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Summer University for Democracy: ''European Leadership in a Time of Crisis''

Strasbourg , 

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Dear students,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The American president, Woodrow Wilson once said that every man sent out from a university should be a man of his nation, as well as a man of his time. Today, we are some 20 nationalities gathered here. We are definitely of our nations. But we are also of our time. We are Europeans.

The grand question of Max Weber, the German sociologist was: Why Europe?

Being a European citizen is to be member of a community, based on the full enjoyment of individual rights – guaranteed by democratically elected governments and protected by an impartial and independent judicial system.

This is the European project. This is what it means to be European. It does not does not come at the expense of our national identity. Have a look at the World Cup in South Africa and rest assured that national pride in Europe, and beyond, is alive and vivid. Even if slightly wounded, for some.

But Europe of today is a unique community of shared fundamental values of man and society: of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

I am confident that all of you here will gain experiences and insight to develop you as good leaders, good public servants and as good advocates for democracy in Europe. And let me add – as we are all of our nations and time in Europe – let's cross our fingers for the few remaining European football teams in the World Cup in South Africa.

Dear friends,

The World Cup has boosted private spending it is reported, but the World Cup can only be a temporary relief from the fact that Europe is facing an overwhelming challenge in the economic crisis.

The EU has acted as unified as a union made up of 27 nation states can. They are using their economic strength to combat their economic weaknesses so to speak. I believe the leaders of the EU are showing leadership in a time of crisis.

At the same time, the economic crisis reveals other challenges which surface in times of hardship. In a situation such as this, lack of such leadership risks to weaken the fundamental rights of the individual, and thereby our common European foundations.

When I look at Europe today, I see challenges lining up.

The Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg has issued a stern warning. 150 million of Europe's 800 million people are now living below the poverty line with certain groups such as the Roma excluded from society. Child poverty is growing and many elderly and disabled people live in extreme hardship.

The poor and marginalised lack influence and are ignored by political parties and the media. When they are victims of crime, they hesitate to report it, because they do not trust the police or courts.

I see that corruption remain widespread. Poor people are forced to pay backhanders for protection and services that, according to human rights law, are free of charge.

Now the economic crisis has only made things worse, providing an excuse for politicians to blame the victims rather than helping them, which exacerbates already tense situations.

Basic human rights principles are forgotten as ongoing debates, such as the burqa ban and the Swiss ban on minaret building, distort the picture and create the impression that "the other is the problem".

This is lack of leadership in practise.

I am deeply troubled by the fact that member States ignore requests from the European Court of Human Rights and continue to deport asylum seekers to countries like Libya and Tunisia. I know that many countries face public demand for a tough stance on migration. But actions such as these undermine basic European legal principles.

This is where the need for visionary political leadership is in demand: we are about to renounce to our belief in European ideals in favour of the fear of the other. This is where political leaders must take responsibility for the content and development of the public debate.

Nobel Prize winner Andrei Sakharov identified hatred – and especially hatred created by government policy - as a great danger. Laws create a framework for community action, but they also shape attitudes and at present, those attitudes are dangerously negative.

Multiculturalism is now a reality, but as Polish writer Ryszard Kapuściński pointed out, we need a well-developed sense of our own identity to participate.

Growing unemployment and marginalisation leads to people losing that identity and defining themselves in opposition to others. This creates a climate of xenophobia and antipathy against the most vulnerable groups, and provides fertile ground for extremists to spread their message of hatred.

This is what happened before World War II. At the time, political leadership failed, with catastrophic consequences.

We need the political leaders who can offer a multicultural society more than talk of fear and sustaining of the status quo. We need leadership that can offer confidence in a liberal democratic society. A society which is rooted in the idea of human rights and sustained by a rational and critical debate.

The first step is to set in place a new social justice agenda. I know that this cannot be achieved through traditional legal human rights treaties and texts alone. But post-war history teaches us that binding legal obligations can pave the way by helping to shape new attitudes.

And the start of departure must be through political leadership.

It was such leadership that paved the way for a new Europe after the Second World War.

Post war political leaders understood that to strengthen freedom and democracy and to protect against repression and extremism, multilateral international institutions had to be established.

At a crucial crossroads in European history, their leadership led to the creation of the Council of Europe in 1949 and, the following year, to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Now Europe has reached another crossroads. The accession of the European Union to the European Convention of Human Rights, made possible by the Lisbon Treaty, will complete a cycle begun at the end of the Second World War to establish democracy and the rule of law across the continent.

The EU will join a European family of 47 countries, including global players such as Russia and Turkey, in a system that brings them all under the same legal standards, to be monitored by the same Court.

But the Council of Europe has reached a crossroads as well. Our organisation has had a long and complicated history: at the beginning, some saw it as the embryo of a European government, with a mandate covering any and every issue other than defence.

Over the years, it became the home for activities covering an enormous range of issues; in the 1990s, it enlarged to become the common home of a united Europe.

It is now time for a political reform of the Council of Europe. It should be the reference Organisation in Europe - and beyond - for human rights, rule of law and democracy through a strengthening of our key institutions.

The Council of Europe should serve as a bridge between countries and organisations. It must show the role it can play in bringing together our societies and, ultimately, our Continent. In order to do so it must regain the capacity to anticipate and enhance its ability to react.

Reform of the Council of Europe is my priority as Secretary General. Not reform for the sake of reform, but reform for the sake of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. Our world remains uncertain, and new challenges will continue to emerge with the potential to threaten European peace and stability.

Some of these challenges I have mentioned; some have yet to be identified; some have not yet emerged. We must look ahead, and strengthen our capacity to anticipate and innovate.

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower, head of Apple Company Steve Jobs has said. He is right. Europe needs innovative leadership more than ever. Fascism was defeated by might – by "hard security". But the peace was won and maintained by "soft security" – building comprehensive respect for human rights in Europe. That was political innovation.

What Europe needs now is to move on and to deepen that security. Anchoring the values and creating bonds between people that acknowledge and respect the multicultural and multi-religious nature of society. Bringing in the EU as party to European Convention on Human Rights is a major step. But we need political determination to succeed in this. I am sure we can muster it.

Dear friends,

Isaac Newton once said that: "If I have seen further it is because I have been standing on the shoulders of giants". The leaders of Europe in 1945 became human rights giants paving the way for a new era.

Now the giants among our generations most speak up. We must be the leaders that can realise the Europe foreseen in 1949. It is all about broadening and deepening our common values, creating structures to help us weather and withstand the new winds of unrest.

We must be united in purpose, not uniformed in action. We must have the courage to say the right things and to stand up for the right causes, even if they have been made unpopular by the populists.

I wish you all a successful summer university in Strasbourg.

Thank you for your attention.