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Member of the European Commission for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
Strengthening education and cultural cooperation with Latin America===
EU Ambassador's reception
Havana, Cuba, 12 February 2014
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
It is a very great pleasure for me to be with you on this special occasion and I would like to warmly thank Herman and Myriam [Portocarero] – indeed the whole of the EU delegation team in Havana - for being wonderful hosts, not only this evening but throughout my visit.
This is my first visit to Cuba and I hope it will not be my last. It has been an unforgettable and enriching experience.
I have had the privilege of meeting some truly exceptional people.
On my first full day here I had the honour of being guided around old Havana by city historian Dr Eusebio Leal. His knowledge and enthusiasm is so inspiring. I am proud that the EU is supporting his work to restore and preserve Havana’s incomparable heritage, such as the magnificent Palacio del Segunda Cabo. The Palacio is not just a treasure for Cuba but a jewel of international heritage, which will be a magnet for cultural tourists in the years - and centuries - to come.
Meeting the legendary Alicia Alonso at Cuba’s National Ballet was also an encounter I will never forget. A prima ballerina for half a century and still working at the highest level in her 90s! An amazing artist, who performed worldwide but who never forgot her roots.
Of course, the main purpose of my visit was to participate in the 9th International Congress of Higher Education. I am very grateful for the kind invitation I received from Minister Rodolfo Alarcon to speak at the opening ceremony and at one of the sessions. The opening event at the Congress was quite unlike anything organized by the European Commission or EU Presidency – but perhaps it is a model we can borrow to make our conferences in Brussels a bit more lively!
On a more serious note, I was pleased to have the chance to discuss how we can strengthen cooperation between universities in the European Union and Latin America. We share many challenges in higher education and there is no doubt that we can learn from each other as we adapt our systems to meet the needs of the modern world.
I also had a chance to exchange views with the Minister of Education, Ena Elsa Velazquez, on the many common challenges faced by our schools.
I am proud that I have been able to secure a significant increase in funding for both Erasmus+, our new EU programme for education, training and youth, and for the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions for research and doctoral candidates. This means we will be able to offer more financial support for mobility and cooperation both within and beyond the EU. I hope that students, teachers, researchers and institutions in Cuba will make the most of the grants available under the new programmes.
I also had excellent meetings with the Minister of Investment and External Trade, Rodrigo Malmierca, who announced the government has given the green light for two new EU-backed cooperation projects, and with the Minister of Culture, Rafael Bernal, with whom I spoke about new possibilities for cultural exchanges between artists and other cultural professionals in the EU and Cuba.
Tomorrow, I am very much looking forward to my meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodriguez.
Bilateral political dialogue
Of course, my visit has coincided with a very important moment for EU-Cuba relations in the wider sense, following the decision of the Council to adopt negotiating directives on a bilateral political dialogue and cooperation agreement.
I do not need to tell you how difficult it is sometimes to get 28 Member States on the same page. But the offer on the table is a clear demonstration of the EU’s collective wish to strengthen and normalize our relations with Cuba. By putting our future cooperation on a firm footing, by showing mutual respect through a proper committed relationship, I believe that the EU and Cuba have a great deal to gain - and nothing to lose.
The EU is ready to step up its support for ongoing reforms and modernization in all areas - and we wish to engage with all sectors of Cuban society.
I appreciate that Cuba’s leadership wish to analyse the EU’s proposal carefully but I hope that they will respond pragmatically and positively so that we are able to start negotiations in the coming months. I sincerely hope that this signals the beginning of a new momentum for regular contacts between our peoples and for our joint economic, social and political development.