Nr. 17

KCTOS: Knowledge, Creativity and Transformations of Societies

Ján Figel', EU-Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture, and Youth Deutsch | English

Creativity and knowledge society –
present and future challenges for the European Union


Sehr geehrter Herr Bundeskanzler Gusenbauer,
INST President Prof. Horn, Herr Direktor Dr. Arlt,
Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to take part in your conference and I thank the organisers for their kind invitation.

Cultural Studies is becoming one of the most fertile areas of reflection and debate in the human and social sciences and this meeting in Vienna is clearly a landmark event in your field.

It is not often that one can find thousands of scholars from around a hundred countries under the same roof. I commend INST and the other organisers for the intellectual courage it took them to launch a conference of this size, level and ambition.

While I was preparing for this meeting, I was amazed to find so many points of contact between your stated aims for these two days and the principles behind the European policies for education and culture.

Let me give you just two examples.

Innovation, research and knowledge are covered large in the media and in the agendas of many organisations—whether they are public authorities or private businesses. Yet, these terms are long in rhetorical effect and short in practical consequences. We need to shift it into more credible level!

Recent OECD data show that the gross domestic expenditure on research and development as a percentage of the GDP has remained more or less stable in industrialised nations since 1998. In the past few years, the proportion fell a little in the US, grew marginally in the EU27, and grew significantly in Japan.

From European point of view, the disparity between the EU and our global competitors is a cause of concern. The Union invests only 1.84% of its wealth on research and development—much less than our proposed 2010 reference level of 3%. By comparison, the proportion is over 3% in Japan and over 2.5% in the States. Striking differences we can find also in area of education, especially higher education. EU in average invests approximately 10 000 euro per a university student less than the US. We are the best in football in the World, but we do not lead the Premier League in higher education. Why? Is it not important? Is football for Europe more than excellent, high quality university education? I am for more and better sport (I am commissioner for sport as well), but I am sure we can and we must modernize our universities.

I am aware that expenditure in R&D and HE is a rather crude indicator, but I think it can prove my point. Everyone is talking about what needs to be done in the knowledge era, but too few are putting their money where their mouths are. Research is about producing new knowledge, education is about dissemination of knowledge, and knowledge is the basis of progress. Knowledge through innovation brings money back with a bonus, with added value.

What we therefore need is better and (then) more investment into knowledge society. Better means more efficiently, seeking more quality for the same funding, better connection between education and research, between education and society, labour market and economy. This strong knowledge triangle is a basic structure of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), proposed by the European Commission. I am confident we will see it established in 2008.

What was and is helpful in building our common Europe are conceptual metaphors. Conceptual metaphors are oriented to the future, they are open, make several interpretations and actions possible – and in this way they enable creative participation of the European citizens.

For example the European Research Area is such a conceptual metaphor. Another one is European Higher Education Area. We are working on its realization through well-known pancontinental Bologna reform process. These two areas are actually pillars of Europe of knowledge. And we start to speak and promote the 5th freedom in the EU – freedom of knowledge. It is about mobility of researchers, scholars, students, better conditions for patents, intellectual property rigts and copyrights. In November we have adopted the European Qualification Framework. It is a translation device with 8 reference levels (conversion matrix) enabling to read, compare and translate academic and professional qualifications between different countries and sectors. It is based on learning oucomes (knowledge, skills and competences acquired by education and training). What one knows and is able to do is decisive, not the place or length of study. These and other instruments will help our people to be more citizens than tourists in the EU.

Therefore one could envisage a European Creativity and Innovation Area as a next analogic field. It could be a metaphor for a new understanding of culture within the European Union. The main elements of such a European Creativity and Innovation Area should be the understanding, that culture is catalyst of creativity, that cultural diversity and multilingualism are the basis of richness. 23 official EU languages in three alphabets is reflexion of this diversity, too. Respect for and access to our cultural heritage, protection and promotion of diversity of cultural expressions is important principle for internal and external cultural policy in XXI Century. Our goal should be to make access to today’s knowledge possible to all European citizens, and enable them to contribute with the new knowledge. Foe example, Europen Commission with the Member States started implementation of Digital Library project. By 2010 we would like to digitize, preserve and make through internet available six million books in our public libraries in Europe.

Access and quality of education become decisive for the individual and societal developments. Education becomes factor of employability, social inclusion, personal fulfilment, mature citizenship, cultural awareness in time of globalization. When Europe invested into education and cultures, it shaped the times of growth and rennaissance. When it burned books and closed universities, dark times were coming. Education empowers and unites people. Lack of education leads to mass unemployment and immaturity of society for democratic sustainable self-governance. Such people and cultures are vulnerable, become easily dependant, underdeveloped or marginalized. And this is obviously the opposite of creativity.

As Richard Florida puts this right, for rise of the creative class you need to recognize and nurture three “T”s: talent, technology and tolerance. Ignorance disregards talents. Ignorance breeds intolerance. Technology alone is not simply enough. In 1957 Soviets launched the first sputnik into the Space. But the regime was dictatorial, against human rights (and talents). It could be neither successful, nor sustainable. Attempt to build unity of peoples without freedom remained as violent utopia. In 1957 six countries of the Western Europe started to build unity in freedom. Humanity and solidarity were the cement of construction. Therefore the EU is here as a success story, the only real geopolitical innovation in the traditional Westphalian system of international relations.

Another area of overlap between the themes highlighted by your conference and our policies is what you call a “lack of cultural policy in transnational processes”. I could not agree more, and I can assure you that filling this gap in international politics is precisely what we try to do.

Only last May, we issued first ever policy paper devoted to a new European agenda for culture in time of globalization. I will not discuss the text in detail, but I would like to put it in context. From the start of the Barroso Commission, it was clear that culture would become a higher priority in the political agenda of the EU. People today accept realities like internal market, Schengen, single currency - euro. But they discuss more than ever non-tangible issues like values, identity, cultures, and qualifications.

With the upcoming knowledge society there is a change in principal. Without any question still agriculture is very important. Industries are very important. But education, the arts, research, services, (cultural) tourism etc. are the growing parts of activity, where people in Europe earn more their money, pay their taxes. And this means also a change of the understanding of creativity in principal.

In 50 years, our united Europe has been built mainly in tangible areas. Our achievements have been astonishing, of course, but I believe that we need more to help us feel we are European citizens.

We need to feel that Europe is integrating in symbolic, non-material domains. Through art, literature, and cinema we can share in a European identity and get a clearer sense that we belong to Europe. Material which artists and intellectuals work with is intimately linked to the European project. They build upon our common heritage and, at the same time, they give voice to the dazzling diversity of our traditions and histories. But this is old hat; for many centuries Europe’s artists and intellectuals have considered the whole continent as their natural playground.

As you rightly point out in your introductory notes to this conference—not everything is right with the world. We need to harness creative energies in Europe, to give expression to new ideas and promote creativity and innovations.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

After the publication of our European agenda for culture, we are now working on a new idea: declaring a European Year of Creativity and Innovation. If everything goes to plan, it will take place in 2009. It will follow Europen Year of Intercultural Dialogue 2008, which I proposed at my first parliamentary hearing.

Let me give you the rationale of this initiative. As we move towards the next decade, it is becoming clearer that the European agenda for education and culture cannot be totally subordinated to growth and employment. And it isn't.

In fact, our education policies already have a broader goal. We would like Europeans to never stop learning throughout their lives and to acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes attuned to a well–rounded personal development. Lifelong learning is necessity, not luxury.

Our life–long learning policies are structured around eight key areas of competences: mastery in mother and foreign languages, mathematical, scientific, technical competence, digital skills, civic and social skills, learning to learn, a sense of initiative and entrepreneurship, and—finally—cultural awareness and expression.

What is the place of creativity? Creativity and innovation are key elements especially in the areas we call "sense of initiative and entrepreneurship" and "cultural awareness and expression".

Promoting creativity and innovation through a European Year would show there is no conflict between the hard–edged economic agenda of growth and employment, and the personal– and social–fulfilment sides.

Although the preparation of the European year is still in progress, we can already see the four key points it should pursue.

  • First, it should support efforts to provide environments which stimulate aesthetic sensitivity, emotional development, and intuition and which foster creativity in children from the earliest stages. And it should broaden access to culture and reduce disparities in access, particularly during the most formative years; furthering opportunities for participation in cultural, artistic and creative expression throughout formal education;
  • Second, it should encouraging openness to cultural diversity, as a means of fostering intercultural communication and artistic and intellectual cross–fertilisation;
  • Third, it should help to stimulate innovation, flexibility and adaptability to a rapidly changing world; fostering creativity as an ability which is transferable to occupational contexts and equipping people to improve their career opportunities;
  • And finally, it should encourage people who are no longer in the labour market to continue developing their creative potential.

I would like to stress the basic approach. Speaking on creativity, speaking on knowledge society, speaking on any aspect of human life – what is essential is a man. Human person and his good should be in centre of all our deliberations! If we start to detach any given aspect from the consequences on person and if we tend to see any area of human life as a goal per se – it can lead to harmful consequences, although for the first glimpse the aspect seems to be unambiguously good. Let´s put it in a concrete way. We can get for example a creative and intellectually educated person but at the same time being unable to have sound human relations, to feel self happy, to lead a life which is not concentrated just on himself/herself. And there are clever and creative thieves or even murderers. Our media offer daily examples. This holistic approach defined by the human person should be much more present in education, in politics, in all our thinking.

Let me remind you that we at the EU institutions can put forward ideas and co–ordinate action on a European scale. However, culture and education policies are and will remain the responsibility of national, regional and local authorities.

A European year for the promotion of creativity and innovation would provide an ideal opportunity to celebrate what we need to do to build our united Europe on a shared cultural project.

Creativity in this perspective is the reality and possibility of creation – a dynamic process of changing the world as it is to a better world for the human beings. But this is not a process in a vacuum; this is a process within cultures.

We have build in last decades solid basis of information society. Now we have ambition to build a knowledge society. But the most important ambition remains to form a wise society – the one where knowledge meets and unites with the universal human values, starting with the human dignity.

Jean Monnet, founding father of common Europe, opens his memoirs with the sentence: «Nous ne coalissons pas des Etats, nous unissons des hommes.» To unite people is much more demanding but also more important than to form an alliance of states!

Europe as a community of people should be a synonymum of openness. Open minds and open hearts are decisive factors and instruments for success of such vision, as well as for Europe of knowledge, creativity and innovation. Open minds are about rational approach, science, competence, competitiveness. Open hearts are about our empathy, sympathy, solidarity towards others around us – locally and globally.

I wish you all to be openminded and openhearted protagonists of humanity and solidarity!

Thank you.


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