Paris, 24 May 2018

- Check against delivery -


Prime Minister,

Dear Ministers,

Dear Director General,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here today. We have come a long way since four countries signed the Sorbonne Declaration exactly 20 years ago. This community has grown to 48 countries, and we can be proud of what we have achieved.

The Bologna process has made possible a unique cooperation between governments, higher education institutions, students, staff and others. It has helped to increase transparency in our higher education systems and to make them more comparable. This in turn has enabled students and staff to learn and work abroad on a large scale. It has encouraged closer cooperation between institutions and broken down barriers to learning and teaching mobility. Without the work carried out under the Bologna Process, the Erasmus programme would not have become the wonderful success story that it is.

The Bologna Process has achieved a lot: the 3-cycle Bachelor-Master-Doctorate system is a given for the European higher education landscape and beyond. The European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System is a must. And common standards for quality assurance are known and used in most Bologna countries.

Nonetheless, we all know that progress remains uneven. Not all commitments have been implemented across the entire European Higher Education Area, not all agreed goals achieved. This means that we need to step up our efforts.

We decided together and on a voluntary basis to shape the landscape of the European Higher Education Area with a number of commitments to facilitate mobility. Now is the time to move forward together and put in the necessary efforts to reach our common goals.

Some of us have outstanding success stories and expertise to share in areas where others need support. Others can offer valuable lessons in other fields. I believe that an intensified cooperation based on mutual learning is the way forward. The European Commission is ready to support this new peer support process in order to help all Bologna countries that wish to take advantage of it.

EU Member States are very familiar with such mutual learning. They know it from the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training. We will share our experience with other Bologna countries. The methods and tools that we have been using at EU level are based on voluntary peer learning, counselling and exchange, and have proven effective in triggering change in national education systems.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me now to share with you some recent developments in the European Union.

I am very glad to say that education is back at the top of the EU's political agenda. In the Rome Declaration of March 2017, Member States and EU Institutions committed to work for "a Union where young people receive the best education and training and can study and find jobs across the continent'". Furthermore, last November in Gothenburg, education and culture were singled out as the first issue for discussion under the new Leaders' Agenda that looks into the issues which are key in building the Europe of the future.

As input for this Leaders’ discussion, the European Commission proposed to work towards a European Education Area by 2025 where people have a strong sense of their identity as Europeans. A space where no borders hamper learning, studying and doing research; where spending time to study and work in another country is standard for the majority of students and teachers; and where young Europeans can speak two languages in addition to their own.

The European Education Area covers all sectors and levels of education and training and will build on the achievements of the European Higher Education Area. It will enable EU Member States to do more and move faster to make their education systems better, more competitive and inclusive, while providing inspiration to non-EU countries and the European Higher Education Area as a whole.

The four priority work strands of this initiative are all strongly related to the objectives of the European Higher Education Area.

First, we will create even more opportunities for people to learn abroad. We will do this through a substantially strengthened, more inclusive and extended Erasmus programme, as well as by introducing a "European Student Card". I am very proud that the Commission has recently proposed to more than double funding for the future Erasmus programme to EUR 30 billion in the next Multiannual Financial Framework after 2020.  

Second, we are stepping up efforts to enhance language learning. Earlier this week, I proposed a dedicated Council Recommendation to this end. Languages open doors, help us discover other cultures, make new friends and build communities. This is key to strengthening a European identity and sense of belonging.

Third, also this week, I put forward a Council Recommendation on the automatic recognition of higher education and upper secondary education qualifications, as well as outcomes of learning periods abroad. The aim is to speed up the implementation of our common Bologna objectives in the EU.

Finally, we are working together to support the emergence of transnational European Universities, where high quality in teaching, research and innovation will intersect.

These European Universities have attracted a lot of interest over the last few months. I am pleased that so many countries and higher education institutions agree that we are ready to step up cooperation across borders.

I believe that we need this initiative to work towards two main objectives:

  • On the one hand, we need to build a more united and stronger Europe, open to the wider world and promoting common European values, by bringing together a new generation of Europeans, able to cooperate across cultures, languages, borders and disciplines.

  • On the other hand, we have to raise the quality and performance of European higher education institutions and make them more attractive and competitive.

    I am convinced that these initiatives, which we are currently developing within the European Union, will prove to be strong engines for positive change. I believe they will bring concrete beneficial effects for students, teaching staff and institutions, not only within the borders of the EU, but also beyond.

    The vision of a European Education Area by 2025 links well with the Communiqué set to be adopted at this conference tomorrow. The Communiqué calls for a more ambitious European Higher Education Area beyond 2020. It outlines our joint vision for an inclusive and innovative approach to learning and teaching. It calls for integrated transnational cooperation in higher education, research and innovation; and for securing a sustainable future for our planet through higher education.

    Most importantly, it will stress the need to provide stronger, better support for under-represented and vulnerable groups. They too need to be able to access and excel in higher education. With our proposals for a new Erasmus programme and through our work with EU Member States, I am committed to give a strong push to each of these objectives.

    Education is critical in building resilient, fair and cohesive societies for the future. Let us work together to make it happen.

    Thank you.