20101014-Bruxelles

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5th EU Forum on the Rights of the Child
Speech by Ms Maud de Boer-Buquicchio,
Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe

 

Brussels, 14 October 2010

Vice-President Reding,
Vice-President Angelilli,
Minister de Clerck,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

If we had to qualify the times we are living at the moment in Europe, which adjective would be most appropriate?

Let’s explore a few of them:

We may say that the times we are living are worrying. There is the economic crisis with its disastrous consequences and the “citizenship fatigue”, with more and more people renouncing to exercise their political rights because they have lost trust in politicians and public institutions.
There is the fear of the difference that leads to exclusion and even hatred and the threat of terrorism which has become a part of our daily lives.
And there is the tremendous impact that economic, social and political crisis have on millions of children in Europe.

We may also say that the times we are living are fascinating. New technologies offer fantastic opportunities for economic growth, communication, participation, influence, creativity, innovation. Borders become less and less visible and cultures and religions grow together. The children of the digital era have the whole world at a mouse-click distance. They are all born in the cradle of a promising treaty: the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

However, personally I would choose a different adjective to qualify the times we are living in. I would say that these are crucial times for Europe.

Vice-President Reding,

You recently stated that Europe is not just a common market: it is also a community of values and fundamental rights. I could not agree more. For more than 60 years, the Council of Europe has invested all its energy in building a continent based on the solid foundations which are our shared values: democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Our continent has given birth to two instruments of peace, the European Union and the Council of Europe.

The times we are living in are putting our design to the test. It is crucial that we show that we are the best chance our continent has to find the solution to all the challenges, the threats and the problems. We have to prove that we are also the perfect forum in which new opportunities can flourish through diversity, participation, creativity, innovation and empowerment.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

From all people in Europe, children are certainly those who need us most. They need strong institutions who, in addition to stating their commitment for the protection and promotion of children’s rights, design effective and visionary strategies likely to address all existing and future challenges.

Designing a strategy is much more than deciding on tactics. It is creating the conditions for sustainable, effective and meaningful action. This includes mobilising and involving all stakeholders, creating a convincing movement towards an objective which is not only shared, but also cherished.

You now may say I am a dreamer… but I’m not the only one! In 2006, the Council of Europe decided to launch its programme “Building a Europe for and with children”. This was our first step to an unprecedented mobilisation of our Organisation’s forces for the promotion of children’s rights. After intensive consultations, negotiations and needs’ assessments, we started designing a strategy which has already borne its fruit. Because of time constraints, I will not get into the description of the results of this work. I will rather concentrate on the lessons learnt from the process, lessons which I encourage the European Union to take into account.

First lesson:
Leave no room for ambiguity in the commitment for children’s rights. As I said earlier, it’s crucial to keep on track in times of trouble. The entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and the imminent accession of the European Union to the European Convention of Human Rights should notably lead you towards the eradication of all forms of violence against children. As you know, the Council of Europe has launched a campaign against corporal punishment of children. Twenty-two European countries have now outlawed this socially tolerated form of violence against children. I trust we can join forces to make sure that Europe becomes a continent free of corporal punishment, as it is an essential step towards the full recognition of children as rights holders.

Second lesson:
The protection of children’s rights calls for an integrated strategy. This means that addressing a specific problem becomes a piece of a much larger puzzle. The strategy identifies the overall aim, the actions, the actors, the resources. All the small pieces of the puzzle are assembled slowly but surely, to form the picture we want.

Third lesson:
In order for a strategy to work, you have to create the conditions internally. I am referring here to the need to invest in team building, communication and empowerment.

Ms Reding,

Under your leadership, the EU strategy on the Rights of the Child has the potential to become that shared and cherished instrument that all Commissioners and other EU institutions will use to advance children’s rights. An inter-institutional task force for children’s rights is a good way to involve all main players and obtain the most out of their combined potential. A “child-impact assessment” tool should allow you to anticipate the impact that EU policies or norms might have on children and make adjustments, if necessary. At the Council of Europe, we have succeded in mobilising all our bodies and institutions around a common strategy for and with children. The child’s rights perspective is now present in virtually all policy areas: justice, education, health, social cohesion, minorities, people with disabilities, information society… to name but a few.

Fourth lesson:
Use your partnership potential to increase the efficiency, visibility and the impact of your results. The Council of Europe is of course willing to join forces with the Commission and we are certainly not short of ideas and suggestions! This very meeting is devoted to two topics in which the Council of Europe is extremely active: child participation and child-friendly justice. On 29 November, the Council of Europe will launch in Rome its campaign to eliminate sexual violence against children. The drafting of a directive against child sexual exploitation and abuse is a fantastic opportunity to promote our Convention on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse and to push some of the Council of Europe standards even further. You can count on our support also on this front.

Next week, the Council of Europe and the European Union will welcome the representatives of 47 European countries who will renew in Strasbourg their commitment for the Rights of Roma and for Roma inclusion. I believe that our two organisations could and should join forces in order to protect the rights of Roma children, notably the right to education.

The list is too long, but let me finish by mentioning the Council of Europe policy guidelines for integrated national strategies for the protection of children from violence. I really encourage you to use this document as a reference and a tool in your co-operation programmes and to guide strategic choices in your funding opportunities.

I count of course on the European Union’s most valuable contribution to our work and on the creativity and motivation of our respective teams to find new opportunities for moving on together. In November 2011, the government of Monaco will invite all Council of Europe partners to a conference with a view to design our strategy for the years 2012-2014. I hope to see you all there!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have spoken – certainly too long – about lessons learnt. Aldous Huxley once said that the most important lesson that history has to teach is… that men do not learn very much from the lessons of history!. The Council of Europe and the European Union are two wonderful peace projects emerging from the ruins of a terrible war. The most important thing that we have to keep in mind is that the values we stand for can never be taken for granted. Our mission is to keep the European flag and the values and support that it represents, always visible.

So: in these worrying, exciting and crucial times, let’s invest in a solid and child rights-based strategy. Let’s be ambitious and courageous. Let’s make sure that the times that are coming are rich, empowering, happy, fearless, bright, harmonious, encouraging or… why not, simply “super”?

Thank you for your attention.