It's a pleasure to be here with you for our first exchange of views on the work that lies ahead of us.
Madam Chair, I think we made a good start at the end of last year. You and I took part in a number of important meetings with our stakeholders – such as the European Union Literature Prize and the European Summit on Digital Education – and I believe we share a similar philosophy on many questions.
Today I want to underline my commitment to work closely with you on the urgent challenges for which we share responsibility. And I want to offer you my thoughts on the new Commission, and how we can work together to advance our shared political goals.
But first I want to say a few words about the recent events in Paris.
I still feel shocked, saddened and deeply worried by the brutality of what we saw.
This was an attack not only on free speech but also on the most fundamental and precious value of all: human life. No belief or ideology can justify murder.
Terrorism obliges us to think about our security. We are reminded of the bravery of our police forces, who protect us every day.
But we, as politicians, cannot limit our response to security measures. We have a duty to ask ourselves difficult questions about our society and where it is going. What is truly at stake – in the long term – is our ability to live together in the same society.
I say this because, rather than simply express my shock at recent events, I want to begin a conversation with you about what we can do – with the modest tools at our disposal.
Education at its best – when it develops a critical mind – helps us to understand and accept our differences. Culture opens our imagination and our empathy towards others.
My services have contacted education departments in all Member States, inviting them to share ideas on how they approach free speech in the curriculum. We want to find good practices so that others can take inspiration.
I was very heartened by the united response of European Culture Ministers, who have vowed to defend the freedom of expression, and protect the rights of artists to create freely. I want to explore with them how we turn this commitment into action.
I want to use the Structured Dialogue with our European youth organisations to think about how youth participation can help to counter radicalisation, marginalisation and the erosion of faith in shared societal values.
These are, I know, small steps in the face of the enormity of the task. However, I'm sure you agree with me that we can and should respond with the tools we have at European level.
I would welcome your views and ideas in our discussion today, and I am at your disposal to continue this discussion in the weeks and months ahead – my door is open.
At the end of last year, I had the chance to meet with some of you bilaterally – in particular with you, Madame Chair, and with some of the coordinators of the political groups. This was an excellent opportunity for me to get to know your Committee and your concerns. I want to meet many more of you in the weeks to come.
All our conversations confirmed my belief that our portfolio is more vital than any other. My job now is to make sure that our policies shape the Commission's agenda.
One of my first tasks was to get to grips with the Commission's new internal architecture and working methods. As you know, the Vice-Presidents are coordinating major thematic working groups, such as the Digital Single Market.
My aim in these first weeks was, first, to ensure that my colleagues fully understand the importance of the issues across our portfolio and, second, to work out how best to mainstream our concerns into this new way of working.
To see this new way of working in action, I would encourage you to look at the Commission's Work Programme for 2015, which we adopted in December. Some people might say that our policies – education, youth, culture and sport – are not very visible. But I would ask you to look carefully at three of the most urgent initiatives, where our portfolio is very much at the heart of things.
First, the new Investment Plan for Europe. In less than three months the Commission has not only launched the proposal but also – last week – adopted a draft regulation on the new investment fund. And I am very happy to say that education is one of the top priorities for new investment.
Why is this so urgent? Because many of our international partners are investing more in education than we are. They have understood what is at stake. Quite simply, we need to do better. We need to invest in education and training so that Europe trains better teachers, provides citizens with the right skills, and keeps education as open as possible to the greatest number of people.
I am working closely with Vice-President Katainen and other Commissioners to make sure that the Investment Plan really does target education, and identify the best projects across the European Union.
But it is not enough to win this argument inside the Commission. We need to take the argument to our national capitals, to our finance ministers, to our education institutions and business leaders. And the journey starts here – today – with you.
This Committee already understands that we need to invest more in education. So let us join forces and call on our governments, finance ministers, regional authorities, investors and social partners to support the Investment Plan. For our schools, training colleges and universities across Europe, this is a golden opportunity.
The second initiative I want to highlight is the review of the Europe 2020 strategy.
The Commission intends to publish its proposals in the coming months.
You have already asked us to retain the dual target on education: to reduce the number of early school-leavers, and increase the number of young people who complete tertiary education. Education Ministers echoed your call in the Council last December.
Many of you have argued that Europe 2020 should explicitly refer to the role of the creative and cultural industries. I am sympathetic to this view, especially as we now see more and more clearly how these sectors contribute to new and better jobs and to new growth.
But I am not certain that the best way to strengthen the Europe 2020 strategy is to widen its scope. Even our Culture Ministers are to some extent divided on this matter, as we saw in Council last November.
But this does not mean that the cultural sector is absent from our economic and social strategy. Far from it. From 'Creative Europe' to our Structural and Investment Funds to the new Investment Plan, the European Union will invest heavily in culture in the years ahead.
Important steps lie ahead in the weeks to come. Once the Commission has published its proposals to review Europe 2020, both Parliament and Council will have their say under a fast-track procedure. Later, in the autumn, the Commission will propose new integrated guidelines for economic and employment policies.
This last point is important. It is through these integrated guidelines, under the European Semester, that the European Union encourages Member States to make urgent reforms. The new guidelines should recognise how education and training systems help to deliver jobs and growth.
In particular, they should call on Member States to invest; to continue to modernise their education systems; to work towards quality learning outcomes; to reduce early school leaving; and to improve early childhood education and care.
I would urge this Committee to shape the Parliament's position on all of these priorities. My services and I stand ready to discuss any question with you. And, looking to the future, when the new Europe 2020 framework is operational, let us examine together what the process tells us about Member States' progress in reforming education.
The third major initiative I want to share with you is the Digital Single Market. This is where I am already working closely with Vice-President Ansip and a number of Commissioners. My ambition is to ensure that one of Europe's great strengths – its cultural and creative industries – can blossom and thrive in the digital world.
The internet revolution has swept away business models, concentrated economic power and challenged the notion of intellectual property. Out of this breath-taking disruption emerges a tough question: how does cultural diversity thrive in a globalising digital world?
Of course, this new world also brings fresh opportunity. Costs of production and distribution are falling, bigger audiences are easily reached, and new technologies open up new forms of art and performance. Many would argue we are living in a golden age where European design, fashion, writing, media, film and festivals are leading the way. And I would agree.
But many of our creators will not reach their full potential without various forms of public support. This is where I believe the European Union can make a difference.
I want to see an internet that not only gives consumers more choice but also rewards those who create, perform and take risks. New technologies clear away old business models but they need not undermine our basic values. Real choice, cultural diversity, independent media and a fair reward for investment: all of these require different forms of regulatory action.
I want to argue for a modernised and effective copyright regime that is fit for the digital age. This means that artists and other creators are fairly remunerated and cultural diversity is protected, while we expand cross-border access to culture and education.
But our discussions in the Commission go much further than that. We are reflecting on how Europe's creative and cultural sectors can become flagships for growth, jobs and freedom of expression in a digital world, which this Committee has demanded for years.
We are looking at how our education systems can grasp the huge opportunities of digitisation for better and more accessible teaching and learning, and how digital tools can increase youth participation.
The Digital Single Market is one of the most important pieces of work that we will work on together. It touches many of the issues on which this Committee has expressed strong opinions.
I would encourage this Committee to shape the debate within Parliament, and together with my services I remain at your disposal for technical clarification and political discussion. Our doors are open.
Today I have not covered all the questions that concern us. I remain fully committed to the other priorities and commitments that I presented to you in October:
- helping European universities to be among the best in the world;
- leading the fight against youth unemployment with full support from the youth guarantee;
- creating new platforms for youth participation;
- launching the first European Week of Sport, and leading the fight against all forms of corruption.
I am certain that our discussion today will raise questions on youth and sport, and I look forward to them.
Thanks in no small part to this Committee, we have strong and well-resourced programmes at our disposal. Our duty now is to make sure that Erasmus+, Creative Europe, the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology reach their full potential.
This is why I want to invite you, Madame Chair, and your Committee to join me on a visit to our Executive Agency later this spring. I think all of us would benefit from a look inside the machine – so that together we can understand how our programmes function day to day.
I have made a commitment to work in partnership with you on our shared agenda, and today is one more step on that journey. I look forward to our debate.
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