President. The next item is the report by Mr Beazley on behalf of the Committee on Culture and Education on initiatives to complement school curricula providing appropriate support measures to include the European dimension (2006/2041(INI)) (A6-0267/2006).
Christopher Beazley (PPE-DE), rapporteur. – Mr President, the purpose of this report is very clear and specific. It calls upon the Council of Ministers to give a fresh impetus to the inclusion and enhancement of the European dimension in school curricula. That is a national competence and the national, regional, and educational authorities in our Member States vary. However, this Parliament is totally within its rights – and indeed has a duty – to remind the Council of Ministers that it passed a resolution back in May 1988 calling for the enhancement of the European dimension in education. It is the virtually unanimous feeling of the committee that it is high time that this was updated. So what are the practical steps?
First of all, the European dimension should not simply be a vague platitude, a notion that governments pay lip-service to but in actual fact do very little to achieve. I hope attention has been drawn to this in committee and I hope that the Finnish Presidency will be able to confirm by correspondence that this item will be included on the agenda of the next Council of Education Ministers meeting in Brussels on 13 November. I look forward to receiving confirmation of that. We think that there should be a discussion by our ministers, specifically about what the European dimension entails.
As far as Parliament’s committee is concerned, we have looked at two aspects. Firstly, in citizenship classes, what used to be called ‘civics’: an understanding of what the EU is, how its institutions operate and, in particular, the democratic input of individuals, interests and concerns in the decision-making; and second, and equally important, an understanding of our common cultural and historical heritage. Parliament held a hearing on the teaching of history and its European dimension two years ago. Of course, national stories are the foundation stone of an understanding of our past, but it is impossible to teach the classical empires of Greece and Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Napoleonic wars, the Industrial Revolution, the struggles between democracies and dictatorship without reference to the European context.
We also dwell specifically on the importance of language teaching. That has declined very significantly in my own country in recent years. In the last two years, the number of 16-year-old students studying languages has dropped by as much as 14%, as our government has made it an option rather than a compulsory element of the curriculum.
Looking across Europe, our understanding and our use of languages is very imbalanced. As English increasingly becomes a ‘lingua franca’, for those of us with English as our mother tongue that is a real problem in terms of motivating students to study and teachers to teach foreign languages. And yet without that cultural understanding that goes with an understanding of language, how on earth are we going to be able to cooperate properly and enrich the content of our educational syllabuses?
With regard to teacher awareness, I mentioned that there is a disparity, not only across the EU but within Member States. Some schools pay considerable attention to the European dimension, fully engaging in European exchange programmes, for example, using not simply resources from the EU but national and independent resources, television and newspaper archive material, while others concentrate hardly at all on the European dimension. Therefore we have a ‘scatter’ effect.
It is important that teacher training courses should offer potential teachers the opportunity to be aware of what teaching materials are available and how they can fit into curricula.
I draw your attention to paragraph 13 of the report, which we are grateful to Mrs Novak for incorporating. It states that: ‘The European dimension complements national content. It neither replaces nor supplants it.’ There is a very small fringe of people who would attack this report and say that it is all about propaganda, trying to force people to see only the rosy and beneficial side of the European Union. I would return that taunt by saying that it is they who would seek to deny information, who are actually distorting the picture, depriving our students of the opportunity to make a balanced judgment of their own and to consider what their career opportunities might be, because they have had the full information given to them consistently, throughout their time at school.
This report is a call to the Council of Ministers for action. We look forward to seeing the positive results.
Ján Figeľ, Member of the Commission. Mr President, once again, this is a very timely initiative, as we are preparing for the launch of new seven-year programmes. In future this particular dimension could be much more evident in cooperation on education and training policies than previously. This report could also be inspirational, therefore, for the Council and the Member States. That falls within their competence and responsibility, of course, but we should at least reflect on where we are and what can be done to improve this educational dimension.
In his report, Mr Beazley touches on serious and specific problems. The Commission shares those concerns. In the last joint report by the Council and the Commission on progress in the Education and Training 2010 programme, we concluded, for example, that ‘despite some promising initiatives on mobility and participation in EU programmes, there is still a lack of national strategies on the European dimension in education’.
Policies that would ensure that, after initial education, young people have the knowledge and competences they need as European citizens – not only as tourists but as citizens – are piecemeal and fragmented. It is also true that the term ‘European dimension’ has a different meaning. On the one hand, it refers to the concept of Europe, its civilisation, democratic values and projects. However, it can also be seen as European citizenship or European identity, with rights and duties as citizens, active participation and a sense of belonging to Europe. It is thus important to have clear views on how to integrate the European dimension in school curricula and how to provide schools with both the material and the opportunities to learn about Europe in practice.
The Commission has already started this work. Among our programmes, Comenius, for example, supports projects with partners from different countries working on developing the European dimension. The ‘European SchoolNet’ is a good example of an interactive and virtual tool for networking and for dissemination. The Youth Programme also aims to familiarise young people with the concept of a European dimension in their lives through exchanges and especially through voluntary service. Transnational projects like these are an excellent example of the European dimension in practice.
The recommendation on key competences for lifelong learning, which we have just discussed, is an important step forward. It highlights a number of skills and attitudes needed for active European citizenship as part of social, civic and cultural competences. Similarly, our work with national experts on teacher training stresses the importance of European knowledge, mobility and networking. These are a very important part of teachers’ professional development. I fully agree with Mr Beazley.
The Commission shares the view that much more needs to be done to raise awareness of the many good national and European initiatives. The Commission continues to work with Member States, for example co-financing projects within Comenius and supporting multilingualism, and we will encourage Member States to develop the European dimension as part of their lifelong learning strategies.
Moreover, my colleague Mrs Wallström and I recently agreed on a number of initiatives to be taken in this area. Therefore, for all these reasons, I see this report as providing major input into the Commission’s reflections on the issues of education and citizenship.
Vasco Graça Moura, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (PT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the Beazley report presents us with a concept that is difficult to pin down, namely that of the European dimension. If we wish to bring a sense of belonging to the complex reality that we call Europe, the corresponding European dimension must be conveyed to the citizens, in particular the youngest citizens, because it is a vital prerequisite for European citizenship in the true sense of the term.
Young people must be helped to understand this, and to absorb the fact that they belong to a shared tapestry of civilisation that gives rise, on the one hand, to diverse cultures and national entities, and, on the other, to a particular view of Europe around the world that, historically, has changed the course of the human race. There are issues of great interest to the construction of the EU that go hand in hand with the European dimension, such as scientific and technological progress, which is as much an integral part of Europe as of any other part of the world. There are other areas relating to a specifically European dimension that stand out, such as the history, the human and physical geography, the languages, and the cultural and artistic heritage in its tangible and intangible forms.
The national aspects of these realities have often led to the kinds of partnerships and relationships, and antagonism and conflict, that can be found in relations between neighbours. Accordingly, they are arranged in strips that cut across national borders. Yet there is a whole that is the matrix in which all of these elements coexist in a framework of dynamic interaction, and it is this matrix that enables us to call ourselves Europeans. This is the dimension of which we speak. It will be no easy task to reflect this dimension in school curricula. It is therefore necessary to define the priorities, find the right methods, recast programmes, prepare teaching materials, and train teachers and educators in each country. In common with the European project itself, this will be a gradual, multipolar process which will not always run smoothly, but it must begin as soon as possible. The European dimension is the European added value and what we are talking about is more Europe.
Maria Badia i Cutchet, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the recommendation we are now debating is, together with the previous two, a major step forward in making young people and citizens more aware of, and better informed about, the importance of the European Union.
It is a fact that the Union currently has few powers in the area of education. While some Member States – only a few – include some appropriate content on European affairs in their syllabuses or educational programmes, others are still a very long way from introducing this element into the curricula taught at their educational establishments.
In view of this situation, I consider it necessary for us to develop at a European level what is laid down in Article 149 of the Treaty, which states that the Union should develop the European dimension in education, particularly through lifelong learning and the teaching and dissemination of the languages of the European Union.
The Commissioner has already mentioned some examples that are leading in that direction, but this report must help to strengthen this requirement even more at a Community level, not only in order to provide the necessary skills in the area of European citizenship, but also to help citizens learn about the Union’s policies and institutions.
There is also another reason, which is to raise awareness about European citizenship; this would lead to better communication between citizens and institutions; this communication is currently showing symptoms of ill health that will result in a number of not very helpful consequences.
Mr Figel’, I call on the Commission to work even harder to specify what is meant by this so-called ‘European dimension’ in education, so that agreement can then be reached in the Council on how this commitment may be adopted within each individual education system.
Lastly, I should like to point out the importance of language teaching – as has already been mentioned – in bringing young people closer to the various different cultures in the Union, as well as the importance of exchanging best practices, especially in the area of teacher training, since teachers are a key group in achieving the objectives that we have set ourselves.
Hannu Takkula, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (FI) Mr President, Commissioner, I myself would also like to express my thanks to the rapporteur, Mr Beazley, for this excellent report. This is a very important subject. We have to ensure that there is not just a regional and national dimension, but also a European dimension to our children’s identity and thinking, and that they understand what kind of community of values they belong to and what sort of intellectual heritage they have.
In spite of its mosaic of cultures, Europe has common values based on those of the Christian religion. These values are also based on the Hellenistic heritage and Roman law. Today they are mainly visible in the shape of democracy, human rights and freedom of opinion. It is important to teach children and young people these values from a young age, to promote them and adopt them as a full immersion subject in their education, so that we might understand what it is to be a European in an ever-integrating world, and so that we might be proud of that, as well as of our national roots and our continent.
Bernat Joan i Marí, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – Mr President, my thanks to Mr Figeľ, and to Mr Beazley for his report. The making of the European Union is a complex process in which, according to our point of view, education plays a fundamental role. It is impossible to establish European citizenship without the active support of a proper education system.
As we know, many of our views about history, cultures, society, etc., are forged during our crucial school years. The education system happens to be a means for a state coercion, many times at the expense of cultural plurality and diversity. For this reason, history for instance, has been traditionally very highly mediatised by the state. The consequences of state-based education can be very counterproductive for our purposes and our values. For example, chauvinism and unilingualism: nearly 50% of European citizens are only able to speak fluently their own language. We need to overcome such a state-based education. Introducing the European dimension in our education systems can be a fundamental contribution to avoiding national chauvinism, to improve citizens’ command of several languages, to strengthen respect for plurality and diversity, and to build a common European identity.
Věra Flasarová, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (CS) Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased that in the Czech Republic at least two foreign languages are taught from primary school age, and in the higher education system, for example at the University of Ostrava, Europeanism has become part of the social sciences curriculum. I should like to draw attention to one aspect of Europeanism that does not receive the emphasis that it deserves, however, and that is tolerance. The rapporteur mentions the need for agreement on shared history, which in my view is an idealistic target that might be attainable in the distant future. One thing that can be achieved, however, is tolerance, which is essential to the existence of the EU.
The EU Member States cannot have one single overview of their history, because the success of one nation has often meant the failure of another. This view has changed only recently, however. In Europe, there is no nation that can stand above the continent’s history, providing a viewpoint that would suit everyone without offending anyone. The idea of a shared European history can be at best only a compromise. A more realistic goal would be to understand the history of other countries and their impartial sine ira et studio version of events. Showing tolerance of historical and cultural differences would be a first step for Europeans towards sharing their values with other countries and cultures around the world. At the same time, tolerance and understanding will become the basis for defining shared European values. Young people should learn foreign languages, but should also recognise the culture and history of other countries. The job of teachers is to offer this kind of knowledge as a set of values worthy of the same respect as one’s own values.
Zdzisław Zbigniew Podkański, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, before discussing the European educational model and its implementation, we must first ask ourselves what kind of model we have in mind, whom it is meant to benefit, and what purpose it is meant to serve.
Is it to be a model which encourages the all-round development of free individuals, and the promotion of all their skills and interests? Or is it to be a model intended to produce globalised people who are trained for everyday life but lack creativity and imagination, people who possess little knowledge but are capable of carrying out the tasks they are assigned with?
I am in favour of the first model, because it is the only one which allows human beings the opportunity to fulfil themselves and the freedom of thought necessary to enable them to enrich the world with their creativity. Accordingly, the upbringing and education of an individual should be based on national and family values, and offer the possibility of freely drawing on the culture of other nations.
We need a Europe of homelands, in which every nation and individual can feel secure. Any effort to create a globalised society with one single approved culture, in which it is possible to communicate in only a few languages would make Europe’s intellectual and economic development grind to a halt. Therefore, the right European model of education is one that will protect the traditions of all its nations and draw on them to benefit individuals and promote their development.
Thomas Wise, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. – Mr President, may I remind you of what our rapporteur said on 12 October last year: ‘Governments know nothing about education; they frustrate the profession of teachers’. What frightens me is why he thinks the EU can do any better. Mr Beazley is a former teacher and MP and cannot be unaware that the United Kingdom Education Act 1996, brought in by his own party, forbids the promotion of partisan political views in schools in the United Kingdom.
The EU is a political project – a project which has failed to persuade millions of adults, as shown by the results of the French and Dutch referendums last year. Having failed at that level, Mr Beazley now wants to try persuading our children of the benefits of the EU instead. I am reminded of a quotation: ‘Give me a child at the age of seven, and he is mine for life’.
This, like so much else from this Committee, is sheer one-sided propaganda, and I will not tolerate or support it.
Maciej Marian Giertych (NI). – (PL) Mr President, the document under discussion refers to a European dimension in education and the inclusion of European content in education. These terms have not been defined, however. There is a reference to shared history and cultural heritage, but that is not defined either.
Our shared history consists mostly of wars against each other, but what does our common cultural heritage amount to? Let us endeavour to summarise it. What is the nature of our common positive values? If we stop to consider this question we must acknowledge that we are bound together by Greek culture, Roman law and Christian ethics. Everything European is based on these key foundations which define Europe itself. It follows that we should promote the teaching of Greek and Latin, the classical languages. We should also promote teaching of the Christian contribution to the dominant cultural standards of Europe, by which I mean art, architecture, our way of life, and in particular our family and social lives.
Sadly, however, this House is doing its utmost to erase everything Christian from its documents. What is more, a clearly anti-Christian stance is being promoted. There was an outraged reaction in the Chamber when the Polish Education Minister withdrew the Council of Europe’s textbook Compass from schools, which recommended promoting homosexuality in schools, with allegations that European values were being rejected.
This document is empty and useless without definitions of the European dimension, European values and European content.
Ján Figeľ, Member of the Commission. (SK) Never before have the topics of European identity, European values, European borders and European citizenship been discussed as broadly as they are today. Granted, we are not able to define these notions precisely, but this debate is a manifestation of how Europe has changed. Where previously Europe was engaged not only in discussing, but also in controlling the production of coal and steel so as to avert the risk of war, today the discussion is about Europe itself and the world around it. I believe that this is a positive shift.
Education about what Europe has been through and the environment in which it exists is very important for its own development and for the world of the 21st century in which Europe may – and must – play a more important and positive role than in the 20th century, when it was a source of tragedy, war, totalitarianism and other woes on a global scale.
Ignorance and indifference tend to be major sources of intolerance. They pave the way for propaganda and the manipulation of public opinion, as well as the opinions of individuals. I therefore believe that education about Europe’s past and present, and the cultures that we experience and live in, is an important precondition for a more peaceful and cohesive Europe that will continue to develop its legal system and views on values and culture. I believe that Europe will set about doing this in more peaceful and tolerant ways than when it was engaged in mutual annihilation.
I would like to thank Christopher Beazley again for this own-initiative report and to express the hope that this topic may become a subject of debate among the Member States, for it is they that are responsible for determining the subject matter and organisation of education, something that will not be regarded as superfluous but rather as a highly important complementary aspect of education here in the single legal, economic and cultural space of an enlarged Europe.