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Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

Opening Speech

First Global Enterprise Project Awards Ceremony at the ‘Global Enterprise Challenge’

Paris, Thursday, 22 March 2012

Dear students,

Dear Members of the Jury

Ladies and gentlemen,

I'm delighted to be here with you this afternoon for the First Global Enterprise Project European Challenge.

I would like to thank the European Round Table of Industrialists as well as the Junior Achievement-Young Enterprise Europe and the European Schoolnet for organizing this event.

And of course my warmest congratulations go to all the young people who made the journey to Paris from all over Europe, to be with us today and have their skills put to the test.

I believe this challenge is an intensive experience to test your entrepreneurship mindset, your cross cultural understanding and ability to work under pressure and in a team spirit. These are qualities which will be very useful to apprehend today competitive and globalised world

Europe is currently facing a number of economic, social, and environmental challenges: climate change; ageing population; increased competition from emerging economies, high unemployment, especially among young people.

More than five million young adults, or one in five, are out of work today.

The world's economic and social landscape is changing dramatically, and we need to reform our societies and economies if we are to keep up. We need to build a society and an economy that provides people with more opportunities, and rewards them for their efforts and skills.

This means that the European economy must become capable of adapting quickly to new demands and changing circumstances; capable of absorbing shocks, and promptly bouncing back on its feet.

For this, we need more entrepreneurs. Let's not forget that the great enterprises of today are almost without exception built on the foundations created from the vision, talent and drive of entrepreneurs.

We know that in the US it is the companies five years old or younger that are responsible for the majority of net job growth over the last 30 years. Without new firms, there are no new jobs.

New companies are the lifeblood of rising productivity and consequently of higher living standards. When it comes to promoting prosperity through job and wealth creation, the role of new entrepreneurs can hardly be overstated.

That's why we need events like today's and initiatives such as the Global Enterprise project.

What we need today is a real change of mindset in Europe towards the promotion of an entrepreneurial culture and entrepreneurship education. Being entrepreneurial means being creative, self-confident as well as taking calculated risks by developing a spirit of initiative and helping people to cope with failure. It is a truly societal challenge that we have to take very seriously and we have to start already at the school level.

Achieving an entrepreneurial mindset is indeed a lifelong learning process, which starts at an early age and continues throughout the whole education process.

Therefore it is crucial that our education systems provide students with the right opportunities to develop their entrepreneurial mindset.

This calls for a strong reform of the education systems in our Member States. At Higher education, there is a real move towards a modernisation of the higher education institutions and the promotion of entrepreneurship.

Of course, in this matter in both higher education and lower levels of education, the competence is within the Members States. However, the European level can help promoting the right policy mix in our Member States.

I believe it is important to create, already at school, the right conditions for the younger to express their creativity, while at the same time being confronted to the realities of the world of work. This requires new methods of teaching and learning, based for instance on a better use of ICTs in schools.

I am convinced also much needs to be done to make Science and Technology more attractive for young students by promoting for instance practical experiences. This could help more students to choose a scientific carrier.

But in addition to all this, we also need to bring education closer to business.

It is only by combining entrepreneurship education and interaction with business, that students develop the practical skills, knowledge and attitudes that will allow them to innovate –having an idea on how to improve the local community, starting up a business, initiating and pushing forward an innovation process in their work place and so forth.

This is an area where we must do better. If in the higher education system, the cooperation with business is more and more accepted and regarded as an opportunity, at lower level, I know this can create – and sometimes rightly so- tensions. However, cooperation does not mean companies will enter and influence the curricula and the content of the courses.

Actually, in Europe we must come up with new forms of cooperation and partnership between education and business. And I see the Global Enterprise Project as an excellent example of what we should do in this respect. I am especially impressed by the commitment of both the companies who accepted to mentor a team, and the students and their teachers.

This project is a call for action to all business and ministries of education to get more engaged together to ensure the best possible future for Europe's youth. Students that have experienced early-age entrepreneurship education are 4-5 times more likely to start their own business.

But another characteristic of this project I am very supportive of is its international dimension. By working in multi-cultural teams, you have experience the very heart of the European project and identity. The capacity to understand other cultures, to speak foreign languages and to work in a multi-cultural environment is very important for each one of us. Not only it increases the employability prospects but it helps to develop as true European citizens.

This is the reason why Europe puts so much emphasis on mobility, especially for the students. I am sure that most of you have already heard about Erasmus. Maybe, and I hope so, you will soon do an Erasmus course in another European country.

To study, volunteer or work in another country is the best way to develop just these types of skills. Spending time in another country teaches you how to adapt to new environments. You learn to approach situations from a different perspective. And in the end, this is what entrepreneurship is all about.

I therefore encourage all of you to have, in the course of your studies, the opportunity to experience a learning mobility in another country.

It doesn't matter if you are a student in vocational training or in higher education; if you have done a placement in a company abroad, you will find the transition from education to employment smoother – you will have more self-confidence, will be better at teamwork and find it easier to adapt.

And if you are mobile as a student, you are more likely to be mobile as a worker and move to the country where the labour market is in need of your skills.

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am convinced that ultimately people are at the heart of innovation. So we must equip our young generations with the critical set of skills they need in a global knowledge economy.

This is the reason why the Commission has proposed to increase by 70%, to €19b the budget allocated to education at European level over the next seven years and within the new programme: 'Erasmus for all'.

We must invest in Education not despite the crisis, but because of it. Investing in education is our best exit strategy from the current crisis.

Very concretely, I am proposing to support financially the partnerships between businesses and education systems, both for the higher education through the Knowledge Alliances and the Vocational education training through the sector skills alliances. And I am confident that the companies represented here today will be interested in these initiatives.

Also, and in order to change the mindset, Europe has created the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, which gathers 61 of the best European Universities, 73 of the biggest and most innovative European companies, and 51 of the most renowned and active European research centres. By building on the already existing excellence centres in Europe and by amplifying their impact, the objective of the EIT is to create the entrepreneurs of tomorrow and organise the conditions for the emergence of innovative starts-up which could become the next Facebook.

Dear students,

Once Samuel Beckett, one of the greatest writes of the twentieth century said: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better". And this is exactly what entrepreneurship is all about: You only get better if you keep trying.

You have participated in the Global Enterprise Project, acquired many skills and been nominated for the finals - so all of you are amongst the best in Europe.

I am sure that your innovative and creative minds - your entrepreneurial spirit - will make Europe a stronger growing economy and an even better place to live in.

We, in the European Union are counting on young people and their creative powers to develop the new ideas we need so urgently.

Before I hand the floor over to the jury for their feedback, let me conclude with another quotation, this time from Albert Einstein, maybe the most famous of all Nobel prize-winners.

Einstein was a very modest man when he said, 'I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.' Of course he had more than a talent; he had a genius. But he knew that it was his curiosity that drove him forward.

Your curiosity, your creativity and your passion are the raw materials of tomorrow's world. I know you will use them wisely to create our future.

Thank you.

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