“I am proud to be the president of an Assembly which brings together 324 parliamentarians from 47 European countries, representing 820 million people.
To benefit from this diversity, we must not only foster permanent dialogue and mutual respect but also make the effort to understand others, taking account of their backgrounds, their history, their culture, their sensitivities and their political opinions. Our role is to work together to defend our values with determination and resolve while making clear that these values are non-negotiable.
Human rights, democracy and the rule of law know no borders and never should.
The challenges awaiting us are enormous. They range from the rise of extremism and terrorism to trafficking in human beings, violence against women and children and the dangers associated with new technologies, to cite just a few. We must, therefore, react rapidly and effectively to crisis situations in our member states and in neighboring countries.
Let us highlight what unites us, not what separates us. What unites us are the objectives of the Council of Europe, namely strengthening human rights, democracy and the rule of law while remembering always that our values cannot be taken for granted, and that we must defend them each and every day.”
- Ann Brasseur on her presidency with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
As the official ambassador of the No Hate Speech Movement, Ms Brasseur has done tremendous work in the field of equal human rights by promoting the aims and achievements of the camping not just with and within the Council of Europe but taking the campaign with her and in a way “pinning it” on influencers, leaders and political figures from around the world. Her most notable promotions of the campaign have been with persons such as the Dali Lama and Pope Francis.
During our evaluation conference, Ms. Brasseur gave an empowering speech about human rights and the need for a campaign of this caliber to be sustainable – now more than ever. Through her many years of experience in the field of human rights she has done an incredible job as our ambassador, but also as the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – and we are saddened to see her leave her post. None the less, we wish her much success in her continuing career and know that she will always remain an activist and ambassador to the campaign.
After one of our sessions, I took the initiative to ask her more about her life, her work and her experiences with the campaign from the start.
Did you ever imagine that you would be leading a worldwide campaign when you were younger?
“No of course not, but when I was young the world was still separate, so it was not that global thinking. We had borders; you know, I’m coming from a landlocked country, so in twenty minutes we were either in Germany or Belgium or in France. You needed an ID card, and there were border crossings in order for one to go to neighboring countries, so it was quite difficult – so you cannot really compare anymore to those times. I am glad that I could at least contribute with what I have at my disposal and make the campaign more visible.”
Exactly, and the campaign has itself contributed to building a world without borders and tearing down the ones we already have – culturally and politically.
What has been the most challenging part while representing the campaign throughout the years now?
“Challenging part… some people were attacking me that I was representing ‘western values’ against ‘traditional values’. Well, we have the same values… the same values, it is the convention on human rights, and all the countries member states of the Council of Europe are part of that convention – so we do share the same values and they are not to there to separate us, but unfortunately, now there are political parties that are taking advantage of it, and instead of protecting human rights, they are setting up barriers – not only physical, but also in the minds of the people.”
Being a woman in this world is met with many challenges, were you ever told that because you are a woman, you have no place in politics?
“No, I never experienced that, fortunately. When I started in politics I was 25, I got elected as a member of the City Council of the City of Luxembourg, and I think that it was even an advantage because I was the youngest and because I was a woman, so I got more media attention that helped me start. As always, when I was the deputy mayor of the City of Luxembourg, I was in charge of technical questions and I never had the feeling that as a woman ‘how could she do?’ So, I am very fortunate and experienced.”
That is a wonderful experience, truly. We can only hope that the future is like this for all girls and that no women experience discrimination based on her interests, as in politics – for example.
As a continuation of that question, do you think that we have come a long way since you started your political career when it comes to gender equality?
“Oh yes, when I started in the City Council we had 27 City Council members in the City of Luxembourg, the major was a woman, and I was the only female member of the Council. Now, in my political group (the liberal party) when I was still active in local politics, out of 10 elected members we had eight women. That changed a lot without quotas because I think we were good at giving the example that we should continue like that and ask women to be really committed.”
Absolutely! Most women would skip a political career if they were told as children or in their adolescence that politics is “a man’s world,” it is a really bad narrative that is built into our societies.
“Of course! But then you have to give the good example as elected politician; I was lucky, in my whole life I was very often in the right spot, in the right mood; so I also got to be in parliament, or being a minister, or being the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, but I am glad I did not do that on the basis of quotes, otherwise I would have the feeling that I got that position because I am a woman; and no, I got that position because of what I did – and I think that we should reach that stadium, but unfortunately we are not there yet.”
Yes, we are not there yet, but hopefully, we will be!
What are the key things that girls should know when they think of pursuing their dreams – even if they are political?
“Well, they should be committed, either in politics or NGOs – or whatever they do! Also, young boys, in fact all young people should know that it is very important that they care and not think that others will care; and if I can give advice, if they are doing something, they have to believe in what they are doing – that’s the most important thing.”
Wonderful advice! My last question would be…
To allow the world to get to know you more as Anne Brasseur (and not just a politician), what do you do in the field of hobbies when you are taking a break from work?
“Well, I like reading, I like sports, but first of all, it is my family and my friends. I think that politics is not everything in life and you need to also have good friends outside of politics, but also friends inside politics – which is quite rare, but for outside activities, you need also friends where you can discuss things. Where I will now have more time for, and for my interests – which include music, playing sports and reading.”
What is your favorite book to recommend?
“It is very difficult, I was very impressed now by ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ – which I just finished. For the moment, I am reading ‘The Miracle of Spinoza’, which is also very good! Before I never had time to read, but now I do, and of course I like to read thrillers as well.”
Oh, that’s wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing.
Again, I would like to personally thank Ms. Brasseur for taking the time to answer my questions, her work with the campaign, the Council of Europe, everything prior to that – and of course with everything she has planned for the foreseeable future.
Author: Stefan Petrovski