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Statement at the Ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe

Statement at the Ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe
Helsinki, Thursday 16 May 2019

President Niinistö,
Minister Soïni,
Secretary General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to focus on two words: THEN and NOW in order to mark this commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe.

THEN

70 years ago, we were a continent devasted by the most terrible conflict in mankind's history, a society deeply wounded by colossal loss of life and deep mistrust.

We were adrift of our moral compass. Of those who witnessed the unimaginable – the Holocaust – many had lost all trust in the fundamental values of humanity. Some even argued that the Second World War was the end of civilisation.

It is against this picture of destruction, suffering and moral disarray, that we see our phoenix rising, the Treaty of London and the establishment of the Council of Europe.

"Let Europe arise!" said Sir Winston Churchill in his famous Zurich speech in 1948. "We cannot afford to drag forward across the years to come hatreds and revenges which have sprung from the injuries of the past…. Let there be justice, mercy and freedom!" he affirmed.

Just imagine what these words meant at that time.

For myself, as a politician, the symbolic significance of the establishment of the Council of Europe, was its political mission: to re-build trust between peoples, to reinvigorate dialogue and co-operation among nations and create a solid foundation for lasting peace and unity between countries.

For myself, as an individual, and as a woman, the significance of the establishment of the Council of Europe was to give Europeans a moral compass and to protect and promote the rights of everyone, without discrimination, on our continent.

How proud would Winston Churchill and the women and men who supported the European project be if they could see how this organisation has become the "common European home" to 830 million citizens and a multilateral forum for co-operation among 47 member States.

Could they have imagined agreement on more than 200 Conventions – many highly innovative and ground-breaking, or the setting up of unique legal mechanisms to protect social rights as well as some of the most vulnerable, such as those in detention, victims of domestic violence and child abuse.

Could the key drafters of the European Convention on Human Rights, Pierre-Henri Teitgen and Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe ever have imagined the European Court of Human Rights and its former Commission handling over 840,000 petitions since 1949?

In Europe's so called "darkest hour" in 1940 and 1941, could anyone have imagined creating a multilateral institutional mechanism of co-operation, with the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law?

Many of you will remember exactly where you were in 1989 when the Berlin wall came down. You will know the role played by the Council of Europe in its aftermath extending the common Pan-European legal space to 830 million persons. For 415 million women in Europe, it has brought them closer to equality with 415 million men. If you look at the first 7 photographs on the 70th Anniversary web site of the Council of Europe, you will count 57 men and no women. In this room today, you can do your own count to see the progress and what still has to be achieved.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

THEN and NOW:

Now the political mission is as relevant as it was 70 years ago.

Now, unfortunately the ideal of European unity is being put to a serious test with backsliding on fundamental rights and freedoms, with worrying nationalist, populist and authoritarian trends, and with new dividing lines and conflicts emerging on our Continent.

Now, in the face of these challenges, we can and must recall the basic principles that form the foundations of what has become our "Common European Home".

I am deeply convinced that what unites us – our common history and our firm desire to make Europe a peaceful and prosperous place to live – is stronger than the disagreements, divisions and conflicts we have to face.

But, ladies and gentlemen, it is not just a question of then and now, it is also a question of tomorrow and the future.

As Sir Winston Churchill 71 years ago said in Zurich, "the peoples have only to will it and all will achieve their heart's desire…!".

If we want to achieve ours, we must shoulder our responsibilities and stand for our rights, our freedoms and our Europe. Then, Europe will have a bright future, for the next 70 years and the many generations to come.

Thank you.