Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's speech at the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers in Helsinki on 17 May 2019

Government Communications Department 17.5.2019 9.54

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to be here today and welcome you to Helsinki. I hope that your visit here has begun well. We are honoured to host this meeting, as well as the 70th anniversary celebration yesterday.

The Council of Europe is an organisation with a mission: to secure our human rights. With its legally binding treaties and conventions, it has truly created a common legal space for Europe and Europeans. However, in recent years the trend in some quarters has been to challenge human rights. Some developments have even gone in the opposite direction. Setbacks to the Rule of Law, the freedom of the press, and women’s rights are news we would not expect to hear in today’s Europe.

Our common values, such as democracy and the Rule of Law, have been the foundation of Europe’s freedom, security and prosperity. These values should continue to unite the Member States. There cannot be any compromises regarding the Rule of Law.

It is critical to ensure that the Council’s core work in the fields of human rights, democracy and the Rule of Law continue to function effectively also in the future.

During our Presidency, we have raised issues important to us and for Europe as a whole. Our three priorities have been strengthening the system of human rights and the Rule of Law, supporting gender equality, and openness and inclusion. Our focus has also been on women’s rights, young people and the prevention of radicalization. These priorities were chosen to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. It was very important for us that civil society was able to participate in the planning of our Presidency programme.

We have also raised a variety of very topical themes, such as Artificial Intelligence. In February, we organised a High Level Conference on Artificial Intelligence and human rights. The Conference gathered experts from all around the world to discuss the effects AI is having and will have, on human rights, democracy and the Rule of Law. We appreciate the Council’s commitment to continue its work on these questions.

As a former entrepreneur, I also want to underline the value of this organisation’s work for the economy. Its work on human rights, democracy and the Rule of Law has also been crucial to financial stability, predictability and the well-being of Europe as a whole. International cooperation, stability and economic development are core values for Finland. The European Social Charter is a very important instrument in this field, safeguarding the social and economic rights of our citizens.

Much work remains in order to achieve an equal Europe where everyone is able to fully enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms. Many steps have been taken in the right direction. But still far too many, especially women and girls, face discrimination, violence and harassment in their everyday lives. This is not acceptable and should not be tolerated.

Today, May 17, is the international day against phobias towards sexual and gender minorities (IDAHOT). For Finland and the Council of Europe, equality and non-discrimination are the foundation of our societies.  We must be stronger in our efforts to ensure that the human rights of all people, including those belonging to sexual and gender minorities, are fully protected.

Dear friends,

This meeting marks the end of the Finnish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. Later today, we will hand over the Presidency to France. We wish our French colleagues the best of luck. It has been a great privilege for Finland to hold the chair. And I can promise that we will also support the upcoming chair in its efforts.

I wish to thank the Council of Europe for convening this important session and wish all delegates both a pleasant stay and fruitful discussions here in Helsinki.

Thank you.