Deliberative democracy experiment calls for Brussels to get involved in education policy – ​​

As the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) draws to a close and 49 proposals have been presented to EU leaders, among them is the idea of ​​Brussels getting involved in education policy, minimum in civic education.

CoFoE is the EU’s deliberative democracy experiment that has brought together citizens from across the bloc to identify, discuss and offer recommendations on how they want the EU to be run in the years to come.

“Shared competences in the field of education should be introduced, at least in the field of citizenship education, and the exercise of this competence by the EU should not prevent Member States from exercising theirs,” reads the first measure of the set of proposals put forward by EU citizens in the field of education policy.

This idea was one of the most controversial suggestions on the subject, according to Silja Markkula, President of the European Youth Forum.

Markkula, who chaired the conference’s education, culture, youth and sport working group, said of education, “the biggest discussions we had were… [focused on] whether education should be harmonized across the European Union, or whether it should be more of a simple voluntary cooperation between Member States or whether education should be an EU competence.

The compromise reached between the stakeholders now stipulates that citizenship education is an area where Brussels should have a say.

“It’s quite logical that when it comes to the European Union and how it works, everyone in the union gets the same training,” Markkula told EURACTIV.

However, as Laure Coudret-Laut, director of Erasmus+ France points out, even if EU countries remain in the driver’s seat when it comes to education, in practice many European decisions are binding on member states.

For example, Erasmus+, the bloc’s study and work abroad program, was passed as a regulation that immediately binds authorities in EU member states.

Taking decisions at the supranational level “would be justified in favor of the main principles of Europe”, she said. According to her, this includes European diplomas to support the free movement of people, levels of educational investment that guarantee the future skills of Europeans, media literacy to ensure the free flow of ideas and the ability to defend democratic values.

In these areas, it would be appropriate “to suggest this shared competence within the framework of the treaties”, concluded Coudret-Laut.

Erasmus+ France also participated in the CoFoE by organizing a forum of 70 participants from all over the country, who developed 35 proposals to be presented at the mid-May meeting of the directors of national Erasmus agencies in Arcachon.

More of what works

Many of the CoFoE proposals were directed at existing policies and simply asked to broaden and broaden access to successful European programs.

EU citizens want to “promote European exchanges in different areas, … made accessible to everyone in all Member States, regardless of age, level of education, background and financial means”, it reads. in the last set of proposals.

This fits well with the stated objective of the new 2021-2027 iteration of Erasmus, which “seeks to increase the qualitative impact of its actions and to guarantee equal opportunities” by addressing “people of different ages and from diverse cultural, social and economic backgrounds.

Asked how different the proposals put forward by citizens are from what the EU is already doing, Markkula said the recommendations “often highlight things you want more of”.

Taking the example of Erasmus+, which she described as “the best program in the EU as a whole”, she said: “it’s something that works, so let’s do more, and develop and let’s see where it might work”.

By teaching, we learn

Citizens also asked the legislator to pay particular attention to the professional mobility of teachers. This was specifically mentioned in several proposals and different sections of the conference outcome document.

Markkula said the focus on pedagogues was driven by the expectation of positive ripple effects for the whole learning architecture.

“The more we support teachers, the better the education as well. So giving teachers opportunities will also have a trickle down effect on supporting those they teach.

However, teachers are already one of the great beneficiaries of Erasmus as they can participate in observation practices abroad, teach or take courses on exchanges which generally last five to seven days.

The French branch of the program alone financed 14,000 teacher mobility in 2021, i.e. a fifth of the applications selected.

One of these teachers is Gaël Pelletier, who has been coordinating Erasmus+ projects since 2018, allowing him to take his students on trips to Italy, Romania, Sweden, Greece, Belgium and Finland.

He says the exchange has made him more comfortable juggling different languages ​​and observing “with formidable acuity the backwardness of the French educational system in many respects, compared to our European neighbours”.

“Personally, I have been able to transpose into my practice the greater autonomy granted to students in many countries. I discovered exciting new ways to use digital technology in a fun way,” he told EURACTIV.

His view that education is not even a shared competence between the EU and its members “is a major fault”.

“Without awareness of a common past, without shared educational references on a daily basis, how can a collective future be envisaged? He asked.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

Helen D. Jessen