Her long career as a European activist and feminist made Louise Weiss an ideal candidate at the first elections to the European Parliament to be held by direct universal suffrage in 1979. Described by former Prime Minister Jacques Chirac as “our first Lady”, Weiss was a top candidate for the ‘Defence of France’s interest in Europe’ list. During the political campaign she refused to oppose Simone Veil, who headed the ‘Union for French Democracy’ list of President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing.
On 17 July 1979, Louise Weiss, as the oldest Member of the European Parliament, presided over the inaugural sitting of the new European Parliament in Strasbourg. Weiss would savour this historic moment, using her address to speak directly to Europe’s newly elected politicians. Ever the activist, she took this opportunity to warn of the danger of allowing a ‘cult of the ancients’ to paralyse political action and highlighted the continent’s future challenges of identity, birth rate and human rights. It was vital, she argued, that Europeans unite not only around their shared economic interests but also around their common culture.
The following day she handed over to Simone Veil, who had been elected President of the European Parliament.
Her speeches in the European Parliament’s plenary meetings continued to cover a wide range of other concerns, addressing amongst other topics the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, world hunger, human rights abuses, the law of the sea and Strasbourg’s place at the heart of Europe.
Inaugural sitting of the European Parliament elected by direct universal suffrage - Speech by Louise Weiss
Her position on the Committee on Youth, Culture, Education, Information and Sport even enabled her to start a new project: the creation of a museum dedicated to the history of European unification.
An active politician well into her old age, Louise Weiss died in 1983 at the age of 90, before completing her term of office.