Vice president of the European Commission responsible for Institutional
relations and Communication strategy
Anna Lindh Award Ceremony
The summer of 2006 was an exceptionally beautiful and warm one for much of Europe.
We travelled, or maybe we just enjoyed lazy days at home with barbecues and chilled wine, lingering on the lawn until dusk invaded the summer garden...
Yet this beautiful hot summer pierced an ice cold hole through our hearts as the TV brought us, evening after evening, images of WAR.
Once more we experienced the powerful effect of direct and intrusive media coverage.
The world could not be shut out from even the sunniest beach. We felt we were there on the spot, wearing our bathing clothes among the bombed buildings of Beirut, or accompanying a wounded child on a stretcher.
How do we react? With anger? Resignation? Despair?
Maybe with a mixture of all those feelings.
Should we ignore it all? Just get A LITTLE upset? Or should we get involved?
And HOW do we bring about a change?
In the European Union, Member States get involved by contributing humanitarian aid, dealing with environmental degradation such as oil spills and water pollution, evacuating their own and third country nationals and, of course, making political, diplomatic and military peace efforts.
The largest contingents of soldiers in the UN Peace Keeping forces are those sent by EU countries.
On a recent visit to Sweden, the writer Amos Oz found wise words to express many of our thoughts on currents events. He gave us hope by offering us three ’antidotes’ to fanaticism.
In his view, the real confrontation of our time is not between civilisations, between north and south or between Islam and the rest of the world. It is between fanatics and those who believe in life.
The trial of strength that really matters is between fanaticism and tolerance. And he does not urge weapons and violence to combat fanaticism. The three antidotes are within us:
Being able to imagine the Other. Being able to put oneself in the Other’s place without necessarily agreeing or sympathising. Others would call this respect.
Personally, I am convinced that empathy, together with direct encounters with ‘the others’, are the most effective ‘vaccine’ against xenophobia and fear. Amos Oz says that empathy makes us better people and thus the world becomes a more enjoyable place.
We must cultivate our ability to become fascinated, to want to find out more, to investigate.
Curiosity involves listening: we have to be able to listen and to receive. We must be open to new impressions and arguments.
We must tune in to the human voice, even amid the explosion of bombs and the shriek of missiles.
Who listens to the voices of women and children?
They have become the first victims of war, they who were to shape the future, get an education, marry the boy next door, write books, make scientific discoveries or just play... with something that looked like a toy but exploded like a cluster bomb.
The third antidote is A SENSE OF HUMOUR.
We must be able to laugh at ourselves. Personally I consider humour a sign of intelligence. And if we can laugh at ourselves we distinguish ourselves from the fanatics who cannot see themselves as others do.
So the people who avoid fanaticism are those who can put themselves in another person’s place, laugh at themselves and learn to compromise.
Amos Oz encouraged us to do our little bit. "But isn’t it futile to pour a spoonful of water on a blazing fire?" somebody objected - and received the answer, "the alternative to doing just a little is to do nothing at all".
I think Anna Lindh would have appreciated that answer!
And she would have added: "Just imagine all those spoonfuls creating a whole sea!"...
Every few months, the EU's national leaders pose for what is called the ‘family photo’. In these pictures – mostly of men in dark suits – Anna Lindh shone like a bright berry in a dark forest.
This week marks the third anniversary of her brutal murder. In Sweden and in many other parts of the world, not least in the countries of the EU, her memory lives on.
Anna Lindh wanted the European Union to be better at preventing and managing crises, both inside and outside Europe. Thanks to her vision and energy, and despite initial reticence, the EU did finally decide to set up a civilian crisis management capability in parallel with its military capability.
On two occasions during Anna Lindh’s time as Minister for Foreign Affairs, the EU’s ability to prevent civil war was put to the test – first in the Former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia and then, in 2003, in the Democratic republic of Congo.
On both occasions the EU passed that test – and Anna Lindh's influence played its part. Today, Macedonia is a promising candidate for EU membership and in the Congo the EU has monitored the first democratic presidential elections since the 1960s.
The EU and its Member States continue to work at crisis management, and the list of what has already been achieved is impressive. There are currently 12 different civilian and military EU operations underway around the world, the largest of which is in the Balkans.
The EU is also active in Georgia and Moldova, the Palestinian territories, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Aceh.
Following the war in Lebanon, the countries of the EU are to provide around 7000 troops for the UN peacekeeping force, as well as a substantial amount of reconstruction aid.
Aid is, of course, another important tool for promoting peace and development. The European Union is the world’s largest aid donor.
In fact, more than half the world’s development aid and humanitarian assistance comes from EU countries or the European Commission.
Closer to home, the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy – which came about partly on the initiative of Anna Lindh – is being used to promote peace, stability and prosperity in the regions beyond our borders.
Neighbourhood Policy covers the whole area to the east of the EU as far as the southern Caucasus, as well as the Middle East and North Africa. By offering these countries – if they meet certain conditions - greater access to the EU’s internal market and our development programmes, we can help increase their prosperity and democracy.
If desired, this process can be used to prepare States for “candidate country” status, thus paving the way for eventual EU membership negotiations.
This may well be the future for the Balkan countries. As we see it, long-term peace, stability, democracy and economic development in the Balkan region can best be guaranteed within the framework of closer ties with the European Union and future EU membership.
The process is happening before our eyes. Montenegro has just taken its first steps on the difficult path to becoming a functioning state and a constructive force in the Balkans. In Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, democratic forces are fighting a tough battle against extremists who wish to turn back the clock.
To most European countries, EU membership is a prize worth working for. The Union has always acted as a magnet to its neighbours. In years past it has brought former dictatorships and ex-Communist countries into the European family of democratic nations.
The prospect of accession, and the negotiation process itself, thus acts as a powerful force for change within the candidate country.
This force for change is perhaps most visible today in Turkey, where significant economic and political reforms are on the way to being implemented in order to meet the criteria for EU membership.
This is what the political scientist Mark Leonard calls Europe’s “transformative power.” As he puts it: “The worst thing that Europe can do is not to engage with a country but, on the contrary, to turn its back on it”.
Europe’s transforming power is a ‘soft’ power that achieves its effect through the threat of non-intervention – the threat of withdrawing the EU’s hand of friendship if democratisation does not proceed or if human rights are violated.
Europe’s approach to building peace in the world is based on long-term cooperation, gradually creating democratic structures and reforming government. Step by step it reshapes the world.
It is that approach which Anna Lindh believed in, and it is that goal she worked for.
Now the ‘two-fold’ summer of 2006 – the summer that was both wonderful and horrible – has turned into autumn. What will we, in Europe, do to support the survivors who face a homeless autumn in Lebanon or Israel? What will each one of us do to further the cause of peace on this planet?
It is in us that anger and compassion has to grow. We are the ones who have to listen, to take the floor at meetings, to make a donation and to build friendships that cross borders. Real human friendships.
Building friendship takes time.
It is a gradual, constructive process.
But the result – real friendship – is priceless.
And it lasts.