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Printed: 21.09.2019.

PrintCreating European Education Area: challenges for the Baltic States

Eugene Eteris, European Studies Faculty, RSU, BC International Editor, Copenhagen, 28.02.2018.Print version, 05.03.2018.
Main responsibility for education and culture policies is with the EU member states; however the EU institutions play a vital supplementary role. Thus, the EU develops a series of “soft policy” tools to help states in designing progressive education policies. Modern EU measures would help the Baltic States to accommodate their educational policies to European and global challenges.


In March 2017, the EU member states adopted a Rome declaration aimed at creating a "Union where young people receive the best education and training and can study and find jobs across the continent." The declaration asserts that education and culture can be an important “instrument” in tackling the challenges of an ageing workforce, continued digitalisation, future needs for skills, the need to promote critical thinking and media literacy at a time when “alternative facts” and disinformation are often proliferating online.

Thus the Rome declaration is aimed at creating a new EU “educational union”, where young people would receive best education and training with open possibilities to study across Europe.

The declaration confirmed the states’ four commitments in their educational policies towards closer connections with modern European and global challenges: a) safe and secure Europe; b) prosperous and sustainable growth; c) “social Europe”, i.e. a union based on economic and social progress with adequate cohesion and convergence; and d) stronger Europe on the global scene.     


About Rome Declaration: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_STATEMENT-17-767_en.htm


According to Rome-2017 declaration, the European Area of Education, EAE shall include the following 11 elements (seen as a cooperative task of the EU and the member states):

  • Making students mobility a reality for all, by building on the positive experiences of the Erasmus+ programme and the European Solidarity Corps; and by creating an EU Student Card to offer a new user-friendly way to store information on a person's academic records;
  • Mutual recognition of diplomas by initiating a new “Sorbonne process”, building on the "Bologna process", to prepare the ground for the mutual recognition of higher education and school leaving diplomas;
  • Greater cooperation on curricula development by making recommendations to ensure that education programs and systems include all knowledge, skills and competences needed both for the states’ structural reforms and modern global employment trends;
  • Improving language learning by setting a new benchmark for all young Europeans finishing upper secondary education to have a good knowledge of two languages in addition to their mother tongue(s) by 2025;
  • Promoting lifelong learning by seeking convergence and increasing the share of people engaging in learning throughout their lives with the aim of reaching 25% by 2025;
  • Mainstreaming innovation and digital skills in education by promoting innovative and digital training and preparing for a new Digital Education Action Plan;
  • Supporting teachers by multiplying the number of teachers participating in the Erasmus+ programme and eTwinning network and offering policy guidance on the professional development of teachers and school leaders;
  • Creating a network of European universities so that best European universities can work together with others, as well as supporting the establishment of a School of European and Transnational Governance;
  • Investing in education by using the European Semester to support structural reforms to improve education policy, by using EU funding and EU investment instruments to fund education and setting a benchmark for EU states to invest 5% of GDP in education.
  • Preserving cultural heritage and fostering a sense of European identity and culture by developing a European Agenda for Culture (using the momentum of the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage) and preparing a Council Recommendation on common values, inclusive education and the European dimension of teaching.
  • Strengthening the European dimension of Euronews (created in 1993 by a number of European public broadcasters), with the ambition of having a European channel offering access to independent, high quality information with a pan-European perspective.   


More information in:

 -Communication: A European Education area by 2025: fostering a European Identity through Education and Culture;

 - A series of Factsheets on strengthening European Identity through Education and Culture; - Strategic note by the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC) on the 10 trends transforming education as we know it

-Commission's Education and Training Monitor 2017: key figures on where the education and training stand in the EU. Source: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-4521_en.htm

LV version: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-4521_lv.htm

Ordination in the common education area

According to the EU treaties, education (as well as culture, sport, tourism and even industrial development, to name a few) is a supplementary and coordinating activity of the Union’s institutions. The legal presumption that the EU can only “coordinate” education process in the member states seems inefficient, i.e. additional measures are needed. The main reason is digitalisation, quick changing in needed people skills and new professions, as well as finding additional financial support. Besides, common “European education area” (EEA) is urgently needed to tackle such issues as mutual recognition of diplomas, additional language learning, a quality framework for early childhood education and care, a European “agenda for culture”, and a new EU “youth strategy”.     

European societies and economies are experiencing significant digital and technological innovations as well as labour market and demographic changes. Many of today's jobs did not exist a decade ago and many new forms of employment will be created in the future. In the “White Paper on the Future of Europe”, the Commission highlighted “it is likely that most children entering primary school today will end up working in new job types that do not yet exist” and that coping with this “will require a massive investment in skills and a major rethink of education and lifelong learning systems” .

Citation and references from: European Commission’s “White Paper on the Future of Europe” (2017) in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/white-paper-future-europereflections-and-scenarios   


European economies rely heavily on highly educated and competent people. Skills such as creativity, critical thinking, taking initiative and problem solving play an important role in coping with complexity and change in a modern society. 

Commission “Reflection Paper on Harnessing Globalisation” recognises that new ways of learning, as well as more flexible training and educational models, are needed for a society which is becoming increasingly mobile and digital.

Reference: European Commission’s “Reflection Paper on Harnessing Globalisation”, (2017) in:  https://ec.europa.eu/commission/publications/reflection-paper-harnessing-globalisation_en


Besides, the Commission reflection on “European social dimension” emphasises the importance of acquiring the right set of skills and competences to sustain living standards in Europe and competitive advantages in the world. Commission communication on strengthening European identity through education and culture, has set its vision to create a European Education Area by 2025. However, the member states in December 2017 expressed their quite modest intention “to do more in the area of education”.


The EU Commissioner for education and culture’s issues (Tibor Navracsics) argued that although education had been the responsibility of the states, the EU works to “step up union’s cooperation”. Modern education potentials shall be used in building resilient societies, creating a sense of belonging and enabling people to experience numerous variations in the European identity. Hence, the idea of a “true European education area” has appeared, which, among other things, would be boosting language learning, ensuing that diplomas are recognised in all Union states, that European universities maximise their cooperation, and that studying in another EU country becomes easier than ever before. Thus, very concrete steps are needed in the member states towards making EEA a reality.

See more in: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-388_en.htm

Lessons from the past: more inclusive and resilient societies needed

Education in the member states is already on top of the political agenda. After years of crisis, the member states are making efforts to create resilient societies equipped with necessary skills to withstand future economic and societal challenges. In the “new world” with the harnessing globalisation it is important both to consolidate social cohesion and eliminate inequalities as the biggest obstacles to education quality.

The member states have to recognise that long-term challenges are not less important than short-term ones. In the past few years, education has been somehow absent from the political scene. However, the power of education and culture plays important part in fostering cohesion.

During last couple of years, the EU was facing the most serious crisis of legitimacy since its foundation, when millions of citizens were doubting the EU's raison d'être; though the states generally recognised the resounding success of the Erasmus programme. This shows the tangible impact and clear added value European education policy brings to millions of citizens.

It is obvious that modern societies have become less cohesive, and they will take time to fully recover; even Commission’s people argue that the EU is now less equal than before.  

Therefore, the EU’s duty is two-fold: to re-engage with those who feel left behind, and to build more inclusive and resilient societies. Most important, the states should be building modern societies on a solid basis of common values and sense of belonging.

It is time to rediscover the value of national and European values and address upfront the role of education in promoting them. The supporting task of the EU is to lay the foundations for a solid European Education Area and to build it on the basis of a clear vision for achievements by 2025.

Creating a more solid EEA’s foundations, more excellence and innovation, more equity and inclusion and more exchanges among pupils, students and teachers is needed.

The states will share their knowledge and experience bringing fresh perspectives and ideas to this process from all walks of life: people with disabilities, experts bringing excellence and a sense of belonging to the most deprived areas; people who are using culture as an incredibly effective vector of integration; dreamers who are testing new approaches in their own schools as well as teaching disciplines that are wrongly perceived as being difficult.

Besides, representatives of the private sector shall be encluded, i.e. people who are enabling young people to develop entrepreneurial mind-sets, and others who are committed to equipping them with robust digital skills to turn them into active users and responsible citizens of the digital world.

Efficiency issues in education policy

First European Education Summit (January 25, 2018) was acting as a catalyst for greater political ambition. Commissioner Navracsics expressed hope that every second year, member states’ leaders and all interested parties would meet to discuss the state of education in the EU.

Jonathan Swift once said: “Vision is the art of seeing invisible things”; present EU actions would make sure that modern steps towards adequate education policies produce tangible results.

Source: European Commission, speech by Commissioner Navracsics, 25.01.2018 in:


The summit’s aim was broadly formulated in its title: “Laying the foundations of a European Education Area: for an innovative, inclusive and values-based education”. Thus, the Summit focused on such issues as: quality, inclusive and values-based education to contribute to a “successful Europe”; workers’ competences and skills needed for the decades to come (including basic, digital and entrepreneurial skills), as well as the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in education and the role children play in helping to transform societies.

The summit addressed decision makers in the states’ education policy, i.e. those who would translate new ideas into policy reforms and practical steps on the ground.

Participants expressed intentions to “advance in overcoming well-known challenges: improving basic skills after the recent poor PISA results and defining what skills are needed, how to equip young people with the right attitudes, how to foster horizontal skills”.

“Common vision” of the European education Area for 2025 suggested that education policies shall be “values based, inclusive and innovative”.  

This education summit presented a first package of initiatives to start building the European education area (EEA). Among most important are the following measures:

  • Digitalisation on education: to ensure that young people are both digitally confident and also digitally competent;
  • Providing for eight most important “Key Competences for every European” to learn throughout life;
  • Promoting European common values in the European dimension of teaching: learning the EU history (and that of Europe, in general) will encourage pupils to embrace common values, heritage and identity and better understand European shared roots.
  • Providing possibilities in early childhood education and care, as a prerequisite for such issues as equality and inclusion to start in the classroom;
  • Language learning so that Europeans speak two languages in addition to their mother tongue; and
  • Mutual recognition of university diplomas to enable more mobility.

These proposals will help shape the outline of a true European Education Area and that the EU states will embrace them for what they are: an ambitious attempt to set common objectives and seek convergence in full respect of national competences.

Modern steps in the EU new “education union”

In November 2017, the Commission presented a Communication on strengthening European identity through education and culture. In this Communication, the Commission set out its vision for the creation of a European Education Area by 2025 to harness the full potential of education as a driver for job creation, economic growth, social fairness as well as a means to experience European identity in all its diversity.

More on the issue in: Commission press release “Future of Europe: Towards a European Education Area by 2025”, in: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-4521_en.htm


Following the Gothenburg summit recommendations (November 2017), the Commission proposed new education policy’s initiatives (January 2018), intended to reduce socio-economic inequalities and sustain competitiveness while creating a united, stronger and more democratic European Union. These educational initiatives include:

  • Recommendation on key competences for lifelong learning to improve the development of key competences of people of all ages throughout their lives and to provide guidance to the states on how to achieve this objective. A particular focus is placed on promoting entrepreneurial drive and innovation-oriented mind-sets in order to unlock personal potential, creativity and self-initiative spirit among citizens.

See more on “key competences” in: the Council’s paper (Brussels, 17.1.2018), COM (2018) 24 final in:  https://ec.europa.eu/education/sites/education/files/recommendation-key-competences-lifelong-learning.pdf

Digital education action plan outlining the EU measures to help people, educational institutions and training systems in the member states better adapt to life and work in an age of rapid digital changes.

  • Recommendation on common European values in education, to be included in the member states education and teaching policies in order to help young people understand the importance of European values in member states’ education and culture. The EU law (art. 2 TFEU) on common values is aimed at strengthening European social cohesion while contributing to fighting populism, xenophobia and divisive nationalism, which creates disunity.


The Commission will present further initiatives in spring 2018, which would include proposals on the mutual recognition of diplomas, language learning, a quality framework for early childhood education and care, a European Agenda for Culture, and a new EU Youth Strategy. 

The EU member states have to make efforts towards doubling the number of young people participating in the EU’s Erasmus+ program by 2025, which will require a European budget of €29.4 bln for the period 2021-27. Furthermore, the Commission will work on a network of European universities and a new EU student card; the latter will make studying in another EU country easier than ever before.

The EU Education Ministers decided that the second European Education Summit will take place in autumn 2019.


More information on EU education policy in the following web sites: - European Education Summit website;

New measures to boost key competences and digital skills, as well as the European dimension of education;

Factsheet on the European Education Area

- Factsheet on Key Competences for Lifelong Learning;

- Factsheet on the Digital Education Action Plan;

- Factsheet on promoting common values, inclusive education, and the European dimension of teaching;

- Communication on Strengthening European Identity through Education and Culture

- Education & Training Monitor 2017.

General source: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-388_en.htm; Latvian version on: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-388_lv.htm