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

EU-China High-Level People-to-People Dialogue

Inaugural meeting and signing ceremony

Brussels, 18 April 2012

State Councillor,

Minister and Vice-Ministers,

Dear colleagues,

It is an honour and privilege for me to be alongside State Councillor Liu Yandong as, together, we open this first meeting of the China-EU High-Level People-to-People Dialogue.

As Confucius said: "We are very happy to meet friends who have come from afar."

Let me take this opportunity to thank all of our colleagues on both sides, in Beijing and Brussels, who have worked so hard to prepare today's meetings and events. Your efforts are greatly appreciated.

This morning's meeting reflects our shared desire to deepen our relations, and especially in the important areas of education, culture, youth and multilingualism.

I think that all of us here have witnessed and welcomed how the EU and China have enhanced their cooperation in people-to-people relations over recent years.

When I visited China in 2010 and again last October, I had the opportunity to meet State Councillor Liu, the Ministries of Education and Culture, the President of the All-China Youth Federation, as well as high representatives from academia, the arts and youth. I came away from those meetings more convinced than ever that we can only gain from closer people-to-people relations.

I am happy to say that the leaders of both China and the EU have recognised the importance of this work. It was President Hu, Premier Wen, President Barroso and President van Rompuy who agreed last year to establish a third pillar of EU-China cooperation on people-to-people issues.

Our common purpose was translated into a formal commitment at the 14th EU-China Summit in February this year, when our leaders agreed to launch the High-Level People-to-People Dialogue.

I am happy to say that this third pillar of EU-China cooperation will bring together all of our recent efforts to strengthen cooperation in education, training, culture, multilingualism and youth. Both sides want people-to-people dialogue to develop – like the other two high-level dialogues between the EU and China – with a flexible structure and as little bureaucracy as possible.

And we should not forget the importance of working closely together with the China Mission in Brussels and the EU Delegation in Beijing to ensure the success of our actions.

As we have agreed in the Joint Declaration that we will sign at the end of this meeting, the main objectives of our people-to-people dialogue are:

  • to contribute to the knowledge and common understanding between China and the EU, through closer contacts between the peoples of both sides;

  • to encourage concrete actions based on the full exchange of information;

  • and to support the positive evolution of our societies in full respect of our highly valued diversity.

All these objectives are paramount if we want to take the mutual knowledge and common understanding between China and the EU to a higher level.

What sets worlds in motion is the interplay of their differences, their attractions, their plurality. The main result we want to achieve today is to learn a bit more about each other and, as a consequence, become more open-minded and tolerant.

Our common ambition is that – while preserving our own cultures and traditions – we and particularly our children, who will constitute our future generations, open ourselves up to other realities. This can only be possible if we educate our young people to respect and appreciate diversity.

When it comes to the field of education, the ambitions of the high-level people-to-people dialogue are very much in line with the conclusions of our policy dialogues.

We both want to expand mobility, particularly with a view to making China a more attractive study destination for EU students. This will help us to ensure a higher level of reciprocity in student flows. To this end, we welcome the willingness of the Chinese Government to set up new scholarship schemes for students.

Of course, student exchanges also imply learning new languages. Both China and Europe maintain a deep respect for the cultural and linguistic diversity on which our worlds are based. We both appreciate the need to preserve this richness, and I very much appreciate that in China you are already teaching the 23 EU official languages. In Europe, more and more Europeans are learning Mandarin.

In a globalised world, multilingualism is becoming increasingly important. More language training and mobility opportunities for students and professors are therefore crucial. Languages are the best channel by which to exchange ideas and experiences among peoples of different countries and diverse cultures.

In the field of culture, the ambition of the high-level people-to-people dialogue is to expand mutual learning on cultural policies and to improve the environment for cultural cooperation. For this, we need to build on past and current cooperation and initiatives.

The EU China Trade Project is now covering the cultural and creative industries, and initiatives on EU-China cooperation in this field have been identified for the 2012-2013 Work Plan.

In the audiovisual sector, the EU's MEDIA Mundus programme has proven to be a useful tool for the training and exchange of EU and Chinese professionals as well as the circulation of their works.

And this year, we are of course organising the EU-China Year of Intercultural Dialogue, which will give more visibility to our respective cultures.

In the field of youth, our projects will build on the 2011 China-EU Joint Declaration on Youth as well as last year's EU-China Year of Youth. Our shared aim is to promote intercultural dialogue, mutual understanding and friendship among Chinese and European youth and their organisations.

Entrepreneurship and gender equality are two issues that emerged very clearly from the debates that closed the 'Year of Youth' at the end of last year, and I would encourage our young people to keep these questions at the top of their agenda.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Whether our work is in the field of education, culture, multilingualism or youth, I think that all of us here want to take our cooperation to a new level. The High-Level People-to-People Dialogue gives us the chance to do precisely that.

Our Dialogue will focus on a limited number of issues, and include EU Member State representatives so that we can identify good practices and learn directly from experience.

Let me briefly outline some of the main deliverables of our new High-Level People-to-People Dialogue.

First, in education and multilingualism, we will together create an EU-China Higher Education Platform for Cooperation and Exchange. The Platform will provide a forum for dialogue, help identify themes of common interest and strengthen the exchange of best practice and information on new policies.

To launch the platform, we will first set up a joint working group, which will explore, among other things, future support for the EU-China joint schools.

On this note, I welcome the go-ahead for the third flagship school in China – the China-Europe Institute of Clean and Renewable Energy – as well as the support of the Ministry of Education for the extension of the China-Europe International Business School.

I understand the China-Europe School of Law is facing serious problems related to its management, jeopardising the future of this flagship project, which you have rightly mentioned on several occasions as an excellent example of EU-China cooperation in higher education. Let me reassure you that you can rely on our support and collaboration in this matter.

Still in higher education, this year we will launch an EU-China "Tuning" joint study, to reduce barriers between our higher education systems. We want to identify obstacles to mobility, establish commonly acknowledged quality criteria, and develop tools for mutual recognition.

Alongside the efforts of EU Member States, which receive over 40,000 Chinese students in study programmes in EU universities, the European Commission will expand the opportunities for mobility.

Between now and 2014, through our Erasmus Mundus programme, we will support the mobility of 5,000 Chinese students and academics to the EU and 2,000 EU students and academics to China.

And to promote greater mobility of EU-China researchers, the European Commission will encourage further Chinese participation in the Marie Curie Actions. Nearly 150 Chinese research institutions have already been involved in the Marie Curie Actions and more than 300 Chinese researchers have been funded.

A series of events are already planned to raise awareness of the opportunities for Chinese researchers, and this has received the full support of the Chinese Minister of Science and Technology. These plans include a road-show across China in May and June this year, and we look forward to working together on this. 

To promote multilingualism, the European Commission will implement a pilot language project to support the exchange of language students and teachers of lesser-spoken EU official languages for short periods of intensive training. The Commission will also support the organisation of a China-EU conference on multilingualism at the end of this year.

In culture, we will upgrade our policy dialogue, above all in the field of the cultural and creative industries, and continue our support for the EU-China Year of Intercultural Dialogue. The lessons from the Year will pave the way for future cooperation in a Joint Declaration that I plan to sign with Minister Cai Wu during the Closing Ceremony of the EU-China Year of Intercultural Dialogue.

We also want to broaden the scope of exchanges between intellectuals and policy makers at the next EU-China High-Level Culture Forum.

And we intend to deepen our cooperation in the audiovisual sector by facilitating exchanges and the circulation of works as well as of professionals, notably through MEDIA Mundus and the 2012 EU-China Year.

In the field of youth, we want to support more sustainable partnerships and networks between Chinese and European youth organisations so that, by 2013, a total of 500 youth organisations will have been involved in joint projects. One of next year's major events will be an EU-China expert seminar on youth entrepreneurship.

We will urge youth organisations from China and the EU to advance EU-China people-to-people-dialogue and reach out to a wider range of civil society organisations through projects such as the China-Europe Symposia on Youth Work Development, jointly organised by the All-China Youth Federation and the European Youth Forum.

We also want to reinforce web-based cooperation between the Chinese and EU portals specialised on youth issues – such as the European Youth Portal – and other forms of media. This will help us to give EU-China people-to-people dialogue in the field of youth the widest possible visibility and impact.

State Councillor Liu,

Allow me to conclude by returning all of these practical measures to their broader political context. Both China and the EU have understood that education, culture, youth and languages are of vital importance to our societies – they are essential ingredients in our social fabric.

This explains why we will both invest significant resources in all of these areas over the coming years. The European Commission, for its part, has proposed a large increase in the EU's budget for education, training and youth under our future programme, 'Erasmus for All'.

But, together with China, we are also sensitive to the countless ways in which education, culture, youth and languages can open up new channels of communication between our peoples, and bring them closer together.

This, I believe, is the true 'deliverable' from our new people-to-people dialogue. Deepening the mutual understanding between peoples requires time and patience, but today we are taking a bold step in the right direction. I am proud to be taking that first step with you, and am confident that our journey will be long and happy.

Thank you.

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