Brussels, 17 February 2016
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I am very happy to be here. This afternoon, I would like us to focus on how we can ensure that education, culture, youth and sport fully play their part in promoting inclusive societies in Europe, especially with regard to young people and migrants.
The European Commission's forthcoming Skills Agenda has a crucial role in this, as have our efforts to tackle the social exclusion and radicalisation of young people. I will also outline how we can support the integration of refugees and migrants and use cultural diplomacy more effectively. Moreover, I will update you on our work on promoting good governance in sport and reforming copyright rules. And I would like to say a few words about the implementation of our programmes, Erasmus+ and Creative Europe.
Together with my colleague Marianne Thyssen, I am currently working on the Commission's new initiative on skills. What we will present in a few months' time must of course address the demand for specific skills and tackle short and mid-term mismatches. But our initiative should go well beyond this. We need to ensure that Europe's education and training systems equip people with better and more relevant skills and that they prepare them for the fluid, evolving careers that are becoming more and more prevalent.
Right now, our education and training systems are not performing well. Too many people drop out of school early, and too few acquire high end skills. Not enough graduates gain work experience, which hampers their transition into the job market.
The challenge is to provide not only the right aptitudes, but also the right attitudes. Skills such as flexibility, creativity, problem-solving, communication, foreign languages and critical thinking are are all part of the blend of competences employers look for. The earlier in life people acquire them, the better.
So where do we start? In the class-room, if not before! Skills development needs to begin with early childhood education and care. It then needs to be strengthened in school and higher education and updated later in life through adult learning. What we need is a comprehensive Skills Agenda that looks ahead to the long-term and that goes well beyond employability and vocational and educational training. Commissioner Thyssen and I fully agree on this, and we are looking forward to discussing our approach with you, as well as with members of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, at our meeting on 18 April.
One transversal skill is particularly important to me: teaching entrepreneurship. One of the main aims of the Skills Agenda will be to better exploit the talent of Europeans, teach them to stand on their own feet, improve their resilience, boost their creativity and team spirit. Teaching entrepreneurship in schools can serve those goals as indicated in the report prepared in your Committee by Ms Michaela Sojdrova.
Having the right skills enables people to secure employment, which is the best insurance against social exclusion. But we must do more to ensure that we reach out to young people from all backgrounds and prevent the vulnerable ones from drifting to the margins of society – and potentially into radicalisation and violent extremism.
Almost one year ago, Education Ministers of all Member States and I committed to promoting our civic values and inclusion through education. And very soon, I will present concrete steps to put this commitment into action – at European, national, regional and local level. Let me briefly outline some of the initiatives I am going to put forward:
• First, I want us to intensify exchanges between Member States to identify what works. Violent radicalisation is a Europe-wide problem, and countries, regions and cities will benefit from discovering and implementing initiatives that have already produced good results somewhere else.
• Second, we need to make the most of EU funds. Our Erasmus+ programme has a crucial role here. I have already ensured that over the coming years, EUR 400 million will be available for projects promoting civic values and inclusion. And this month I will launch a dedicated call of EUR 13 million for projects in this field. This support must be made available to the regions and cities confronted with the issue of social exclusion. Some need it more than others.
• Third, we need to step up our support to teachers. I want to use existing tools more effectively and expand their reach. For instance, I plan to extend eTwinning, an online platform connecting 300 000 teachers across Europe, beyond the EU's borders, especially to our neighbours facing similar problems. Moreover, I will create virtual Erasmus exchanges between young people from European and third countries. We will soon launch a pilot project targeting 10 000 students this year.
• Fourth, I intend to create a specific award for inclusive sports clubs, to support and acknowledge their work. I will also make sure that role models such as sportspeople, entrepreneurs, artists or even former radicalised persons, can go to schools to share their experiences with pupils.
• Finally, I want to boost our support to youth workers. They have a crucial role in reaching out to young people in communities, especially the most vulnerable ones. To ensure they have the skills needed to tackle radicalisation, the Commission will develop a specific toolkit for youth workers and youth organisations. Furthermore, I will strengthen the European Voluntary Service and open it up even more to young people with fewer opportunities.
The European Parliament has recently adopted a Resolution on the role of intercultural dialogue, cultural diversity and education in promoting EU fundamental values. I would like to thank all of you, and especially Ms Julie Ward, for this very valuable contribution to our work.
Let me now turn to the integration of the newly arrived refugees and migrants. Here again, education has a major role to play, as it is crucial in helping these people find their place in our societies. The Commission is preparing a set of initiatives to support the integration of refugees and migrants, which it will present this spring. Education will be at its centre.
Several Member States have already introduced legislation to provide educational support. And the Dutch Presidency is setting up a series of activities to help countries learn from each other.
At EU level, we are working with national academic recognition centres from across Europe to help them share their experiences in helping refugees to have their degrees recognised. We want to help students to continue their education or map their qualifications as quickly as possible. Through Erasmus+, we will also offer online language courses, and we are working to make it easier for refugee researchers to participate in our Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions – as some of them might have difficulties with the eligibility criteria because of their refugee status.
Promoting intercultural understanding within Europe is critical. But we also have to do more to strengthen dialogue with our partners in the rest of the world. Cultural diplomacy has a vital part to play here, and by cultural diplomacy I mean a process of mutual learning and "co-creation" based on equal partnerships.
We already have some experience in this, thanks to your support and the Preparatory Action on Culture in EU External Relations. We have seen that there is considerable potential for culture in Europe’s external relations. And we have realised that many people across the world have a strong interest in engaging culturally with Europe. Clearly, we now need a more strategic approach.
This is why the Commission is working on a European strategy for international cultural relations. Together with the High Representative and Vice-President Federica Mogherini, I want to establish a cultural diplomacy that strengthens the EU's position in the world, fosters intercultural understanding and allows us to build long-term relationships based on trust and credibility.
Cultural and educational exchanges must be at the centre of our efforts. Because it is through these direct contacts between people that we best share our fundamental values and ideas.
We will of course work with governments, but also support cultural operators and their organisations on the ground. Our strategy will not add another layer of bureaucracy. On the contrary, it will complement Member States' activities, enable us to find synergies and pool resources.
A number of initiatives are already being launched at EU level. For example, the pilot project you proposed to support networks of young creative entrepreneurs from Europe and third countries is now getting underway. And I am working to make sure that we protect cultural heritage better, as a response to the terrible destruction and looting we are seeing in countries like Syira. Together with my colleague Pierre Moscovici, I am for example considering legislation on the import of cultural goods into the EU.
Finally, I am also looking at the best way of using sports in cultural diplomacy. That is why I have set up a High Level Group on sports diplomacy. I expect these experts' recommendations by this summer.
Sticking with sport, here the headlines have been dominated by very alarming news, as a series of scandals in various sports disciplines have seriously endangered trust in sport – from corruption in FIFA to doping in athletics and alleged match-fixing in tennis. This Parliament has adopted a Resolution calling for action, and I intend to act. Building on the Commission's work on good governance, I will invite sport organisations big and small to make public commitments to good governance principles – so that those in sport who want to drive reform can stand up and be counted.
Another important area where the Commission will come up with proposals for reform is copyright. With our work on the Digital Single Market, we want to free up European creativity. Last year, we defined our objectives. This year, we move to action, in particular with legislative proposals on the distribution of copyright-protected content in the digital sphere. We need to strike a balance: between making it easier for consumers to access content across borders on the one hand, and protecting the financing model of Europe's cultural sector that is based on territorial licensing of copyrighted content on the other hand.
We already have one example where, in my view, we found this balance: our proposal on portability of last December. I hope that you share this view and that it will enter into force as soon as possible.
At the same time, we must ensure that creation is properly rewarded. This means creating a level playing field where the same rules apply to everyone – including the digital platforms that profit from copyright-protected content. And it means a better deal for creators. This last point is very important for me.
Reaching this goal will not be easy. The Commission is still looking at different options. But let me be clear: I will make sure that we stick to the balanced approach we set out in our Communication on the modernisation of copyright last year.
I welcome therefore the Resolution "Towards a Digital Single Market Act" adopted by the European Parliament in January, which confirms that we share the same objectives. I am committed to working with my colleagues in the Commission and with you to ensure that we achieve them.
Let me conclude with a few words about the implementation of our flagship programmes Erasmus+ and Creative Europe. This is particularly important in the context of the mid-term review of the Multiannual Financial Framework – where we will need to demonstrate the positive impact these programmes have.
Thanks in no small part to you,we have two strong, well-funded programmes; and implementation is on track.
In its first year, Erasmus+ has supported over 1 million people and funded some 18 000 projects. The programme is also more open: over 30% of the 650 000 mobility grants for students, staff and young people went to youth with fewer oppourtunities. The figures that are now coming in for 2015 point to a similar success. And as I said earlier, we will this year priortise projects promoting fundamental values, the social dimension, active citizenship, and reaching out to refugees and migrants.
There have been some technical isses, but we have been working closely with Member States to make the programme tools more user-friendly and stable. We thus expect to see improvements over the coming months.
The Creative Europe programme is now at cruising speed. In 2016, we will launch the financial guarantee instrument. It will give cultural and creative businesses across Europe further opportunities by opening up access to bank loans, besides the grants provided for by the programme. As of the start of this year, we are also using Creative Europe to support culture projects designed to promote the integration of refugees.
I am counting on your continued support in all these initiatives. Social inclusion, especially of young people, is my top priority. And I am confident that our joint work can help us achieve it.
Showing people that we are investing in them will also be a crucial factor in determining the future of the European project. And I know that you share my intention to reconnect Europe with its youngest citizens. Last week I launched the second phase of debates under the "New Narrative for Europe" – a project which originated here in the Parliament. We will be having many debates with young people in the months ahead, and I invite you to join in.
I now look forward to hearing your views and questions.