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1976-2006: Thirty years of European cooperation in education

Brussels, 23 February 2006

EU integration goes beyond the economy, agriculture and the single currency. Thirty years ago education and training entered the European stage, paving the way for well-known programmes such as Erasmus or later Socrates and Leonardo da Vinci. The Council of Education Ministers meeting today will mark thirty years of work at Community level.

 Today the European Commission publishes “The history of European cooperation in education and training”. This work highlights the fact that it was not until 20 years after the Treaty of Rome that European cooperation in this area began, laying the foundations for a people’s Europe by making a direct impact on a growing number of its citizens: tens of thousands of pupils, students and teachers from all EU countries benefited from support for mobility and for transnational projects and cooperation networks.

 Today students have the opportunity to undertake part of their studies in another EU country and in doing so exercise a fifth freedom: the free movement of ideas. Pupils and teachers become involved in European projects; school curricula and university programmes are enriched by this but, even more importantly, such direct exposure to other cultures and other languages helps to overcome prejudices, develop openness and create committed Europeans.

 Ján Figel’, Member of the Commission responsible for Education and Training, said on this occasion: “All of those who for thirty years have been working at all levels to help achieve and further this cooperation have each day demonstrated its validity and its role in deepening Community integration and in bringing the peoples of Europe closer together”.

 The Commission’s publication details how the Europe of education was born and how it was built over the last three decades, with its difficulties and its achievements, such as the adoption of the first cooperation programme in February 1976 or the launch of the first action programmes at the end of the 1980s (Comett, Erasmus, Petra, Lingua, Force, Tempus), which broadened the scope of cooperation and increased its potential impact at national level. Education was first enshrined in the Treaties in 1992 (Treaty of Maastricht), and it was on this now sound legal basis that the programmes of the 1990s were to be developed; this decade also saw the rise of the Europe of knowledge and the concept of lifelong learning and the launch of the Bologna process.

 The Lisbon European Council of March 2000 finally moved education and training from the margins of Community action to the centre of the EU’s economic and social strategy for 2010.

 The publication illustrates the unique nature of this cooperation which, since the beginning, has succeeded in combining Community action with respect for national competences in the field: Community cooperation in education has applied the principle of subsidiarity since the outset, even before the term was coined — bold and active subsidiarity, for the good of its citizens.

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