Our democracies are under threat, Council of Europe Deputy Secretary General tells CNA

Our democracies are under threat at the moment, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, has told CNA, in an interview on the occasion of the Ministerial Conference entitled “Securing democracy through education” organized in Nicosia 22-23 of March by the Cyprus Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

Asked why education is an important pillar of the CoE, she pointed out that the Organisation was founded to protect democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

“Our democracies are under threat at the moment she warned, saying that “unless we understand that we are running the risk of seeing democracy impoverished, threatened or even abandoned in certain countries, and if we are not able to counteract these trends, then we should be very worried about our own European societies which have been so far democratic.”

Ministers of Education from State parties to the European Cultural Convention participated in the Conference along with Ministers of Education from South Mediterranean areas and policy experts representing a total of 39 countries. Referring to the Ministerial Conference, she said that the CoE is very grateful to the Cypriot Chairmanship to have identified this subject (of Securing Democracy Through Education) as an important one during its chairmanship.

The question, she added, is how to stop current threats and how to come forward with a strategy to tackle this challenge and give to the people, the young in particular, through education today, the competencies that they will need in order to face up and to continue to guarantee a democratic, healthy system.

So this is why it is so central, because it is central in what we do as an Organisation in protecting democracy, human rights and the rule of law she pointed out.

Asked if she believes that Europe has failed to react on time and to perceive the challenges it faces today, like terrorism, radicalisation, etc, she said that we can not put all the member states on the same level, since the situation is dishomogeneous.

There are countries, she said, where certain threats to democracy have started unexpectedly and terrorist attacks have taken place in a number of member states but not throughout the whole of Europe.

Unfortunately, she added, many terrorist acts have taken place in certain countries, few in others but of a very strong impact both regarding the number of the dead but also as regards the victims that remained and are still victims today, their families etc.

The fact that this is not something that happened everywhere but unexpectedly, made it so that some countries were to a certain extent unprepared to face up and they did not see the problem coming into their own territory, she added.

There is a kind of understanding from our side that something dis-functioned for these countries the Deputy Secretary General said, noting that people very often refer to the secret services saying that they should have had enough information in order to prevent those tragic events.

The other thing that was not expected to such an extent, she said, was the massive flows of refugees from the Syrian war.

“This came also quickly”, she said, adding that the reaction was total absence of coordination, an attempt to try to coordinate but in the end of the day each country taking individual measures in order to face up with the problem.

Clearly, something has not functioned properly, Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni told CNA, noting that there was a certain unpreparedness to face the challenge in a proper manner and to prepare with a joint, concerted policy and not with a different attitude from one country to the other.

Your question is well posed. There has been, on a number of issues, an inability to get properly organised, to prevent in due time and to act in a concerted manner she stressed.

Asked where should now Europe focus its efforts, she referred to the role of education, saying that “we should try to develop capacities, abilities for our citizens to deal with diversity which is increasing every day because of the refugees coming into the countries and the flow of migration which is also increasing.”

She added that there is also a question on how to use education to facilitate integration of the refugees and migrants who are coming to live in our countries and will most likely stay for a long period of time.

So education can become a pivotal element to change the way in which we organise and govern our societies to deal with terror, concrete threats, but also to deal with prevention of radicalisation, that is why education can play a very important role she noted.

She continued by saying that “we also need to develop competencies on how to live together respectfully with other people and to use their diversity and what they can bring, as an opportunity for our societies.”

One of the questions is for instance the recognition of diplomas of some of these people coming from Syria, some of whom are doctors, engineers and other professionals, she said.

Unless, she said, their diplomas are recognised they cannot be fully integrated in a job situation at least for a number of years, up to the moment when maybe they decide to go back to their country.

The Ministerial Conference in Nicosia, she said, discussed how to use education to develop the values that will facilitate a peaceful coexistence, how to integrate diversity and the values needed that prevent radicalisation and encourage integration of immigrants.

These discussions, she said, come together in a kind of new policy development for the CoE in relation to the school system in Europe.

What we are trying to do is to bring to the classroom new curricula which will enable teachers to provide to students with the competencies in order to live in respect of other citizens and appreciate diversity she told CNA.

The CoE official pointed out that in order to produce this policy and curricula, which are called framework of competencies, delegates at the Nicosia Ministerial Conference discussed about the results of the testing of this framework that was already put in place for one year in 1,200 schools throughout Europe in 14 countries, members of the CoE, including Cyprus.

The countries participating are Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Montenegro, Andorra, Georgia, Portugal,Czech Republic, Belarus, Estonia, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, Spain, Germany and France.

She said that the issue will be further discussed during the next conference of Ministers of Education that will be held in the Czech Republic, the next Chair of the Committee of Ministers.

Noting that this is a unique exercise” she said that CoE is the only organisation working on this.

Concluding, she pointed out the support of the initial group of countries, which ,through practising the system, they give their feedback, so that the necessary competencies for democratic citizenship can be developed, “which is the only way to guarantee that democracy remains healthy and sustainable”.

Source: Cyprus News Agency