Amidst the tumult of the Olympic bid rivalry with France, the furore caused by the alleged comments of President Chirac concerning the quality of British cuisine, the political manoeuvring at the G8 Summit on third world debt relief and environmental concerns, and the horrific attacks in London on the 7th of July, it is all too easy to forget another important development. From the 1st of July until the 31st of December, Britain holds the presidency of the European Union (EU).
This affords Prime Minister Tony Blair considerable leeway concerning setting the agenda for the Commission and, although this is a far cry from a guarantee of success, it is a substantial opportunity. This is a time when, following the rejection of the EU Constitution by both the French and the Dutch populations, the EU needs a steadying yet decisive hand on the tiller, or else the EU’s perceived weakness and unpopularity can only grow.
But what does this actually mean? What exactly can the EU do or influence in terms of domestic policy in education and training? The answer to this is that the EU can only implement changes that have been agreed by the member states. It does not have the authority to introduce any policies that interfere with the education systems of each state, as this is the sole responsibility of the relevant Minister and government within each state.
This being so, it is necessary for there to be some common ground from which member states can work together towards their common overarching goal of improving the quality of education and training provision amongst themselves. Such an agreement could, for instance, take the form of the agreement reached at the March 2000 European Council in Lisbon, whereby member states committed themselves to halving the number of 18 ““ 24 year olds not entering further education by the year 2010.
With this in mind, the co ““ operation within the EU in terms of education and training can be said to come down to encouraging the mobility of both students and teachers within the EU; encouraging greater co ““ operation between member states; and encouraging the sharing of experience, information and knowledge with the idea that sharing best practices will encourage qualitative improvements across the community.
The Way Forward?
The areas that are expected to be addressed specifically within the period of British presidency are: 1) the negotiation of new EU youth and education programmes to encourage co ““ operation between institutions, businesses, and educators, including the movement of tutors and students between countries such as is seen in the Erasmus Programme; 2) analysing and providing for improving the skills of the European workforce; 3) analysing the progress made in competitiveness and social inclusion through the Lisbon agenda (mentioned above); 4) improving university competitiveness and contribution to the Lisbon agenda; and 5) agreeing a resolution on implementing the EU Youth Pact, aiming to fully invest in the human resources available in areas such as citizenship, social mobility, employment.
However, achieving this will raise many issues stemming from having several national governments, each with a different domestic agendum, attempting to co ““ operate whilst at the same time defending their domestic interests. There will also be some difficulty in making one single approach fit for all parties involved; for instance, the structure of the French or German education system is substantially different from the British structure. Therefore a solution that would work for Further Education colleges in terms of increasing co ““ operation here might not suit universities and lecturers in Bonn, Madrid, Rome or Amsterdam.
It must also be admitted that with only six months of presidency in his hands, the Prime Minister may be forced to sacrifice some of the targets that he has set for the greater good, either perceived or actual. But with so much at stake, in terms of Britain’s and Europe’s relative and absolute economic position in the global economy, a coherent, progressive and co ““ operative approach to skills training and education represents a sound investment in future success and prosperity that it would be short – sighted to ignore. Mais c”est la vie”¦
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