Europe is a diverse continent, rich of different cultures, languages, religions, ideas. Under the flag of the Council of Europe, all member states are nonetheless united to follow the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the founding Treaties of the EU prohibit discrimination on the grounds of nationality. The Treaties allow EU institutions to face appropriate action to combat all kinds of discrimination.
On the other hand, populist and extremist movements have been active in Europe over the last decades. They have recently benefited from a variety of issues like the economic and financial crisis, security and immigration issues and unpopular European decisions. We must also admit that populism has, so far, emerged as an electoral force in Europe.
My personal story in Europe began in 2009, when I was representing the Istanbul Provincial Council in the Assembly of European Regions (AER).
The Assembly of European Regions was formed in June 1985 in Louvain-la-Neuve. AER has a rich history and it is still a strong network of regions in wider Europe. It advocates the regions and not simply countries. The principle of subsidiarity has always been a strong policy for AER to promote the role of regions in all European and national decision-making processes. The AER, like the Council of Europe works not only with EU member regions but also with non-EU regions like those from Turkey. Even though the majority of its member regions are from EU countries, a politician coming from a non-EU member region of AER can also be a candidate for any position on the AER Executive Board. This is a legal right, given to all members, regardless of the region he or she comes from and regardless of the political party they belong to.
I was a candidate for the AER Presidency in May 2013, representing Istanbul, an AER member region from Turkey. My candidacy for the AER Presidency started a unique story, and a different chain of challenges in my life. In AER’s history, there had never been a non-EU candidate for Presidency and it was the first time that a non-EU member was a candidate. Many people around me were surprised. There were two other candidates for the Presidency; two strong male politicians, representing their EU regions at AER and there was a kind of friendly and sweet competition between us.
However, we must admit that there are thick glass ceilings and walls in Europe for a non-EU, Turkish woman candidate. Working hard, being competent, sincere and transparent helps, but these are not enough to be elected as the President of the AER. For this you need other honest politicians to help and support you and make your voice heard. You need politicians like Monica Carlsson, Sonja Alice Steen and Anna Magyar.
Monica Carlsson joined the Swedish Left Party during the most active period of the Swedish Vietnam movement. It was founded in 1967 to influence opinion for the United States to leave Vietnam and to support the organisation Front National de Liberation FNL in South Vietnam.
Monica’s political commitment was founded on her willingness to work for justice, solidarity and equality. Her involvement in political issues at local as well as county council level, ran through her entire adult life and picked up serious pace when she took up the position of Gender Commissioner at Norrbotten County Council in 2002.
Monica also had a strong international commitment and was among others president of the AER Permanent Committee for Equality, where she focused on women’s rights, gender equality and enhanced rights for minority populations.
Monica was politically active to the end and was re-elected as late as a month ago to the Left Party district board. This despite the fact that at the latest party congress she was actually appointed with the honorary title “district veteran”.
Sonja Alice Steen comes from Nordland region of Norway and has played important roles in European politics. Anna Magyar comes from Csongrad County in Hungary and has also played important roles in European politics.
They are not populists. They do not need to be populists. They are not involved with politics for their personal interests. But they want an equal, fair, prosperous and democratic Europe. Politicians like them are the ones standing against populist policies, representing the differences and diversity of European territories and they are the ones who sincerely believe that diversity can serve the cause of a strong Europe; a multi-level continent where all stakeholders work hand in hand towards a better, inclusive and more prosperous future, for us and the generations to come. At a time that populist policies are markedly increasing and equality is threatened by populism, the founding principles of the EU are being promoted to Europe’s citizens and championed by these politicians.
In May 2013, I was elected as the AER President in the first round by the majority of votes. The people around me who had been surprised to see me as a candidate for AER Presidency earlier, named the result a miracle.
AER had a female medical doctor who is non-EU Turkish as its President between 2013 and 2017 for two consecutive mandates in the current political difficulties of Europe and the World. This showed a very constructive example of sincere and concrete collaboration of diverse cultures for a better and peaceful Europe with shared value. Europe also needs new solutions to the current European problems at the local, regional, national and EU level.
The EU should complete the institutional transformation that it needs with a strong political will. It should achieve a healthy and open structure that meets the flexibility required in the 21st century. The only way for the EU to be the source of common solutions, and sustain peace and wellfare is to be an inclusive, innovative and reflective society.
Monica Carlsson fell asleep on April 3rd, 2019 after a short illness and in the circle of her children. We will always remember Monica, as a beautiful woman, proud to represent a party that is upholding justice, equality and solidarity. As a person, easygoing and humorous, eager for everything and everyone and very easy to hang out with.
However, I will always remember her as the strong woman who made me love Europe.