Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland has challenged Europe to practice what it preaches in its relations with neighbouring countries in the Mediterranean region.
In his 9 September speech to the Bled Strategic Forum, Jagland expressed his fear that Europe’s neighbours might not heed calls for more tolerant and inclusive politics if it could not cope with its own multicultural societies.
Speech by Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe'Search for a New "World Order" in the Mediterranean'
Bled Strategic Forum
9 September 2011
Distinguished participants, Ladies and Gentlemen, I always prepare for my participation at events such as this one. When I was asked to speak at the panel devoted to the search for a New World Order in the Mediterranean, I started by googling the title. This was only partially helpful.
According to Wikipedia, a broadly used yet seldom quoted source of facts, the term New World Order stands for:
Firstly, a system of teachings in Bahá'í Faith, believing in a God's divinely appointed scheme for the unification of mankind through the establishment of a world commonwealth based on principles of equity and justice.
Secondly, a conspiracy theory claiming that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world. Numerous historical and current events are seen as steps in an ongoing plot to achieve world domination through secret political gatherings and decision-making processes. This is indeed worrisome. I can just imagine what a bona fidae conspiracy theorist would think of our little gathering here in Bled.
Finally, and more reassuringly, the term New World Order has been used to refer to any new period of history evidencing a dramatic change in world political thought and the balance of power.
I would assume that it was this last notion our hosts had in mind for this panel, even if, upon reflexion, the two others are not as different as it may seem at first glance. The differences are more a matter of ideological perspective than substance.
Be it as it may, what started on 18 December last year in the streets of Tunis, and quickly spread to many countries across the region, clearly qualifies as a new period of history and a dramatic change.
But if history is in the making, it has not been made yet. The violence and destruction caused by the Gaddafi regime is only one example, the dramatic situation in Syria is another, showing us how volatile and dangerous the situation still is.
For all the countries in question the challenges which remain, including economic and social ones, are enormous. The key to the long-term sustainability of changes is the way in which these challenges are met.
We should support the development of a system of government based on accountability, free elections, human rights and the rule of law. These are not European values, even if we often label them as such. They are universal values, originating from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They are also a prerequisite for a progressive and successful society which can guarantee security, stability and prosperity to its people.
I often use the example of the freedom of expression which may be irritating to some, but its absence is harmful to all. Without critical voices, our societies have no effective protection against errors and abuse in the exercise of power.
The experience of the democratic transition in Central and Eastern Europe can provide a wealth of very interesting and valuable lessons. But we must take into account not only similarities, but also political, economic, social, institutional and cultural differences which exist between the two situations.
These differences cannot affect the ultimate objectives – the respect for universal values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law – but they have implications on how these objectives can and should most appropriately and effectively be pursued.
It was against this background that the Committee of Ministers at its meeting in Istanbul in May approved a new Council of Europe neighbourhood policy.
The underlying principle of the policy is based on the fact that the political changes which are taking place in several countries in the region are home-grown and spontaneous. This is a very important element of legitimacy and lasting popular support. Our relations with the countries concerned and our action should be perceived and accepted as genuine co-operation and assistance, not interference. The key to the success of our endeavour is respect. Respect for the people in the region, for their courage, for their ability and their right to decide about their own future.
But ultimately, the shape and the quality of the “New World Order” in the Mediterranean will not only depend on the developments at its southern shores, but equally so on the way Europe will be able to meet its own challenges.
People IN the region are listening to our message on democracy and human rights, but they also watch television and read newspapers about the way we apply these values when it comes to people coming FROM the region, be they recent migrants, long-term residents, or nationals in European countries.
Later this afternoon, a round table hosted by the President of Slovenia Danilo Türk will debate a report entitled “Living Together – Combining Diversity and Freedom in the 21 century”. This is a challenging, even provocative analysis of the way Europe handles, or mishandles, the issue of diversity in our societies.
The group which prepared the report was led by Joschka Fischer. Several of its prominent members, including our moderator, Edward Mortimer, are here in Bled to take part in the round table. I invite you all to read the report, but for now, I would like to quote one sentence from its executive summary.
Here is what it says: ”discrimination and intolerance are widespread in Europe today, particularly against Roma and immigrants, as well as people of recent migrant background, who are often treated as foreigners even in countries where they are both natives and citizens”.
These types of observations are not often a part of our discussions on Europe’s relations with its neighbours. But they should be. They are directly relevant to our credibility and image. How can we expect our neighbours to follow the European liberal and tolerant model if we cannot cope with the issue of interculturalism ourselves?
In conclusion, I should like to return to Wikipedia and its definitions of today’s theme. I do not know much about the rest of their beliefs, but when it comes to the definition of the New World Order, I would say that the Bahai’ans got it about right. It should be about equity, justice and respect.
The challenge – and the message to my fellow Europeans - is to practice what you preach.