26 August 2014

Speech by Minister Fitzgerald at European Remembrance Day

Lighting a Candle of Remembrance
European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Totalitarian Regimes

Conference “Molotov-Ribbentrop pact 75: Echoes today” - 23 August, 2014

Thank you, Minister Bērziņš, for the words of welcome to this very important event.

We can never allow ourselves to forget the horrors of this period in European history.  We can only have confidence that these horrors will not be repeated when we face the past honesty and with rigour and when there is accountability within all societies for the crimes of the past.  Not a glorification of empire, or of tyrants, but a willingness to look into the dark soul of the past and make a brighter and freer and fairer future for one’s own people while living at peace with one’s neighbours.

Making sure that the wars and industrialised genocides of the 20th century cannot be repeated requires courage and vigilance from all of us.  For EU Member States it requires being true to our values and it requires that we practice what we preach.  It requires us to reject intolerance and give special recognition to vulnerable minorities, including Roma and other national or linguistic minorities as well as sexual minorities.

Members of the European Union sign up on accession to a set of values that include democracy, protection of fundamental rights of all and the Rule of Law.   At the start of the Irish Presidency in 2013, we suggested the need to have a real debate with ourselves in Europe about the re-emergence of extreme forms of intolerance.  We suggested that contemporary Europe needs to reflect carefully on where we are in the second decade of the 21st century and about the real problems we face and that we need to look at how we can ensure that all Member States live up fully to the values that are enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty.  We need to stop a slide backwards and to counter the emergence of attitudes and actions towards minorities and towards the exercise of political power that we had thought had been thoroughly exorcised from the free half of our continent. 

To that end, we called for debate on the need for a mechanism to ensure adherence to our common values, promote the Rule of Law and better protect fundamental rights in the Union and put this on the agenda of Justice and Home Affairs Ministers.  This initiative culminated in EU JHA Council Conclusions in June 2013 which asked the Commission to take forward a debate on the possible need for such a mechanism.   We were delighted to welcome the EU Commission’s proposals for a three-stage Rule of Law Framework which it published on 11 March 2014.

One of the themes in our approach to this topic was concern at the apparent rise in xenophobia - including anti-Semitism and other extreme forms of intolerance, including homophobia - within the European Union and the failure in some cases to respond adequately.   Another important theme was concern about ensuring coherence as between the internal and external dimension of EU human rights policy.  It is of critical importance to our credibility in the EU that we are seen to practice what we preach, which is where I started.

We think it is time now to take the next step forward, which is to put an internal human rights policy in place to complement the external human rights policy developed by the External Action Service.  An internal policy framework should be based on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is part of EU law.  In some of our societies people have grown a bit jaded and cynical.  A visit to the Building on the Corner, which we saw last night, is a good cure for that.  But in other places, the European ideal and our values still resonate, still shine like a beacon.   Putting an internal fundamental rights/human rights framework in place will show that we take these values seriously and that we are not afraid to take a close look at ourselves and how we live up to these values in practice, because, of course, none of us are perfect and there is always room for improvement. 

It would also be a fitting response to the crimes we commemorate today and to contemporary reminders that the attitudes that created these horrors still exist.   This is an agenda that we hope future Presidencies will take forward.

Thank you all.

With Latvian Foreign Minister Bērziņš and Irish Ambassador to Latvia, Aidan Kirwan.