SECRETARY GENERAL

Mr Thorbjørn Jagland is the 13th Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The Secretary General has the overall responsibility for the strategic management of the Organisation. Mr Jagland was elected in September 2009. 

The former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Norway, Thorbjørn Jagland, aged 63, was also the President of the Storting (Norwegian Parliament) and the leader of the Norwegian Labour Party. He is currently the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Speeches

4th International Science for Peace Conference

Milan, 

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Dear President,

Distinguished academics,

Scholars and Students,

Dear friends,

 

I am greatly honoured by the invitation to address the Science for Peace Conference and to talk about peace, diversity and freedom.

Let me start by pointing out the difficulties lying ahead of us as we develop the concept of ‘Living Together' in Europe and its implications on peaceful coexistence, diversity and freedom.

The protracted financial crisis which Europe is going through is the longest in more than a hundred years. Even the Great Depression in the 1930's was shorter, although the situation was in reality much harsher than it is today.

The outcomes of the current downturn are unpredictable. And, at the moment, it does not seem that the way out will be a quick and sudden shift towards economic growth and social stability.

The financial crisis is also unprecedented in its scope. It is contributing to the downturn in the World economy. And — although the crisis is financial and economic — its implications for society as a whole are broad and deep.

Radical measures are being taken in many countries to try to balance public budgets. Italy is one of them. Austerity is both necessary and understandable. But it has its negative implications too, and these are not only economic. With the persistence of austerity, countries are running a high risk of seriously undermining the European model of social cohesion.

Because the crisis is not only about the welfare of the people. Most unfortunately, it has affected the mind-sets and is provoking the rise of destructive emotions.

There is a widespread perception that social and economic aspects are neglected to safeguard the interests and profits of the financial sector. The social anger and frustration are targeted at the state, the rich or the privileged.

But the real victims are the most vulnerable social groups. The more different they are from the mainstream of society – the more easily they are targeted as the epitome of evil. Especially those who were already on the margins before the financial crisis. I am thinking here in particular of those in precarious employment situations, migrants, Roma, the youth and the elderly.

Today, increasing numbers are joining the ranks of the long-term unemployed, some of whom have been dependent on benefits for generations. In several countries young nationals, whose working opportunities have shrunk drastically, are considering migration as their only choice.

A growing number of elderly people are suffering from radical cuts in pensions and benefits and are being thus plunged headlong into persistent poverty.

The migrants are pointed at as the main scapegoat for the crisis, including by some mainstream politicians.

I believe that the situation of Roma, in a number of European countries, is a test of how civilised and how humane our societies have become. And it is a test in which we have not yet got anywhere near the pass mark, to say the least. There is also an increase in religious xenophobia. Muslims have become the most discriminated against religious group in Europe today.

The new upsurge in anti-Semitism reflects the particularly worrisome aspects of hatred and the most embarrassing for Europe bearing in mind its history.

As the political scientist Guy Standing rightly puts it, we are witnessing the emergence of a ‘precariat', a new underclass whose fate is to be the fuse of the economy. People in such circumstances are like new lepers, untouchable, isolated and abandoned.

In such environment, peaceful co-existence becomes very difficult. Social exclusion and discrimination is nourished by the conflict between identities. Individuals and communities define themselves increasingly against each other. In such a clash, there is no room for multiple identities, for hyphenated identities. You can be either Moldovan or Norwegian. But you are not allowed to be Euro-Algerian, Italo-European or Franco-Turkish. You are forced to choose.

This situation is of course exploited in a number of political discourses whose readiness to inflame public emotions and fuel natural anxieties is well-established.

The financial crisis is having a profound impact in our societies. Its consequences undermine some of the basic virtues of the European model. Many speak about ‘Europe's decline' and — against this background — criticism is not surprising, and often well-deserved.
 

A shrinking participation at the ballot boxes, the emergence of political extremism, the so-called ‘parallel societies', and an increasing mistrust regarding politics undermine the European democratic model.

Today, our common headway towards a peaceful coexistence—in diversity and freedom—is exposed to the old and well-known hazards of prejudice.

So, should we expect fresh turmoil in Europe?

Let us go back in history.

After the Second World War, a brilliant group of political leaders with foresight and vision fought hard to prepare the ground for a long standing peace – a culture of dialogue between people and nations. Their chief idea was a simple ‘never again'. The prolonged wars of the previous 70 years could not be repeated.

In the promotion of a peaceful coexistence in diversity and freedom, Europe is a factor. A very important factor. In spite of today's problems, we represent the most successful model of regional integration, innovation and solidarity.

We represent an attractive model for combining economic, scientific and technological performance with social welfare and human rights. We can be proud of the balance between individual and collective rights.

The current crisis is putting this model to the test, but this is a test we cannot afford to fail.

The European unity and integration can be in many respects attributed to the European system of human rights protection. Our common values are enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights. A comprehensive and unprecedented human rights system, which encompasses over 200 conventions, monitoring mechanisms, and with the Court of Human Rights based in Strasbourg as the centre-piece.

Europe has become the only region where we have mechanisms which member states are committed to, and where human rights are enforced through an International Court where any European citizen can lodge a complaint.

Europe is a continent where freedom has flourished. The quest for freedom is the strongest force in the world. Man's will to overcome tyranny and injustice has changed the world over and again. It has brought people together, it has encouraged innovation and it has defined our humanity.

Diversity has been at the origin of Europe's prosperity for millennia. And it is with us to stay. Europe will not be the guardian of human rights and fundamental civilizational values without learning how to better manage its diversity. I believe this is today Europe's main strategic challenge, more important than climate change, nuclear threat or even the economy.

But we must balance this openness and diversity with our deep aspiration for freedom. To do this we need a reference, a beacon to guide us through this endeavour.

This is why in summer of 2010, I asked an independent ‘Group of Eminent Persons'— led by  former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and energetically inspired by Emma Bonino, whose presence here I warmly welcome — to prepare a report on the challenges arising from the resurgence of intolerance and discrimination in Europe.

The report—‘Living together: Combining Diversity and Freedom in the 21st –century Europe'—has found that discrimination and intolerance are widespread in Europe today, particularly against Roma and immigrants. It also concludes that our societies are very diverse and that we are not very successful in managing that diversity. The report's main message is now even more valid than ever.

Several politicians declared the end of multiculturalism. Such declarations reflect a sense of resignation and hopelessness. Because every reasonable politician knows that Europe cannot sustain its welfare and competitiveness without migration, which is today the source of diversity in Europe.

But the proclaimed end of multiculturalism reflects that something has gone wrong; that traditional integration policies have not worked.

In the past, we have underestimated the difficulties and the side-effects that rapid changes can prompt in a society, in its values and to its human rights. Integration of migrants has mainly focus on the maximisation of economic profit. Access to work has been the chief objective for both the migrants and the receiving societies - and it is, of course, vital.
However, the long-term benefits and burdens on all parts of Europe need to be understood and better balanced.

But Europe needs migration. It needs over 40 and 60 million immigrant workers by 2050. Without them it will be simply impossible to sustain Europe's present level of prosperity and welfare.

 

And we cannot escape demography, because Europe's population is ageing.

In Italy the choices will be dramatic: either the retirement age will have to be raised to 77 years (!) or 2.2 million immigrants annually must be admitted to maintain its worker to pensioner ratio.

We are also seeing—the Report points out—the emergence of so-called parallel societies, which in their most extreme form have led to home-grown terrorism. For me personally, this is the most urgent priority. People who live beside each other are always at risk of living against each other.

Identity is at stake in Europe. Everyone is entitled to maintain his or her own identity — this is part of our richness, of our strength — but this should not happen without or even at the expense of what holds us together as a society. We must recognise that identities are a voluntary matter for the individuals and that people's identity is frequently multiple.

European societies need to embrace diversity. However, this can only be achieved if we all have the same opportunities, if all long-term residents are accepted as citizens and if each individual, regardless of their creed, culture or ethnicity, is treated equally by the law, the authorities and their fellow citizens.

Like any other citizens in democracy long-term residents should have a say in law-making. However, neither religion nor culture can be accepted as an excuse for breaking those laws.

These important issues have been analysed by the report. But its message has to be taken further.

This 4th International conference is being held in the prestigious Bocconi University, which has a distinguished record of excellence in all its faculties including the Dondena Centre on Research on Social Dynamics set up in 2006.

International mobility of students around the world is constantly increasing. I am sure that, like every University, the Bocconi opens its doors to students and academics from all corners of the globe and benefits from the cross-fertilisation of ideas and ingenuity.

Education is highly important in the debate we are holding today. Its quality will be decisive to Europe's competitiveness. It is important that the intellectual and professional side of the educational system is complemented by a strong civic component. We need universities which will help the young generations not only to know the world, but to understand it; not only to advance science, but to have a say on its application.

Therefore the emphasis of the Council of Europe is on civic education. Curricula must help to understand the otherness. Intolerance is based on ignorance. Intolerance is also based on an emotional handicap – the lack of empathy.
If both gaps are not filled by education – it will soon become too late to catch up. The present model of education model is at a crossroads due to the pressures of the modern technological age and global competitiveness. We must re-invent the educational paradigm with due attention to its civic component.

But a new educational paradigm should include also a special role of language learning.

At least two languages should be studied to attain a working competence level in all schools throughout the continent. All European students should benefit from mobility schemes, should enjoy the experience of adapting themselves to a different culture and society, of being the ‘foreigner'.  At least one year abroad - and not necessarily in a European country - should be mandatory in all curricula.

I support Ulrich Beck's Cosmopolitan Manifesto and the European Union's initiative ‘Erasmus for all'.  Exchange programmes - especially the Erasmus programme - are the most effective of all bridge-builder across European cultures.

They have been more about interculturalism than about study curriculum. I am also in favour of not only maintaining but expanding mobility schemes, for students and for all.

The youth has a role to play and opportunities to seize. But to be well prepared is vital. Diversity will most certainly soar in Europe in the future. Nothing - except perhaps the current economic crisis - seems to oppose such an argument. On the contrary, the current trend of globalisation strongly supports the case. Diversity is an opportunity and it will be relevant for the youth to anticipate the arrival of new ideas and new people. Developing ‘Intercultural Competencies' is a key factor in which the Council of Europe is actively engaged. For young people this will be a strong comparative advantage in the labour market.

But today's youth is experiencing particular hardships. This can leave a deep scar – cynicism, hypocrisy and the loss of hope in values. There are no magic solutions to creating good prospects for success in life. But it is our duty to remove barriers which kill hope.

Nothing is more demoralising than nepotism and corruption. Not only because it weakens democracy, undermines the rule of law and limits access to human rights. But also because corruption and nepotism kill the noble and sincere aspirations of the young generations.

A simple question confronts youth today: Do you want the future society where you will live and raise your children to be a free and peaceful one? Or a Europe where individuals and countries fight each other, where conflict escalates in an uncontrolled manner? Where co-operation and altruism loses out to rivalry and egotism? It's your choice. And it will define your future.

You, the young people here today, can continue working the same furrow as the European founders started - in both Eastern and Western Europe. You can take it further and secure the transmission of the principles of peace and ‘Living Together' in harmony. You are the ones in whom the freedom in Europe lies. And you have that choice today.

The ‘Living Together' Report has been a first attempt to establish a fundamental debate among 47 European states on how to transform diversity from a potential threat to a real benefit for our societies. The Science for Peace International Conference is another step forward in this process.

But to achieve this, it will be necessary to convince political leaders to go beyond their short-term electoral horizons and accept responsibility for the society we will leave to the next generations.

I believe we should be moving towards a concerted European response. To fight xenophobia and intolerance we need a strong, transversal and diversified European coalition. Leaders from all walks of life - political activists, scientists, entrepreneurs, students, and intellectuals - can promote together a forward-looking vision of Europe.

The Council of Europe is implementing important concrete action - like the network of Intercultural Cities or the Programme to fight hate-speech on the internet. It is designing specific plans to put in practice the recommendations of the framework ‘White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue'.
I intend to put forward new proposals for the fight against xenophobia, intolerance and discrimination.

But more is needed. There is no place for complacency.

The European model of tolerance, respect and plurality must be solidified. A guideline containing the necessary core principles and good practices needs to be drafted and made widely available in all European countries. In this way, Europe will remain a place where peace flourishes in dignity and freedom.

Today many diverse initiatives are at work. All efforts need to be brought together to create a critical mass. If we want the European model to endure, we all have to share a common sense of purpose and translate it into tangible achievements.

As Secretary General of the Council of Europe I place the promotion of new ways of ‘Living Together' at the centre of my priorities. Europe has been historically diverse. Trade and industry have developed on the basis of exchanges within the continent and overseas.

Diversity has inhabited our homeland, Europe, for centuries and in a very unique way.

Some of us can remember the great trouble we had during school days, when we had to cope with the multi-coloured complexity of Europe's political atlas, to remember by heart the intricate patchwork of juxtaposed regions, nations, religions, languages, and flags.

Europe has cultivated its uniqueness on the ground of a broad curiosity, on a systematic questioning of facts, on experience, and on the endless search for objectivity. Scientific breakthroughs have come about through sharing knowledge, not through keeping it hidden from others. Think only of the advances in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

None of this would have been possible without the knowledge accumulated by our neighbours and other civilisations. Europe has been able to incorporate the best of every influence it has received.

All this has been possible because Europe is ultimately an open land. Embracing more diversity is in our collective interest.

Let us keep our values firmly anchored and make the necessary transformations that will guide us through a 21st-century Europe to ensure it will continue to be a place worth living: in peace, diversity and freedom.