Europe needs heroes

In times of hardship we face two choices: we can be beaten by that which aims to defeat us, or we can rise above our challenges to see a brighter day. These are choices being faced right now in the United Kingdom, where communities recovering from three terrorist attacks in as many months and the Grenfell Tower disaster are creating light from darkness –whether rich or poor, black or white, British or immigrant, people are joining together to care for one another. Out of sadness and loss we have witnessed the very best of human nature. Through resilience, courage and conviction, heroes have been born. These are the exact traits that we will dearly miss in the wake of the passing of Simone Veil.

Simone Veil is undoubtedly a European icon. Her life – the fights she chose to engage in, the causes she stood for, the memories she honoured – should inspire all Europeans as testimonies of resilience, courage and conviction.

Resilience was required for someone who, having gone through the unspeakable tragedy of Auschwitz, decided not to turn her sadness into hatred, but to make sense of her suffering to fight for a just cause. Because Simone Veil was profoundly aware that the horrors of Europe’s history could also very well compose its future, she dedicated herself to Franco-German reconciliation and to the building of Europe. In that sense, her election as President of the European Parliament in 1979 symbolised a personal victory for her, but also the most important triumph of European construction: peace and democracy over war and hatred.

Courage and conviction characterised the way she engaged in politics. Throughout her political career her efforts to improve the conditions of detention of prisoners, her strict refusal to contemplate any kind of alliance with the National Front, and her immense bravery in defending the sexual and reproductive rights of women in the face of vile attacks from her colleagues show that she never parted ways the principles at the heart of the European project.

The loss in recent weeks of two of Europe’s heroes of the past in the shape of Simone Veil and Helmut Kohl have led me to wonder who future generations will look back on as the heroes of our time. Who is leading the fight for peace, democracy and unity in Europe? Among my peers in civil society I see many with the resilience, courage and conviction to be the backbone that Europe needs and show that we will not let populism and Euroscepticism call into question the very values we hold dear. Europe needs heroes. Are you ready?

Best wishes,

Kélig Puyet, Director of Social Platform