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

Launch of 2012 EU-China Year of Intercultural dialogue

Opening ceremony

Brussels, 1 February 2012

Minister Cai Wu, Honourable Mr Rivellini, Minister Elbaek,

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,

It is an honour and a pleasure for me to welcome you all on this very special day.

A special day indeed, because it shows that the links between the European Union and China go beyond economic and political relations.

And a special day also because it testifies of the rising awareness of the role of culture in a globalised world.

Today we stand united by our common acknowledgement of the role of culture and of its values, such as its contribution to dialogue and mutual understanding.

For most of the past 5000 years the relations between the EU and China have seen moments of authentic reciprocal fascination.

There have also been long periods of mutual semi-ignorance. I believe it is time we look at each other with new eyes, free from prejudice and ready to learn from each other.

This is the spirit that brings us together to celebrate the opening of the EU-China joint Year of Intercultural Dialogue.

Today we are recognising that the EU and China are more to each other than the sum of their respective interests. They stand together as two ancient cultures and two rich traditions, who know they can learn one from the other.

And who both know that the ability and willingness to engage in such a mutual learning process are among the keys to respond to the global challenges they both face.

Intercultural dialogue is not an easy process. Above all, it requires a conscious and sustained effort to go beyond the appearances, to rid oneself of prejudice and preconceived ideas, and to appreciate the wonderfully diverse ways in which different cultures have learnt to manifest what are, essentially, the same human emotions.

This Opening ceremony is the starting point of a great variety of activities, events, collaborations and exchanges which will take place both in China and across the EU throughout 2012, all aimed at contributing to a better mutual understanding between European and Chinese citizens.

This is why we intend to involve as many people as possible. We want to encourage everybody to move beyond clichés and biases, and to engage with one another across cultural borders.

And we are confident that the Year's legacy will last well beyond 2012. As one of the founding fathers of the European Union, Jean Monnet, once said: "nothing can be done without the people".

But nothing can last without Institutions.

In two weeks' time the EU-China Summit meeting will establish a Third Pillar in the EU-China strategic partnership. It will be a pillar dedicated to "people to people" contacts, and it will include the field of culture.

Its main instrument will be the new High-Level People to People Dialogue, which will have the specific task of enhancing cultural relations and expanding people-to-people exchanges. The first annual meeting of the Dialogue could already take place this spring in Brussels.

Culture is therefore set to be a permanent component of our strategic partnership, which stems from a common wish to engage in long-term cooperation.

For these reasons the Year will not only favour cultural exchanges but also promote intercultural dialogue through student and researcher mobility, language learning and youth projects.

But all this, and also today's ceremony, would not have been possible without the support and active involvement of the Chinese Ministry of Culture and the Mission of China to the EU. I take this opportunity to warmly thank Minister Cai Wu for ensuring such fruitful cooperation.

This has enabled us to agree not only on the concept of the Year itself, but also on other elements, such as the joint logo for the Year - which you can see behind me-, which are in themselves an exercise of intercultural dialogue!

These two fans, red and blue, portray elements of Chinese and European tradition, but also suggest fluidity and movement, and point to the new dynamics in the cooperation between the EU and China.

The way the profile of culture has been raised so dramatically in our strategic partnership is a perfect and very concrete illustration of the progress that has been made in understanding the role of culture in external relations. Governments, institutions, and all other operators increasingly recognise the importance of cultural relations, because they appreciate the strong links forged by cultural cooperation, and its lasting effects among the citizens.

The Danish Presidency has put the theme of culture in EU's external relations very high on its agenda this semester, with a specific focus on China, and I welcome very much this initiative.

Engaging in this debate entails raising a number of delicate and complex questions:

How to articulate cultural values into foreign policy without making an instrumental use of them?

How to promote our creative and cultural industries at international level while safeguarding and fostering cultural diversity?

How to combine our rich cultural heritage with a forward-looking creativity opened onto the world?

And how can we create synergies between diverse and strong cultural identities at EU level when engaging in cultural relations with third countries?

These are some of the questions we will have to address in our discussions and more concretely in the context of our future cultural cooperation.

But now I would like to invite you to celebrate the pleasure of being together tonight and of getting to know each other better. I therefore declare open the 2012 EU-China Year of Intercultural Dialogue.

Enjoy the evening (and I wish you all a Happy Year of the Dragon)!

Thank you/Xiexie (to be pronounced "chiéchié")

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