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Helmut Kohl and Simone Veil, two European destinies. Their political heritage to address contemporary challenges.  

The ex German Chancellor and the first President of the European Parliament elected with universal suffrage passed away in June. They consign to history two parallel biographies and the same pacifist, democratic and pro-European heritage.

In the span of a few days Europe lost two political figures of high moral stature, two different personalities, bound to each other by their pro-European beliefs, two people who witnessed the tragedies of 20th century Europe, two European destinies. The President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron, declared: “The history of Europe is the history of men and women who had the courage to rise up against hate.” Helmut Kohl and Simone Veil had perfectly illustrated that proposal.

Helmut Kohl was born in Rhineland in 1930, three years before the Nazis seized power. He grew up in the years of the dictatorship, of the war, and of Europe’s destruction. He was a practising Catholic. Immediately after the war he joined the German Christian-Democratic Party (CDU), recreated alongside with a new, democratic and Federalist Europe, by Konrad Adenauer, who became Kohl’s role model. He remained true to Adenauer’s political and spiritual heritage. In his capacities as minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate, as leader of CDU, as minister and Chancellor in the years 1976-1998, Kohl put major efforts to ensure reunited Germany’s integration in Europe. He firmly believed that Europe’s misfortunes were a result of Germany’s, and that it was necessary


To develop Europe on the grounds of reconciliation, mutual trust and friendship.

The renowned picture of Kohl and French President Mitterrand in Verdun depicts them hand in hand against the backdrop of thousands of tombs of fallen soldiers on the battlefield that stood as the symbol of the folly of war, the origin of all the misery and the hate.

As all men of peace, he suffered for the division of Germany and of Europe, separated by the Iron Curtain. Kohl initiated a policy of openness towards the Soviet Union and towards East-European Countries living under the Communist yoke. Helped by Gorbachev’s perestroika he succeeded – thanks to his vision of Europe – in understanding the lesson of the fall of the Berlin Wall and pursued the reunification of Germany. His intention was not to rebuild a “great” Germany but rather to reunite Europe on the basis of peace.

Helmuth Kohl will go down in history as a great builder.

As a young German man, in 1945 his saw the ruins of his home Country with his own eyes, and he felt the shame of the most heinous crimes in the history of humanity caused by his own people. In 1998 he left a reconciled Germany and an enlarged Europe that encompassed the Countries freed from Communism.

Simone Veil was born in Nice in 1927 into a non-practising Jewish family. In March 1944 she was taken by the Gestapo and deported to Auschwitz, and then to Bergen-Belsen. She was 16. Having survived the Nazi inferno she returned to France, where she began her judicial and political career in the centre-left political wing. She was a minister for Giscard d’Estaing  and for Chirac. She was an activist of Remembrance, to ensure that the horrors of the concentration camps and of the Shoah would never be forgotten. However, she supported the need to distinguish between Nazis and Germans. For that reason she also devoted herself to building a united Europe, a school of democracy and peace, and to the promotion of human rights, notably of women’s rights.

Simone Veil firmly believed that Europe’s common good had priority over national interests

Hence she defended a Federalist vision of Europe. She was the first President of the European Parliament elected with universal suffrage in 1979.
Both Veil and Kohl viewed Europe as a common destiny. They both received the Charlemagne Prize, Simone Veil in 1981, Helmuth Kohl (with François Mitterrand) in 1988. Two European destinies in a century that was under the grip of iron and blood, never losing the confidence of European peoples. Each in their own way, they both embodied European hope.




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