51st joint meeting of the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB)
Governor, Chairs of the CEB bodies, Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
- It gives me great pleasure to host the 51st Annual Joint Meeting of the Council of Europe Development Bank in Strasbourg, the place where the Bank’s predecessor, the “Resettlement Fund for National Refugees and Overpopulation in Europe” was founded 60 years ago, in April 1956.
- Let me recall some milestones from the Bank’s history, during which its development has been closely linked to that of its parent institution, the Council of Europe:
- The Bank was established as an organisation for human solidarity through banking, with the original aim of facilitating the integration of migrants and refugees.
- Following the first CoE Summit in 1993, a wave of new members joined the Bank, whose activities shifted more and more towards countries in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.
- After the second Summit in 1997, the Bank’s action focused on strengthening social cohesion.
- The third Summit in 2005 invited the Bank to finance judicial public infrastructure, contributing to the development of a free, more inclusive and democratic European society.
More relevant than ever: the refugee crisis
- 60 years after the establishment of the Bank, the current migrant and refugee crisis once again challenges European integration and social cohesion: the very idea of human rights is coming under attack as governments are trying to halt the flow of people into their territories with an array of new restrictions.
- A Europe-wide door slamming is not a sustainable answer to these problems: a lasting solution to this situation can only be delivered by solidarity among nations; the CEB and the CoE need to work hand-in-hand to address the crisis.
- Shortly after I issued guidance to member states on the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers last September, the CEB established the Migrant and Refugee Fund to help its members set up reception and transit centres and provide adequate shelter, food, and medical aid.
- In March I also set out proposals for immediate action to improve the protection of migrant and asylum seeking children; I know that the CEB has now approved a loan for reception centres in the North Aegean region in Greece, with places reserved for unaccompanied children. From my recent visit to Greece I can tell you how appreciated this kind of support it, at the very highest levels of government – and from my visit to a centre for unaccompanied minors in Athens I can tell you the difference investments like this also make on the ground.
- This is very much understood by my Special Representative, Mr Boček, who is former Vice-Chair of the CEB Governing Board and is working closely with the Bank on these issues.
- I would also like to commend the Bank for its constructive contribution to the integration challenge. While its emergency assistance focuses mainly on shelter, food and medical aid, in the longer term it provides financing for local infrastructure, affordable housing, skills development and job creation to help those entitled to stay to integrate as quickly as possible.
- The CEB has also proven its expertise by taking the leading role in the Regional Housing Programme, the aim of which is to provide lasting housing solutions to refugees and displaced persons in the Western Balkans.
- I would also like to single out one other priority of mine, which is supporting member states in their efforts to counter radicalisation leading to terrorism.
- The Council of Europe is active in countering radicalisation in prisons, in schools and online, and these efforts are supported by the Bank who, in its own way, is active in these fields: financing projects for the rehabilitation of schools, child-care facilities and sports centres, social housing programmes as well as the construction of prisons which provide a better environment for prisoners’ reintegration.
- So, overall, I’d like to end on a note of gratitude for this solid partnership. And for a Bank which helps affirm our relevance for our member states and for Europe in these troubled times.