WITH all their political and cultural diversity, the nations of Europe recognise that their future depends on the skills, ingenuity, inventiveness and creativity of people.
Industrialisation and the growth of education went hand in hand, yet we now all share grave doubts about our comparative, competitive edge to handle the ever-increasing impact of globalisation.
The noxious cocktail of multiple deprivation, joblessness and social exclusion currently afflicts most corners of Europe and is proving especially damaging in this period of recession. We in Wales know only too well what this means.
It was for these reasons last week in Cardiff that the First Minister joined with the Finance Minister to set out plans for the next seven-year period to align the Welsh Government's economic and social development with the EU 2020 strategy, approved by all member states.
Their strong joint message was to stress the crucial significance of the full engagement of Wales, as of the UK, in the EU and the welcome coherence of the EU's 2020 strategy with the priority needs of Wales and the policy agenda of the Welsh Government.
The EU 2020 strategy has at its core two interrelated policy commitments: the drive to build a stronger knowledge-based economy, combined with pursuit of a policy of social and economic cohesion throughout the EU.
Thanks to the vision of President Jacques Delors, cohesion policy is anchored in the European Treaties to counterbalance the dynamic of the internal market, so as to ensure that all regions throughout the EU benefit from the fruits which the biggest single market in the world generates on the world stage.
Centrepieces of EU 2020 strategy The three centrepieces of the EU 2020 strategy, from which Wales can draw strength and inspiration, are: the cohesion and structural policies, Horizon 2020 (formerly the EU research and development framework programme), and the Erasmus for All programme.
These three policy-driven centrepieces have been given significant financial resources from the EU budget for the period 2014-20, thus giving the National Assembly and the Welsh Government a solid mediumterm perspective to drive forward its own policy agenda, provided we in Wales fully exploit the range of opportunities available to build a better future for Wales.
Earlier this year, Carwyn Jones assigned responsibility for co-ordination of delivery of EU programmes to Jane Hutt, his Finance Minister, working alongside him to ensure the alignment of Welsh policies and resources with the EU 2020 strategy and budget.
The coherence and tight coordination of domestic and EU policymaking in a seamless stream was one of the main factors behind the earlier success of the Celtic Tiger. The Finance Minister is now also responsible for driving collaboration across the ministerial portfolios which contain a strong European policy link and funding implications.
This development is to be warmly welcomed and goes a long way to filling the gap left by the earlier disbanding of the Assembly's European Affairs Committee. Nevertheless, the Assembly itself should ensure that it also has the intersectoral machinery in place to drive and monitor such an all Wales effort.
Such determined leadership is crucial. The challenge now is for the wide range of stakeholders in Wales - public, private and voluntary - to share the same vision to drive forward this concerted strategy through creative partnership building across the sectors.
Public awareness and commitment to such an all-Wales team effort should help transform the mood of confidence and build the entrepreneurial culture we need in Wales. The first centrepiece of the strategy involves the EU Structural Funds the combined use of three financial instruments: the European Development Fund (ERDF), European Social Fund (ESF), and the Agricultural Guidance Fund - particularly important for rural development in Wales). …