PARIS — This was the end of Europe, the experts grew fond of saying.
There was Brexit, there was Donald Trump, and there was the rising radical right across the continent: in Austria, in the Netherlands, in France. Meanwhile, the embattled and unpopular European Union, struggling to manage an epic migration crisis on the outside and a crisis of legitimacy on the inside, was on its last legs — 2017, it followed, was the beginning of the end.
Except it wasn’t.
One by one, Austria, the Netherlands and France all rejected the far right, and the pursuit of a functional, cohesive E.U. — based on a strong Franco-German alliance — has been renewed. As Europe buries two of its most prominent postwar architects, continental leaders have begun acknowledging that the original dream of an “ever closer” Europe committed to social democracy and human rights has proved far more durable than many could have anticipated.
On Wednesday, after a massive state funeral, France buried Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor who became a major champion of women’s rights in France and, in 1979, the president of the European Parliament. Her memorial came just three days after that of Helmut Kohl, a former German chancellor and another tireless advocate of European integration.
But as these prominent members of postwar Europe’s founding generation passed away, their successors wasted no time insisting that their respective visions have endured.
“She lived deep in her bones the tragic tears of Europe,” Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, said of Veil in a statement. “And by her political engagements she continued to fight for a durable peace in Europe.”
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said in remarks delivered at Kohl’s memorial in Strasbourg on Saturday that “a united Europe has become a reality because it was blessed with partners who had such grand designs.”
Veil, born in 1927, and Kohl, born in 1930, belonged to a generation that knew the devastation of war firsthand.
At 16, Veil, who was Jewish, was deported from France to the Nazi concentration camps, where her father, mother and brother all died. Kohl was also marked by the memory of the war, recalling having to fish out the dead bodies of those he knew from the rubble of his destroyed home town.
“They were from the same generation indeed,” said Josef Janning, the head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “They had this formative experience of a destructive war of extreme nationalism and racism, and all of the damage it brought about. That is not available in the same sense to the current generation.”
Both were forever committed to the twin causes of human rights and European integration, which Veil once called “the grand design of the 21st century.”
In France, Veil’s most significant achievement remains her campaign to legalize abortion, which succeeded in 1975. Kohl is remembered for many things, but the 1984 image of him holding hands with François Mitterrand, then France’s president, at Verdun, site of the largest and longest battle of World War I, earned him a reputation as a die-hard European. Notably, his coffin bore only the E.U. flag — not a German one.
Bolstered by electoral successes across the continent, leaders have wasted no time in using the memories of Veil and Kohl as examples for further cooperation among E.U. member states.
“Today, the successors to those great heroes of positive European history must, gathering around his coffin, examine their consciences,” Tusk said at Kohl’s funeral. “In Berlin and Warsaw, Paris and Budapest, the question about the future of a united Europe must be given a resounding answer: Yes. Yes to the union, yes to freedom, yes to human rights.”
Already, the exhortation seems to be gaining traction. Following the victory of the staunchly pro-Europe Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential election, a strengthened, ascendant Franco-German alliance has become a focal point in continental politics. No one eulogized Veil more passionately than Macron, who announced Monday that she would be interred in France’s Pantheon, a towering mausoleum for national heroes.
“The greatness of Simone Veil is that of her battles, which were nothing less than the battles of the century,” Macron said in remarks at her memorial.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said much the same in her remarks about Kohl, whom she credited with providing her and others the ability to live in a free, united country that had shaken off the division of the Cold War.
“Helmut Kohl changed my life,” said Merkel, who received her first ministerial post under him in 1991. He served as a mentor to the young lawmaker until she distanced herself from him over a funding scandal that plagued their party.
“This generation is biologically, physically ending in front of our eyes,” said Dominique Moïsi, a French foreign policy expert at the Paris-based Montaigne Institute, a think tank linked to Macron. “But as we pay tribute to them, the coming to power of someone like Macron in France gives us a lot of hope with the rejuvenation of this vision and thinking.”
He added: “The figure of Simone Veil was in a way the perfect incarnation of our values. She was without illusion and nevertheless with much hope.”
Stanley-Becker reported from Berlin.