On this New Year’s Eve 2019, I would like to wish all European citizens and the authorities of the 47 member States of the Council of Europe peace and good health.
This year will be particularly symbolic for the Council of Europe, which celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2019. This is a time for all of us to remember the incredible success of the European project which our Organisation upholds. Made up initially of only 10 countries, the Council of Europe today numbers 47 member States and brings together more than 820 million people, providing them with a common legal framework for the protection of fundamental human rights. In a Europe deeply wounded by the ravages of the Second World War and divided by ideological confrontation, such a thing seemed impossible when the Treaty of London was signed on 5 May 1949!
These 70 years of political commitment and tireless effort to build peace and promote prosperity in Europe have been rewarded with remarkable progress in reinforcing our democratic institutions, legal systems and social model. However, we must not forget that the political, economic and social context in Europe remains fragile. Added to this are new security threats, often associated with the continued presence of international terrorism, as recently seen in Strasbourg, the European capital and host city of the Council of Europe, but also associated with unresolved conflicts both on our continent and beyond our borders. Finally, let us not forget the rise of extremism and populism in our member States and the challenge this phenomenon poses to our institutions and, regardless of political outlook, the forces of democracy..
Confronting these challenges, I remain profoundly convinced that the idea of European unity promoted by the Council of Europe is as relevant as ever. I would therefore like to make three wishes for this New Year.
Firstly, I hope that 2019 will be a year of peace, both internationally and nationally. Confrontation must give way to respectful and constructive dialogue within our democratic institutions and our multilateral organisations.
Secondly, I hope that 2019 will be a year of human, social and economic development and that we will continue our efforts to overcome the inequalities that are tearing our societies apart. These inequalities are not only social and economic. Some are much more subtle because they are rooted in stereotypes and prejudices, such as persistent inequalities between women and men. We must denounce these prejudices with all our might in order to achieve genuine equality.
Finally, I hope that 2019 – despite the fragmentation, isolationism and lack of solidarity we see all around us – will turn out to be a year of coming together. We must always remember that the difficulties confronting us - whether threats to international peace and security, climate change or managing migration and sustainable development, to name but a few - require joint and ongoing efforts by all of us. We must therefore overcome our differences and focus on what we hold in common in order to move forward together towards more progress, better justice and greater freedom.
I am quite sure that, guided by these three ideas, the Council of Europe is ready to take on the challenges Europe faces while remaining a space for reflection, exchange and working together inclusively, and that it will continue to defend our rights, our freedoms and our precious Europe just as it has done for the last 70 years.