Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport
Joint event by the European Commission and the European Investment Bank "Education and the Investment Plan for Europe"
Dear Vice-Presidents Katainen and Baranyai,
Ladies and gentlemen,
When Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presented the Investment Plan for Europe in Strasbourg almost a year ago, in front of the European Parliament, he found very powerful words to stress why we need fresh investment.
And the very first example he gave was this: "I have a vision of school children in Thessaloniki walking into a brand new classroom, decked out with computers." I bet that many in the hemicycle and beyond struggled to understand how could this happen. To understand how a new European fund whose raison d'être is to trigger private investment can play in role in education.
Many are still wondering. That is why I decided to organise today's conference together with the European Investment Bank. I want to make President Juncker's vision happen. I want to make sure that education benefits from the Investment Plan as much as possible. And I know that together, we can reverse the alarming trend of underinvestment and get fresh money flowing into education right across Europe.
The situation is very worrying. Vice-Presidents Katainen and Baranyai have already highlighted how badly Europe is lagging behind, how hard the economic crisis hit the world of education over the past few years. This is especially grave when we look at the broader context: Today, 123 million European are at risk of social exclusion. Youth unemployment is still unacceptably high in several Member States with seven millions youngsters neither working nor studying. And inequalities continue to grow with the top 20% earning more than five times the income of the bottom 20%. Our Union is now less inclusive and equal than before the economic crisis.
Beyond this, we also have to question the efficiency of our education systems. Europe's workforce is ill-prepared for this more challenging post-crisis world. Even the fundamentals are not secured. How many people know that today, in 2015, one in in five European adults struggle with reading and writing and lack basic numeracy skills? How many know that one in four are unable to use a computer, write a letter or send an email?
Tackling these challenges is crucial. Because education is the best safety net against social exclusion. Today's early school leavers are tomorrow's unemployed and impoverished. A solid education that equips young people with the skills and competences they need for the labour market is the most efficient way to fight employment. And fighting unemployment is in turn the best means of fostering inclusion.
If we are serious about maintaining open, inclusive societies, we need to put people at the heart of our work and show that we are investing in their future. And most importantly, we need to regard putting money into developing people as an investment, not as an expenditure. In times of fiscal consolidation, we all know how difficult it is to keep investment at an adequate level. We are certainly not here to point our fingers at anyone. Quite the contrary. We are here to support Member States and to offer concrete solutions.
And we want to help them make the most of the opportunities that the European Fund for Strategic Investments and the European Investment Bank have to offer. Both have a crucial role in boosting investment in education.
Why? For three reasons:
First, because the private sector can play its part in investing in education. The European Fund for Strategic Investments is based on a brand new concept, a new way of working that goes beyond grants and loans. This Fund can offer guarantees to help beneficiaries obtain loans from private banks at more favourable conditions. It can also invest in equity. And it can support private-public partnerships that can bring huge benefits to education in many ways: by building and modernising school buildings, by rolling out broadband, by promoting research and projects that bring together universities and companies.
Second, and this is vital, the European Investment Bank already is and will remain a central player in education. How many of you knew that last year, it invested EUR 4.8 billion in education, that its projects range from supporting universities in Italy to kindergartens in Belgium and primary schools in France? The European Investment Bank's on-going activities offer many possibilities as well as technical advice.
Finally, the EU Structural Funds are also part of the equation. They can complement schemes run under the Investment Plan or by the European Investment Bank. This is particularly interesting for projects aimed at boosting investment in people, such as the training of teachers.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thanks to the dedication and hard work of Vice-President Katainen, the European Fund for Strategic Investment is now up and running. This is the moment at which you come in. We need smart projects, and we need them as soon as possible. Your creativity and your ideas will be crucial in creating much needed fresh investment in education.
What we want to do today is to explain both the new and the existing instruments, explore possibilities and crosslinks, and examine how projects can be pooled across regions or countries so that they have a real impact. I would like to welcome all those who are presenting their own projects here today. Your examples show just what is possible, and I want to thank you.
Your discussions today are the beginning of a long journey. We, the Commission and the European Investment Bank, will be here to support you and give advice over the coming years. We will do this here in Brussels, but also in each Member State, to ensure that, together, we invest smartly in our more precious asset: our people. In Thessaloniki and all across Europe.
I wish you a successful day.