"Necessary and understandable" austerity measures should not undermine Europe's social contract, Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland declared today
He told the 21st Congress session that: “Europe’s financial and fiscal crisis is starting to have an impact on social cohesion as well as on public trust in our democratic institutions.
"In such challenging times, exposed citizens living in economically fragile regions, youth and elderly people, migrants and Roma are affected the most.
"Radical measures are being taken in many countries to balance public budgets. This is both necessary and understandable. But at the same time, countries are running a high risk of undermining the European model of social cohesion."
Speech by Mr Thorbjørn Jagland,
Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Strasbourg, 19 October 2011
Distinguished members of Congress, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
Thank you for the opportunity to join you today.
The groundwork of my reform of the Council of Europe has been completed. A new budget and programme structure has been adopted and more resources have been freed to address our priorities. To reflect these changes, a new organisational structure has been in place since the beginning of October.
The reform of the Congress is also on its way with the third and last part of the rules of procedure to be adopted next year. I should like to thank you for your timely reaction.
Reform is only the intellectual reflection of a time of change. Hard work remains in manifold for us all, but especially for local politicians and authorities.
It is said that “all politics is local”, and I believe this to be more true now than ever. Few have better experience of the current economical and political crisis in Europe than you as local politicians.
While national leaders and politicians certainly have to make hard choices about cost savings, you are the ones who have to face the daily consequences of these decisions. You are the ones who have to make things work in a time of more demand but less resources.
In a time of unprecedented crisis, let us remember why this unique organisation was established. It came as a consequence of the fundamental moral and political breakdown in Europe.
Peace as Winston Churchill said, had to built on democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Where law ends, tyranny begins.
Europe had to move from nationalism to internationalism. Binding commitments to secure the rights of the individual were adopted and guaranteed by the state.
65 years on, after having anchored this principle in a number of historical conventions and ensuring a peaceful reconstruction of Europe, we are confronted with new challenges to our freedom.
Europe’s financial and fiscal crisis is starting to have an impact on social cohesion as well as on public trust in our democratic institutions.
In such challenging times, exposed citizens living in economically fragile regions, youth and elderly people, migrants and Roma are affected the most.
And let me add a word on Roma in particular.
Their situation, in a number of European countries, is a test of how civilized and how humane our societies are. But it is a test we by far have passed.
If we allow the current economic circumstances to slow down the social integration of Roma, the consequences would be disastrous, not only for Roma, but for societies as a whole.
I therefore warmly welcome the Congress’ reaction to the Strasbourg Declaration on Roma by organising the Summit of Mayors on Roma last September.
The Summit established a European Alliance of Cities and Regions for Roma Inclusion, and a core group of municipalities and regions ready and willing to build this Alliance.
This is a practical and effective step to bring together local and regional elected representatives, civil society and institutional partners to work on the issue of Roma inclusion. And let me add – there is no better way to show how we can be relevant!
The present financial crisis is unprecedented in its scope. Radical measures are being taken in many countries to balance public budgets. This is both necessary and understandable. But at the same time, countries are running a high risk of undermining the European model of social cohesion.
One only has to look at the staggeringly high figures of youth unemployment in most European countries to realize the extent of the disconnection.
We need to take these manifestations of young people’s frustration very seriously indeed.
It is worthwhile taking a close look at the different expressions of discontent.
They feature a varied mix of new and alternative forms of democratic practice. To take one example, young people are extremely active in promoting new forms of democracy – such as the ‘network society’, which can be seen in the recent youth protests in Europe and also in the uprisings of the Arab Spring.
The Arab Spring demonstrated again how strong the quest for freedom is. There is no freedom without democracy. There is no democracy without the confidence that it can change people’s lives for the better.
Such confidence starts at the local level. If local communities unravel, then national stability is challenged. You are therefore at the frontline in addressing needs and identifying the right solutions to keep your communities alive and vibrant.
Europe needs a comprehensive political strategy to protect social cohesion. If we want to preserve the model of the society which we have built over the past sixty years, preserving social cohesion during an economic downturn is a political necessity.
Youth, ageing, inter-generational solidarity, migration, education and the fight against extremism and hate speech are issues which affect everyone of our member states.
We must bring our experiences and ideas together – as you are doing here today, to share what works and what does not. Only then can we achieve the ‘deep security’ which
I have suggested should be an objective for the entire Council of Europe space.
I have suggested should be an objective for the entire Council of Europe space.
This is also why I strongly support the Congress’ reaction to the report by the Group of Eminent Persons on “Living Together” with themes during this session debating “Living Together in Dignity” and focusing on new forms of urban activism.
I would like to share with you two very clear points from the Eminent Persons report.
The first is that our societies are very diverse; and the second is that we are not very successful in managing that diversity.
The report contains very specific recommendations on how to do better, on how to transform diversity from a potential threat to a real benefit for our societies.
For me personally, the most urgent priority is to deal with the parallel societies. What we need to do is to create societies in which people will live with each other.
Everyone is entitled to maintain his or her identity, but this should not happen without or even at the expense of what holds us together as a society; of our common values which are embodied in and protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.
Again, you are best placed to address this issue at local level. Political action is only meaningful if it leads to real results with a real meaning for real people. Results people can see, touch, feel and from which they can benefit.
The report is a first step, a point of departure for debate, and then for action. When this does not happen the road to conflict is entered.
Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,
The grand question of Max Weber, the German sociologist was: Why Europe?
The answer to that question is on display here today at the Congress of the Council of Europe.
Europe is an opportunity to forge a common identity, based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
This European identity does not come at the expense of our national or individual identity. To the contrary. It gives us the strength to protect and promote our national cultural heritages, local diversities and to develop a larger European community.
There are two transforming forces in today’s world: one is economic, the other is the quest for freedom. Granting people the freedom to live in dignity is the best way to avoid clashes and conflicts, between ethnic groups, nations and religions.
Freedom is a demanding gift – whether in newly born or in long-established democracies. It can only be real if the state commits itself to legally-binding rights and freedoms. And if we as citizens commit ourselves to the responsibilities which accompany these rights.
In North Africa people are struggling to gain freedom as we speak. In Europe, we are struggling to safeguard the freedoms which we gained over 65 years ago.
The future of the world’s civilization will not be based on a single model. But it will be based on freedom – and the dignity we bring to freedom, making it real and enriching for the future of Europe.
“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better” said the writer Albert Camus.
We are in a time of change. Let us work together to make this change a better freedom.
Thank you for your attention.