Correspondent's Choice

Day 2 of the Biennale Firenze saw the event split into three simultaneous workshops. Each of these workshops brought together experts from civil society to discuss the role of education as a means of social inclusion. Specifically, they focused on social engagement, access to the labour market and the exercise of rights.

By bringing together such a wide range of expertese and opinions, it is hoped that the report with recommendations to be submitted to European Commission President Barroso on Saturday will bring forward new and practical ideas.

Your author spent much of the morning with Stefano Filipponi from the Istituto degli Innocenti (the host location). Stefano was our guide through the archives and museum of this incredible organisation.

The institute was established with a donation of 1,000 florins in the 15th century – which I think we can presume is an enormous sum in todays money. The aim was to establish an organisation which could fund itself and provide aid and assistance to children in trouble. All these centuries later and it is still going strong. We were honoured to be shown the written record of the first names of children admitted. With such old records, it is a difficult and delicate task to count them up, but Stefano’s best guess was that 500,000 people have been helped through the centuries. Needless to say, the institute has played a vital role in Florentine society.

Happily, we were able to capture this on video and we will publish the footage in the coming days.

The institute is a perfect place for a conference of this nature as it has since altered its focus (in line with Italian law which did not exist in this area when it formed) and now has more of an educational than rescue role. But this focus of helping those in need and helping them to help themselves is vital in our modern society of deep disparity between rich and poor.

We followed this with a number of video interviews with experts from inside and outside of our hosts, EESC.

A few overriding themes have become clear for us. Europe does nowhere near enough to protect the rights of individuals and competitive markets searching only for profits can never provide this protection. It is also clear that this lack of protection has a high price. That price is not immediately visible, but will be too much to bear if changes cannot be made. As a “knowledge economy”, Europe relies on high levels of skill to be able to create the wealth needed to pay our high wages (relative to many other parts of the world) and without excellent levels of education, this advantage can and will be lost.

Such a future does not bear thinking about.

Under such pressure and with such an important piece of the EU’s future at stake, the recommendations to President Barroso need to be good.

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