Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heaped praise on the European Commission and its formidable first female president Friday as he presented Ursula von der Leyen with the judicial equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Trudeau made a special one-day trip to the United Nations for the final day of the World Law Congress, where jurists from around the globe gather every two years to extoll the democratic virtues of the rule of law.
Von der Leyen, elected to lead the commission in 2019, couldn’t have come along at a better time, Trudeau said, with the executive wing of the European Union confronting fresh instability at home and around the world.
“Brexit left many wondering if the union would continue to hold strong. Euroskepticism was on the rise. And protectionism and authoritarianism were becoming more prevalent,” Trudeau said.
He didn’t name names, but he drew an unmistakable parallel between the forces bent on prying Great Britain free of the European Union and the nationalist urges of former U.S. president Donald Trump.
“As choruses like ‘America First’ got louder, both Canada and Europe held fast to our belief that growth doesn’t come from putting up walls and turning inwards.”
Europe knows a thing or two about global instability, he added, having emerged from the bloody cauldron of the Second World War to forge a lasting peace — one now imperilled by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine.
And he said von der Leyen understands that other threats loom large as well, including the advancing consequences of climate change and authoritarian states that show little interest in restraining their carbon-heavy ambitions.
It’s incumbent on the democracies of the world to defend the rules-based international order by ending their dependence on “commodities weaponized by authoritarian states,” Trudeau said.
That means “standing up to bullies” and protecting those unable to protect themselves, ensuring the middle class remains strong and making it impossible for inequality to gain a foothold.
“This is a consequential moment, and it calls for thoughtful leadership and strong institutions,” he said.
“I cannot think of a better embodiment of those than Ursula von der Leyen and the European Commission. You show us how respect for the dignity of all leads to the strength to protect peace, no matter what.”
Von der Leyen provided a similar history lesson, describing how her late father threw himself into the cause of forging a new, united, peaceful Europe — one that would include former antagonists like Germany and Italy.
Democratic values and the rule of law are the pillars of such peace, she said, and cannot be allowed to crumble.
“The story of our union is one of democracies, young and old, getting stronger together,” von der Leyen said.
“This is Europe’s promise: a united continent where all are equal before the law, with freedom and democracy for all.”
Trudeau later met one-on-one with von der Leyen for another of the several bilaterals the two leaders have had since 2019, where she thanked the prime minister for his words and his ongoing leadership.
He also ventured to the top floors of the monolithic UN Headquarters, perched majestically on the shores of the East River, to meet with UN Secretary-General António Guterres and a phalanx of aides.
Also on hand Friday was Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, who honoured former Supreme Court justice Rosie Abella with the World Jurist Association’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg Medal of Honor.
Named for the late U.S. Supreme Court justice who became a modern-day feminist icon, the award is bestowed on women whose careers have advanced gender equality, democracy and the rule of law.