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The European Union´s Erasmus programme

Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation 2004

It is a great honour for me to be with you here today to receive this prestigious Award on behalf of the European Commission. It is also a great personal satisfaction to see that that our contribution, through Erasmus, to a more grass roots Europe is being acknowledged.

The Jury has deemed the ERASMUS programme to be "one of the greatest projects on international co-operation in the history of Mankind", and I would like to thank them for that on behalf of the Commission and of Erasmus students. These words, which highlight our success, also remind us of our responsibility.

First, ERASMUS enables our students to become aware of their own roots. Secondly, ERASMUS enables them to discover sometimes for the first time a citizenship founded on others´ roots, common to all Europeans, respecting historical, cultural and linguistic diversity. And most importantly, ERASMUS makes this experience possible through direct contact, interchange, the shared joy of student life, rather than through bookish knowledge.

Since the programme´s launch in 1987, more than one million ERASMUS students have participated in the experience. It is an out and out success, particularly for the students themselves, who acknowledge the adventure as one of the most enriching experiences of their lives. The advantages of an ERASMUS experience go beyond indispensable academic and linguistic achievement. It is, above all, a magnificent school of tolerance, adaptation to a foreign environment, respect for diversity of cultures, and conviviality. These are European life experiences in all their richness and splendour.

Since the programme was created in 1987, the field of higher education in Europe has changed profoundly.

Without ERASMUS, there would have been no Bologna Process. Without those hundreds of thousands of ERASMUS students, I do not think the declaration of Bologna could have been adopted or agreed on. Forty European countries have now committed themselves to constructing a European space for higher education. What is more, it is working!

Movement begets movement. The "ERASMUS phenomenon" highlights the need for greater convergence in higher education systems, for greater transparency of methods, and for an adequate system of mutual recognition of qualifications. This was the driving force behind a veritable dynamic for change at the very heart of European universities and higher education systems.

Student mobility has shown us the way. The enthusiasm and commitment of lecturers enabled the programme to be launched and political leaders joined the movement. This is such an exceptional phenomenon that it deserves to be highlighted.

Erasmus is based on the philosophy of the founding fathers of Europe, whose aspiration was to unite peoples by fostering a sense of belonging, of sharing knowledge and of establishing networks.

ERASMUS is a pioneering programme that other programmes for student mobility in primary and secondary education, vocational training and adult education have all followed.

The ERASMUS MUNDI programme has recently been launched. It applies the same method on a worldwide scale in an attempt to set up networks between our universities to increase their capacity to attract young talent from all the continents.

The groundwork has been done! The instruments are working. We must now speed up the process.

If new Commission proposals are approved, the number of students will rise from 125,000 to over 300,000 a year. Our target is to have three million ERASMUS students in 2011.

I would like to share with you the following objective, which is also an ambition: the will to really and truly turn the ERASMUS experience into a habit, and for a period in a foreign university to be commonplace for all students. Our political and civil responsibility consists of working together to reach this objective. Achieving this target will also be the best way to demonstrate our gratitude to the Prince of Asturias Jury.

It is easy to establish a link between the values that characterize the Awards and the Prince of Asturias Foundation and those which underlie the Commission´s Erasmus Programme. Both involve action that contributes in an important and exemplary way to transcending national frontiers, to fraternization amongst men, to the defence of Mankind´s heritage, and to opening new frontiers of knowledge. In this respect, the Award extols the commitment of the European academic community of lecturers and students, whose enthusiasm constitutes the best reward for our programme. This Award is also a tribute to the pioneers, to the visionaries at the origin of the programme, to those who defended it and turned it into a reality.

On their behalf, and on behalf of the students of yesteryear and today, I thank you wholeheartedly. I also hope that, for the ERASMUS students of tomorrow, this unique experience means sharing and belonging to this Europe that we are imagine and are creating.

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