Mrs. Viviane REDING
Member of the European Commission responsible for Education and Culture
A european knowledge society in a global community
American european community association (AECA)
BRUSSELS, 16 OCTOBER 2003
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be with you today to share a few thoughts with you on the important subject of A European Knowledge Society in a Global Community.
This time is a particularly crucial time for Europe and for the world as a whole. Important decisions that will shape our future have to be made. But this is also a time of uncertainties. Multilateralism, which has governed us since the end of the Second World War, is in crisis. The recent Cancun WTO meeting ended in failure. World leaders have so far been unable to agree on “who does what” in post-war Iraq or to keep the Middle-East peace process on track.
If I had to draw one conclusion from this, I would say that when multilateralism goes wrong, it carries great political risk, but that in an increasingly interdependent world, we do need to rely on multilateralism.
Multilateralism is what defines the European project. We have common values, which will be spelt out in the future Constitutional Treaty. We have shared institutions with a strong democratic component through the European Parliament. And we have common rules and means to enforce them.
For the Union to a play a central role in a global world, we need to make sure that our most immediate task, the intergovernmental conference, proceeds as smoothly as possible. We already have the draft Constitutional Treaty prepared by the Convention which is an excellent basis for the final negotiations. 90% of the work is already done but there are issues that still need to be improved and discussions are likely to be difficult.
Globalisation is no longer an option. Globalisation is a reality that carries great risks. Fortunately, however, globalisation offers real opportunities as well. The Union as a whole needs to be live up to the challenge of globalisation. This is the reason why our political leaders set an ambitious goal for the Union: to become the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010.
But, recent reports, including the independent report prepared by Mr SAPIR on “An agenda for a Growing Europe”, find that, in spite of considerable achievements, the economic performance of the EU is mixed. There has been a constant decline of the average growth rate decade after decade. Per capita GDP has stagnated at about 70% of the US level since the early 80's.
Growth must therefore become Europe's number one priority. For several reasons:
- A more dynamic Europe will help integrate new Member States, which is particularly important in the context of the future enlargement and of the significant gap in income;
- A more dynamic Union will be a better partner in the global system;
- Growth is also essential for the sustainability of the European Social Model.
It is therefore no coincidence that the Commission has just launched a “European Growth Initiative”. We calculated that, when this initiative is up to steam, the impact on GDP could range from 0.6 to 1%. ECOFIN Ministers have welcomed the Commission's initiative which, next to improving Trans-European Networks, should also lead to increased investment in R&D and in human resources.
As the European Commissioner responsible for education, I naturally welcome this. Human resources are indeed Europe's main asset. They are key to transforming the Union into a truly knowledge-based economy.
We have evidence that investment in human resources contributes to growth and productivity at least to the same degree as capital or physical investment. Research also suggests that higher skills increase opportunities for individuals in terms of job and career prospects, as well as salary.
Education and training are therefore the prerequisites for a quality workforce and for an innovative society. Let me give you a few examples:
- In spite of the economic downturn, the ICT sector and knowledge-intensive services are still in demand of high-skilled employees: in the past five years, 60% of the new jobs created have been in high-skilled sectors;
- Given increased competition from emerging economies which attract European companies through a combination of highly qualified workforce and favourable tax conditions Europe's future competitive edge will lie in its capacity to generate innovations and to transform them into new market opportunities;
- This means that fewer and fewer jobs can be filled with just basic education. The traditional skills of reading, writing and doing maths are still essential. However, people now need to acquire a set of new key-competencies that are increasingly important in the knowledge society: foreign languages, ability to learn how to learn, creativity, social skills and basic ICT skills: for example, today over 50% of all workers in the EU now use a computer for their job;
- The EU also has to deal with the consequences of its ageing population. People need to have access to lifelong learning to be able to update their skills and to adapt to change. This will also contribute to increasing EU employment rates which remain well below US levels and to absorbing existing and future labour shortages.
I would like to recall a Chinese proverb in this context: “When you plan for a year, plant corn. When you plan for a decade, plant trees. When you plan for life, train and educate people”.
Despite these wise words, what do we see?
- 150 million EU citizens did not progress beyond secondary education;
- There are too many young people dropping out of school an average of 20% in the EU;
- Less than 1 in 10 European adult takes part in further education and training;
- The Union “produces” more science and technology graduates than the US and Japan and yet the Union has fewer researchers than these two countries. The reason is quite simple. Young researchers are offered more attractive working conditions outside Europe and they often don't come back. This clearly undermines our research and innovation capacity;
- Contrary to the commitment taken by Member States to “substantially increase investment in human resources”, public investment in education as a proportion of GDP has not been increasing over the last few years. In fact, in many countries, it has been decreasing. I should also add that private investment levels are far too low compared, for example, to the US.
The message is very clear to me. The Union and Member States are simply not doing enough. We are trying to build a knowledge-society in Europe but we are forgetting its very foundation: educating and training people. By doing this, we are jeopardising our future capacity for growth and our competitiveness.
However, education is not only about economics. It is also and mainly about people. It is about enabling people to realise their potential and to fulfil their aspirations. It is about giving them the possibility of taking part in social, cultural and political life. It is about empowering individuals with a disadvantage to benefit from the opportunities offered by the knowledge society.
The Union as a whole is faced with paramount challenges. No one has found a miracle recipe yet. There are however a few fundamentals which we need to get right. They include:
- Making the Single Market more dynamic;
- Improving the macro-economic policy framework; in this area, the Commission has constantly argued for greater economic policy co-ordination and hopes that the draft Constitution will be improved in this area;
- Redesigning policies for convergence and cohesion which the Commission is currently looking at as part of the preparation of the new Financial Perspectives for 2007-2013;
- Achieving more effectiveness in decision-making in this respect the Commission has already said that unanimity still applied to too many areas;
- And naturally, boosting knowledge.
As you know, the responsibility for the organisation of education and training systems exclusively lies with Member States. According to the EC Treaty, the Community can however support and encourage co-operation between Member States.
EU work is focused on improving and modernising education and training systems. The year 2001 clearly was a turning point in European co-operation in the field of education and training. Member States agreed on three common strategic goals to reach by 2010:
- Improving the quality of education of training systems;
- Facilitating access to education and training systems;
- Opening education and training systems to the wider world.
These goals are not new in themselves. What is new and unheard of until now is that these goals are common. Member States have agreed to work together to address these issues on the simple premise that national reforms are likely to be more relevant if based on positive or for that matter negative experience made elsewhere.
We also need indicators and benchmarks to focus the minds on key-priorities and to be able to measure progress against agreed objectives. In this context, Member States agreed on five European benchmarks to be reached by 2010:
- The number of school drop-outs should be divided in two;
- The number of under-achieving pupils in reading skills should be decreased by 20%;
- The percentage of young people completing at least upper secondary education should reach at least 85%;
- At least 12.5% of European adults should, on an annual basis, take part in further education and training;
- The number of science and technology graduates should increase by 15% and the gender imbalance should be reduced.
Another priority is to invest more in human resources through a combination of more and better investment from the public sector and a higher contribution from the private sector which is again clearly insufficient compared to other countries, such as the US. Companies and individuals should be given more incentives to invest in education and training.
The Commission is currently preparing a report taking stock of progress made against the agreed objectives. Analysis of available data shows no sign of real progress. If reforms of education and training systems are not taken seriously, there is a serious risk that the goals will not be achieved by 2010 which is over six years away.
In a global context, I also think that we need to look at the challenges faced by European Higher Education systems. Our objective is to make Europe one of the most-favoured destinations for students, researchers and professors. It is enough to state this objective. In concrete terms, this means promoting excellence in European universities and ensuring that they are given proper resources.
A number of initiatives have been taken in and outside the Community context. The process initiated in Bologna in 1999 has led to a number of structural reforms of European universities for example the introduction of a two-cycle system and of a mechanism for the transfer of study credits. This will contribute to making the European Higher Education Space more coherent, more competitive and more attractive for European citizens and for students and scholars from abroad.
The Commission has consistently been supporting the Bologna Process over the years. At the same time, the Commission has developed complementary initiatives. You are familiar with the ERASMUS programme for the mobility of university students through which the Commission finances about 120.000 European students annually. Last year, the Commission presented a proposal for an ERASMUS MUNDUS programme. It will be effective in 2004 and allow the best students and scholars from other continents to follow joint master programmes taught in different countries.
Education is in many ways the key to achieving our economic and social goals. It is also a very powerful way of bringing people together to share experience, of creating better understanding between different cultures, of promoting values we all hold dearly. Using the word of Jacques DELORS, former President of the European Commission, education is “the treasure within” and as such we must cherish it.