Pristina University, 14 July 2015
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It is a great pleasure to be with you today. I am looking forward to discussing some of the European Commission's main political priorities with you. I will also try to explain how the policy areas I am responsible for – in particular education and culture – relate to these priorities.
These days, the future of the European project often seems uncertain. What is happening with Greece has raised fundamental questions about where we want to go, how we want to live and work together in the European Union, what we want this Union to look like. Finding answers will be a big challenge. But I believe we need to stay positive.
I know this is not easy when problems are piling up. Events in Greece or the United Kingdom as well as the rise of eurosceptic and in some cases extremist parties present real challenges to integration. After the worst financial and economic crisis since World War II, inequality and the risk of poverty are on the rise, straining the fabric that holds our societies together. In some EU Member States, more than half of young people are without a job. We are running a serious risk of losing an entire generation. Isolation, exclusion and even radicalisation of young people as a result of this are real threats.
At the same time, we need to find human and fair ways of dealing with the influx of migrants and refugees. And we need to deal with the various threats to our security.
Faced with all these challenges, I believe we need to remind ourselves of what the European project is fundamentally about: It is about uniting us. It is about overcoming division by growing closer economically, politically and culturally. About ensuring that we will never live through war again in Europe.
European integration is a way to do that. And it is working. For the past 70 years, the European Union has done a fine job of preventing war in its territory. There is also little doubt that the perspective of EU membership helped push countries like mine toward democracy – and thus toward peace
But perhaps the most important change happened in people's minds and in their hearts. The steady rise in prosperity we have been enjoying, our freedom and our way of life that is the envy of most of the world – these major achievements have only been possible because the European project has brought people together.
What we have in the European Union is precious. We have to preserve and strengthen it. This means we have to keep working on it. Every day. And the European Commission is determined to play its part in this.
How do we plan to do this, to tackle the big challenges facing us? Last summer, President Jean-Claude Juncker outlined his vision for "setting Europe in motion again". He presented a broad-based reform agenda focused on job creation, economic growth, fairness and democratic change – the areas where the European Union can make a real difference.
Just over eight months since taking office, the Commission is already delivering on its promises. We have set out strategic agendas to boost investment, build a true Energy Union, create a Digital Single Market, tackle the challenges of migration and security and develop a fairer corporate tax system.
And there is more to come: We are working on strategies for Trade and Investment, for the Single Market for goods and for services, on an ambitious package for the Circular Economy. We will present an action plan for developing a real Capital Markets Union in the autumn, along with the first legislative proposals in the most pressing areas. And before the end of the year, we want produce a comprehensive – and clearly much needed – package on the Economic and Monetary Union, with a clear social dimension.
I will be happy to discuss these various elements in more detail during our questions and answers session.
But first let me reassure you that, urgent as the situation within the EU's borders may be, we are not just looking inwards. This Commission is also determined to turn the EU into a stronger global player.
This will involve, among other things, a comprehensive review of the EU's European neighbourhood Policy. We want to make it more focused and more flexible and create a stronger sense of ownership in our partner countries. We will present our plans later this year, but I can already say: We will engage much more with young people, through educational exchanges and other networks. Because we want young people to play a major role in developing a common vision for the future.
This is because any hope we have for a better future must start with the young generations – who have been bearing the brunt of the crisis and of the rapid changes in our societies. And looking for a source of hope, I want to look to the great potential of education.
Education can give us the power to determine the life we lead as individuals. And it can give us the power to help shape the society we want to live in. Education can give us the confidence to believe that a world based on values and fairness will be the best for us as individuals.
That is why we put education and youth employment at the centre of our Europe 2020 strategy for growth and job creation. I am collaborating closely with EU Member States on educational reform so that our schools equip young people with the skills they need.
My work with EU Ministers for Education involves identifying priorities for educational reform, then supporting, urging and occasionally nudging them into delivering those reforms. We stress a comprehensive approach encouraging life-long learning, throughout the life cycle, inside and outside the classroom.
Later this year, in November, we will publish a new set of priorities for co-operation in education and training. Work is still in progress, but for me future priorities need to address
1) relevant and high-quality skills and competences,
2) inclusive education,
3) innovative education,
4 support to educators, and
5) transparency and recognition of skills and qualifications.
With the new education and training priorities that we will identify together, we want to further improve our support to Member States. We want to help them address employability, skills mismatches and social inclusion at all levels of learning.
This brings me to a broader issue: In the wake of the terrible terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen, Member States and I have committed to promote citizenship and our values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education.
How? We will need to boost civic education and focus more on disadvantaged learners, we will have to do more to encourage young people to volunteer and find other ways of participating, and we will need to strengthen dialogue and intercultural understanding through education, youth, culture and sport. Member States will do most of the work on the ground. But I see a clear role for the EU in driving this forward, and I will make this a priority of my mandate.
We also want to support our partner countries. I know that Kosovo is working to reform its education system. In fact, just today I discussed this very issue with Minister Arsim Bajrami. And I assured him of the EU's continued support. We are ready to help, both through policy dialogue and financial assistance.
Our Erasmus+ programme is a great tool in this.
Erasmus+ offers students and apprentices the opportunity to study or train abroad. It also gives young people the chance to take part in non-formal learning activities, for example in volunteering. And Erasmus+ supports the training of education staff and youth workers, as well as stronger partnerships between education and employers.
Let me briefly turn to what Erasmus+ can do for Kosovo.
First of all, I am happy to say that Kosovo has always been an active partner in our academic cooperation programmes Tempus, Erasmus Mundus, Marie Curie, Jean Monnet. It has also collaborated well with EU universities.
Under Erasmus+, which started in 2014, Kosovo is involved as a partner country. Cooperation is thus limited to higher education and youth. Full participation in Erasmus+ is not possible for the moment. But once Kosovo can sign the agreement for participation in Erasmus+, the Commission will be happy to assist Kosovo in setting up a National Agency.
In the meantime, there is an international strand in Erasmus+ which allows us to cooperate with countries outside the EU. This type of cooperation is mainly reserved higher education, where we fund cooperation projects that help our partner countries modernise their institutions.
We also support staff and students who study or teach abroad, mainly in the EU, for a period of time. This was once the preserve of the "old", EU-only Erasmus programme. Now this possibility is open to students from other countries – like you.
This is vital. Direct, personal relations between people are becoming more and more important in the international context. These kinds of direct relations – mainly in the fields of culture, education and youth – have already played a major role in shaping the EU: Erasmus, which has contributed to forging a sense of European identity, is an obvious example.
We now want to expand the role of these exchanges in international relations. I have already said that this Commission is determined to help the EU become a stronger global player. And we believe that cultural diversity needs to be nurtured in a context of openness and exchanges between different cultures.
Europe is going through a difficult phase. But this Commission has a vision for a stable and prosperous European Union, and the will to make this vision a reality. We want to work with Member States and our partners inside and outside the Union to ensure we make it happen. Only in this way can we ensure citizens view the European project as part of the solution to the huge challenges we face. Only in this way can we continue to come closer together.