Meeting of the Nine Presidents on ''The fight against racism and intolerance''

Helsinki , 

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Firstly, I should like to thank President Halonen for the invitation to this Nine Presidents' meeting devoted to the fight against racism and intolerance. I thank you for the opportunity to speak on the issue of combining diversity and freedom in the 21st century Europe. As recently discussed by a group of eminent persons under the auspices of the Council of Europe, the occasion is even more special bearing in mind that it is the last international obligation by our Host in her present presidential capacity.

I am convinced that this meeting will be important and instrumental to further defining a European strategy for the democratic management of diversity on our continent. Europe is in need of such a strategy – managing diversity is one of its most important strategic challenges – arguably more important than the economy, energy, and the environment or military threats.

We instinctively feel that, so far, we have not managed the challenge of diversity too well.


You will probably all agree that discrimination and intolerance have been increasing in Europe over the past few years. Minorities like Roma and Muslims are marginalised and stigmatised. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, and xenophobic parties have been gaining popularity in several European countries. With the current financial crisis, this trend can only be reinforced; in a Europe of distress the renationalisation of politics is a real danger. Tolerance towards migrants fails the doorstep message test. Nationalism - on the contrary - sells well at the ballot boxes, but for Europe it will be a recipe for disaster.

What worries me is that the debate on integration and immigration has become increasingly polarised: extremists – in all camps – "feed on each other", and if things continue like this, Europe will soon be faced with a very real and concrete danger to stability and security. The big question is how to conduct the debate on migration in a responsible and balanced way. Reason tells us that without migration we will not be able to sustain Europe's creativity and well-being, but emotions weaken the voice of reason. There is a lot of fear and prejudice which stems from increased diversity. We must overcome the fear and we as political leaders have a special responsibility in this regard.

Dramatic events in Europe, such as the Oslo and Utoya killings in July last year, have, in a way that no-one would have wished, confirmed this trend and further shown that the issue of different cultural and religious groups living together in European societies will be of growing importance in the coming years and decades. The issue has an ascending dynamics; we can see clearly the danger of parallel societies; not the ones that we normally think of – the ghettos of migrant populations - but the virtual parallel societies of hatred.


That is why, in the Summer of 2010, I asked a group of nine distinguished experts, academics and former politicians to prepare a report for the Council of Europe to take stock of the challenges arising from the resurgence of intolerance and discrimination in Europe. Their task was to analyse "the threat" and to propose a "response" for living together in open European societies - particularly with regard to the integration of migrants.

The Group of Eminent Persons' report sets out 17 guiding principles which the Group believes should guide governments responses to the threats arising from renewed forms of racism and intolerance. The report also identifies the main actors who can bring about the necessary changes in public attitudes and, last but not least, it contains 59 proposals for action in the form of strategic or operational recommendations.

The Living Together report clearly argues that if Europe wants to remain a region of peace and prosperity, we have to embrace diversity. This diversity must be based on equality before the law, respect for human rights and the sharing of certain rights and obligations in our societies. I am fully aware that the substance of the report could be further expanded, for example to elaborate the language and media to deliver the messages of the report to the young generation, or concerning the role of the family and social environment in promoting intercultural understanding.

The purpose of the report has been to launch a process of debates and action.




Since the official presentation of the report at the Council of Europe Ministerial Session in Istanbul in May 2011, I have travelled all over Europe to discuss it and one fundamental issue has received strong interest everywhere. How are we going to continue to live together in Europe given the increasing diversity of our societies?

The Living Together report was also well received when it was presented to representatives of civil society, the media or to high-level officials as was the case in Berlin with Joschka Fischer, at Chatham House in London with Timothy Garton Ash, in Rome with Emma Bonino, and in political fora such as the Bled Strategic Forum where President Danilo Türk hosted a round-table on the topic of the report.

I have received letters of support from President José Manuel Barroso, President Herman Van Rompuy, Commissioner Viviane Reding, Commissioner Laszlo Andor, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and many other prominent personalities - so public and political awareness is there.

Several recommendations from the "Living Together" report call for a joint follow-up action by the Council of Europe and the European Union. In this context I met Commissioner Cecilia Malmström in November last year, to discuss initiatives aimed at further awareness-raising about some of the main challenges addressed by the report, in particular, a possible joint high-level meeting to address the issue of hate speech. Indeed combating hate speech should become a key priority.

We need a common European response. Is this possible? How can we generate it? These are not easy questions as each country is different and there is not a "one-size-fits-all" approach. In fact – 90 percent of efforts and 90 percent of funding to manage diversity is deployed locally – in towns, districts, communities and sometimes the local structures are simply overwhelmed by the task. This is one of the paradoxes when we continue to try to find local solutions to globally-generated problems.

In a Europe of open borders – we need a concerted answer. The Roma issue is a good testimony as countries both from the origin and the destination of Roma migration have to be involved, and Roma people have never had a kin-State to advocate their interests. Prime Minister Erdogan can be outspoken on the question of the Turkish migrants, not only in Germany, but most migrants will never find an outspoken advocate. The whole of Europe must speak for them.

The Council of Europe is trying to help with solutions. We work hard on the human rights of asylum-seekers and migrants. We strive to help resolve the problem of more than 15 million irregular migrants in Europe. These individuals represent a population of a mid-size country, but are without any basic rights. We aim to help to resolve the problem of stateless persons by pursuing concrete intercultural programmes. One of the most successful programmes is the joint EU-CoE project on "intercultural cities". We should be doing more to strengthen it.

We have reached a point in time when we need both strong, high-level political commitment and concrete impulse for action. It is true that the European agenda is now dominated by the euro crisis and the gloomr of recession, let us however not be misled by this, the reason for anxiety and gloom is deeper and political leaders must restore the deeper sense of security and confidence in our societies. I like to call it "deep security".

The Council of Europe needs your support to promote these issues. We are now considering a high-level political meeting at the beginning of November this year under the Albanian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, which will be devoted to the Living Together theme. We need a regular event to exchange our views on the European response as it will not come with a single stroke.

But we also need more than just a talk shop. Let me insist on the fact that the "Living Together" report calls first of all for concrete action. We all know that the situation may get worse if nothing is done. It is critical that the true picture of the situation is given when drawing up action (there are too many stereotypes, in particular of migrants, too many myths, too many distortions which influence the public mentality) and to provide a responsible, visible and durable leadership, by politicians and leaders of all professions, including by celebrities and role models.

All actors have their share of responsibility in finding common ground to overcome an issue crucial to furthering cohesion and unity within and between our societies, but I think that our primary task should be to call for this renewed responsibility and commitment by European leaders to:

Firstly, move the debate on migration from emotion to facts (cultural diversity is a historical feature of Europe and is here to stay). We have to learn to live with it. To benefit from it.

Secondly, stand up and clearly speak out against extremism, discrimination, racism and intolerance towards any social, cultural or religious group; and ensure that the mainstream political rhetoric in Europe promotes sustainable integration and takes a clear stand against hate speech.

Thirdly, recall the fundamental values which bind us all together (as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights) and the absolute necessity to abide by them without giving up one's religious or ethnic identity.

Our action should be broadly implemented – but youth should be a special target. It all starts with education. The young generation is our future. We need to develop a strong tolerance for diversity. Sometimes it is about simple things like teaching foreign languages. Scientists have proved that any new foreign language acquired by a person enriches the mirror neurons in her/his brain and that is exactly the part responsible for empathy. More empathy means more tolerance. The European Union should launch a big programme on teaching foreign languages not only for school-age children. Europe in all corners needs multilingualism.

Europe of diversity and social dynamism can be built only on the basis of the respect for the right of everyone to choose her/his own identity. We are witnessing the trend towards multiple identities. People want to enjoy in themselves the richness of being a Moroccan and a French; a Turk and a German. But the identity and rights of the local culture has also to be respected. Yet the trend towards multiple citizenship is also unstoppable. Expats should be allowed to vote in local elections also outside the EU. We have a convention to this end, but it needs to be universalised.

Well-integrated migrants should be offered citizenship as early as reasonably possible. We should accept that some people integrate fast and should feel as normal citizens.



Religions are deep markers of identity; the Council of Europe has started regular debates on interreligious dialogue; we need to add more profile to these debates; too often religions are used as a convenient cover for extremism and intolerance; too often they are used as pretext to question the need for diversity.

I am deeply convinced that all this is also about the image of Europe as such, that is why we need to have a European answer to the common challenge of living together in our increasingly diverse societies. How can we make a credible advertisement for the European model of democracy and social cohesion, if we are not successful at home?

The Council of Europe needs your support, dear Presidents. In your functions at home you embody the harmony, solidarity and cohesion of your nations. We need this type of harmony in diversity across the continent.

Thank you.