North-South Centre - European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity

17 May 2010 – 4pm

Closing words by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio,
Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe,
on the occasion of the Round Table: “The 21st Century,
A century of global interdependence and solidarity”

Lisbon, 18 May 2010

Dear Mr President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Mohandas Gandhi once said that “interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency.”

Gandhi was pointing to a fundamental fact: we are all social beings. We rely on each other, seek co-operation together and prosper best when we work together. That is why the work of the North-South Centre is so important. It is the ideal put into practice.

Dear friends,

I am delighted to be here in Lisbon with you to celebrate together the 20th anniversary of our North-South Centre.

I would like to thank the Portuguese authorities and the Mayor of Lisbon for their kind and most generous hospitality today. Portugal has been committed to the success of the North-South Centre since its creation and establishment in Lisbon was proposed by President Anibal Cavaco Silva, then Prime Minister of Portugal, in 1988. Today, an important milestone has been reached.

Portugal has been a loyal godparent to the Centre even during difficult moments in its history, and can rightly be proud of the role it has played in anchoring the Centre firmly at the heart of Europe’s contribution to North-South dialogue.

I would also like to pay a special tribute to President Grimsson, who was a key figure in the Campaign on North-South interdependence and solidarity, launched in 1988, which was at the origin of the Centre. President Grimsson is a long-time friend of the Council of Europe as a former member of our Parliamentary Assembly, and I am very pleased that he is able to be with us today.

Dear friends,

The word “interdependence” has more resonance today than at any other time in history.

The current financial and economic crisis, as well as our growing realisation of the challenges we now face in safeguarding our planet for future generations, have again brought home to us, if we were not aware of it before, that what happens in one part of the world almost inevitably impacts on other continents and regions.

In times of crisis, the first human reaction is often to turn inwards and to focus on one’s own difficulties and how to solve them. Today, we have learned that we cannot act in isolation, nor hope to solve our difficulties by battening down the hatches and trying to protecting our own immediate interests until the storm is over.

Interdependence is a reality. And while some parts of the world are still enormously privileged compared to others, the current crises remind us that we are all vulnerable, that our privilege and comfort are by no means guaranteed. We are realising that the western world does not hold all the answers, that our assumptions about the right way of doing things may not all have been well-founded.

That is why I believe that the concept of solidarity has taken on a new meaning. It is no longer a matter of the rich supporting the poor, but a more equal partnership between nations and regions which need each other. We can and must learn from each other on an equal footing. I think it is time to approach our partners with a new humility and a little less arrogance, and I am sure that our dialogue will be all the better for it.

Solidarity today should not be seen only as a moral obligation but as an opportunity and a necessity. And the debates during this Round Table have shown that we are ready to move to this next stage together.

Dear friends,

The Council of Europe has witnessed enormous changes on the European landscape since its creation sixty years ago. We have played a key role in the bridging of dividing lines in Europe, between north and south and between east and west. Today we have a unique role in bringing together almost all European countries under a common framework of standards and co-operation on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

We are a European organisation, but the values we promote are universal. They are values on which dialogue with other parts of the world, especially our near neighbours, can be founded. They are the values which remain no matter what our prism of perspective and no matter how radically the world is changing, and they are key in addressing global challenges. They are the values of democracy.

Today, our new Secretary General is leading our Organisation in a reform process. Our aim is to be even more relevant, targeted and impactful in our work. We will focus our attention on the areas where we can add the most value and where we have the leading expertise. We will build up our collaboration with other European institutions so that our collective action is stronger and better. Our aim is to take the best of what we have – our solid basis of standard-setting, monitoring and co-operation activities – and to mobilise this to innovate and to address upcoming and future challenges.

I am convinced that work of the North-South Centre responds to these criteria. Its newly-created Think Tank will certainly explore in more depth the questions I have outlined above, and will help guide the work of the Centre over the next years. The Centre has already proved the benefits of close co-operation in action with other international partners, in particular the European Union and
the United Nations, represented by the Alliance of Civilizations which is led by Mr Sampaio, a good friend of the Council of Europe and whose contribution to dialogue between cultures and peoples I wish to salute.

The North-South is moreover a key player in taking the message of the Council of Europe outside our borders, as it has done with its work in implementing the Strategy for the Development of Intercultural Dialogue and the recommendations of the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue, which has become the reference concept paper on this topic even beyond Europe.

The proposed new statutory resolution aims to bring the role of the Centre into line with its current remit. This resolution is being examined by the relevant Council of Europe bodies and the Secretary General will provide his opinion in the autumn.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Council of Europe greatly values your contribution to our work and thanks you for participating in this Round Table. In this anniversary year, I am confident that the Centre will continue to extend its span of activities and continue to prove its worth as a bridge-builder. It is, as I said at the start of my intervention, the ideal of interdependence put into practice.

I look forward to meeting you later today at the Prize Ceremony and to continuing our discussions, and thank you for your attention.