On 6 April, 2016, Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova met in Brussels with Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission. At the heart of the meeting were many priority issues for UNESCO, including cultural heritage protection in conflict situations, the education of refugees, the fight against youth radicalization and the range of challenges from climate change.
“UNESCO’s role is essential today in protecting cultural heritage and fighting against violent extremism, which is rising in many societies”, said Irina Bokova, during the meeting, in the presence of H.E. Ms Maria Francesca Spatolisano, Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of the European Commission to UNESCO.
“The strength of UNESCO lies in its interdisciplinary approach, which is essential to tackling the challenges of implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations”, continued the Director-General.
"We are engaged for a long time in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, in the fields of education and culture. Our priority focuses on young people. We must do far more to invest in the education of young people, to develop their competences and help them understand the importance of history and cultural heritage. "
Referring to the protection of cultural heritage, President Juncker stressed the importance of new EU directives related to the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property by harmonizing import measures.
"We must adopt powerful measures and stricter, more binding rules. Europe must be more responsible and play a role in this area," declared President Juncker.
President Juncker mentioned the support of Luxembourg to the protection of cultural heritage in Mali, especially in the protection and restoration of Timbuktu manuscripts.
“We often underestimate the cultural dimension in the Middle East, in Syria, in Iraq, and its fundamental importance for future generations. Heritage protection in Mali is both a cultural and security issue”. In addition, President Juncker raised issues relating to the challenges of desertification in Mali.
The Director-General and the President of the European Commission also talked about cultural and religious intolerance and threats posed to cultural diversity in the Middle East leading to persecution and violent extremism. On this topic, President Juncker highlighted the vital importance of youth schooling, especially for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. He stated that the European Commission allocated 6 billion Euros to support the education of refugees.
“Refugees schooling today is indispensable to turn young adolescents into competent and skilful adults tomorrow,” declared President Juncker.
Irina Bokova and Jean-Claude Juncker agreed to join efforts ever more, in order to strengthen the strategic partnership between UNESCO and the European Commission, highlighting especially the areas relating to the protection of cultural heritage, the fight against trafficking of cultural property and secondary education, in order to combat radicalization and develop professional competences.