Boost for European cooperation

September 24, 1999

THE EDUCATION COMMISSIONER.

Viviane Reding has promised her full support for a new educational and cultural space. Alan Osborn and Keith Nuthall report.

New European commissioner for education Viviane Reding has stressed that she will boost EU support for international university and college exchanges.

Mrs Reding - who was confirmed by the European Parliament in her job this month -Jalso promised to maintain the European Commission's strict line on the mutual recognition of teaching diplomas across the European Union, at a time when Brussels is embarking on a legal battle against Greece over its restrictions on the employment of academics from other member states.

Speaking at a special hearing of MEPs, Mrs Reding said she would use the full means at her disposal - "including the encouragement of student and teacher exchanges, the development of exchange networks in the context of training and the mutual recognition of diplomas" - to bring about what she called a European "educational and cultural space".

She also suggested that the European Commission could help facilitate exchanges with schools outside the EU, arguing that there should be "no geographical bar to the free movement of students".

MEPs were clearly relieved by reassurances that the 48-year-old former Euro MP and newspaper columnist was untainted by personal scandal and held no provocative views on education.

Mrs Reding said that she would encourage the teaching of minority languages and local and regional cultures, stating that there was "no dominant culture" in Europe and that its wealth was in its diversity. She felt that as a Luxembourger, with fluency in several languages and exposure to a range of cultural influences, she was well placed to move this ahead.

In a written declaration that preceded the oral hearings, Mrs Reding said her goal would be to improve the quality of education within the union, reinforce the European dimension and promote lifelong education for all citizens of the EU. "It is time for a blossoming of the European dimension in leisure, in the fine arts, in the acquisition of knowledge," Mrs Reding said.

She added that she would seek to create a European "educational and cultural space", seeing education and culture as vital tools in the building of a "citizen's Europe", one of the stated objectives of the new commission under Romano Prodi.

Mrs Reding - who has chosen an Englishman, Gregory Paulger, as her chef de cabinet - is clearly at one with the commission president about the need to make the European Union more appealing to its citizens.

"While economically Europe now rests on firm foundations, it is not so for the Europe of the citizens," she said.

"Our responsibility is to give Europe a soul so that citizens can identify with it, so that they feel it to be their home. Free circulation and policies affecting health, education, consumer protection and culture are the keys to developing this. It is time for a blossoming of the European dimensionI "To realise this vision there will have to be a new kind of cooperation between and with the member states with the objective of reinforcing the role of education and training within other EU policies."

While Mrs Reding agrees that mutual recognition of academic and professional qualifications would be a big step towards a citizen's Europe,she accepts that the founding EU treaties provide no machinery for this.

"It is essential to act in this area if we are to develop a European environment for education, for training and for culture that still respects the prerogatives of the member states. I intend to examine, with (the member states), the methods for improving the procedures for recognition that already exist - and thus reduce delays - and spur them towards a much larger recognition system."

Following allegations of fraud earlier this year, Mrs Reding is cautious about the future management of the commission's existing education projects such as Leonardo da Vinci (vocational training) and Socrates (broadening education through language teaching, exchange programmes and other methods).

The programmes will continue, but there will be some delays as the commission takes over responsibilities formerly handled by outside agencies. The management of the next generation of projects has not yet been decided.

Regarding European arts policy, Mrs Reding indicated that she would be a resolute friend of European culture in the longstanding quarrel with the United States over cinema and television film quotas.

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