BY DANIEL DEBONO
EU AFFAIRS MANAGER, HEAD OF BRUSSELS OPERATIONS, MALTA BUSINESS BUREAU
Throughout recent years, the EU has been working to create opportunities and a better environment for young people to flourish and contribute towards the future. Building upon the first Education Package released in January 2018, the latest set of initiatives published in May seeks to actualise this goal.
Taking a tripartite approach, the proposals target one of the following key areas; youth, education and culture. On youth, the accompanying communication sets out the EU’s approach for the years stretching from 2019 until 2027. Entitled ‘Engaging, Connecting And Empowering Young People: A New EU Youth Strategy’, the principal objectives are to engage youth within civic and democratic activities, empowering youth through greater support and recognition of their contribution, and connecting youth throughout Europe. These objectives all aim to foster better mobility, solidarity and cultural understanding.
From a policy aspect, the strategy promises to give greater value to European youth through increased dialogue with Union institutions. The new role of an EU Youth Coordinator will facilitate this dialogue, while also boosting current initiatives such as the European Youth Portal. Finally, the European Commission will ensure greater coherence between EU youth policy and the activities within the dedicated programmes such as Erasmus+ and the European Solidarity Corps.
With regards to education, the Commission has presented three additional proposals that will contribute towards building a ‘European Education Area’ by the year 2025. The priority is to ensure that youth mobility programmes become the norm, professional qualifications are fully recognised cross-border, the ability to communicate in multiple languages, that quality education is accessible to all, and it contributes to a strong European identity.
The package also includes the methods through which a ‘European Education Area’ is to be achieved. These include reinforcing the Erasmus+ programme, which is expected to see its funding doubled in the upcoming Multiannual Financial Framework (2020-2027) and fostering increased policy cooperation in the field of education and training through the European Semester.
The Commission likewise highlighted current plans to introduce a ‘European Student Card system’ by 2021, which would help boost student mobility by reducing costs and administrative burdens for both students and educational institutions. Similarly, the creation of ‘European Universities’ will ensure greater cross-border cooperation, facilitating the mobility of both students and lecturers.
Finally, the ‘New Agenda for Culture’ aims to make the most out of Europe’s cultural diversity through the promotion of greater cultural participation and understanding, mobility of artists and protection of cultural heritage. The Commission also cites the strong growth potential that may arise from the cultural and creative sectors. This can only be actualised if art and culture are promoted within member states’ education systems and if greater cultural innovation is encouraged.
Business welcomes Commission proposals aimed at empowering youth through quality education, mobility and enabling active citizens. The Erasmus+ experience has been a success. Students who spend time in another country undertaking part of their studies get to experience European diversity. This allows them to become more independent and obtain a wider perspective of life. This is an important personal growth process that goes in parallel to apprenticeships and on the job training to prepare youth for the labour market. The ability to speak multiple languages is also a life skill of great value.
In spite of the good work however, the Commission’s education drive needs to be complemented with continued focus on creating more jobs and growth in the EU to be able to claim a return on the investment. The EU still suffers from a high average of youth unemployment. Idle youth are a wasted resource and since the aftermath of the crisis, we are looking at a lost generation. The European economy has been in recovery mode for several years, but growth has been marginal and insufficient to provide the opportunities that youth require. Time is of the essence. Europe needs to undertake the necessary reforms to become more competitive and benefit from the outcome of education initiatives such as these.
This article has been featured on the Malta Chamber blog.