Speech/statement | Date: 2016-11-22 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
State Secretary Elsbeth Tronstad's statement at a seminar about the main human rights challenges in Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be here today, and I am particularly pleased to welcome you to Norway, Michael.
Respect for fundamental rights and freedoms is essential to well-functioning democracies. Without freedom of speech and information, an independent media, or right to assemble freely - democracy becomes nothing but an empty shell. Our policies are based on the firm conviction that democracy and respect for human rights are preconditions for securing peace and stability, both within and between states. Democratic norms and practices based on checks and balances are vital foundations for lasting peace.
Europe has come a long way since the cold war. But none of us can – or should - take the respect for democratic principles, rule of law and human rights for granted.
All European countries have committed to the same human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, recent signs and trends are worrying. We receive reports of increased xenophobia, antisemitism, and discrimination of vulnerable groups. The increasing pressure on civil society in parts of Europe gives cause for serious concern.
The right of human rights defenders to enjoy the same rights and freedoms as everyone else is a key priority for Norway. As they are particularly exposed, it is still necessary to focus on measures to increase the protection and the awareness of human rights defenders worldwide.
The aim of the EEA and Norway Grants is to improve the economic and social conditions in the 15 beneficiary countries.
Programme areas include Roma inclusion and empowerment, strengthening of civil society, good governance andnational implementation of human rights obligations.
The future belongs to all of us. We must ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to lead a prosperous life.
- That Roma children can go to normal schools and get a good education;
- That LGBTI people are respected for who they are; and
- That refugees and migrants are met with respect, in accordance with our international obligations and national legislation.
This is our common moral obligation as partners and citizens of Europe.
It is clear that - the EU Fundamental Rights Agency - and the EEA/Norway Grants share the same ambitions for the development of Europe. They are both based on principles of good governance, respect for human rights and human dignity.
All programmes of the EEA and Norway grants shall adhere to core European values and universal rights and freedoms such as democracy and the rule of law. This also includes protecting the rights of people belonging to minorities and fostering gender equality. These values are fundamental to all our programmes for economic and social development in the receiving states.
A developed civil society is a cornerstone of any true democracy. At least 10% of the amount for the EEA grants of 1,5 billion euros is targeted for civil society. Amongst key areas for support to civil society are active citizenship, human rights, minority rights, gender equality and environment.
Our cooperation with the FRA includes obtaining advice on how best to implement programmes and projects in beneficiary states as well as other forms of cooperation, such as co-organising conferences. I recently had the pleasure of attending one of these conferences in Bratislava on the topic "Ensuring cross-border justice for all in the EU."
The political, economic and social challenges Europe is facing are our common challenges. We can only create a greener, more competitive and more inclusive Europe if we work together. Joint efforts will benefit us all.
Let me conclude by stating that lack of democracy, and lack of respect for the rights of the individual, are very much at the origin of most of the crises that unfold before us. Globally, the response to democratic aspirations has often been violence, a crackdown on civil society and human rights defenders. We see the devastating consequences every day – as millions flee to escape unbearable situations. Lack of security, rise of extremism and the shrinking space for civil society are some of the most pressing concerns the international community has to address. It is more important than ever that we stand together - in Europe and beyond - to safeguard and promote those values that provides the foundation for a robust and prosperous society for all.