Gallery 2: Women of The 1979 EU Parliament

1979 European Parliamentary Elections and Introduction to MEPs

“Whatever our political beliefs, we are all aware that this historic step, the election of the European Parliament by universal suffrage, has been taken at a crucial time for the people of the Community. All its member states are faced with three great challenges: the challenge of peace, the challenge of freedom and the challenge of prosperity, and it seems clear that they can only be met through the European dimension.”


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

The 1979 European elections marked an important step in the life of the European parliament. They were the first direct parliamentary elections held across 9 European Community member states in which over 110 million citizens of Europe voted, electing 410 MEPs. The direct elections to the European assemble were held on 7 June 1979. The parliament was elected by universal suffrage and these elections were the first worldwide international elections in history thus becoming the first international parliamentary assembly elected directly by the people of its member states. Seats in the Parliament had been allocated to the states according to population, and in some cases were divided into constituencies, but members sat according to political groups.

Out of the 410 Members of Parliament (MEPs) elected by universal suffrage to the 1979 European Parliament, 343 were men and 67 were women.  16% (67) of the MEPs were women,  an increase from 6% in previous parliaments with 2 women MEP’s from Belgium, 5 from Denmark, 12 from Germany, 18 from France, 2 from Ireland, 11 from Italy, 1 from Luxemburg, 5 from The Netherlands and 11 from the United Kingdom. 

Country MEPs Female Male
Belgium 24 2 22
Denmark 16 5 11
France 81 18 63
West Germany 81 12 69
Ireland 15 2 12
Italy 81 11 70
Luxembourg 6 1 5
Netherlands 25 5 20
UK 81 11 70
Totals: 410 67 343

Greece joined the EU in 1981 and held their elections in that year to vote on a delegation of MEPs from Greece who would join the European parliament Greece was allocated 24 seats in the European returning all men to the parliament.


Women of Europe – MEPs in 1979

Below are the names and images of all 67 women politicians elected to the 1979 European Parliament

Read the Full Biographies of the women elected to the European Parliament by clicking on the flags below:





United Kingdom



West Germany


History of the European Parliamentary Elections

The EU originated in the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) set up in 1952 by six countries – Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany, after the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1951. This body led to the development of the European Economic Community (EEC) set up by the Treaty of Rome in 1957 which eventually led to the European Union in 1993.

Initially the Treaty of Rome specified that the European Parliament, one of the bodies set up as part of the EEC, was to be elected by universal suffrage using a common voting system, however the Council of the European Union, another body within the EEC, that was responsible for setting up the election process delayed in this task and as a result, Members of Parliament were elected by the member state parliaments from elected officials rather than by the general public. Apparently ‘the parliament was unhappy with this and threatened to take the Council to the European Court of Justice.   The Council eventually agreed to elections and the first European Parliament elections were held in 1979 after proposals were put forward in the mid 1970s’.  The common voting system was never established and to this day voting methods vary from member state to member state with only some countries using proportional representation. 

The 1979 European elections took place with no standard system of voting to be used.  This is still the same today in that there is no uniform voting system and each member state can choose its own system subject to certain restrictions including the fact that the system must be a form of proportional representation using either the party list or single transferable voting system. The United Kingdom for example had a plurality voting system while countries including Ireland used proportional representation.  In 1979 average voter turnout was around 60%. 410 MEP’s were elected from nine countries, 67 were women and 343 were men. The lowest turnout was in the United Kingdom with 32.2%, all other countries had over 50% apart from Denmark which had 47.82%.  The highest turnout was Italy at 84.9%. At that time Belgium and Luxembourg had compulsory voting and had 91.36% and 88.91% turnouts respectively.

MEP Louise Weiss

Louise Weiss along with other suffragettes in 1935. The bold text on the newspaper reads
‘The Frenchwoman must vote’.

Louise Weiss

The oldest member of the newly elected parliament was French politician Louise Weiss (1893–1983). She was a journalist, politician, feminist and lifelong champion of European values and women’s rights and an influential voice in French and international affairs from the 1920s until her death in 1983. She co-founded the journal ‘L’Europe Nouvelle’ and later she created a movement advocating women’s suffrage in France. 

She became the oldest member of the European Parliament in 1979. As the oldest member, at aged 86, she presided over the chamber until an election could be held amongst the parliamentary members to elect a new President for the parliament. 

However, during the first few minutes of the first directly elected European Parliament in 1979, she had to deal with a public protest by the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist party MEP Ian Paisley. She apparently enjoyed and is credited with effectively handling the confrontation with Paisley who claimed that:

‘the Union Jack was flying upside down outside the Strasbourg building. This publicity stunt was deftly despatched (by Weiss). The ‘doyenne’ later confided that, as a grandmother, she was used to dealing with recalcitrant youngsters. She might also have said that she had encountered bigger obstacles during her four years in the French resistance. 

Simone Veil

Weiss presided over the Parliament chamber until an election could take place in July 1979 when another French MEP Simone Veil was elected as the first president of the directly elected European Parliament, becoming the first president elected by universal suffrage. She was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps and central figure of feminism in Europe. 

There were five candidates who stood for the position. They were:

‘Giorgio Amendola, Italian Communist; Emma Bonino, Italian Technical Independent;  Christian de La Malène, French Progressive Democrat; Simone Veil, French Liberal and and Mario Zagari,Italian Socialist. In  the first ballot, Veil secured 183 of the 380 votes cast – eight short of the absolute majority needed. The next closest contender was Zagari with 118 votes, then Amendola with 44, de la Malène with 26 and Bonino with 9. Bonino and de la Malène dropped out and Veil secured an absolute majority in the second ballot with 192 of the 377 votes cast (Zagari gained 128 and Amendola 47). Veil was elected as the first President of the elected Parliament, and first female President of the Parliament since it was founded in 1952. 

Simone Veil (1927-2017) was a French lawyer, politician and  feminist. As a survivor of the Holocaust, Veil found it hard to understand how one European country could wage war on another and she became committed to the idea of a Europe in which such atrocities as happened during WWII could never happen again.

Simone Veil believed standing up for freedom was essential in the fight against totalitarianism.  In Simone’s acceptance Speech for Presidency of the EU Parliament on 17 July 1979, she stated that 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 passed away on 30 June 2017 and became only the fourth woman to be buried in the French Panthéon in Paris, a place where France celebrates its ‘great men and women’. She was one of France’s most revered politicians, known for her battle as health minister to legalise contraception and abortion. She was elected Minister of Health in France in 1974.

Today elections to the European parliament take place every five years through universal adult suffrage with over 400 million people eligible to vote.  751 MEP’s are directly elected to the European parliament which is the only body in the EU that is directly elected by citizens of Europe. The other bodies such as the Council of the European Union and the European Council are elected through national governments. 


Inspiring Women Who Played a Key Role in EU

You don’t have to be an elected MEP to help shape Europe.

Click here to read the stories of several more inspiring women

Four Biographies of Inspiring Women

In addition to the biographies of the 67 women elected to the first European parliamentary elections, we are also including the biographies of four women who were not involved in that parliament.

When you click the link above, you will be able to read the biographies of four extraordinary women who played a key role in the development of the EU. Those women were Ursula Hirschmann (1913-1991) from Germany who was a committed anti-Fascist and founding European federalist and Nicole Fontaine (1942-2018) from France who was a politician and educator and who became the European Parliament’s second female President. Nicole was a persuasive politician and devoted champion of Europe who oversaw the adoption of the euro and the implementation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. She played a key role in promoting human rights throughout her lifetime.

Melina Mecouri (1920-1994) was a Greek actor, politician and a champion of culture. She became famous as an actor on stage and in film and spent many years campaigning around the world for the removal of the military junta in Greece. After democracy was restored in 1974, she became Minister of Culture for Greece and a champion of Greek and European culture and she played a key role in the European Capital of Culture initiative. The fourth person is Dutch woman Marga Klompé (1912-1986) who was a scientist, politician and champion of the underprivileged. She was active in the Dutch resistance and was one of the negotiators for the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. In 1956 she became the Netherland’s first female government minister.