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Speech by the Prime Minister of Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik
Mr President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The countries of Europe have a common legacy. We have a spiritual and intellectual heritage from the great Mediterranean cultures of antiquity. From Athens we have democracy; from Rome the rule of law; from Jerusalem the human values of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The fundamental principle of this heritage is respect for human dignity. To protect and promote human dignity is the core task of the Council of Europe.
In my speech I will focus on the following four sets of core European values. Firstly, human dignity and thus human rights. Secondly, solidarity and love of our neighbour. Thirdly, tolerance and diversity. Fourthly, democracy.
The Council of Europe is an important brick in the European institutional architecture. We have a lot to gain by working more closely with the EU and the OSCE. We need to ensure that all three organisations co-operate and co-ordinate their activities and do not compete with each other.
Firstly, if we are to succeed in this endeavour, we must focus on core activities and on areas where the Council of Europe can make a real contribution to promoting human dignity. The most urgent task is to ensure that the European Court of Human Rights continues to be an effective instrument for advancing human rights. I therefore urge you all to ratify Protocol No. 14 by the end of this year and to carry out the reforms necessary for the full implementation of the Convention at national level. We must make sure that the Group of Wise Persons is independent and highly experienced so it can help secure the long term future of the Human Rights system.
It is we, the member states that can make a difference. This is our organisation, and we must live up to the commitments we have made and the goals we have set ourselves.
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Secondly, on solidarity and love of our neighbour:
European society is modelled on social cohesion, based on love of our neighbour. Our solidarity must extend beyond those we can easily identify with. We must follow the example of the Good Samaritan, and show solidarity to those outside our own community, those who think and behave quite differently from us. If not, solidarity carries within itself the seed of exclusion.
Thirdly, the importance of tolerance and diversity:
Sadly, our society has developed a certain tolerance of exclusion. But we cannot sit back and accept this. We must strive for an inclusive society. A society where everyone is appreciated for their intrinsic human worth, and where everyone feels a valued part of the community. We must ensure equal rights for groups that can easily become the victims of exclusion, such as the elderly, people with disabilities and members of minority groups.
The late Pope John Paul II said that
"Saying 'Europe' must be equivalent to saying " openness"
He reminded us that Europe developed through encounters between different peoples and cultures.
Europe's cultural diversity is rapidly becoming greater than ever before. Even countries with traditionally homogeneous populations, like my own, are becoming increasingly multicultural. This opens up great opportunities. In order to take advantage of them, we must promote understanding between groups of people with different ethnic, cultural and religious affiliations.
But we must prevent these differences from being misused. We have seen dramatic consequences of this in the form of terrorism and racially motivated violence, but it can also take quite ordinary forms, like discrimination in the housing and labour market. We must combat xenophobia. We must promote tolerance and mutual respect.
Sadly, countless children allover the world are being raised in an atmosphere of hatred and intolerance, and many are also being denied their basic human rights.
We must teach our children compassion and consideration for others. We must help them not to fear those who are different. Our schools must foster tolerance and understanding. They must provide information on the different cultures and religions in a thorough and systematic way.
I am very pleased to see that these efforts are included in the Action Plan.
Fourthly: Europe stands for democracy. The checks and balances of public opinion are key to a well functioning democracy. It is obvious that all policy making should be the object of public scrutiny and debate. Yet in today's Europe this is not always the case. This is a challenge that we must face. Everyone must be able to have a say in what goes on in our societies.
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At this Summit we are not only strengthening and deepening our commitment to our core values. We are also adding important dimensions to the efforts to build a more humane Europe, a Europe that cares about all its citizens.
We are intensifying our efforts to achieve equal opportunities for men and women. We are taking on the challenge of domestic violence and violence against women and children. And we are committing ourselves to fighting another threat to our basic values: trafficking in human beings. This form of slavery is a challenge to our commitment to human dignity and individual freedom. Almost two hundred years after the British Parliament decided to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire, this trade is regrettably still flourishing here in Europe! I urge you all to sign the Convention on Action against Trafficking in human beings and to implement the necessary measures to stop this evil.
We live in a rapidly changing Europe. The Council of Europe needs to be open to reform and change so that it can continue to fulfil its vital role in protecting and promoting human rights and human dignity.
It must continue to promote good governance and fight corruption. It must continue to promote democracy and justice, so that ordinary citizens can participate in their society on an equal footing.
By focusing on Europe's core values, and by concentrating on its areas of expertise, the role of the Council will be enhanced as a mechanism of panEuropean co-operation.
We need the Council of Europe, and we need it to be as effective as possible!