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22nd Jan 2018

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Finance ministers are 'toughest challenge' to education policies

  • "Education is a future-oriented policy," commissioner Navracsics argued. (Photo: Daily Mile)

While the EU is seeing its way out of the economic crisis, the European Commission is trying to convince member states to pay more attention to youth and education policies.

"Education should play a bigger role than we probably have thought," commission vice president Jyrki Katainen noted on Tuesday (19 September).

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His colleague in charge of youth and education, Tibor Navracsics noted that education and youth have been "victims" of austerity policies and that "we have to invest more" in these two areas.

Katainen and Navracsics, who were speaking at an event organised by the European Policy Center (EPC), a Brussels think-tank, expressed some frustration at national politicians.

In the EU division of powers, the commission has no direct power in education.

"Education has not been prioritised everywhere," across the EU, Katainen noted.

He said that Europeans should be "stronger to adapt to new situations" and that "from a globalisation point of view and an industrial competitiveness point of view, education plays a greater role."

Katainen, who is in charge of jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness in the EU executive, argued that that educating and training people should be central to "resilience" policies.

Resilience is the EU executive's new concept to promote people, companies and countries' adaption to innovation and economic competition.

Navracsics pointed out that the austerity mindset from the crisis years was an obstacle to long-term policies.

"I'm not an anti-austerity politician," said the conservative Hungarian politician.

"But there are times when there is no place for austerity packages. We have to heal the wounds of austerity policies," he said.

He added, however, that social policies are not enough for that.

"My problem with the social policy approach is that they are concentrating only on unemployment gaps, problems in lab market, etcetera …," he said. "They can settle those issues very briefly but they can't think about the future."

"Social policy is too heavily present-day oriented. Education is a future-oriented policy," he argued.

Hinting at internal debates within the EU executive, he said that education should be an element of the commission's social pillar - a set of recommendations and initiatives - but that, for now, it is "only a slice of it".

He also put the blame on finance ministers.

"The most difficult task is to convince finance ministers to invest more in education," he said.

He announced that in January, the commission will organise an education summit to "try to bring together finance ministers".

"That's the biggest, the toughest challenge," he said.

'Parents will vote for you'

Katainen also pointed to other political obstacles to education policies.

"Highways in many countries are more interesting for policy makers than investment in teachers' training," he said, adding that he is trying to "change the mindset in these member states".

"I try to convince member states to shift focus from physical infrastructures to intellectual infrastructures."

He argued that politicians should consider that if they spend €1 million on improving teachers' skills or schools' infrastructure, rather than on building highways, "parents will vote for you".

"This may sound a bit pathetic, I just try to think of how to sell this resilience theme," Katainen concluded.

Education inequalities remain high in EU

Less people leave school prematurely, but socio-economic status, immigrant background and gender are still factors of underachievement, a commission report says.

EU 'rebrands' youth corps

The European Commission proposes a €341-million budget to get unemployed people into volunteering activities or traineeships that “promote solidarity” in their own countries or abroad.

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