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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]


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

European Commission and European Parliament: a partnership that delivers for education, culture, youth and sport

European Parliament's Culture and Education Committee

Brussels, 18 March 2014


Honourable Members,

Dear friends,

It is a great pleasure to have this final opportunity to address your committee.

I would like to start by thanking each and every one of you for your cooperation over the last four years. It was thanks to your support that, together, we managed to reach many of our goals in education, culture, youth and sport.

I would like to take a few moments now to highlight some of our main achievements of the last few years. Certainly, we may not have obtained everything we wanted, but we can all take pride in the policies and tools that we are leaving to our successors.

Over the past four years I have strived to put education and culture at the heart of Europe's response to a profound crisis. I believe more than ever that it is our people and their skills that will deliver the smart, sustainable and inclusive growth that we all want to see. We have consistently argued that investment in education needs to continue even as we consolidate our public finances. Today, no one contests this.

We should also take encouragement from our progress towards the European Union's education targets for the year 2020.

By 2012, almost 36% of young people across the Union were completing higher education and acquiring the knowledge and skills that increase their chances of finding rewarding work. This means we are on course to reach the target of 40% and close the gap on our international partners.

We are also on course to reach our target for secondary education. The number of pupils who leave school early with few or no qualifications is falling. In 2012, the figure had fallen to 12.7%, and we should be able to meet our target of 10% or less by 2020.

This is good progress, certainly, but we have to maintain the momentum. And I believe we will. Because today, more than ever before, education sits at the heart of the Union's policy-making.

This is perhaps the most important and enduring change we have seen in recent years – more important than the facts and the figures. For we have not merely introduced new policies and programmes but recognised, finally, that Europe can really make a difference.

Every year, under the European semester, when the Commission makes its recommendations to Member States, we reinforce the strategic importance of education and the need to invest and reform.

And to guide and support our Member States' reform efforts, we have delivered some very specific policies.

I am thinking of our recent communications on Rethinking Education, Opening Up Education and on the Internationalisation of Higher Education.

Similarly, in culture, I believe we have changed the way we talk about our cultural and creative industries. We have managed to strike a careful balance between, on the one hand, the intrinsic value of culture and its essential contribution to our identity and, on the other, the economic role of the cultural sector and its ability to drive innovation and create new jobs.

But let me be clear. Even as our arts and creative media globalise and digitise, the case for public intervention is as clear and as necessary as ever. We need only to look at Europe's great strength in cinema and broadcasting. Do we really believe that the market, alone, would have produced the wonderful patchwork of film and television that covers our continent? No, of course not. The diversity, quality and independence of publicly-funded content is a European value that we all share, and I was proud to defend it.

So, let us now take a closer look at what we have been doing over the last year, starting with education.

In Europe, we face a stubborn paradox. On the one hand, we see levels of unemployment which are, in several countries, unacceptable. And we all know that our young people are suffering more than most. But then, on the other hand, we see around two million vacancies across Europe, and a high number of employers who cannot find the right mix of skills in the job market.

This is the so-called 'mismatch' of skills which increasingly holds our attention. Our forecasts tell us that, by 2020, about one third of all jobs in the Union will require high-level qualifications. Today, only a quarter of our total workforce is currently educated to that level. This is the measure of the task we face.

When I presented our Rethinking Education strategy a year ago, my goal was to help our Member States to meet these challenges. I underlined the urgency of carrying out reforms at all levels of education; delivering the right mix of basic and transversal skills to boost employability; developing new methods of teaching and learning; and adopting new approaches to funding and partnerships.

I would like to thank your rapporteur, Ms Nevedalova, for her report on Rethinking Education which follows a similar approach, and which Parliament adopted last October.

Rethinking Education also means that we have to get better at using new technologies in the classroom. We already live in a digital age, but we have only recently begun to think more deeply about what this means for the way we teach.

Last September, Vice-President Kroes and I presented a new initiative on Opening Up Education. I would like to congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Ivan, for his report, which your committee has adopted with an overwhelming majority just this morning.

Last month, Europe's education ministers adopted Council conclusions supporting our view that our education and training systems are underperforming, and that we need to do a better job of equipping people with the right mix of skills.

Doris, I know you will agree with me that, when it comes to skills, it is not enough simply to expand higher education. We must also improve the quality and relevance of our teaching at all levels. It is not only a question of needing high skills – first and foremost we need the right skills. This means we need to encourage a more fruitful relationship between our places of learning and the world of work.

The European Alliance for Apprenticeships, which I launched last summer with Commissioner Andor, is an important part of our European effort to bring the worlds of education and work closer together.

Over the last four years, we have tried to address all the parts of our education system which need reform. We have strengthened the Bologna and Copenhagen processes in higher education and vocational training. We have created new tools for measuring progress and promoting transparency, such as the new university ranking tool. We have extended cooperation with the OECD to analyse education outcomes. We have delivered policy strategies on early childhood education and care, early school leaving, and vocational training and key competences.

And we have set out to ease the difficult transition from education to work, launching new partnerships with stakeholders such as the Alliance for Apprenticeships that I just mentioned and the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs.

Last summer I presented a communication on European higher education in the world. This was an opportunity to reflect on how the EU can help to internationalise our higher education institutions and modernise teaching and learning.

Now, of course, we have our new programme, Erasmus+, which will help us to deliver all of these policies.

Doris, I am very grateful to you and your committee members for helping to deliver such a positive result at the end of last year. Thanks to our collective efforts, we can now give four million people the chance to study, work, train and volunteer abroad between now and 2020. Four million people – we are really taking the programme to a whole new level.

Erasmus+ makes a new commitment to our young people, offering opportunities that will equip them with the skills they need for a world that is increasingly mobile and multicultural.

It will help to enrich our linguistic diversity, funding innovation in language teaching and promoting Europe's regional and minority languages. I am grateful for last year's report by Mr Alfonsi on the protection of endangered languages.

Our new programme will help our education systems to modernise teaching methods and courses, and support new partnerships with the world of work which, as I mentioned earlier, will help to bridge today's mismatch of skills.

125,000 schools, youth groups, higher-education and vocational institutions and enterprises will work together in partnerships across Europe.

150 Knowledge Alliances will help 1,500 universities and businesses to innovate in teaching. 150 Sector Skills Alliances will bring together 2,000 training institutes and businesses.

And, crucially, Erasmus+ will bring new energy to our youth activities at a time when high youth unemployment and the number of youngsters who have completely dropped out of the system are particularly worrying.

I know that, in the beginning, some were sceptical about the place of youth in the new programme. But the final result really is good for everyone. Erasmus+ will give new visibility to the benefits of informal and non-formal learning and for the acquisition of valuable skills outside the classroom. It will provide increased funding for youth work and volunteering, offering hands-on experience and helping young people to learn the value of their own civic participation.

For all these reasons I would like to recall the important work done by Mr Papanikolaou, and thank him for his youth report which was adopted last year.

As for sport, I think we all worked hard to create a space in the new programme. And let us not mistake the importance of this milestone: for the very first time, sport will have its own regular funding instrument in the European Union budget. I pay tribute to all the work that has gone into this, not least Mr Fisas' report on the European dimension in sport.

Let me turn now to culture, which I know is as close to your heart as it is to mine.

Here, we have come forward with new ideas that promote creativity; that help to build an environment nurturing cultural diversity; that widen the audience for European works; and which stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship.

In the strategy I presented on Promoting the Cultural and Creative Sectors, I stressed that culture has huge potential not only to produce growth and new jobs, but also to rebuild the trust of citizens in the common European project; and to rebuild the trust between our societies and our economies.

I am grateful for the strong support you have given this strategy, and my special thanks go to Mrs Sanchez Schmid for her valuable reports on the subject.

Of course, our success in tapping into the full potential of our cultural strength depends on our ability to ensure the sustainable financing of creativity, and to put in place a regulatory environment where the cultural and creative sectors flourish.

Our European Capitals of Culture have shown again and again that by embedding culture and the arts in their long-term development strategies, cities and their surrounding area can create new jobs. A deeper understanding of this dynamic will help us in our future planning and decision-making.

I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Scurria, for his report on the renewal of the European Capitals of Culture. Your support during difficult negotiations has been very valuable, and I know your committee endorsed a compromise in February, which will allow us to bring the negotiations to a close.

I should also mention the European Heritage Label, which marked the beginning of my mandate. I thank Mrs Paliadeli, in particular, for her work on this, and we now see the first fruit of our labours.

And of course we have launched the new Creative Europe programme with a budget of nearly 1.5 billion euros, an increase of 9% on previous levels. Thanks to your commitment, we can now support even more European artists, cinemas, films and book translations. We can do more to help our cultural and creative sectors to strengthen their international competitiveness, while sustaining our diversity.

Now, more than ever, our support to the cultural and creative sectors needs to be highly targeted. I have urged Member States to see their support for culture as part of an integrated strategy for regional development. I have impressed on them that the structural funds are also there to support smart investments and should be used to the full.

I think we all understand that, today more than ever, the funding of the cultural and creative sectors is a real challenge. Cultural operators need tailored funding from public and private sources; both are equally important.

I am grateful that, with your perseverance, we now have a programme – Creative Europe – that will help Member States to meet these challenges head-on. Our efforts to secure a proper budget at a time of severe austerity show that we mean what we say.

My special thanks go of course to Mrs Costa who, as rapporteur, helped to produce a successful outcome.

Dear friends,

If we take a step back and look at all of these programmes – Erasmus+, Creative Europe and the European Capitals of Culture – we see a genuine ambition to bring our vision to life. A vision of a Europe that is open, confident and able to equip its young people for a fulfilling life. A Europe that is open among its own citizens and neighbours, and open to the world.

It is in no small part thanks to the hard work and commitment of this house that we have achieved such a promising result. I thank you all once again for this final opportunity to share my thoughts with you. And I thank the Vice Presidents, in particular Mrs Trüpel and Mr Løkkegaard, with whom I have enjoyed excellent relations.

But of course my final words are reserved for your chair.

I would like to pay special tribute to you, Doris. Your distinguished career in this Parliament and this Committee has left an enduring mark on the European Union and some of its most important policies. You can be very proud of your legacy, and I wish you every happiness for the future.

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