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Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honour and privilege for me to attend this Graduation Ceremony of the European Master's Programme in Human Rights and Democratisation.
There is a long tradition for the studying of fundamental human rights in Venice and its surrounding region. The European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation has considerably reinforced this aspect of the splendid city that is Venice.
The mission of the Centre is to foster a community of scholars, researchers and professionals to promote the very values of the Organisation that I represent: democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Still scarred by war, our founding fathers – Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schumann, Paul-Henri Spaak, Ernest Bevin and, of course, Alcide de Gasperi - understood that lasting peace had to be built on these solid foundations.
We have to a large extent been successful, and it is worth recalling what eight hundred million people in Europe share together today through the Council of Europe.
The death penalty has been abolished, de jure or de facto, in all
47 member States. Torture is outlawed. After decades of ideological divide, we have reconciled our European continent. The European Human Rights Convention and a Europe-wide court allow individuals to seek protection of their fundamental rights.
More than 200 treaties have been drawn up to defend and extend the European values and to respond to threats.
And what is more, a majority of the countries which have joined the Council of Europe over the past twenty years are today members of the European Union, or candidates to its accession. Membership in the Council of Europe has helped pave the way to EU membership. It has truly offered a European perspective, being a driving force of European unification. This does not mean that Europe does not have problems.
We have identified three priority areas of action for the Council of Europe in the years to come.
A major challenge for Europe is the fight against corruption and other forms of misuse of power. Corruption is a threat to democracy and it undermines citizens' trust in the rule of law. To fight it, we need a trustworthy, effective and independent judiciary. We need free and independent media. And we need a genuinely autonomous parliament that is willing and able to control the executive power.
A further challenge is the fight against intolerance and hate speech. This evil is spreading widely and is, as always, the first sign of something more worrying ahead.
The third challenge is closely connected to this, namely the protection of minorities. There is always a scapegoat to be found in difficult times, and the economic crisis is a fertile ground for attacks on Roma, immigrants and, in some of our member states, also LGBT people.
The Council of Europe has precious tools to help find solutions to these fundamental problems for our societies.
We have legal standards agreed by our member States. We have conventional and non-conventional monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to assess if the standards are upheld. And we have the capacity to assist our member states correctly implement the standards.
We are now finding ways to better analyse the huge amount of data provided by the monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and this will make it possible to develop even better targeted action plans for assistance together with our member states.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Education should not only be about making people more employable. Education is ultimately about the kind of society we want.
Democracy, human rights and the rule of law is not something we gain once and for all. These are values that must be nurtured and developed in each new generation. We at the Council of Europe strive to foster this democratic citizenship. And education is our most efficient means to reach this goal.
It is therefore with great expectation that I look forward to our
co-operation with the EIUC.
And I am particularly proud that we have already been able to develop a concrete co-operation project to assist one of the emerging democracies in our close neighbourhood.
In North Africa and the Middle East we have over the last years seen citizens bravely struggling to establish free societies based on the same principles and values upon which we once built Europe. Sadly, this is now being challenged more and more.
The Council of Europe has all along worked actively to support this struggle for our common values, in particular in Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan. And we hope to be able to widen our action also to other countries.
In this regard I have to express my gratitude to the European Union, represented here today by its Ambassador to the Council of Europe, Luisella Pavan-Woolfe. Without the close co-operation between our two organisations this undertaking would not have been possible.
Together with the Moroccan authorities and the EIUC, we are developing a training programme for young and future executive staff - civil servants, parliamentary staff and students at the Moroccan Diplomatic Academy.
This training will focus on human rights and democratic standards of good governance, and it will be supplemented by practical modules with the Council of Europe. We also aim to include a regional dimension, aimed at promoting co-operation between the countries of the region.
I trust the professionalism and effectiveness of the EIUC will make this possible.
As academics you hold a key role in upholding democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
It therefore with great pleasure I sign this exchange of letters to support the co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation.
Thank you for your attention.