Dear Director General Azoulay,
Dear Mrs Cristoforetti,
I would first of all like to thank you for being here today and for attending this very first European Education Summit. I am extremely satisfied to see such a variety of distinguished guests in this room from all EU Member States, from different sectors and backgrounds. Let us recognise that we all share a deep interest in and commitment to quality education.
Your presence here today is crucial because education is back where it belongs - on top of the political agenda. And I count on the support of everyone in this room to make sure it stays there!
After years of crisis, we now have to make sure that we build resilient societies equipped to tackle future economic and societal challenges. We are now looking at a new world where harnessing globalisation is as important as consolidating social cohesion and where inequalities are the biggest obstacle on the path to excellence. Against this background, we must draw some lessons.
In my view, this means first of all recognising that long-term challenges are not less important than short-term ones. In the past few years, education has been somehow absent from the political scene. This is something we cannot afford. No one should underestimate the power of education and culture to foster cohesion.
Why? Because at the peak of the turbulences, when the EU was facing the most serious crisis of legitimacy since its foundation, millions of citizens were doubting the EU's very raison d'être. But still citizens continued to recognise the resounding success that is the Erasmus programme. This shows the tangible impact and clear added value European policies bring to the lives of millions of citizens.
Second, it is obvious that our societies have become less cohesive, and they will take time to fully recover. Our Union is now less equal than before. Therefore, our duty is two-fold: to re-engage with those who feel left behind, and to build more inclusive and resilient societies so that every person becomes the master of their own fate. Most importantly, we should seriously question whether we are building our societies on a solid basis of common values and sense of belonging. No matter how thorny this might be, I believe it is time to rediscover the value of our values and address upfront the role of education in promoting them.
EU Heads of State of Government sent us a clear message in Gothenburg in November and gave concrete guidance in their December Council Conclusions. What we need to do now is to lay the foundations for a solid European Education Area and to build it on the basis of a clear vision for what we want to achieve by 2025.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today's Summit is the start of this process, the start of a joint journey that will hopefully lead us towards more solid foundations, more excellence and innovation, more equity and inclusion and more exchanges among pupils, students and teachers.
I am very proud to welcome speakers who have come to Brussels for the very first time and who will share their knowledge and experience bringing fresh perspectives and ideas to our debates. I am very honoured to welcome people with disabilities who will show us that, with adequate policies, the sky is the limit. Speakers who are bringing excellence and a sense of belonging to the most deprived areas; people who are using culture as an incredibly effective vector of integration; dreamers who are testing new approaches in their own schools as well as teaching disciplines that are wrongly perceived as being difficult.
I am happy to welcome representatives of the private sector. Individuals who are enabling young people to develop entrepreneurial mind-sets, and others who are committed to equipping them with robust digital skills to turn them into active users and responsible citizens of the digital world. In total, I have the pleasure to welcome more than 500 participants, more than fifty speakers, including more than twenty ministers, in over twenty five sessions! Please make the most of those debates.
This Summit is largely dedicated to you. All the speakers will be talking mostly to us, the decision makers, so that we translate brilliant ideas into policy reforms and results on the ground.
I do hope that today's discussion will help us advance in overcoming the well-known challenges we face: how to improve basic skills after the recent poor PISA results, how to define what skills are needed, how to equip young people with the right attitudes, how to foster horizontal skills. What is your vision of the European Education Area we want to build together with you by 2025? Those are the questions we need to answer so that we can lay the foundations of a truly values based, inclusive and innovative education.
This Summit is the first step on a longer journey. It started in Gothenburg in November. Last week, only two months later, the Commission presented a first package of initiatives to start building the European Education Area. We put forward:
a Digital Education Action Plan to ensure that young people are not only digitally confident but also digitally competent;
a new Recommendation on the eight Key Competences that, I believe, every European should learn throughout life and, most importantly;
a Recommendation on promoting our common values and on the European dimension of teaching, because I believe that learning about the history of the EU and of Europe in general will encourage pupils to embrace our common values, heritage and identity and better understand our shared roots.
More steps will follow. In spring, I will present initiatives addressing:
early childhood education and care, because working towards equality and inclusion starts before the classroom;
language learning so that Europeans speak two languages in addition to their mother tongue; and
the mutual recognition of university diplomas to enable more mobility.
I trust that these proposals will help shape the outline of a true European Education Area and that Member States will embrace them for what they are: an ambitious attempt to set common objectives and seek convergence in full respect of national competences.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This is the very first European Education Summit, but it will certainly not be the only one. Events like this one make more sense if they allow us to drive and record steady progress, acting as a catalyst for ever greater political ambition. I am therefore happy to announce that I intend to host the second European Education Summit in autumn 2019. And I hope that every second year, leaders and stakeholders will keep on meeting to discuss the state of education in the Union.
To conclude I would like to quote Jonathan Swift who once said that "Vision is the art of seeing invisible things". Let us make sure that today's exchanges enable us to see today what will be tangible tomorrow.
Thank you and see you all in October 2019.