General Assembly of the United Nations - speech
Madam President of the General Assembly,
Mr. Secretary General,
Distinguished Heads of State and Government,
Heads of Delegation,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
"The only path that provides hope for a better future for all humanity is cooperation and partnership.” Those were the words spoken by Kofi Annan on this same stage, at the dawn of the 21st century, 17 years ago already.
This year, we are commemorating the centenary of the end of the First World War. Exacerbated rivalries, economic tensions, and vindictive reactions led to misunderstanding, frustration and faits accomplis.
The failure of the dialogue and unilateral actions led to irreparable issues. Generations were sacrificed and half of the 20th century was crushed by the horror of 2 world wars and totalitarianism. And also the ignominy of the Holocaust.
It then took the foresight and courage of a political generation to create the outline for a form of international order based on values and rules.
The creation of the European Union and the United Nations, building on the ashes of the tragedy of the last century, then raised hope for a better world.
Since then, the European Union has experienced a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. A free economy based on fair competition, freedom of movement, and the definition of social or environmental standards are some of the solid achievements for the benefit of the European peoples.
The European Union is the result of an untiring, sometimes complex, often restrictive dialogue. This dialogue is based on an ambition that goes far beyond the sum of national interests. This ambition is the promise of the founding fathers: freedom and dignity for every citizen, the rule of law and democracy as a bulwark against arbitrariness. It is these pillars that form the foundation for peace and security.
The Charter of the United Nations proclaims dignity and respect for every human being. Regardless of their origin, whatever their skin colour, philosophical or religious convictions or even their sexual orientation. Our universal values are the most solid and reliable benchmark for addressing all of the challenges facing the world.
Democracy and the rule of law are the best guarantees for putting fundamental rights and freedoms into practice.
The rule of law is the refusal to allow the strongest to take arbitrary action against the weakest.
The rule of law means assuming the consequences of our actions.
The rule of law is the denial of impunity.
The rule of law is the guarantee that know-how and knowledge are better shared.
Putting human beings at the centre of all decisions. And basing international order on rules. This is what must be the driving force behind multilateralism.
Multilateralism is not a hollow, meaningless concept. Quite the contrary. It is a conviction.
Continuous dialogue, including with those whose opinions we do not readily share.
Multilateralism is about cooperation and negotiation.
Multilateralism is a battle with ideas and arguments rather than with weapons.
Multilateralism is rejecting violence.
As Gandhi said: "the golden rule (of conduct) is mutual tolerance, we will never all think the same way, we will only see part of the truth and from different angles".
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let us commit to a better world. A world that is fairer, safer and more sustainable.
Who would believe that bringing together the 193 national sovereignties represented here, each acting unilaterally, would miraculously produce a virtuous and effective response to our common challenges?
That would be an illusion! The same illusion that the invisible hand of the market could spontaneously lead, as though by magic, to progress and shared well-being. Capitalism needs rules. So does humanity.
Of course, multilateralism requires effort and patience. Of course there can be failures and sometimes setbacks. But multilateralism is the only way to eradicate poverty, to disarm terrorists, and to preserve the natural resources of our planet.
My country laments the fact that international agreements, which are the result of tough and intense negotiations, have been suddenly and unilaterally thrown out of the window.
In a period of just a few months, the nuclear agreement with Iran, trade agreements and the Paris climate agreement were broken by a signatory party.
Trust and cooperation among sovereign nations require respect for and living up to commitments made. History has shown that the law of the jungle, over time, does not protect anyone. And that the most sustainable solutions are always those that are balanced and widely accepted.
Iran was about to acquire nuclear weapons. The negotiations aimed at reaching a compromise had been long and difficult. It took mutual courage and overcoming deep mistrust and hostility. This agreement is not perfect because it does not cover the Iranian ballistic programme. IAEA inspections confirm that Iran was meeting its commitments.
Should this treaty be cast aside because of it being imperfect? No, on the contrary. New chapters of multilateral negotiations must be opened in order to complete it.
Unilateral, sudden and unpredictable actions make the world more dangerous. They cause imbalances and frustrations. These are always the seeds of conflict.
Dialogue and negotiation with mutual respect make us all stronger. Dialogue as a means of managing our disagreements, resolving them and offering better results for the benefit of our fellow citizens.
The United Nations has been working for seventy years to develop and persistently improve a world based on a common set of core values.
It is our duty to identify challenges, develop strategies and, above all, take action.
Our organization has immeasurable potential. And I salute the intelligent, energetic and tireless action of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Throughout its history, my country has been committed to "acting for peace, building consensus". Based on this conviction, Belgium was elected as a non-permanent member of the Security Council for the next two years. We will live up to this display of trust.
We will ensure that we conduct more dialogue with all stakeholders. We want to conduct respectful and transparent discussions in order to foster a spirit of trust between us.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We will act for security, prosperity and respect for our planet.
- Collective security
Collective security is the first requirement. Preventing and stopping conflicts whenever possible falls under common sense. We are in favour of continuously monitoring all indicators of violence and setting up an early warning mechanism.
Major human rights violations cannot be met with indifference. Manipulating or rigging elections, violating territorial integrity or threatening the use of force are always warning signs of future conflict.
The search for a peaceful and political solution must always be at the heart of our approach. Peacekeeping operations must always be conducted within a credible political framework.
And let’s be frank: having peacekeepers on the ground must not facilitate political resignation. Not in the conflict zone, nor at regional or international levels.
Each peacekeeping mission must be regularly evaluated in terms of its actual contribution to bringing about the political project, in the noble sense of the word.
Belgium will continue its loyal contribution to the various operations involved in the implementation of Security Council resolutions (UNMISMA, European technical missions to Africa and bilateral training programmes with several African partners).
In line with our commitments, we will focus our term on the Security Council on protecting the most vulnerable in armed conflicts. The protection of civilians, especially children, dignity and respect for women, the safety of schools and hospitals, humanitarian corridors are, in our view, absolute and essential priorities.
We cannot tolerate the intolerable. Those who cynically flout these fundamental principles of international humanitarian law must be punished.
The fight against impunity must also factor in the fact that people will have to live together again, after the end of the conflict.
Living together, in peace and harmony is an existential challenge in the Middle and Far East. The tragedies unfolding before our eyes in Syria, Libya and Yemen remind us of the challenges ahead.
We will not accept the fact of those countries becoming the theatre of cruel and shameful games played by power waging war against each other by proxy, without any consideration for the resulting humanitarian tragedies.
Twenty-five years after the signing of the Oslo Accords, the Middle East peace process has stalled.
The frenzy of faits accomplis, in contradiction with international law, adds further obstacles to the existing difficulties. And stands in the way of hopes for peace.
We continue to support the solution of two independent states living in peace and security.
The proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons, and weapons of mass destruction, is a serious threat to the future of humanity. We will remain fully committed to non-proliferation efforts. We must continue to strengthen the legal instruments available, and rigorously monitor compliance with the commitments made.
- Prosperity - sustainable development
We want a more prosperous world, in which development is better shared. The freedom of enterprise, of innovation, creation and exchange. Developing science and knowledge, and rejecting misinformation are always the foundations for the development and improvement of living conditions.
The digital economy and the artificial intelligence revolution bring fears and uncertainties. But above all, they provide new opportunities for a better world. It is up to us to put this progress at the service of all. And I congratulate the Secretary-General on his initiatives in the field of digital cooperation.
We must also encourage, always and everywhere, efforts to promote governance, transparency and the fight against corruption.
For centuries, trade has promoted peace between peoples.
Trade promotes mutual understanding, respect for cultures and traditions, sharing and exchanging experiences.
Trade and prosperity. Prosperity and peace. Peace is a pre-condition for freedom and self-determination. Free trade must be based on healthy and fair competition, a level playing field for everyone, with ambitious social and environmental standards.
The recent trade agreement between the European Union and Canada, concluded despite much resistance, offers these guarantees. I am delighted by the impressive results, which were quick to materialise, with more jobs and more investments at stake. So, better social protection, and more freedom.
Ladies and gentlemen,
By 2050, the African continent is expected to be home to 2.5 billion people. One in four humans will be African.
My country has long advocated a new, more global, dynamic and ambitious partnership with the African continent.
Africa has extraordinary potential. Its opportunities in the areas of energy, agriculture, infrastructure and digital technology are not sufficiently utilised.
I would like to make a strong appeal for a sacred alliance between Africa and Europe. A solid and lasting alliance for the development of our two continents. In the service of our peoples. An alliance for investment, trade and jobs in Africa and Europe.
Let us turn the page on the antagonisms of the past. Let us heal the wounds of the past. Let us forge a partnership without nostalgia or guilt.
Let us renounce charity, which may help one’s conscience but, above all, results in humiliation. Let us draw up a peer-to-peer strategy, based on the common values of the rule of law, democracy and respect for our fellow citizens. Let us cultivate an approach based on objectives and results.
In ten years, we can, if we wish, build an unequalled and unprecedented area of prosperity.
I am in favour of an ambitious free trade agreement, between continents, a global and reciprocal partnership, a win-win situation for all.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals set the stage for a better world. It encompasses everything: eradicating poverty, access to health and education, gender equality, the fight against climate change, and so much more.
The only option is to take ownership of this joint programme. The only option is for everyone to embrace these objectives.
All of us, at all levels, must roll up our sleeves, decide, act. The clock is ticking. There is urgency. Results are needed.
3. Climate and environment
Ladies and gentlemen,
Climate change knows no borders. Natural resources are limited. And the number of people on earth is constantly increasing.
The stubbornness of some in denying the reality of climate change is on a par with the stubbornness of those who denied that the earth was round, in the past.
Prosperity must be sustainable. It can no longer be based on a feverish and selfish exploitation of our precious natural resources. Oceans, biodiversity, air quality, health, and others are precious assets that must be cherished and respected.
Natural disasters are following in quick succession. Each more spectacular than the one before it, each deadlier than the one before it.
A few weeks ago in India, in Kerala, floods of an unprecedented magnitude sealed the fate of 450 people forever, and displaced a million others who became homeless in their wake.
The disastrous effects of climate change will cause or aggravate conflicts. In West Africa, access to water is leading to increasing tensions between herders and farmers, with the risk of escalation on the basis of ethnicity and identity.
Faced with this existential challenge for our children, we have a shared responsibility. Alone, we can do nothing. Together, anything is possible.
The Paris Agreements on climate change must be implemented. We all have to change our habits and behaviours. But it is worth it. It is the future of humanity that is at stake here.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Human beings have always moved around. This host country is a great example of this. Men and women from elsewhere, discovering a new world, have built a free and prosperous nation.
This year, we recorded the highest number of migrants ever.
It is not a question of being in favour of or opposed to an unavoidable phenomenon. It is about managing it in an orderly way to reduce fears, tensions and conflicts.
We must remove migration from the clutches of smugglers and traffickers, who have become the abject slavers of modern times.
We must reject the trap of deliberate misinformation spread by populists on all sides, from the far left and far right.
My country fully assumes its humane duty by having granted international protection and refugee status to more than 45,000 people over the past three years. This is much more than before.
I am in favour of an effective return policy for those who do not meet the international conditions.
Finally, the time has come to consider legal and orderly forms of international mobility. For example, to allow in students to train, or for other economic reasons, and then return home.
My country will sign the Global Pact for Migration in Marrakech in December. This text is a major step forward that clarifies the various concepts and offers a basis for an organised and controlled management of international mobility.
So, let us be clear. Extremists and human traffickers are on a par: they exploit and fuel the issue of migration. The former do so for electoral and political purposes. The latter, for lowly financial purposes.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Peace is our most precious asset. Peace requires constant courage and vigilance.
No continent, no country is immune to the poison of fear of the other, of hatred or selfishness.
We come from different backgrounds, with our histories, our cultures, our traditions. With our emotions, rooted in the past.
Learning from the past improves our lucidity.
Learning from the past gives us the energy to rise to the challenges of this century.
These challenges know no borders. Development, the fight against terrorism, climate change, and other issues. No single country, regardless of its economic or political power, will be able to overcome them in the long term.
Beyond our many differences, we forever have something in common. It is humanity. Every human being, by the simple fact of being born, is free. Their dignity must be recognized and respected.
This is the cardinal value, an elementary pre-condition, for tirelessly advancing the world towards more hope and optimism.
Our method is believing in committed and creative multilateralism. We reject all forms of immobility and resignation. We need to be the best we can be.
Law and order rather than violence.
Tolerance rather than selfishness.
Knowledge rather than misinformation.
Mutual respect rather than hatred.
That is my country's credo.
We are a loyal and dedicated partner. And we will spare no effort to make the world a safer, fairer and more sustainable place.
Thank you very much.