Education in common values, pillar for the future.
The title of my speech defines its framework: education in common values will be the pillar on which a common future will be able to be built. The events of this past week show the fragility of the EU construction.
Let us try to be positive and optimistic; every crisis is also an opportunity to better move in the right direction.
Provided, however, that we have evaluated the defects, deficiencies and improvements needed in the system.
In a globalized world, the return to the Nations states is an illusion. A Union narrowed to economic interests alone will not ensure stability and peace.
However, the work of the EU mainly involves the rules of competition concerning the economy and finance. The principles of free movement of goods and people have provided the citizens with some great advantages, however, the border closures made in an attempt to cope with the influx of refugees and migrants demonstrate the precariousness of this principle.
During the creation of the Union, in the presence of the ruins of the Second World War, the atmosphere was propitious for better cooperation and even, as Robert Schuman said, for a supranational authority. Not only bringing together states, but also uniting citizens, was his motto. Today’s crisis at the borders of the EU provokes fear of the others and a refusal to share. We have successfully brought together the states, but the union of the citizens has not yet been accomplished.
And the external borders would have merited a common approach starting from when the Frontex agency was first created, before the massive influx of refugees and migrants, i.e. as of 2004. Italy, Greece and Spain have had to fend for themselves for years faced with the influx of migrants from Africa. Frontex, which was created to monitor the borders and transporters, was underequipped; the concept of "external borders" has not found its counterpart in solidarity.
The common values, so well described in the Treaty and its preamble, to which the 28 member countries adhered, don’t arouse any more the enthusiasm of the founding fathers. However, they represent the greatest legal achievement of mankind, which is something to be proud of.
The Economic union advances, with sometimes confusing regulations, sometimes defending more the interests of the multinationals than those of the workers.
The will to progress together towards a common area of security and justice is declining.
Faced with this egotism, how do we gain the commitment of an expectant civil society, which is increasingly disoriented and less prepared for the principles formulated in the common laws?
The European Union was very ambitious in its Charter of Fundamental Rights, with the ideal of tolerance and acceptance, of each citizen, with respect for their dignity, independent of their ideological affiliation.
"Europe’s cultural, religious and humanist inheritance", as formulated in the Preamble of the Treaty, may no longer be perceived as universal founding principles.
In its short 70 year history, the EU drew strength from the spirituality of the previous centuries, as testified by the writers, works of art and musicians of the 28 member countries. Love of one’s neighbor and forgiveness of the enemy were indeed present at the negotiating table of Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer.
Revisiting this history, not by listing the military victories of some, which are the failures of others, but by taking into account our common experience, is a mission for the education of young and old alike.
The European Council adopted in its conclusions of the year of intercultural dialogue, the importance of teaching history in a manner that would reflect that of one’s neighboring country. Such a common approach was reflected in a Franco-German textbook, published in 2006 as a pilot project, which unfortunately has remained the only one of its kind until now.
Subject as it is to the changes in society, globalization and digitization, education remains a pillar of society.
The EU’s common skills are, however, limited: article 165 of the treaties excludes any harmonization of the laws and regulations of the Member States.
The notion of the family, haven of peace for the very young and the old can no longer be regarded as a unique model.
The laws on marriage have been subjected to fundamental changes in some countries, forcing the legal services of the EU to build bridges in order to harmonize the rights and duties between different countries.
The acceptance of each other's culture, respecting the legislation in each nation, puts us at a crossroads. The debate on Islam is part of the reflections on these profound changes. The rights of women, their independence, their autonomy, which contradict certain religious principles, the evolution of education in the family, the breakdown of family life, require our commitment to the values that we have always accepted as our own.
Having become a public concern, is education still within the capacity of human beings? Mendelssohn, who composed at the age of 17 "A Midsummer Night's Dream"; Mozart, would he have become the genius he was without the education of his father? Or even Alexander the Great, who at eighteen founded an empire. They all flourished long before the age of compulsory education. Certainly, our era makes a mockery of all the school systems, if we consider the achievements of one Steve Jobs, computer inventor who didn’t graduate from a top university.
A huge aberration found its way into EU texts with the term Employability. Public education, labor producer, is not reduced to cramming, competition, by dint of European tests, focusing on limited standards, without taking into account the diversity of different systems?
Certainly the technological revolution has emerged with strength and conviction, now one no more learns to write by hand, but on the computer, as in Finland from the next school year.
The old (German) ideal of Bildung has been diluted by overriding economic considerations. Secularization has relegated the teaching of religion to private institutions.
We are faced with large gaps in knowledge about the teachings of the different religions, which are now relegated to the private sector in many countries.
However the desired cohesion will not be achieved without understanding one another.
And this understanding also involves multilingualism. The EU has made efforts to promote it, with some success.
A 2006 study by the Directorate for Structural and Cohesion Policies of the European Parliament proved that the development of language in young children confirmed the benefits of early bilingualism.
This is a trail to follow, provided you trust the children's abilities, starting from basic education. What a loss of time if their talents and abilities are not taken into account starting from basic schooling!
Another study in Berlin's Kreuzberg district with a large immigrant population, on classes of basic education for 6 years, those students practicing a musical instrument everyday had better cognitive and behavioral performance than those who only had an hour of music education per week.
Music, common language, unequivocally, is unifying. How unfortunate is the current debate on the survival of the Youth Orchestra of the EU! A pilot project for an additional year at the orchestra will not be enough, the need is to save the project and make it a true common tool for the reconciliation of citizens.
The Anthem of Europe, based on the poem by Friedrich Schiller set to music by Ludwig van Beethoven more than two centuries ago, is a call to universal brotherhood. Is there a more beautiful message?
Many European programs of cooperation between schools and between students have been initiated. They certainly give those who have the chance to participate in them another vision of the European Union.
Universities have been involved in a joint effort which started with the Bologna process. The transition from one university to another should have become easier with the common recognition of credits. At two years from the 20th anniversary of the signing in Bologna, an evaluation of the results is in order.
Free passage from one country to another is paved with obstacles, with admission quotas by student nationality recently being applied to stem their flow. Underfunded, universities are struggling against this process of leveling, which threatens to undermine their reputation, namely the excellence of their teaching and research.
Erasmus, another concrete joint project, launched 28 years ago, creates a distortion between students who are able to finance by themselves an additional year of study. Student debt and the increased unemployment among academics threaten to jeopardize the future of many young people.
Teaching is not just about young people from public schools; the digital divide has come to affect the age group that formed the basis of EU construction. Global information and the speed of communication are creating new exclusions.
And at a time when online education is becoming a viable alternative, this divide also concerns those who live in places without access to a computer network.
The challenge in the 21st century is this cultural divide within the EU and between East and West. Religions and their interpretation should no longer set themselves up as instruments of separation and power.
Education prepares us for community life. Above all, it must communicate confidence and love for oneself and one’s neighbors, respect for the riches of this land and sharing with those in need. These attitudes are learned at a very early age.
Today’s flaws affect tomorrow's society. Those left on the sidelines, who suffer from rootlessness, lack of family warmth and who’ve lost their spiritual bearings are poorly prepared for the challenges of a Union which is approaching its moment of truth and which needs to prove its commitment to its values by firmly asserting itself.
This learning process is not something that can be imposed, neither by law, nor in school textbooks. Human warmth is transmitted by men and women who care for young children, at home in families.
This time invested cannot be reckoned in economic terms, its products do not appear in the GDP, yet they are long-term investments with an assured added value.
Author: Hon. Erna Hennicot-Schoepges
Former President of the Parliament of Luxembourg
Mrs. Hennicot-Schoepges, after a career as a concert pianist and a professor at the Luxembourg Conservatory, stepped into politics. She became the first woman president of the Luxembourg Parliament and held several government portfolios including Culture, Religions, Education, Higher Education, Research and Public Works. As a member of the European Parliament she was appointed Rapporteur to the EP on the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue in 2008. She was the founder of the University of Luxembourg and is currently the Vice President of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin.