Paris, 30 May 2018
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Dear Minister Flessel,
Thank you for organising this informal meeting today in the context of the 2024 Olympic Games.
We are in a city with a strong tradition in hosting successful major sport events, such as several games of the UEFA EURO 2016, including the final of course. And let us not forget that this "Stade de France" witnessed a major victory in the history of French football: here France became world champion against Brazil in 1998.
Minister Flessel, dear Laura, I expressed my support when you announced your idea to make the Olympic and Paralympic Games a European event. Today's meeting is an excellent opportunity for us to advance our joint work towards this objective. The Games will indeed be a fantastic moment to celebrate our Union's unity and common values.
Events of this kind are important for the development of sport, for its promotion and for its image. They involve not only athletes but also thousands of volunteers. They fascinate millions of spectators. All Member States have understood the power of sport and the impact sport competitions can have on soft diplomacy.
In 2015, my first full year as a Commissioner responsible for this policy area, sport diplomacy was an almost unexplored field at EU level. Yet, I was convinced that sport can be a vehicle to promote values such as democracy, freedom, peace and mutual understanding, and that it can contribute to improve international relations.
So I decided to set up a High Level Group on sport diplomacy. The aim was to collect fresh and innovative ideas to help us harness the potential of sport in building stronger relations with our partners around the world.
The High Level Group came up with 15 concrete recommendations. Some of them seek to promote EU values in the context of major sport events.
I am happy to see that other EU institutions and Member States are also increasingly aware of the importance of sport in international relations. Let us remember that on the initiative of the Slovak Presidency, the Council adopted conclusions on sport diplomacy in 2016.
These Council conclusions confirm that sport can be a tool to promote our shared values and that it should play a more significant role in helping the EU reach its external policy goals.
But I believe that we also have to do much better in using sport to strengthen our values inside our Union. Just last week, you adopted Conclusions on promoting common EU values through sport. This work led by Minister Kralev has again acknowledged that major sport events offer a great opportunity to raise awareness of values among athletes, volunteers, as well as supporters.
The European project, our unity, even the very foundations of our way of life, are being questioned. Divisions are opening up in our societies and between Member States. Families break apart, personal networks are lost. Individuals, often born and raised in our society, turn against their communities and the values they are built on and commit atrocious acts of terror.
To tackle this, we need to build bridges and create a sense of belonging. And we need to ensure everyone understands and adheres to the principles and values we share. All the areas I am responsible for have a vital role to play in this, and sport in particular – it transcends language and social barriers in a unique way.
To ensure it can play this role, the European dimension of sport should be developed in a way that respects Member States competences and the autonomy of sport organisations. Under these conditions sport can help to promote our shared values – both inside and outside the Union.
We have several tools at EU level which help us in this task. Erasmus+ is the most important one of them. For instance, it enables us to provide financing to European sport projects involving third countries, supporting this international dimension.
But there is room for improvement. Just yesterday, I presented our proposal for the new Erasmus programme after 2020 with a substantially increased budget. I am particularly ambitious for the sport chapter for which I want to double funding. I have proposed a stronger international dimension in sport, as well as new initiatives that will enable sport coaches and staff to learn abroad. And I want to lift the 10% budget limit for sport events, so that we can give more support
I count on you to back these proposals in the tough negotiations on the EU budget ahead of us. A stronger Erasmus sport chapter will make its valuable contribution to sport diplomacy. It will help us promote and strengthen the values that we need to live together – and build a cohesive, resilient Europe for tomorrow.