• Past 9 10 November 2015

Nearly 300 people (mostly Jean Monnet Community members) attended the annual Jean Monnet conference entitled "A Union of shared values - the role of education and civil society". Some of the participants recorded the enclosed video with statements on the theme of the conference.

In the coming months, the main conference messages will be fed into EU policy processes and Commission's initiatives. Participants examined crucial issues of immediate relevance, not just in the EU, but worldwide, centred around the question: what can education do to safeguard the fundamental values and human rights that unite us, but which are currently under pressure, even more so after the recent terrible events in Paris?

The tone of the conference was set by Professor Paul Verhaeghe, author and professor at the University of Ghent, renowned expert on changes in society and work organisation. His thoughtful, lively and entertaining keynote lecture Higher education in times of neoliberalism analysed the impact of a compelling neoliberal ideology in higher education institutions, arguing that it can engender negative effects, not in the least on individual value systems. He provoked considerable reactions and set the stage for a very successful and interesting conference, full of lively exchanges and debate.

EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport Tibor Navracsics conveyed a clear message in his contribution Safeguarding open, tolerant societies in Europe – the special contribution of education: “Europe is facing very tough challenges. We need to join forces to promote tolerance, non-discrimination, fundamental freedoms and solidarity throughout the EU. We need education to lead the way, and we need higher education to act as a catalyst.”

A discussion panel, moderated by Brussels-based journalist Tanja Milevska and featuring - on top of keynote speaker Paul Verhaeghe - Martine Reicherts (Director General for Education and Culture at EC), Safi Sabuni (President of the Erasmus Student Network) and Jan Wouters (Professor at the University of Leuven) further debated on the role of education in sharing fundamental values, recognising that education is part of a bigger response, and therefore has a vital contribution to make:

  • by promoting social inclusion, reaching out in particular to the most disadvantaged young people;
  • by combatting prejudice and encouraging critical thinking, also in the use of the internet and social media;
  • by fostering civic, social and relational competences, helping young people to become responsible, open-minded members of our diverse society.

At the end of the first day of the conference, the Commission presented the results of a surveypdf(728 kB) English (en) held amongst young people (mainly from Erasmus+ Students and Alumni Association) on shared values. Considering the limited participation in the survey, these results are not representative but offer a flavour of the trends among student population in different EU countries. Please note that, since it was possible to select more than one answer, the total of percentage figures does not always equal to 100%.

On the second day of the event three working groups took a closer look at how education could upgrade its role, from three different angles:

  • how to bridge education and civil society;
  • education at all levels: when teaching about values and rights, what is most appropriate at primary, secondary and tertiary level?
  • the role of the arts and the new social media as sources of inspiration for education.

At the same time, a generally shared observation was that there is a huge and widening gap between what is perceived as fundamental values and the current socio-political situation in Europe. And connected to this: whilst there is widespread agreement about which fundamental values we stand for, there is a lack of coordinated action on the ground, in spite of the many projects and initiatives currently under way.

With a view to filling in this gap, conference participants formulated a clear message to policy makers: the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights needs urgent implementation and monitoring. As one participant phrased it: "it cannot be that certain Member States signed the Charter while at this very instant they are deporting groups of refugees".

Moreover these values have recently been put into question by a number of events and developments. Following the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris last January, the European Ministers responsible for Education and Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, agreed on a Declaration on promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through educationpdf(500 kB) Deutsch (de) English (en) français (fr) during an informal Ministerial Meeting held on 17 March in Paris. This Jean Monnet Conference was one of the actions supporting the aims of the Declaration.

Another key question was: how to teach fundamental values at tertiary level, if at all? Should they be part of the teaching content or rather the teaching methods? Regarding the former, the communis opinio amongst participants was that children should be familiarised with fundamental values at a young age, and that teachers should reach out to civil society to bring young people in touch with the meaning of these values - they should see its implications in practice. At the level of Academia, many participants pleaded for teaching methods allowing for debates, putting up questions, encouraging students to develop 'critical thinking', even whilst it was agreed that this can vary according to cultural backgrounds.

Building on this: educators on all levels should have the courage to face, discuss and teach controversial issues - a recipe against students losing interest in school and eventually questioning or abandoning fundamental values. But educators are not superhuman. They need financial support, training and support from civil society (parents, NGOs, local sport clubs).

The conference was concluded by Adam Tyson (Acting Director at the Directorate General Education and Culture, European Commission), who pointed out the role of employability of young people in the inclusiveness process. Mr Tyson also expressed satisfaction with the slightly provocative edge of the conference, as it produced a lively and constructive debate.

A multimedia exhibition was set up especially for the conference by the art collective Tirasila, to highlight the current challenges posed to fundamental values in Europe. Furthermore the European External Action Service launched an essay contest for students on the new EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy as presented by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini.

Documents and speeches

Working groups

Working Group 1: Civil Society and Social Inclusion Working Group 2: Education on all levels Working Group 3: Arts and the new (social) media
Yulia Pererva, Council of Europe Laurence Potvin Solis, Université Caen Normandie Susana Muñoz, Centre Virtuel de la Connaissance sur l’Europe
Dora Kostakopoulou, University of Warwick Irina Sikorskaya, Donetsk State University Sanne Wallis de Vries, Foundation Loket Leros
Dana Pantea, University of Oradea Ted Huddleston, Citizenship Foundation Maria Dermitzaki, TIRASILA asbl
Peter Cunningham,
London Metropolitan University
Antigone Lyberaki, Panteion University, Athens  



Tibor Navracsicsmpg(1.35 Mb) English (en)

mpg(1.35 Mb) English (en) Tibor Navracsics - Opening remarks

Paul Verhaeghempg(1.35 Mb) English (en)

mpg(1.35 Mb) English (en) Paul Verhaeghe - Keynote speech

Vito Borrellimpg(1.35 Mb) English (en)

mpg(1.35 Mb) English (en) Vito Borrelli - Results of EU survey

Martine Reichertsmpg(1.35 Mb) English (en)

mpg(1.35 Mb) English (en) Martine Reicherts - Discussion Panel

Safi Sabunimpg(1.35 Mb) English (en)

mpg(1.35 Mb) English (en) Safi Sabuni - Discussion Panel

Jan Woutersmpg(1.35 Mb) English (en)

mpg(1.35 Mb) English (en) Jan Wouters - Discussion Panel

Sergio Carrerampg(1.35 Mb) English (en)

mpg(1.35 Mb) English (en) Sergio Carrera - Wrap-up