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Presentation of the ''Living Together'' report

Berlin , 

Thorbjørn Jagland
Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Zusammenleben im Europa des 21. Jahrhunderts
Empfehlungen für offene Gesellschaften
mit Joschka Fischer und Dunja Hayali
23 May 2011, Berlin

The Council of Europe - addressing new challenges
to democratic societies

Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is good to be back in Berlin.

Let me first of all start by thanking Allianz - and in particular Ms Burkhardt and Mr Ischinger - for enabling tonight's discussion to take place in the heart of this vibrant and exciting city.

I would also like to thank the DGAP ("Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik") for co-hosting this event and helping us to invite you all.

In recent months, Europe has witnessed an intense discussion about immigration, integration and diversity. Berlin, on the other hand, has developed into a truly multicultural capital, admired for its openness, by visitors from all over the world.

We therefore chose Berlin to launch a debate on a new report about Combining Diversity and Freedom in 21st Century Europe.

But there is another reason the choice fell on Berlin: it is the only European location we were able to pin down Joschka Fischer and find a slot in his agenda!

For sure, Joschka Fischer has been a driving force and inspiration to this initiative from the start. Thank you, Joschka, for your dedication and commitment as Chairman of the Group of Eminent Persons, and thank you for presenting the report here tonight.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me by way of an introduction to say a few words about the organisation I represent today. Because it can – with all its conventions and mechanisms be instrumental in finding a common ground for how to live together.

Many of you may know the Council of Europe. But I think it is safe to assume that some of you may not.

What does the Council of Europe stand for - and where does it stand in relation to the European Union today?

Founded in 1949 – Germany joined in 1950 – the Council of Europe was the first European institution and its working methods remain firmly intergovernmental until the present day.

Through its legally-binding conventions, the Council of Europe promotes the fundamental principles and values of European integration: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Of course, being a value-based organisation does not mean, or imply, that all our 47 member states attain the same levels in all areas of policy.

But it does mean that countries agree on common standards in specific areas. And they are all subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.

The European Union has built on these fundamental values to pursue further political and economic integration. It is worth recalling that membership of the Council of Europe was a precondition to countries that wanted to have EU membership in the context of EU enlargement.

800 million people can bring their application to this Court if they believe that their own judiciary has not acted in compliance with the European Convention of Human Rights. European conventions not only safeguard the primacy of law in 47 countries but also recognises that some rights are natural rights that are above law – namely the universal rights. The European Convention of European Rights is the only real implementation of universal rights.

Today, an increasingly important partnership with the EU is about to reach a new level, with the currently negotiated EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.

It is perhaps a little-known fact outside expert circles, that the European Union itself will soon be subject to the jurisdiction of the Court in Strasbourg. When this happens, the Council of Europe brings together – under the same system of legally-binding standards and under the same court – all major powers in Europe and the European Union. It will represent a new big achievement for Europe.

The benefits of a single, Europe-wide human rights system are evident. A recent article in the Economist suggested that EU accession to the intergovernmental human rights convention of the Council of Europe may in practice work out as a positive system of "checks and balances". I find this an attractive proposition.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Despite the advances in integration promoted through organisations such as the Council of Europe and the European Union, there is no doubt we are currently witnessing a trend of re-nationalisation in Europe.

This worries me.

There are signs that the old consensus of open societies co-operating for the sake of mutual prosperity and stability, may break apart. The recent decision by some Schengen countries to reintroduce border-controls, is a strong indication. It seems to me that the common values on which Europe was built are at stake.

Sadly, this is equally true regarding our understanding of open, multicultural societies.

In recent months political leaders, including Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy, have said that multiculturalism has failed. Does this mean that these leaders are against cultural diversity? Surely not.

Indeed, Mrs Merkel has pointed out that people from very diverse backgrounds have been successful in Germany, including in her own Cabinet.

But there is nevertheless a growing feeling – reflected in the statements of Merkel, Cameron and Sarkozy – that something has gone wrong; a realisation that traditional policies have not worked.

Instead, we are seeing the emergence of so-called parallel societies. People are living next to each other in our societies, but not living together.

At the same time, we are witnessing increased discrimination in Europe. Minorities like Roma, as well as Muslims, are increasingly being marginalised and stigmatised. Anti-Semitism is also on the rise in several countries. Even before the current refugee crisis, xenophobic parties have been gaining popularity in many European countries. A recent article in the Italian Corrière della Sera, counted 17 anti-immigration and anti-European parties who have increased their representation in national parliaments.

Today, many extreme right-wing groups are living in their own parallel societies, full of prejudice against immigrants in general, and Muslims in particular.

There is a feeling among many Muslims that they are not welcome in our societies. Despite the fact that we have become heavily dependent on their workforce, businesses and in professional life. This represents a dangerous humiliation of a great number of people. People that our societies depend upon, and that constitute a crucial part of our diversity.

What worries me is that extremists – in all camps – "feed on each other", and the debate is becoming ever more polarised. If this trend continues, it will soon present a very real and concrete danger to stability and security in Europe.

This is why, last year, I asked a group of nine distinguished experts, academics and former politicians to identify the threats to open societies and put forward recommendations of how we can truly live together.

The resulting report was presented for the first time at the Council of Europe's Ministerial meeting in Istanbul on 11 May. There will now be discussions on the findings of the report in our 47 member states, and a series of public events in European capitals - starting here tonight.

By the end of the year, I expect member states to agree on a concrete political follow-up to the report.

I am convinced the situation we are facing calls for joint and concrete action to help foster an environment of diversity and freedom in Europe today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Angela Merkel said the other day that "the Euro is much more than a currency. It is today's Europe."

I agree.

But Europe is also values and moral standards that we share, and that unite us.

Economy and trade is a great integrating force. But human rights have been an equally important transforming force, and it continues to be so. When people climbed up on the Berlin Wall, it was in the quest for freedom and it transformed the whole country. When people in the Mediterranean are rioting, they are demanding freedom and universal rights. And this is now transforming our entire neighbourhood.

History has also shown that when human rights are oppressed, it will have most appalling consequences for our continent.

This is why the main message in this report is so important, namely that we have to embrace diversity.

European societies have become more and more diverse, not only due to immigration. We have come to appreciate different personal identities and priorities as individuals, be it sexual orientation or cultural attitudes. As a matter of fact most of us have many identities.

Therefore, we have to live with and respect diversity.

And therefore we must also put more emphasis on what unites us.

And that is, that we are equal before the law, and that we have certain rights and obligations. These rights and obligations are enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

I believe that the two most important post-war forces in Europe, economic integration and the spreading and strengthening of human rights, must merge into a new vision for Europe.

A Europe that is more integrated politically and economically - which is the mandate of the European Union - and a Europe that is characterised by deeper and more sustainable relations between individuals, religions and ethnic groups – which is the mandate of the Council of Europe. Only then can we live together, and profit from diversity.

It is now my pleasure to give the floor to (the very eminent) Joschka Fischer who will give you his perspective on the conclusions and recommendations of the report.

Thank you for your attention.

Joschka, the floor is yours.