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European Commission


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

Education and culture – a linchpin for economic success and peace

MENA (The Middle East and North Africa) Economic Forum /Marseille

7 November 2013


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Je suis ravie d'être ici avec vous cet après-midi à l'occasion du 3e Forum économique MENA.

Je tiens à remercier les organisateurs de m'avoir donné l'occasion de m'adresser à un groupe aussi éminent.

Permettez-moi de partager avec vous quelques réflexions sur l'éducation et la culture dans l'Union européenne et leur contribution à la paix en Europe et au-delà, et à leur rôle en termes de développement et croissance durable.

Dear friends,

For many people around the world, the European Union is a source of inspiration. To see countries once at war come together in a European project and share the goal of lasting peace is a unique achievement.

The men and women who after World War Two set to work to build peace in Europe did so with a will to show that peace can endure.

They knew that to preserve peace it was not enough just to end war; there had to be a political project where people's rights were guaranteed, where people shared a community of values. And if the foundation on which this European project for peace had to be built was economic integration, educational and cultural exchanges have quickly taken on a prominent role.

Over the years, the European Union has been working to develop new and deeper forms of cooperation between its Member States and with the rest of the world for a stronger global economy; in this process, education and culture have taken on a growing role as a linchpin between economic success and peace.

Education has a crucial role in passing down our core values to every young European citizen. And no other EU programme has been as effective in uniting young Europeans across nations as Erasmus, a remarkable success story for the past 25 years.

The Erasmus experience has also provided them with skills which are highly valued on the labour market - such as self-reliance, adaptability, being able to work in multi-disciplinary and multicultural teams, a sense of initiative – and it has certainly opened their minds.

Recently, it is true, the economic crisis in Europe has put education and culture to the test. The crisis has confirmed the importance of both these sectors. But, it has also put the spotlight on the need to reform education systems to ensure that they teach young people the skills they need for sustainable employment.

And in the case of culture, the shift towards a knowledge economy has highlighted the importance of pursuing inter-cultural dialogue and tapping into the full potential of the cultural and creative sectors for sustainable growth and jobs.

In our schools, it is vital that we teach the right skills. And for this, the European Commission is working with EU Member States to carry out the necessary reforms to make our education systems fit for the 21st century; to make them more modern and more compatible one with the other, while respecting their diversity.

The foundations of prosperity, democracy and stability, and of peace as well, are built in our schools.

I recently had the honour to address the World Innovation Summit for Education which took place in Quatar at the end of October. More than 1,000 prominent education, corporate, political and social leaders from over 100 countries took part in active debates and dialogue. The participation of actors from the Middle East, Europe and Africa allowed useful interactions crossing over borders and continents. It showed once more that, despite our differences, we all face the same challenges when it comes to adapting skills and linking education systems to the labour market.

Therefore, our policy of supporting educational reform goes beyond Europe.

For instance, in the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011, we made the commitment to strengthen our partnership with our southern neighbours and to increase our support for the emergence of democratic societies and sustainable growth.

As part of this stronger partnership, we greatly raised the budget for our main higher education programmes – Erasmus Mundus and Tempus. European leaders recognised that with education, young people were more likely to have a job and to become active in their country's economic, political and social life.

With this increased support, we have been able to help train and retrain more academic staff as well as teachers from primary and secondary schools.

In total, in the past decade, over 5000 students and academic staff from the region have benefited from grants to study in the EU – and in return Europeans have had the opportunity to do the same in the Southern Mediterranean region.

Also, the EU has supported over 300 projects to modernise higher education – we are currently working with over 180 higher education institutions in the region.

And starting next year, our new Erasmus+ programme will support higher education reform, and students and staff mobility, even more: for the first time, non-EU countries will be able to take part in our Erasmus programme.

We also plan to support the mobility of more researchers between our two regions under the new Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions starting next year. Already in the past seven years, we have allocated €72 million to research centres and universities in the Southern Mediterranean countries and funded 635 fellows from these countries.

Education, of course, is not the only sector that can help build a strong economy and ultimately preserve peace. Culture too plays a vital role. And the synergies between the two contribute greatly to sustainable development and growth.

The European Union from the start has been a project bringing together different countries, languages and cultures. Europe is founded on the very principle of unity in diversity and mutual understanding. And without this dialogue between cultures that we promote, it would be difficult to make the EU work.

In our relations with countries outside the EU, we also stress the importance of intercultural dialogue, because it lays the foundation for peace and mutual understanding.

The Mediterranean region is in a good position to know. Over the centuries, many civilisations, co-existed in the Mediterranean, sometimes at war, sometimes at peace. But the region knows that it is only through the meeting and appreciation of different cultures – and not their destruction – that peace can prevail and bring with it prosperity and solidarity.

Culture is vital for our personal development and self-realisation, and it nurtures social and economic development. In the European Union, we support culture for its intrinsic value and its contribution to the economy – there are more than 8 million jobs in the cultural and creative sectors in the EU and they contribute up to 4.5 % of EU GDP.

Therefore, investment in culture is an investment in innovation, growth, and high-quality jobs.

In the European Union, we support efforts to tap into the power of culture through various programmes and initiatives, including the European Capitals of Culture, like Marseille this year.

In the Mediterranean region, which has a rich cultural heritage - with an enormous potential for economic and social development and job creation - we have been supporting such efforts through the Euromed Heritage programme.

We are also launching two important programmes for the cultural sector: one focusing on MEDIA (cinema/audiovisual) and Culture. And the other on regional private sector development (which also includes cultural and creative industries).

And, for the first time, we opened up our new Creative Europe programme supporting the European cultural and creative sectors to interested European Neighbourhood countries on the same basis as EU Member States (based on certain conditions). This will encourage artists and cultural operators to cross over national borders and cooperate in a broader cultural space.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Over 60 years ago, Europe made a commitment to itself and to the world to work for lasting peace, freedom and justice not only in Europe but in all countries.

That remains our goal today.

As the Nobel-prize winner Amartya Sen remarked, culture – and I would say the same for education – is crucial to sustainable development not only because it sustains the needs of future generations, or their living standards: what it also sustains, and this is its unique contribution, is the freedom of future generations to have or safeguard what they value and to which they have reason to attach importance.

Education and culture sustain development because they give meaning to it. To give an adequate place to education and culture in development strategies is a win-win situation if there ever was one.

I wish you a successful Forum and look forward to the inspiring ideas that come out of it.

Thank you.

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