Brussels, 24 January 2019
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Dear Minister Andronescu,
Dear Ms Kammerevert,
Dear experts and panelists, dear participants,
Thank you for being here. This Forum is an important step in defining the EU’s contribution to education for the decade to come. And to do so, we need your thoughts and input.
Europe is facing big challenges, and there is a growing consensus that education is part of the answer. I often say that today’s education is tomorrow’s society; and how it can help us build cohesive, resilient societies is precisely what you will discuss in the coming hours.
We are now at a crossroads. Education is back at the top of the European Union’s political agenda. We have a unique opportunity for a qualitative jump. It is our duty to seize it.
Until recently, sceptics questioned the EU’s added valued in a field where Member States have exclusive competence. What they failed to see is that the EU’s most popular brand has its home in just this policy area. I am talking about Erasmus, this true European success story that has enabled more than nine million people, the equivalent of the whole population of Hungary or Portugal, to cross physical, cultural and personal borders. And to experience what it feels like to be European.
After a long period of silence on education, culture and youth, EU Leaders discussed these topics in December 2017. And they gave the Commission a clear mandate to think big and shake up the debate with ambitious proposals.
And this is what we did in 2018. We put bold initiatives on the table: to boost teaching about European integration in schools and push for quality early education for all, to pave the way for the creation of European Universities and nudge Europeans to learn to speak more foreign languages; not to mention our proposal to double the Erasmus budget in the EU’s next long-term budget!
I am proud to have seized this opportunity to take our cooperation to a more ambitious level. And much to my satisfaction, our ambition is largely echoed by stakeholders and meeting the constructive spirit of Member States.
Dear experts, dear participants,
This is the favourable context in which your reports will be analysed by the Commission. My services and I will seek inspiration to define the framework and our objectives for the next ten years, looking at the challenges in education but also beyond. Your role is to help us imagine our societies in 2030 so that we can draw up suitable policy responses. We will have an excellent opportunity to continue our discussions at the second European Education Summit in September of this year.
I have been working to put in place solid foundations for the European Education Area. But this is only the beginning.
Looking ahead to 2030, what do we see? We see an older Europe with an ageing population. Tomorrow’s Europe will suffer an internal brain drain deeply affecting rural areas. Europe will have fewer pupils and, worryingly, fewer teachers. How do we nurture the teaching profession to ensure that it enjoys the prestige and attractiveness it deserves? How do we keep our countryside alive and safeguard equal opportunities with fewer pupils and fewer teachers? These are key challenges. Challenges that do not always get the attention they deserve, but that are a source of immense pain for those who feel forgotten.
Second, one of the priorities for the time leading up to 2030 must be to strengthen social cohesion in Europe through education. Divisions are opening up in the EU – between Member States, between communities, between neighbours. We cannot look at the past or build the future with suspicious minds. Our schools must help build a common European identity, and that is why I have proposed to substantially boost exchanges for school pupils and classrooms under the next Erasmus programme. The earlier young people discover European diversity, the earlier they will understand their European identity.
This is something I also want to support more strongly outside the classroom – for example with the European Solidarity Corps, which I want to develop into a true single entry point for young people keen to support others. Young people have a big role to play in building bridges, in forming cohesive communities. A strengthened European Solidarity Corps after 2020 will be a key tool in giving them opportunities to do just that.
We also need to keep a close eye on the ever-growing polarisation that has been raising questions about our ability to create a sense of belonging around common values. Now and in the near future, education must be the antidote to political extremism, be it on the extreme left or extreme right. It must also prevent violent radicalisation of any kind, including jihadist ideologies.
Third, the digitalisation of our labour markets and societies will continue and probably gather pace over the next decade. Digital skills are already the new frontier of literacy for all generations. How can our schools and universities best use new technologies in teaching and learning? We are still looking for a fully satisfactory answer to this question.
Finally, we will also need to mainstream teaching about environmental challenges in curricula so that pupils learn about climate change. This also means making sure that the level and quality of investment enables educators to deliver on all these priorities.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Education is a national competence. But I do believe that Member States greatly benefit from cooperation at European level. Learning from others, setting up European networks or agreeing on common objectives and benchmarks, not to mention the decisive role of Erasmus, definitely makes a difference.
The Education and Training framework of cooperation is an important part of our toolkit. This mechanism allows for permanent discussions at all levels. Today’s event is an important step to help the Commission and Member States shape their cooperation for the next decade. At the last Education Council in November 2018, we agreed to step up our cooperation. We need debates of this kind to better understand the priorities on the ground. As stakeholders, it is your role to keep close and permanent contact with pupils, teachers and organisations and relay their experience to us. This includes capturing and reflecting the views and concerns of those who are beyond our circles – even if they might challenge some of our views.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When it comes to the European dimension of education, the future looks brighter than it did when I took up office four years ago. The political context is more favourable than it has been for decades. We have laid the foundations of this fascinating project of a true European Education Area. We have a real chance of securing much stronger financial support to underpin work on our political priorities through a reinforced Erasmus programme for the period 2021 to 2027. All this gives us a unique opportunity to put young people at the heart of our efforts to build the Europe of the future.
The next five years will be crucial in fulfilling our big ambitions. I count on you to keep working with us to make it happen.