Innlegg på Oslosenterets seminar om Europa

Oslo, 19. mai 2015

Statssekretær Ingvild Næss Stubs innlegg på Oslosenterets seminar "Er demokratiet i Europa på tilbakegang?" 19. mai 2015.

  • Thank you Mr. Bondevik. Minister Helgesen is sorry that he couldn’t be here tonight, he is in Paris for discussions on another challenge facing Europe: dealing with climate change.  
  • There is no reason to be complacent about the state of democracy in Europe. I am, however, an optimist, so let me start somewhere else.
  • Eleven years ago, I worked as head of information at the European Movement in Oslo. We had a small secretariat of three employees, so among my many responsibilities was cleaning out the organisation’s library. Around the time of the historic EU enlargement in May 2004, I was throwing away old brochures when I came across a series of reports by Norwegian foreign policy think tanks from the early 90s. They all argued that the fall of the Soviet Union would or could lead to a belt of instability and “banana republics” in our immediate neighbourhood in the Baltics.
  • I mention this because any discussion on the state of democracy in Europe has to acknowledge how much more democratic our continent is today than 25 years ago. Rule of law extends farther than it has at any previous point in European history.
  • It was, of course, to some extent this fear of what post-Soviet Europe would look like that led to the clear conditionality that faced all the newly democratic states of Europe when they sought entry to the Council of Europe, Nato and not least the European Union. The accession process provided a clear framework for democratization and justice sector reform. Among Europe’s present challenges is safeguarding the progress that was made then, and to avoid “backsliding”, after the rigours of the accession process have been removed.
  • That is, however, not the only challenge. It is not so surprising that a Europe beset by challenges both domestic and external is facing legitimacy issues, with great populist upsurges on both fringes and falling trust levels on both national and European level, in both newer and older democracies. It does, however, call for clear political leadership. We are all responsible for defending democratic principles. Not least when it is our friends and partners that walk away from them. And we should react when the first steps are taken. Because when the last steps are taken it’s too late.
  • Let me point to three examples:
    • Hungary: Some find it odd that the Norwegian government has had opinions on the political developments in Hungary. But the political decisions breaching the agreement on the running of our EEA Grants in Hungary, and the no less political harassment of NGOs administering civil society funds from Norway have forced us to be very clear about the need to respect agreements and fundamental values. We have called for clearer political reaction from EU institutions and EU member states on the development in Hungary, and we have been happy to see several member states including Germany and Poland react in the latest months.
    • In the reactions to the conflict in Ukraine, it has been important for Norway to stand with our allies in Nato and our partners in the EU to react with both reassurance of our allies, support for the aspirations and reforms of Ukraine and restrictive measures against the clear breaches of international law committed by Russia. We continue our co-operation on a number of central issues to do with our joint border and marine resources.
    • Renewed discussion about the legitimacy and role of the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. As the foreign minister made clear in his White Paper on human rights, the government considers these essential instruments of individual liberty and dignity, and will work to safeguard their legitimacy. These institutions have allowed us Europeans to be, quite literally, our brother’s keeper, monitoring and safeguarding the state of human rights in our neighbouring countries. That is worth fighting for.
  • Mr. Walesa mentioned that his generation achieved something historic, and we all clearly agree. His remark reminded me of the national day we just celebrated. The last lines of the national anthem go something like this: As our fathers’ vict’ry gave it/Peace for one and all/We shall rally, too, to save it/When we hear the call. I think every generation has to be ready to work and fight to safeguard our democracy, and I think ours should hear the call.
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