European Commissioner for Education, Culture and Sport Jan Figel and Education Minister Yuli Tamir signed a joint declaration on education Wednesday, inaugurating the first Tempus office in Israel. Tempus is an exchange program for higher education students, professors and university staff between the EU and its neighbor countries. The program's Israel budget is â‚¬1 million, not including the â‚¬50,000 earmarked to run the new office. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have already submitted applications for exchange programs starting in September. At a press conference after the signing ceremony Figel was asked about efforts in Europe to organize academic boycotts against Israel. "My presence here, this agreement that was just signed, the dialogue and participation which will ensue, are the clearest answers to calls for an academic boycott," he answered. "They are better than any polemics" Figel called boycott efforts a lose-lose situation and said he believed they would not bear any fruit. Tamir referred to boycotts during her brief remarks at the signing ceremony. "In light of the academic boycott efforts, this is refreshing. Despite attempts to disrupt, relations are actually flourishing," she said. "The agreement opened a wide range of opportunities and makes us closer neighbors," Tamir said. Figel said the EU and Israel had agreed to discuss policy issues, "which is a step beyond just mobility and exchange programs." He also said he had been impressed by Ben-Gurion University's integration of business and academia. According to Figel, one of the issues they hoped to work on was reversing the dropout rate, which he said was higher in Israel than in Europe. He said the higher rate could perhaps be attributed to statistics from the Arab population, which was getting left behind. He suggested the problem bore similarity to issues involving migrant communities in Europe. Figel told The Jerusalem Post cooperation between Israel and Europe was flourishing and the agreement and new office were meant to take such cooperation even further. "The intensity of relations has increased," he said. "More than half of scientific citations in Israel are for joint EU-Israel projects. Two-thirds of students who go abroad go to Europe. As the EU becomes a global actor, Israel wants to be part of it and they are welcome to be part of it." Regarding rising concern over Islamist trends in Europe, Figel said education was the best factor to encourage integration. He said a recent study had shown that there was divergence amongst second-generation immigrants from the host society, "which needs to be addressed." Figel was in Israel for a four-day visit. Later Wednesday, he opened another Tempus office in Ramallah.