Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner (1/2)
On 1 January 2022, France took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for six months. In this first part of the interview, Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, discusses the role of culture in the political priorities of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the actions in favour of European youth and the importance of Language learning for the realisation of the European area of education.
Updated on 09/05/2022
The French Presidency of the Council of the European Union (FPEU) is represented by the triptych "Relaunch, power, belonging". In your opinion, what role and what place can culture play with regard to these three political priorities and more broadly within the European project?
The French Presidency's programme and the relevance of its priorities for EU cooperation are very ambitious, which we consider to be very positive. This is a crucial period for the EU to ensure the recovery of the cultural and creative sectors, which have been hard hit by the pandemic.
Before the pandemic, the economic contribution of the cultural and creative sectors was greater than that of telecommunications, high technology, pharmaceuticals or the automotive industry. The recovery of these sectors is therefore necessary to ensure that our cultural and social lives are not further impoverished, but also for the recovery of the economy as a whole.
So after this critical period, we have to ask ourselves where we want these sectors to be in the long term. We are adamant that we need to reinvent forms of production and access to art and culture, and these must be digital and sustainable. We need to promote culture as a free space for expression, freedom and debate, thereby strengthening our democracies and securing our core European values. Moreover, culture is absolutely essential to Europe's role on the world stage and a powerful vector for sustainable development. It is culture that helps to develop a sense of belonging and cohesion that stems from cultural practices and traditions as well as from cultural heritage sites.
To realise this potential, targeted public and private investment is needed in these sectors. In this context, the cultural and creative sectors will benefit greatly from support under the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), through measures promoting skills or the digitalisation of businesses. In addition, the Creative Europe programme has been increased to €2.5 billion, allowing for increased support for individual artists and creative professionals. In terms of research and innovation, Horizon Europe has allocated almost €2 billion for research on cultural heritage and for projects focusing on innovation in our creative industries. In addition, on the legislative side, our new copyright rules set a standard for the use of creative content online and ensure that creators are fairly remunerated in the digital sphere, while protecting other fundamental rights such as freedom of expression.
To allow you to fully navigate the EU funding opportunities for culture and creativity, we have launched the CulturEU Funding Guide: a user-friendly interactive online tool that provides information on over 75 funding opportunities in just three clicks. We want it to facilitate access to European funding for stakeholders of all sizes.
We believe these are important steps for the cultural and creative sectors to flourish and strengthen their important role in the European project and European cooperation.
The European Commission has declared 2022 the "European Year of Youth". What is the scope of such an initiative? What will be the highlights of the programme?
The European Year of Youth has a very important part to play in generating a new European dynamic. Closely linked to NextGenerationEU, the European recovery plan to make the green and digital transitions a reality, the European Year of Youth will serve to get young people involved in the European project.
Moreover, it is essential that the Year happens now in order to offer new possibilities to young people who have suffered so much from the pandemic, which has put their lives on hold and deprived them of a great many opportunities for professional development, education and, above all, social exchanges and connections.
This is why the objectives for the Year - to include all young people, to develop their sense of citizenship, to highlight the European, national and local opportunities available to them, and to ensure that their views are taken into account in policy-making - are so ambitious.
These objectives will stimulate the efforts of the European Union, Member States, regional and local authorities and civil society stakeholders to honour, support and engage with young people, including those with limited opportunities, in order to ensure a long-term positive impact for them.
To this end, the European Year of Youth 2022 further encourages young Europeans to offer their own ideas on how to shape the future of the EU and society in general. It also offers the chance to raise awareness of the opportunities available to young people.
The European Year offers many possibilities to participate in learning and civic engagement activities, including through the Conference on the Future of Europe. Young people can acquire the knowledge, skills, competences, valuesand attitudes they need to move forward and develop as adults and as citizens. They can also learn about the political landscape at a European, national and regional level.
In my view, the year 2022 is just the beginning. The achievements of this year have the potential to lay the foundations on which to build a new future for young people in Europe. A reality in which the voices of young people are taken into account in all our European policies.
This is the intended scope of the European Year of Youth.
In order to make this year as relevant and inclusive as possible for young people in Europe, we want the various initiatives, actions and events to take place at a European level, but also at a national, regional and local level.
For this reason, in addition to the major events planned by the French and Czech Presidencies during 2022, and European initiatives such as the ALMA initiative, a cross-border mobility programme for young people who are neither employed nor in an educational or vocational pathway, I call on young people, regional and local authorities, and Member States to offer their own initiatives.
They will be presented to young people via The European Youth Portal, the unique information resource for the Year with its dedicated section offering access to a wide range of events and initiatives for young people. The portal will include a section dedicated to building communities among young people where their aspirations and hopes can become a reality. It will also include an opinion section, where young journalists will have the opportunity to express themselves.
Together, we will create a year for all young people that reflects all young people.
At the beginning of the year, some 60,000 new free travel passes were given to young people aged 18 to 20 under the DiscoverEU scheme. What are the motivations behind this type of operation based on mobility in Europe?
DiscoverEU is a jewel in the Erasmus+ programme, which it joined this year after 3 years of preparation. Thanks to this initiative launched in June 2018, the European Commission has already offered a travel pass to more than 130,000 young people, allowing them to explore our wonderful continent. The vision of a united and interconnected Europe and the strengthening of European identity are at the heart of this project, whether through encounters between young people or the exploration of different cultures. We are also keen to make it a tool for the transition to a greener Europe.
From the first call for applications in June 2018, we have encouraged young travellers to visit our cultural heritage sites. When surveyed after their travels, many feel that they have broadened their knowledge of European culture and history, and even noted an improvement in their practice of one or more foreign languages. Young people spontaneously turn to cultural visits when travelling. Around 70% of them said they visited museums during their DiscoverEU experience. Participants enthusiastically share their experiences on the online platforms provided by the European Commission: the European Youth Portal, but also through the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts dedicated to European youth. The #DiscoverEU Official Facebook group has over 50,000 members, sharing not only their itineraries and cultural discoveries, but also promoting their own national heritage to other travellers from EU member states.
In 2022, the European Commission is strengthening the cultural dimension of DiscoverEU. One practical application is to offer participants a European Youth Card, which gives them access to numerous discounts for cultural events such as festivals, shows, museums and exhibitions. In addition, a cultural tour itinerary will be published on the European Youth Portal before the summer, to inspire young people to visit European capitals of culture, European heritage sites and other cultural highlights. Finally, thanks to the integration of DiscoverEU into the Erasmus+ programme, the 36 national agencies in charge of implementing the programme will organise training courses to prepare young people for their travels, including intercultural exchanges. These agencies will also organise "DiscoverEU meetings", which are events for young people held at least once a year in each country participating in the Erasmus+ programme. Culture will play an important role in these events, particularly through tours. Some of these meetings have already taken place, for example the meeting organised in Tuusula, Finland, which introduced participants to Finnish traditions, including folk singing and dancing, combined with classical music.
Another important objective of DiscoverEU is to inspire young people to adopt a sustainable lifestyle, in particular by adopting low-pollution means of transport over the long term, such as the train. And it is working. More than 90% of the young participants who responded to our survey say they are willing to use the train more in their future travels within the European Union.
The Institut français and the French cultural network naturally focus on learning the French language, but also on promoting multilingualism. What links do you see between the need to encourage mobility in Europe and the promotion of learning the languages of the European Union?
Language learning is at the heart of the realisation of the European area of education, because it is languages that allow us to achieve the ambitious vision defined by the European Commission for 2025. This vision is of a Europe in which inclusive, high-quality education, training and research are not hindered by borders. Spending time in another Member State to study, learn or work should be the norm.
To make this a reality, it is essential to overcome the barriers that stem from of a lack of foreign language skills. A fundamental first step is to implement, at school level, the three-language strategy - the language of schooling plus two others - which will enable pupils to reach higher levels of competence. This strategy is set out in the Council Recommendation on a comprehensive approach to language teaching and learning adopted by Member States in 2019.
What exactly is this strategy? Let us remember that all education begins with language. Proficiency in the language of schooling is a fundamental skill for all learning. Insufficient proficiency in the language of schooling can contribute significantly to pupils' feelings of failure and malaise. In addition to supporting the mastery of the language of schooling, valuing linguistic diversity is an issue in social justice and inclusion, as language is a vehicle for identity. Valuing mother tongues together with the language of schooling will have a positive impact on pupils' self-confidence, motivation, commitment to school and academic performance. Linguistic diversity should be integrated into teaching methods as an asset rather than a barrier to teaching and learning. It is imperative to support teachers, trainers and head teachers to increase their language awareness and to adopt inclusive, innovative and multilingual practices in the classroom. All of these elements will be part of the forthcoming European Commission Recommendation "Pathways to school success".
Let all languages flourish in school! This will benefit all pupils. It is also very important to acquire skills in a first foreign language and then a second.
I would now like to illustrate more specifically how the Erasmus+ programme contributes to multilingualism. From 2014 to 2020, the programme supported more than 20,000 language learning and teaching projects, in all sectors of education, training and youth. The European Language Label is intended to further enhance and encourage innovative initiatives in this field.
Not only do the projects funded by the programme help to develop language learning across Europe, but the mobility supported by Erasmus+ is an excellent way of helping young Europeans to explore the EU's language landscape. And we also have collaborative platforms for teachers, such as eTwinning, which I'm sure many of you will be familiar with.
For the period 2021-2027, as you know, we have almost doubled the amount of money available for Erasmus+, which now stands at €28.4 billion! With a larger budget, the new programme is more ambitious than its predecessor, not only in the number of activities and mobility projects supported, but also in the range of opportunities offered. To give you some examples:
From 2021, pupils in general education can also benefit from Erasmus+ and travel abroad, individually or with their class. This offers great opportunities to strengthen their language learning skills. In addition, the new programme has established specific mechanisms to support language learning for particular target groups in schools and vocational education that need it most.
Supporting holistic approaches to language teaching and learning is one of the priorities for cooperation between organisations from different countries participating in the programme.
We are also strengthening tools for recognition, such as the European Language Label. This tool recognises the quality of language teaching and learning projects in all sectors of education.
In conclusion, I would say that language learning and mobility form a virtuous circle: good language skills are necessary to achieve mobility; in turn, mobility abroad contributes to better language learning and enhanced language skills.
The health crisis has had a strong impact on young people over the past two years, but also on artists and creators and many professionals in the cultural sector. How can Europe help them to move forward? What levers should be activated to encourage their development?
The arts and culture are indeed among the sectors worst affected by this unprecedented crisis. The pandemic has severely affected the cultural and creative sectors, which have lost more than 30% of their revenue. The crisis has had devastating effects, in particular on the performing arts sector (-90% of turnover between 2019 and 2020) and the music sector (-76%).
Several instruments at European level can specifically support the creative sectors in different ways, including through the new Creative Europe programmes, Erasmus+, Horizon Europe (with a cluster dedicated to culture, creativity and inclusive society), a future KIC (Knowledge and Innovation Community) specifically dedicated to the cultural and creative sectors and cultural heritage, the Digital Europe programme, InvestEU and the Recovery and Reform Facility. I would also like to invite you to contribute to the Creatives Unite platform, a platform designed for and established by the cultural and creative sectors, which I helped to set up. The Creatives Unite platform provides a common space for all cultural and creative sectors in Europe and beyond to share their initiatives and actions in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
For the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union (FPEU), the Institut français is working towards the objectives defined by the government for this Presidency. The Institut français will therefore be implementing a series of cultural events and activities to promote European creativity.