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The need for European cooperation has never been greater

30 June 2020

Professor Patrick Gilli, President of Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 University, Honorary President of the Coimbra Group and Professor Philippe Augé, President of the University of Montpellier


As Presidents of Montpellier University and Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 University, we would have been delighted to welcome the 2020 Coimbra Group Annual Conference and General Assembly in Montpellier from June 10 to 12. Together with the Executive Board and the Brussels Office, we were looking forward to having fruitful exchanges and meetings, including students, and to making your stay in vibrant Montpellier a great experience. This conference aimed to reinforce the longstanding relationships and valuable cooperation between us, as well as initiate inspiring partnerships and new opportunities for the development of higher education, research and innovation, and academic outreach.

This was before the pandemic hit us all. The conference can eventually not take place and we feel deeply disappointed. We would nonetheless like to share a few thoughts with you.

Montpellier is a historic city in the dynamic Occitanie region, rooted in a long academic tradition celebrating in 2020 the 800th anniversary of its first university, where high-quality research and education have thrived for centuries. With now over 70,000 students, the University of Montpellier and Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3 University are engaged in several innovative projects, research-intensive activities and international cooperation. Such dynamism stems from the many exchanges of ideas, academics and students over the past 800 years. As the proud heirs of such history and tradition, we are keen to promote the longlasting humanist values of our universities, aiming at the excellence of research and education while serving the community in an increasingly complex world.

In the last few months, we all have experienced unprecedented difficulties and hardships both in our professional and personal lives. The COVID crisis can contribute to raising awareness about the importance of research and knowledge to help us face the uncertainty of the years ahead. These are times when higher education institutions have a key role to play in both the development of research and the continuity of education. This crisis requires institutions and individuals to find innovative solutions to take up new challenges. It is a daunting task that reminds us all of our responsibility to society.

As we are facing a very uncertain future, the strength of international partnerships is being tested. We trust that we can go through this crisis together and maintain fruitful cooperation between our institutions, and even strengthen our relationships through adversity. The extent of the pandemic makes it all the more pressing for researchers to collaborate and for universities to continue valuable exchanges.

We would also like to insist on the imperative necessity to strengthen European values and citizenship. This is of particular importance at a time when the United Kingdom is formally leaving the EU, when we observe a dangerous fragmentation of the world, and when a systemic crisis might herald dark days to come. This is the right time to remember the tumultuous history of our continent, the value of the construction of the European Union, and to highlight and strengthen the role it should play in the future. This is the right time to value, extol and build upon our diversity.

As our common future depends on the capacity of the younger generations to address unprecedented challenges, education must be our core priority. No doubt that the Coimbra Group’s commitment to forging a dynamic and successful European area for higher education and research will be instrumental in doing so. The need for European cooperation has never been greater.