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17 May 2005
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(To be checked against delivered speech)

Welcome address to the Youth Summit by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Terry Davis

“Saying yes to difference, shaking indifference”

Warsaw, 15 May 2005

President of the Congress,
Vice-President of the European Youth Forum,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

During my lifetime, our continent has grown out of an almost permanent state of conflict into a region where respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law are immutable imperatives.

That is not to say that the transition has always been easy and smooth. Even during the last 15 years, Europe has seen terrible wars and atrocities in the Balkans, the South Caucasus and the Russian Federation. But we have made tremendous progress.

Not so long ago Europe was a deeply divided continent. And yet it seems natural today that young people from all corners on Europe are meeting under one roof, professing the same fundamental values and sharing the same aspirations. The roots of European unity, nourished by a common culture, run deeper than the roots of political divides.

The original driving force of European unity was the tragedy and devastation of the Second World War. That was 60 years ago. Now we have a different motivation – to create a future inspired by our values.

Sociologists tell us that most young people today are more interested in personal freedom, responsibility and global solidarity than the intricacies of the political game; more eager to explore opportunities for self-development than to seek material security; a generation who prefer belonging, sharing and participating in informal groups and NGOs instead of the formal institutions and processes of democracy. In recent years, democracy has made a quantum leap on our continent and is now striding across the world. But to take democracy for granted, to “remain outside” because of disillusion or lack of interest, is to undermine the foundations of democracy.

Active participation is the key to a healthy democracy and to empowerment for the people whatever their age. However, it is a fact that most issues currently given a high place in our societies are put on the political agenda by the older generation. This is not new. It has always been like that. And that is why I believe that one of the tasks facing the Council of Europe is to promote and support education for democratic citizenship and to advocate the necessary conditions for participation by everyone, including young people, in public life. And we must attach particular importance to encouraging people, especially disadvantaged young people, to take a stand and participate at the local, grassroots level, where action can often be most effective.

In recent months, it was young people who were at the forefront of democratic movements in Georgia and Ukraine. The fact that you are here today is a proof of your engagement. You are here because you care – you care enough to make a difference.

The agenda of this Youth Summit focuses on the big issues – racism and intolerance, the future of Europe, the means to have the people’s voices heard. You have rightly chosen the Council of Europe’s Summit as the context to debate these issues: not only because the Summit is an important step along the road to greater European unity, but also because the Council of Europe is attuned to the voices of young people.

Well before the breakdown of the Berlin wall, the Council of Europe opened up to the East through youth co-operation programmes and helped to build trust and highlight the common wishes of people across Europe.

Today, our multi-cultural youth activities advocate and encourage conflict transformation and intercultural dialogue between young people - in Europe and further afield - as cornerstones of sustainable peace.

And it is young people who are driving forward the Council of Europe’s agenda on such issues as globalisation, democratic participation and the recognition of cultural diversity as a resource for European societies.

Your role as path-finders will be given full expression in undertaking the European Youth Campaign for Diversity and Participation. I am wholeheartedly behind this important initiative because racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia remain an all-too-virulent cancer in the body of Europe, and I expect your campaign to receive the full backing of the Heads of State and Government at the Summit.

“All different – all equal” was the slogan chosen 10 years ago, when the Council of Europe ran a campaign against racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and intolerance. You cannot say it shorter and more precisely – that all human beings are different in their individuality, their talents, their gifts and their potential, but that they are all equal with regard to their human rights.

To put this equality into practice, to mobilise the positive energies of young people, public policy for youth must create and maintain equality of opportunity, in other words: access to education, access to culture, access to citizenship, access to jobs – including young women, including minorities, including young people with disabilities and including young people living on the margins of society.

Young people are too often considered by authority as citizens-to-be. We in the Council of Europe treat young people as partners in the construction of a new Europe. Our unique model of co-operative and joint decision-making, which involves the representatives of governments and the representatives of youth on an equal footing, has proved an effective way to ensure the participation of young people in policy-making. Let me emphasise that point: in the Council of Europe young people are policy-makers, not just policy consumers.

The great Polish writer Stanislaw Lem once wrote “A dream will always triumph over reality, once it is given the chance”. I encourage you to take your own chance, to be dreamers and idealists, to cultivate your own vision of Europe, and I urge you to challenge the Heads of State and Government with it.