy 73, the only train from France to travel to the Baltic States.The train ‘comprised 878 Jewish males who were taken from Paris-Bobigny to Reval, Estonia (present-day Tallin), with a stop in Kovno, Lithuania. Of these, only seventeen survived. No researchers have been able to determine what happened to André and Jean’. 

Arriving at the camp with her mother and sister, Simone was advised by a French man to lie about her age and thus avoided being sent to the gas chambers. ‘She was registered for the labour camp, shaved from head to toe and tattooed with the serial number 78651 on her arm. “From then on, each of us was just a number, seared into our flesh,” she recalled years later in her memoirs. “A number we had to learn by heart, since we had lost all identity”.

Simone, her mother and sister were forced to work in the camps and ‘when Auschwitz was evacuated on 27 January 1945, as Soviet tanks approached, they took part in the grisly “death marches”, eventually reaching Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where Simone worked in the kitchens’. Simone’s mother Yvonne died on March 13 from the typhus epidemics that had swept through the camps. On April 15, Simone and her sister Madeleine who had also fallen ill, were saved when Allied forces liberated Bergen-Belsen. Denise also survived the war having been arrested as a resistance fighter and deported to Ravensbruck Concentration camp for women, from where she returned after the war.  Simone’s name (Simone Jacob) is inscribed on the Wall of Names at the Shoah Memorial in Paris ‘as one of the more than 76,000 Jews deported from France during World War II’. The names of her father André, her mother Yvonne, her sister Madeleine and her brother Jean also appear on the wall with only Simone and Madeleine surviving. Sadly Madeleine died in a car crush just seven years after the war.She returned to Paris in May 1945 aged 17 and began her studies in law and political science. She married Antoine Veil in 1946 and had three sons, Jean born in 1947), Nicolas in 1948 and Pierre-François in 1954).

Entry into politics 

Veil became a magistrate and in this capacity advised successive ministers for justice, including François Mitterrand. In 1970 she became the first female secretary general of the Conseil supérieur de la magistrature (France’s Council of the magistrate). Legend has it that when Valéry Giscard d’Estaing became President of France in April 1974 he went to Antoine Veil’s house with the intention of inviting him to join his new government. Deciding there and then not to appoint Antoine, the President chose his wife Simone instead. She joined French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s government as Minister for Health. She worked to provide easy access to contraceptives and soon after her appointment, she fought a bitter battle to legalise abortion in France, experiencing extreme vitriolic attacks from all sides  and only succeeded when the opposition in the national assembly joined her cause to push through the law in 1975. It was seen as a significant achievement and the law would become widely known as la loi Veil. 

Throughout her lifetime, Simone often spoke about the grief of losing her family members during the Holocaust and in particular she remembered the courage and bravery of her mother at all times particularly during their internment in Auschwitz.

‘ . . she instilled passion and the will to survive into her daughters. When Veil is asked how she found the stamina to withstand the onslaught of vitriolic attacks during the debate on abortion, she repeats that she owes it all to her mother. Even today, some sixty years after her death, Veil’s mother remains ever-present for her, with her: “I’m often asked what gave me the strength and will to continue the fight. I believe deeply that it was my mother; she has never stopped being present to me, next to me” (Ruth Hottell’s translation).

In addition to her success with ‘la loi Veil’, she achieved a range of successes for women’s rights including the implementation of fairer conditions of incarceration for women prisoners, supporting the rights of Algerian women prisoners to access fair treatment and an education, promoting dual parental control of family legal matters which protected the rights of women, as well as working to end discrimination against women by expanding ‘health coverage, monthly stipends for child care, maternity benefits, etc’.

Committed to a unified Europe

After the war, as a survivor of the Holocaust, Veil found it hard to understand how one European country could wage war on another. As her political career in France progressed, she became more committed to the idea of a Europe in which such atrocities could never happen again. So, when President Giscard d’Estaing asked Veil to head his party list in the first direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979, she jumped at the chance. 

Veil was duly elected to the European Parliament in 1979, which chose her as its President for a set three year term, thus becoming leader of the first directly elected European Parliament and the first woman at the head of any EU institution. She also served as chair of the legal affairs committee and as a member of the environment, political affairs, foreign affairs and security committees, and the subcommittee on human rights. In addition, she was a member of the special committee on German reunification set up in 1990. During her time at the Parliament, she was also chair and vicechair of the Liberal and Democratic Group, which later became the Liberal and Democratic Reformist Group. She won the Charlemagne Prize in 1981, the award given to honour a person’s contributions to European unity. 

Simone Veil believed standing up for freedom was essential in the fight against totalitarianism. She saw the EU as a place ‘of solidarity between people, regions and individuals . . to strengthen that freedom whose value is too often not realised until it has been lost, (a place where) the views of all community citizens can be voiced at a European level . . founded on a common heritage and the shared respect for fundamental human values’.

Simone Veil Acceptance Speech for Presidency of the EU Parliament, 17 July 1979

Later years 

She was elected to the European parliament again in 1984 and in 1989, and was also deputy-president from 1984. After 14 years in the European Parliament, Veil returned to French politics in 1993, serving as Minister of State and Minister of Health and Social Affairs until 1995. In 1998 she was appointed to France’s Constitutional Council. From 2001 to 2007 she served as the first president of the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah (Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah).   According to the New York Times, ‘she published an autobiography in 2007, in which she criticized the long delay in the French government’s acceptance of responsibility for the murder of French Jews, whose deportations were organized by the collaborationist regime based in Vichy.  The French state affirmed its ‘collective error’  for the crimes only in 1995, during Mr. Chirac’s presidency, after decades of equivocation.

In 2005 she campaigned in favour of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe. When Veil was elected to the Académie Française in 2008, one of only a handful of women to receive such an honour, she had three things engraved on the ceremonial sword that is crafted for each member of the academy. These were: her Auschwitz tattoo number, 78651; the motto of the French Republic, ’Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’; and the European Union motto, ‘United in Diversity’. 

In 2011, the esplanade in front of the main European Parliament building in Brussels was named Agora Simone Veil in her honour, and in 2012 she was awarded the Grand Cross of the Légion d’honneur.  She has won numerous awards and honorary degrees, having been appointed a Chevalier de l’Ordre national du Merite and Grand Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE). 

Following her death on 30 June 2017, Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, paid tribute to Veil, calling her ‘the great President of the European Parliament, conscience of the EU, campaigner against anti-Semitism and defender of women’s rights. Her message on women and anti-Semitism remains relevant to this day’. In July 2018 her remains were interred in the Panthéon mausoleum in Paris. She was only the fifth woman to receive this honour. She was an inspirational figure as a strong feminist,a committed human rights advocate,  and a believer in European integration and cooperation. 


Below is the story of Emma Bonino who was elected to the European Parliament in 1979 as an MEP for Italy.

Emma Bonino

‘ . . for all those who believe that it is still possible to improve our world – and ultimately the human condition – every day.’ Emma Bonino, Italian Politician and Member of first European Parliament elected by direct universal suffrage in 1979

Emma Bonino OMRI, CdrLH,  (born 9 March 1948) is an Italian politician, feminist, radical activist and former MEP.  She currently is a Senator for Rome. She served as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2013 to 2014. Previously, she was a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and a member of the Senate of the Republic. She served in the government of Italy as minister of international trade from 2006 to 2008. She has served continuously as a politician either in the Italian system or as an MEP in the European parliament apart from when she was appointed  between 1994 and 1999 as European Commissioner.

She is a leading member of the Italian Radicals, a political party which describes itself ‘liberale, liberista e libertario’ (where liberista denotes economic liberalism and libertario  denotes a form of cultural liberalism concerning moral issues, with some ideological connection with historical left-libertarianism). She graduated in modern languages and literature from Bocconi University in Milan in 1972.

When Emma Bonino was 27 years old she had an illegal abortion and it was this action, the need to do something to ensure that women could access safe and legal abortions,  that prompted her to enter politics becoming a member of the Radical party. She initially worked as a teacher of foreign languages until 1975 before going into politics full-time with a focus on defending the rights of individuals in a liberal society and promoting human rights and women’s issues including divorce, abortion and an end to gender based violence.

A veteran legislator in Italian politics and an activist for various reform policies, she was elected six times as deputy and two times as senator. She was the leader of More Europe, a liberal, European Federalist party.

Bonino was first elected to the Italian Chamber of Deputies in 1976 and re-elected in 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992, 1994 and 2006. In 1975, she founded the Information Centre on Sterilisation and Abortion and promoted the referendum which led to the legalisation of abortion in Italy. In 1986, she was among the promoters of a referendum against nuclear energy that led to the rejection of a civil nuclear energy programme in Italy.

On 17 May 2006, Bonino was appointed as minister for international trade in the cabinet of Romano Prodi. She resigned from office on 7 May 2008 when she had been elected vice president of the Senate the previous day. In 2008, at the elections of 13 and 14 April, she was elected to a seat in the Senate, the second parliamentary chamber, on the list of the Democratic Party for the Piedmont constituency.

On 28 April 2013, she was sworn in as foreign minister in the government led by Enrico Letta. In June 2017, public opinion polls of her stood at 43 percent, second only to prime minister Paolo Gentiloni. Despite the positive public opinion, her party falls short of the 3 percent required for a seat in Parliament. In response, she has adopted the slogan ‘Love Me Less, Vote Me More’.

Bonino was elected in the constituency of Rome – Gianicolense district at the 2018 general election.   Bonino was elected to the European Parliament in 1979 and re-elected in 1984 and 1999 and again from 1999 to 2006. She served as the Secretary of the Transnational Radical Party in 1993–94 and the party’s president in 1991–1993. In October 1994, she was appointed head of the Italian Government delegation to the UN General Assembly for the “Moratorium on death penalty” initiative. From 1994 to 1999, she was European Commissioner responsible for Consumer Policy, Fisheries and the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO). In 1997, her field of competence was widened to include consumer health protection and food safety.

As European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, Emma Bonino was responsible for managing the European Union’s Emergency Aid Program (ECHO), which had an average budget in excess of 800 million Euro per year, of which almost one-third was channelled  through United Nations agencies.  Through these links she made strong connections with representatives of the United Nations and with those working in the humanitarian field. 

From 1993 on,  she led the campaign for the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, and for the establishment of the International Criminal Court. While she was EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs, Emma Bonino was the Head of the European Commission Delegation to the Rome Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court in 1998, at which the Rome Statute was adopted. 

On 15 March 1999, together with all the Santer Commission, she resigned due to the accusations of fraud and mismanagement against commissioner Édith Cresson. In November 2002, she was appointed Head of the Italian Government delegation at the Inter-governmental Conference of the Community of Democracies in Seoul. As European Commissioner, Emma Bonino confronted the major man-made crises of the 1990s, which resulted in millions of refugees and displaced persons, including in the Great Lakes Region and in the Balkans. Her frequent field-visits drew international attention to the crises in these regions, which she maintained required a political, and not just a  humanitarian, response. In particular, her alarm call on the massacres being perpetrated in Srebrenica, and then the deportations in Kosovo, awakened the world’s attention. In December 1997, as one of the promoters of the campaign, she signed on behalf of the European Commission, the Ottawa Anti-Personnel Mines Convention.

Along with Marco Pannella, another member of the Radical Party, Bonino has fought numerous battles for civil rights and individual liberty, mainly concerned with divorce, the legalisation of abortion, the legalisation of drugs, and for sexual and religious freedoms. She has fought for an end to capital punishment, against female genital mutilation, and the eradication of world hunger. In 1975, Bonino funded the information centre for abortion (CISA), and in 1997 she supported the international movement condemning the discrimination of females in Afghanistan, ‘Un Fiore per le Donne di Kabul’ (A Flower for the Women of Kabul). Bonino is also a champion of the recognition of women’s rights in the countries of the African Union through the Maputo protocol. She is a founder of the nongovernmental organizations ‘Non c’è Pace senza Giustizia’ (No Peace Without Justice), which supports the international protection and promotion of human rights and democracy founded in 1993, and ‘Nessuno Tocchi Caino’ (Hands Off Cain), which is an international league that fights for the abolition of the death penalty

In June 1999, she obtained a historic percentage of votes (8.5%) in the European elections (vs. the usual 2–3% that Radicals got in the previous and subsequent elections). Her list (Lista Bonino) won seven of 78 Italian seats in this election.

Emma Bonino supported the NATO  intervention in Kosovo in the spring of 1999. From 1999 to 2004, the Lista Bonino was non-affiliated, as it was founded with a claim to not adhere to the traditional centre-left versus centre-right politics, rather remaining in the middle to maximize any potential bargaining power. In the case “Emma Bonino and Others v Parliament and Council (Case T-40/04)”, the Liste Emma Bonino contested before the Court of Justice of the European Union that its exclusion from Community funding due to not qualifying as a party on the ‘European level’ was discriminatory. The court dismissed this argument as inadmissible, establishing that measures do not necessarily need to legally affect an applicant in order for the case to directly affect them. Since 2004, it is part of the ALDE  group.

In 2002, Bonino in cooperation with the Associazione Italiana Donne per lo Sviluppo (AIDOS, Italian Association for the Development of Women), called an Italian Parliament meeting to discuss the ending of female genital mutilation. Bonino led the ceremonies, which gathered medical experts, ambassadors, and politicians to review graphic information about the practice of female genital mutilation in African countries. During this meeting, Bonino recounted her travels through Somalia, Egypt, Tanzania, The Gambia, and Ethiopia, where she learned about these rural practices by meeting women who participated in projects to stop them. Many African women who suffered from genital mutilation discussed there first-hand experiences. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Prime Minister Berlusconi congratulated Bonino on her accomplishments in this cause and presented the leader of AIDOS with a check for the European Campaign.

In December 2001, she moved to Cairo with the objective of learning the Arabic language   and culture. Her time in Egypt has focused her expertise in human rights and humanitarian issues in the Middle East and North Africa. In March 2003, she started a daily review of the Arabic press on Radical Radio.   

As part of her work in the region, in January 2004, she headed the political process that led to the Sana’a Inter-Governmental Regional Conference on Democracy, Human Rights and the Role of the International Penal Court (IPC), organised by the Government of Yemen and the NGO No Peace Without Justice. The Sana’a Conference was a critical part of an ongoing awakening of democratic aspirations in the Middle East and North Africa, recognising that democracy is not just representative institutions, but respect for fundamental principles, particularly the rule of law and human rights. She is currently a board member of the Arab Democracy Foundation.   Bonino was a board member of DARA  until December 2012 (DARA is a non-profit organisation established by Silvia Hidalgo  in Spain to assess the impact of humanitarian aid and to make recommendations for changes in policies and practices). In 2016, she was appointed by Erik Solheim,  the Chairman of the Development Assistant Committee  to serve on the High Level Panel on the Future of the Development Assistance Committee under the leadership of Mary Robinson.[14]

Bonino writes opinion editorials and commentaries for both the Inter Press Service News Agency and Project Syndicate,  discussing contemporary international issues including Syrian refugees affecting Europe, abolishing the death penalty, relations between Iran and Europe, and the poor treatment of the indigenous people of South East Asia.

In 2003 Emma Bonino wrote an article titled Making the UN Fit for Democracy.  Writing in response to the American led war in Iraq, Bonino called on the UN to ‘become a different organization–one secure in its own legitimacy and able to function without the endless delays, vetoes, indecisiveness, and unwillingness to ensure respect for its decisions’, She cites the founding of the UN  as a community of nations who came together to fight against Fascism and to stand up for democracy, freedom and justice and the promotion of fundamental human rights. She examines how the UN has been hindered by ‘the presence of dictatorships among the permanent members of the security council’ and the impact of promoting non-interference in a state’s internal affairs versus the primacy of the rights of the individual as outlined in the UN charters.  What Bonino wanted to see was a ‘World Organization of Democracies devoted to promoting the original values of the UN, including democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights . . (and to) . . globalise democracy as well as trade’ and stated that ‘ Like the European Union, the UN should possess mechanisms to suspend or even expel members that fail to respect democratic norms’.

Bonino is a member of the eminent international Council of Patrons of the Asian University for Women (AUW)   in Chittagong, Bangladesh. The University, which is the product of foundational partnerships (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Open Society Foundation, IKEA Foundation, etc) and regional cooperation, serves extraordinarily talented women from 15 countries across Asia and the Middle East.

During an interview published by the Italian daily Carriere della Sera  on 8 February 2016, Pope Francis defined Emma Bonino as one of the nation’s ‘forgotten greats’, comparing her to great historical figures such as Konrad Adenauer and  Robert Schuman.   

She was appointed European Personality 1996 by a jury chaired by Jacques Delors, in recognition of her humanitarian courage and her faith in the future of European integration. In 1999 Bonino was one of the two winners of the North-South prize, an award that honours individuals with accomplishment in the protection of human rights, pluralistic democracy, and improvement of North-South relations. 

For her battles and engagements with controversial issues, her engagement in the promotion of human rights and  civil rights in the world, she received the Open Society Prize 2004 and Prix Femmes d’Europe 2004 for Italy. She received the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic  – awarded on 21 December 2015. She received the America Award of the Italy-USA Foundation  in 2013.  Bonino used her political influence to promote international responses to humanitarian crisis and supported ordinary people and tirelessly worked for the rights of ordinary people who had suffered extreme injustices – she spoke out against war crimes and atrocities in places  such as the former Yugoslavia and the Balkan war, in Rwanda, in Sierre Leona and in Uganda. She was active across the world from Italy to Iraq to Afghanistan,  to Africa, all the time promoting humanitarian issues. She is a feminist and has always campaigned for women’s rights from education to divorce to abortion.

Below is the story of Sile de Valera  who was elected to the European Parliament in 1979 as an MEP for Ireland.

The MEP Sile DE VALERA during a session in May 1981.

Síle de Valera 

Síle de Valera  (born 17 December 1954) was an Irish politician and member of the European parliament. She was a member of the Irish political party  Fianna Fáil and  served as Minister of State for Adult Education, Youth Affairs and Educational Disadvantage and Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands from 1997 to 2002. She served as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1977 to 1981, and from 1987 to 2007. She was a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Dublin constituency from 1979 to 1984. 

De Valera was first returned to Dáil Éireann (the Irish parliament)  in the Fianna Fáil landslide victory at the 1977 general election. She was elected for the Dublin County Mid constituency, which included the Tallaght area of County Dublin, being the youngest TD elected at that election. In June 1979, she was elected to the European Parliament for a five-year term. Later that year she was one of the Fianna Fáil TDs who criticised the policies of Taoiseach Jack Lynch in relation to Northern Ireland, and was a prominent supporter of Charles Haughey, who succeeded him as Taoiseach in December 1979. She was highly critical of Margaret Thatcher and the UK Government, and became a noted supporter of the Anti H-Block movement. She called on nationalists to vote for Bobby Sands in the 1981 by-election, which he won. She also called on Fianna Fáil voters to give preference votes for Anti H-Block candidates in the 1981 general election, a comment which caused controversy. 

She held her Dáil seat until the 1981 general election, when the constituency boundaries were redrawn. She sought re-election in the new constituency of Dublin South. This caused tension within the local Fianna Fáil party, for one of the other candidates, Séamus Brennan, was a prominent opponent of Haughey. De Valera polled relatively well but narrowly failed to be elected, losing to another Fianna Fáil candidate, Niall Andrews. She contested the constituency again at the February 1982 general election, but saw her vote drop, and once again failed to be elected.

At the November 1982 general election she decided not to seek re-election in Dublin South or in any Dublin constituency, transferring instead to the Clare constituency, where one of the sitting TDs, Bill Loughnane—a fellow supporter of Haughey—had died. Clare was the in constituency that her grandfather Éamon de Valera had represented from 1917 to 1959. Again, she narrowly failed to be elected, but remained living in the constituency, and at the 1987 general election she was elected a TD for Clare. She was re-elected there at every election until her retirement in 2007.[2]

De Valera resigned briefly from Fianna Fáil in 1993, due to the removal of the ‘stopover’ at Shannon Airport which required a number of transatlantic flights from/to the US to begin or disembark at Shannon airport.  She was persuaded to rejoin the party in 1994 by its new leader, Bertie Ahern; he then appointed her to the opposition front bench. In 1997, she became Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. She lost her place in the cabinet in 2002, but took office as a Minister of State. Her government office was Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, with special responsibility for Adult Education, Youth Affairs and Educational Disadvantage. On 11 November 2005, she announced her intention to stand down from Dáil Éireann at the following election. She resigned as Minister of State on 8 December 2006, and was replaced by a member of another Irish political family, Seán Haughey.

Below is the story of Ien Van de Heuvel-de Blank who was elected to the European Parliament in 1979 as an MEP for the Netherlands.

Ien Van de Heuvel-de Blank

‘like people who, in their desire for relaxation, forget that things are still happening in those countries that are really wrong, especially when you look at human rights.’

Ien van den Heuvel

Carolina van den Heuvel-de Blank, known as Ien van den Heuvel was born August 7, 1927 in Tiel and died on October 13, 2010.  From childhood, Heuvel had an eye for power differences through her experiences with injustice during the Second World War. Finding the answer for that injustice in religion, even though her parents were not involved at any church. In the last years of the war, she made a definitive step towards Christianity by becoming active in the Vrijzinning Christian Jeugdcentrale (VCJC) and working in the youth groups of the liberal part of the Dutch reformed Church. 

After the Second World War, she obtained a high secondary education diploma and worked as a secretary at trade offices in Tiel, Geldermalsen and Amsterdam. When the Labor Party (PvdA) was founded in 1946, Heuvel immediately decided to enroll as a member. In the first years her membership was quite passive. In her opinion, socialism was the political system that most affected her Christian ideas of justice and charity.

“I am a socialist because I note: I don’t like this society, because I don’t fit in as a person. I am a feminist because I say: I don’t like this society because I don’t fit in as a woman.”- Ien van den Heuvel.

Heuvel’s career grew step by step in the PvdA. Initially she was a member of the Women’s Party Reading Club and later she became the discussion leader of the department board and member of the central management of the Women’s association. It was in the year of 1969 that Heuvel became chairwoman of the Vrouwenkontact. Heuvel slowly became well known in the party and in 1969 was elected as a member of the PvdA party board. In 1971, she became second vice-president of the PvdA, and in 1972 she became first vice-president of the PvdA under André van der Louw. “If I were a man, I would refuse service” – Ien van den Heuvel.

Moreover, she was part of the Advertising Council in 1973 and a member of the main board of the VARA Broadcasting Association until 1975. In 1974, Heuvel entered the Senate Group as spokeswoman for foreign affairs. She defended abortion law, a joint initiative proposal from the PvdA and the VVD. In the year of 1975, she was elected as the first female chairperson of the Labor Party. 

Van den Heuvel continued her career in 1979 as a member of the European Parliament as a vice-president of the socialist group. Her goal was to produce comprehensive reports analyzing the position of Women in the European Community. In 1982, she was part of the Research Committee on the position of women in Europe. When a committee on Women’s Rights was established in 1984, Van den Heuvel instantly became a member until the year of 1987. Also, in 1987, she became a Knight of the Netherlands Lion and was chairwoman of the Interchurch Peace Council (IKV) from 1987 to 1991. Van den Heuvel was known as a pacifist of the small steps, she wanted to involve religious and non-religious pacifists in the broad peace movement. 

Below is the story of Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul who was elected to the European Parliament in 1979 as an MEP for Germany.

Heidemarie Wieczorek- Zeul

Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (born 21 November 1942 in Frankfurt am Main) is a German politician and a member of the Social Democratic Party since 1965.

Wieczorek-Zeul (pronounced VEE‐choreck TSOIL) began her career as a teacher at the Friedrich Ebert School and subsequently served as Chairwoman of the European Coordination Bureau of International Youth Organizations from 1977 to 1979. 

Wieczorek-Zeul is a prominent figure of the Social Democrats’ left wing and is often called “Red Heidi”. From 1974 to 1977, she was the first woman to chair the Jusos (Young Socialists), the youth organisation of the SPD. In this capacity, she represented the party’s then 350,000 members who were under 35. During her time as Juso chief, she drew headlines in 1975 by calling for limit of $2,000 a month on personal income. 

From 1977 to 1979, she was President of the European Coordination Bureau of International Youth Organisation (a precursor to the modern European Youth Forum).

Wieczorek-Zeul was elected Member of the European Parliament in the 1979 European elections, the first European elections to be held and also the first international election in history. During her time in Parliament, she was part of the Socialist Group.Between 1979 and 1984, Wieczorek-Zeul served as vice-chairwoman of the Committee on External Economic Relations. From 1984 to 1987, she was a member of the Committee on Women’s Rights. In addition to her committee assignments, she was a member of the Parliament’s delegation for relations with the Gulf States.

She has also been a Member of the German Bundestag, 1987–2013.  Wieczorek-Zeul first became a member of the Bundestag in the 1987 West German elections, where she joined the Committee on European Affairs. In this capacity, she served as the Social Democrat’s European policy spokeswoman. 

After the resignation of party leader Björn Engholm in 1993, she stood for the Social Democrats’ candidacy for the chancellor’s office,[6] but lost to Rudolf Scharping. Scharping won 40% of all votes cast by the party members, Schröder 33% and Wieczorek-Zeul 27%. – cite_note-7  It was the first time the party members were asked to elect the new party leader directly. From 1993 to 2005, Wieczorek-Zeul served as deputy chairwoman of the SPD, under the leadership of successive chairmen Rudolf Scharping (1993-1995), Oskar Lafontaine (1995-1999), Gerhard Schröder (1999-2004) and Franz Müntefering (2004-2005).

From 2009 to 2013, Wieczorek-Zeul served on the Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and as spokesperson of the SPD parliamentary group on the Subcommittee on the United Nations, International Organizations and Globalization.[8]

Federal Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development, 1998–2009[edit]

First term

When Gerhard Schröder (SPD) became Chancellor following the 1998 elections, Wieczorek-Zeul was appointed Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development. At the time, her appointment was seen as underlining the importance attached to the issue by the Social Democrat/Green government. 

In her capacity as minister, Wieczorek-Zeul served as Member of the Broadcasting Board of Deutsche Welle; as Member of Board of Supervisory Directors of KfW; and as Member of the Board of Governors of the World Bank. She also participated in the preparations for the 25th G8 summit in 1999 and the 33rd G8 summit in 2007, both of which were hosted by Germany. In her first years in office, she worked merged the ‘Deutsche Stiftung für internationale Entwicklung (DSE)’ and the ‘Carl-Duisberg-Gesellschaft (CDG)’ to create InWEnt, an institution with worldwide operations in the field of bilateral development cooperation and international cooperation, with a focus on capacity building.

During a meeting at Utstein Abbey on the west coast of Norway in 1999, Wieczorek-Zeul co-founded (along with fellow development ministers Eveline Herfkens, Clare Short and Hilde Frafjord Johnson) the Utstein Group, a partnership of donor countries working to make the UN development system more effective. 

In an effort to make it easier for antiwar critics to back Schröder’s decision to send German Bundeswehr troops to Afghanistan in 2001, Wieczorek-Zeul and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer announced a 256 million marks ($115 million) humanitarian-aid package for Afghan refugees.[12] In October 2001, she joined Schröder on a state visit to Pakistan for meetings with President Pervez Musharraf, where they revived economic assistance to the country in return for its support for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism and in light of incoming refugee flows from Afghanistan. In 2004, she co-hosted an international donors’ conference on Afghanistan in Berlin, during which Afghanistan received more than $8 billion in pledges for the years 2005 to 2007. By 2007, she called extension for the international armed forces in the country. 

In February 2003, Wieczorek-Zeul was one out of three cabinet members taking part in a march against the Iraq War in Berlin. 

On August 16, 2004, at the 100th anniversary of the start of the Herero and Namaqua Genocide, Wieczorek-Zeul, on behalf of the German government, officially apologized for the first time and expressed grief about the genocide, declaring, “We Germans accept our historic and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time.” In addition, she admitted that the massacres were equivalent to genocide. She ruled out paying special compensation, but promised continued economic aid for Namibia. 

Wieczorek-Zeul represented the German government at the funeral services for former Prime Minister Keizō Obuchi of Japan on 8 June 2000 and (alongside Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer) for Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić of Serbia on 16 March 2003. 

Second term

Wieczorek-Zeul kept her office after Schröder’s defeat in the 2005 elections and served in the first government Chancellor Angela Merkel from 2005 until 2009.

Wieczorek-Zeul initiated the EU’s target of increasing its official development assistance (ODA) from 0.51 percent by 2010 to 0.7 percent of the GDP by 2015 During her time in office, German ODA increased regularly and reached 13.9 billion US$ in disbursements in 2008, taking it to 0.38 percent of GNI. 

In October 2007, Wieczorek-Zeul joined Merkel on her first official trip to Africa – including stops in Ethiopia, Liberia and South Africa –, during which they met with Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel, John Kufuor and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, among others.

On 26 January 2009, Wieczorek-Zeul and Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel chaired the conference which led to the founding of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). 

Under her leadership, Germany joined Austria and Switzerland in July 2009 in canceling 450 million euros ($630 million) in state export-loan guarantees for Turkey’s Ilısu Dam because Turkish plans to resettle towns and safeguard cultural treasures were not sufficient to meet World Bank standards.[24]

Wieczorek-Zeul also served on the Executive Board of the Socialist International (SI).

Role in international organizations. After Merkel formally launched the World Bank Group’s three-year Gender Action Plan in February 2007, Wieczorek-Zeul served as honorary co-chair (alongside Danny Leipziger) of the High Level Advisory Council on Women’s Economic Empowerment and as Official Champion of the World Bank Group Gender Action Plan. Amid a 2007 leadership crisis at the Bank, Wieczorek-Zeul was a leading figure in the downfall of Paul Wolfowitz as president of the organization. At the time, Germany’s role was central partly because it held the EU presidency and also chaired the bank’s 24-nation Executive Board. Wolfowitz was later replaced by Robert Zoellick

Alongside Chancellor Merkel, Wieczorek-Zeul co-hosted the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria replenishment conference in Berlin in September 2007. During the conference, donor countries promised nearly $10 billion to the Fund for 2008-2010. 

In 2008, Wieczorek-Zeul served as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the International Conference on Financing for Development in Doha, Qatar. Between 2008 and 2009, she was part of a High-Level Taskforce on Innovative International Financing for Health Systems, which had been launched to help strengthen health systems in the 49 poorest countries in the world and was chaired by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Robert Zoellick. 

Also between 2008 and 2009, Wieczorek-Zeul served as member of the Commission of Experts of the President of the UN General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System, which was chaired by author and Nobel Laureate economist Joseph E. Stiglitz. The commission had the aim of proposing necessary reforms in the world financial system that would prevent another event like the late-2000s financial crisis

Since leaving politics, Wieczorek-Zeul has been involved in a number of philanthropic activities, including the following:

In addition she has received a number of honours including: