Lisbon Forum 2017: Interconnecting People“Managing migration, avoiding populism, building inclusive societies and reinforcing the North-South Dialogue”

Lisbon , 

As delivered

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Over more than twenty years the Lisbon Forum has forged a reputation as a place for informed debate on the big issues relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

This year is no exception.

Managing migration.  Avoiding populism.  Building inclusive societies.  And of course reinforcing the North-South Dialogue.

All of these are weighty and pressing issues, closely interconnected and bound together in a causal chain. They cannot be solved in isolation.

In opening the Forum, I therefore want to speak briefly about each of these elements, how they relate to one another, and what steps the Council of Europe is taking to address them as highlighted in Populism – how strong are our checks and balances?, our Secretary General’s 2017 report on the State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe.

On migration, we all know that Europe has experienced enormous flows of people in recent years and that South-South flows have increased too. 

We also all know that some of these people are fleeing from horrifying situations, others simply seeking a new life with real opportunities for themselves and for their families.

Now, let me be clear: it is not for the Council of Europe to regulate migration flows.

But where member states’ migration policies have implications for people’s human rights, then our role is clear.

Indeed, when anyone sets foot on the soil of one of our member states, that person is covered by the European Convention on Human Rights.

How individual states deal with this challenge varies of course.

Here in Portugal you can be proud of your approach, Minister.

When migrants arrive on these shores they are not detained or kept waiting.

They are housed quickly and efficiently throughout Portugal and their integration well managed.

Of course the flow of people to this country is lighter than it is to others.

For some European countries the rate, as we know, is close to overwhelming.

But even when their number is high, the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights must apply.

And we, at the Council of Europe, remain proactive.

Our Secretary General, Thorbjørn Jagland, has committed the Council of Europe to playing a key role in assisting member states to respond to the many problems affecting refugee and migrant children.

In particular, we are focussing on the plight of those children who are unaccompanied or who have been separated from their families.

From dealing with frontline emergency situations to helping children build their future, we can provide support for the actions that member states are obliged to take.

To that end, the Council of Europe has produced an Action Plan, Protecting Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe.

It rests on three pillars:

Ensuring access to rights and child-friendly procedures.

Promoting effective protection, including family reunification, and

Enhancing the integration of children who would remain in Europe.

Between now and 2019 we will work with our partners in the EU, the UN, NGOs and other stakeholders on specific actions that will deliver in each of these three areas.

We salute the efforts of other international organisations to deliver better outcomes for asylum seekers and refugees and we will work with them towards developing the Global Compact on Migration.

The solutions we propose will give Council of Europe member states ownership of an approach that will meet their obligations and pay a dividend for some of Europe’s most vulnerable people.

That sense of ownership and impact is also important in tackling another problem, namely the scourge of resurgent populism.

But what do we exactly mean by that term?

Populism is an appeal to widespread public grievances that seeks to exclude other voices.

Populists claim to speak on behalf of the people, and they are prepared to dismantle the checks and balances that stand in their way.

They may call into question the legitimacy of the judiciary – and, ultimately, human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

In recent times we have seen populist parties gaining ground in many European countries.

There is no question that increased levels of migration have provided fuel for their fire.

But the oxygen is provided by broader set of circumstances.

Populism takes root where large numbers of citizens are deprived of opportunities;

Where they have lost trust in their institutions: parliaments, governments or courts;

And where minorities have not been integrated effectively into wider society.

Avoiding populism requires states to take a long, hard look at themselves.

Their leaders must be willing to make the hard choices that are necessary.

It may mean democratic reforms to a country’s national institutions.

Or ensuring vital checks on the executive, or bolstering civil society, or taking steps to guarantee the freedom of the media.

Critically, from a Council of Europe perspective, it means also finding ways to build inclusive societies in the context of migration and populist rhetoric.

What we are finding, however, is that living together is becoming increasingly challenging.

We live in fragmented times, in Europe and around the world.

Fragmented by xenophobia and Islamophobia, nationalism and populism, terrorism and fear, poverty and economic hardship.

And fragmented too by mass migration, involving the many people moving around the planet to escape conflict and danger.

Against this backdrop the question is: how do we bridge divides within and between our societies, fostering trust and understanding?

The reality is that there are no quick fixes.

But at the Council of Europe we believe that any state wishing to build an inclusive society, which also implies managing cultural diversity successfully, must meet certain conditions.

First, these states must have in place the right measures to prevent discrimination.

Indeed, all states that are members of the Council of Europe, and thus party to the European Convention on Human Rights, must have robust anti-discrimination laws.

And these must be properly implemented in order to protect vulnerable groups, minorities, migrants, and asylum seekers.

These laws and their implementation are strictly monitored by ECRI, our Commission against Racism and Intolerance.

And, of course, individuals who feel discriminated against by the authorities are able to bring their complaints to the European Court of Human Rights, which protects liberties enshrined in the Convention.

Next, states must guarantee social rights, not just of minorities, but for wider society too.

The politics of anger and xenophobia which we are seeing in many places is fuelled, at least in part, by social and economic grievance.

Where citizens feel that they are deprived of quality education, and decent health care, adequate housing and employment opportunities, it is easier to stoke prejudice.

By contrast, where citizens can be more confident that their social rights will be guaranteed, they are less resentful; they have less need for someone to blame.

Third, well-managed cultural diversity requires democratic citizenship education, respect for cultural rights and intercultural dialogue: these are the ingredients that will enable a society to move forward together, reconciling different identities on the basis of shared values.

But this is only possible where individuals can come to the discussion with some understanding of their own identity, and are able to communicate respectfully with those who see the world differently.

At the Council of Europe we believe that teaching young people respect for other ways of life is a priority.

This is why we have invested in a ground-breaking new initiative to develop competences for democratic culture which can be taught across Europe’s schools.

We also advocate intercultural dialogue from the early school years, train young people against hate speech on the internet and support cultural exchanges at all ages.

In this framework, fighting Islamophobia will be a priority in our next bi-annual Programme of Activities.

I should also mention our successful Intercultural Cities network, through which dozens of cities worldwide pioneer strategies and policies to manage and benefit from their diversity.  

In conclusion:

Access to the rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights by all those present on the European soil, access to socio-economic rights as set out in the Revised European Social Charter, anti-discrimination laws, education for a democratic culture, cultural rights, policies of inclusion and integration: these are vital means by which we counter the problems that are going to be discussed here today and tomorrow.

So it gives me great pleasure to be here with you today, where we can discuss these critical issues and make progress together.

This Forum is becoming an established pillar of multilateral dialogue with neighbouring countries where North-South dialogue can flourish – and it is a strong recognition of the successful work of the North-South Centre.

I therefore wish you all a successful Forum.