The two border regions Saxony and Lower Silesia cooperate closely in education matters. Cornelia Pieper, Minister of State and coordinator for German-Polish relations at the German Foreign Office, discusses opportunities for regional cooperation in education and the role of the Committee of the Regions (CoR).
Education is a key part of regional cooperation. In practical terms, what sort of German-Polish initiatives are there in this area?
Students coming together, schools forging partnerships, each learning the other's language. This is something I'd like to follow more closely, particularly on the German side, since 2.3 million Poles are learning and speak German, whereas only 2 500 Germans speak Polish. And I think that this shouldn't only be limited to areas along the border.
What sort of opportunities and challenges do you see?
Cooperation between German and Polish schools, learning of each other's language – this needs to spread further into each country, and especially into Germany. There are still states in Germany where not a single school offers Polish as a foreign language. Poland is our largest neighbour in eastern Europe and France our largest neighbour in western Europe. We need to strike a balance between the two, which is why border cooperation can serve as a model.
The Committee of the Regions is the European body for local and regional authorities. It is committed to improving legislative proposals in policy areas of particular importance to cities and regions. How do you rate the CoR?
In my view the Committee of the Regions is really the humus in which our cooperation can grow and develop. If we don't work towards cooperation on the ground, i.e. in the regions, it can't be imposed from above; it needs to grow. It is like a plant that needs to be nurtured and watered. And the CoR provides the foundation for closer cooperation between Polish and German regions. That's why – to use a simile, though I think it's an apt one – I see it as the humus, the fertile soil in which everything grows.
Cooperation in education is part of the daily routine of students and teachers along the German-Polish border. The European Union supports projects that strengthen cross-border exchange through student initiatives, promotion of language skills, common learning material and further training for teachers. In your view, what role can Saxony and Lower Silesia play here?
I think that cooperation between Saxony and Lower Silesia can serve as a valuable model for other regions. Saxony and Lower Silesia have built up an outstanding partnership in educational matters, unimpeded by the border. They've made a particular contribution to fostering exchanges among young people, which is also a priority for us. This is why I believe that this model of cooperation between Saxony and Lower Silesia will also spread to other regions and other areas of cooperation.
At the initiative of the Saxon Liaison Office in Brussels, the CoR organised an exhibition on courageous acts by the people of Görlitz and Zgorzelec between 1945 and 1989. It was conceived by school students and teachers in both border towns, who worked with historians and contemporary witnesses to prepare the exhibition. To conclude the travelling exhibition, other German-Polish educational projects organised by the Saxon education agency's Görlitz coordination office were discussed on 10 July. Participants at the event included Cornelia Pieper, CoR secretary-general Gerhard Stahl, Director General for Education, Training, Culture and Youth at the European Commission Jan Truszczyński, and representatives of the Saxon and Lower Silesian authorities.