marți, 14 mai 2024

European education – a strategic priority for the new European Commission?

Education is a key factor in developing and sustaining a cohesive and inclusive European society. It is increasingly visible that by facilitating cooperation and partnerships between European countries, education plays a crucial role in building a united Europe, able to maintain its international relevance and withstand the challenges created by geopolitical, technological, and demographic changes.


In the 1980s, Europe began to strengthen its educational cooperation, laying the foundations for the successful European programmes we can see today, the best known of which is the Erasmus programme. These programmes play a key role in promoting mobility, collaboration and knowledge exchange between European countries, contributing to strengthening the European identity and developing the skills needed for a globalised and technological society.


If we refer to the European identity, it has experienced a complex and chaotic evolutionary process. It faced major challenges upon trying to define a common European identity. Let's look at a concrete example. In 2004, EU leaders signed the Treaty establishing a constitution for Europe. This initiative aimed at providing a stronger legal basis and strengthening European integration, reflecting a unified and shared vision of European values and principles. However, the referendum on the European Constitution in France and the Netherlands in 2005 was a failure, with citizens rejecting the proposal. This moment in 2005 highlighted how divided public opinion was on European integration, how wide the gap was between the opinion of the political elites and the opinion of ordinary citizens, and highlighted national differences in sovereignty, identity and decision-making autonomy; phenomena that are still shaking the Union up to today, almost 20 years after that turning point.  


An innovative political project is now the portfolio of the European Commissioner for Promoting our European Way of Life. Created in 2019 within the European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen, the post was assigned to Margaritis Schinas, who also became Vice-President of the Commission. The name of the portfolio generated controversy and discussion among political observers and civil society. The idea of coming up with such an approach was included in Ursula von der Leyen's political programme for the European Commission 2019-2024. The overall aim of this portfolio was to address topics related to security, migration, education, culture and social inclusion, reflecting a comprehensive vision of European values and way of life.


It should be pointed out that, in recent years, the conversation about the future of the European Union has been tense and often lacking clarity. That conversation is marked by uncertainty, lack of consensus, and sometimes even fear in addressing major issues. European leaders are hesitant to take political risks and hold back on proposing radical solutions, opting instead for short-term compromises. The Conference on the Future of Europe was conceived as an ambitious project. With a clear objective, it was launched by the European Union in 2021 to involve citizens in large-scale discussions and consultations about the direction and future of the EU. Despite its initial enthusiasm, there were many critical opinions that the debate had failed to live up to the expectations, with some even considering it a failure. The final results were unclear and did not translate into concrete measures. There were high expectations that this conference would lead to significant reforms within the EU, but the final results were perceived as broad and unaccompanied by decisive action.


In recent years, the European project has been bayoneted by a series of overlapping major crises, competing for resources and for the attention of decision-makers and citizens alike. Each of these crises has tested the EU's cohesion, solidarity and response capacity, but has also provided opportunities for learning and adaptation. Every five years, the formation of a new European Commission and the launch of a new mandate are important moments in the political calendar of European society. Each committee brings new priorities, visions and teams of Commissioners who take responsibility for implementing the EU agenda.


Few remember, but at European level there was an interesting experiment to bring a new angle to the leadership of Europe. We had a European Commissioner, who even held the rank of Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for European communication. It was Sweden's Margot Wallström, who was part of President José Manuel Durão Barroso's first term from 2004 to 2009.


What is needed now is a new strategy for the future of Europe, which should be values-centred and reflect the diversity, complexity and current challenges of the Union. In this context, we propose a new approach through education and citizen engagement. We propose a Vice-President for European Education in the structure of the future European Commission. Over the period 2024-2029, the European Commission should set as its strategic priority the development of European education, in order to make a new leap in this field, like the one achieved in the 1980s. The idea of a Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for European education can give a clear signal about this political objective.


In order to give European education the importance it deserves, it is advisable to launch in parallel an Intergovernmental Conference in the spring of 2025, where Member States can reach an integrated vision of the educational perspective for 2040. Without a solid educational pillar catalysing efforts and energies at Member State level, there is a risk that the Union will fail the test of global competitiveness and relevance, as well as the fundamental test of trust on the part of its own citizens.


(Material written together with Alina Bârgăoanu)


Dan Luca / Brussels

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