2017 North-South Prize Award Ceremony
President of the Portuguese Republic
President of the Assembly of the Republic
President of the Portuguese Parliamentarian Delegation
to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
Distinguished Parliamentarians of the Assembly of the Republic
Distinguished winners of the North-South Prize
President of the Executive Committee of the North-South Centre
Executive Director of the North-South Centre
Ladies and Gentlemen
I cannot help but feel that I increasingly begin my speeches with talk of crisis. And I am not the only one. The refugee crisis. The Syrian crisis. The crisis in terrorism. The ongoing fallout from the global financial crisis.
All of them contributing to perhaps the most profound crisis of all: the crisis in trust that we are witnessing across many of our societies, as more and more citizens lose confidence in national and international institutions.
We indeed live in challenging times. I remember when, in much of Europe, one of our biggest concerns was political apathy and disengagement. Today – and we see this in many parts of the world – it is not so much apathy that troubles our democracies, but frustration. Widespread disenchantment with elites, which is being seized upon by populists who exploit the anti-establishment mood in order to sow division and fear. Xenophobia is on the rise. Petty nationalism is gaining ground. And, increasingly, we see mainstream political forces mimicking the more extreme political fringes. Whether by talking tough on migration; whether by talking down international cooperation; whether by taking increasingly hard-line positions, in the hope that it will win them public support.
I say all this because I strongly believe that, in such a climate, what is needed, more than anything, is responsible leadership. Individuals who are willing and able to do the right thing, rather than the easy thing. People who stand up for generous and democratic values even when it is not popular to do so. Even when the risks are high and success feels far away.
For me, it is this quality – the ability to deliver responsible and brave leadership under pressure – which unites our two laureates. And for this we owe each of them a debt.
Mayor Nicolini: in paying tribute to your work I find myself in especially esteemed company, given that Pope Francis himself has commended the way in which you have turned Lampedusa into a model for the humane treatment of migrants and refugees. At the Council of Europe, we take extremely seriously our responsibility to defend the human rights of these people. We too reject the indifference which has characterised much of the international community’s response, believing instead that our member States have a shared responsibility to all those who have made the journey to our continent. Our Secretary General has made a priority protecting the welfare of migrant and refugee children in particular. And we applaud the courage you have shown in fighting for these people, as well as your willingness to do things which are difficult and, at times, controversial, simply because they are right.
The same can be said for you, Ms Brahmi. You have been called a fearless campaigner for Tunisian democracy, continually condemning extremism to offer a more inclusive and more hopeful vision for your country. Perhaps your endeavours are not entirely without fear: you know better than many what it means to endure threats and intimidation in pursuit of your principles. And yet you do not flinch. You do not stop. You continue to speak truth to power. And I want you to know that we at the Council of Europe share your dream of a free and stable Tunisia – a goal we actively support in our work to help our neighbours pursue democracy and entrench the rule of law.
The North South Centre has made a wise choice in honouring these two individuals. In highlighting their stories, it has reminded us of the democratic and humanitarian values we share on both sides of the Mediterranean, and of the way in which our fates are interlinked, whether by the mass movements of people or by the spread of violent extremism. I would like to thank all those at the Centre for continuing to provide an invaluable bridge between the Council of Europe and our neighbourhood, and for the emphasis you place on deepening relationships and building trust. I would also like to extend my deep gratitude to the Portuguese authorities for supporting this work and for giving it such visibility and prominence. And, more generally, for the active and committed role you continually play within our Organisation.
Ladies and gentlemen, I may have begun my remarks with talk of crises, but I end on a much more positive note.
Our laureates show that even at times of great adversity, generosity, humanity and enlightened leadership can endure. And in the continued co-operation between our societies, through the North South Centre, we see real commitment to dialogue and to solidarity; and to nations and peoples working together to build safer and more resilient societies, where peace is grounded in liberty, democracy and law. These are important and reassuring messages – particularly in uncertain times. For this, I thank you all very, very much.