President. The next item is the report by Mr Mann on behalf of the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs on the creation of a European Qualifications Framework (2006/2002(INI)) (A6-0248/2006).
Thomas Mann (PPE-DE), rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner Figeľ, ladies and gentlemen, since we in the European Union are unable to compete with the low wages and minimal social standards of emerging economies, we must instead be consistent in developing our potential for high-quality work, and for that training in skills and continuing education are essential. In March 2005, the education ministers of the twenty-five EU Member States declared their willingness to modernise their national systems in order to enable individuals to adapt themselves to the ever more exacting demands of the domestic and international markets.
There are still high barriers impeding access to education and training between one institution and another and between Member States, preventing knowledge and skills from being effectively applied, and making qualifications less than transparent, with the consequence that there is not enough recognition of degree and diploma qualifications outside the country in which they were acquired, but the more transparent the school, vocational education and university systems are, the more readily the specific models used in the Member States – for example, the quality of dual system in my own country, Germany, and the value of a master craftsman’s qualification – can be assessed.
The European Qualifications Framework is a meta-framework with three functions. Firstly, it is intended to link national and international qualifications. Secondly, it is intended to ensure that vocational and general educational qualifications are recognised and capable of being recognised and transferred, and, thirdly, it is intended to ensure greater transparency, permeability and mobility. The European Qualifications Framework is founded upon eight reference levels that categorise learning outcomes, ranging from basic skills for simple tasks to the highly specific competences required for academic education. At every one of these eight levels, irrespective of the educational route pursued, it must be possible to acquire work-related skills. This has met with broad approval from the social partners, from chambers of commerce and industry and the governing bodies of crafts and trades, from educational institutions, teachers in vocational colleges, trainees and apprentices and those who train them, and students at schools and colleges, for all of them are aware that the Member States’ schemes are not being replaced, but rather extended on the basis of expert knowledge to be implemented on a voluntary basis.
As your House’s rapporteur, I have expressed criticism of a number of points in the Commission’s proposal as representing an excessive emphasis on academic education and taking insufficient account of vocational training. I still believe that there is an insufficiently clear link to the labour market. The European Qualifications Framework must have as its goals those of, inter alia, growth and employment, as set by Lisbon II, combining on the one hand the competitiveness of businesses and, on the other, the employability of individuals. The Committee for Employment and Social Affairs shared my objections, and I was very glad to see my colleagues – many of whom are present today – submitting proposals and, apart from three abstentions, voting unanimously to adopt this report.
Among other things, we endorse the revision of the qualifications framework to include the comparability of the outcomes of learning processes, in marked contrast to many previous evaluations, which have considered only the duration of the learning process and the type of qualification gained from it. What is most important to us is that vocational and academic education should be treated as being of equal value, being two sides of the same coin, namely the Bologna process aimed at creating a common European framework for higher education and the Copenhagen process for enhancing European cooperation in vocational education. The European Qualifications Framework will succeed only if national qualifications frameworks come into being in all the Member States, if it is then possible to develop them, and if they can be properly coupled to the European Qualifications Framework by 2009. My hope is that what the Framework contains will be made accessible to the public at large – in which we in this House will certainly play our part – and that the social partners, the providers of education and the institutions will cooperate in good faith. Only then will the right tools be available for the educational establishments and for working life in the European Union.
Ján Figeľ, Member of the Commission. Mr President, this is a package of issues that shows that education and training is getting a momentum. I am sure that EQF is one of the points for the coming years. When I was asked about the top issues in my portfolio for the next five years, I said that EQF is one of them and so I think we are delivering it now; not only speaking about it.
First of all, I would like to express gratitude to the rapporteur and to the Employment Committee, for the excellent report prepared in consultation with other committees, which reflects the Commission’s consultation paper from last year. It gives us the opportunity to reflect the formal proposal adopted this month, because I am sure that lifelong learning and mobility are crucial to our competitiveness and social cohesion in the European Union.
The Commission has always taken positive steps to make progress in these fields. However, in practice people in Europe still too often face obstacles when they try to move from one country to another to learn or work, and when they want to become citizens more than tourists in the Union. They also face difficulties when they want to build on previous education and training and move, for example, from vocational education and training into higher education. The EQF will help to solve that problem. It will improve transparency and make different national qualifications systems or qualifications frameworks more understandable across Europe. By helping different systems to talk to each other, it will promote access to education and training and increase mobility for learning or work. It could also be instrumental outside Europe, because when I was in Moscow or, in June, in Canada, both countries – Russia and Canada – expressed interest in knowing more about this instrument because they would like it to inspire their policies.
We already have legal instruments, such as the directives on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications. The Europass initiative has been mentioned today, which also pursues similar goals. However, these instruments alone are not sufficient, which is why the EQF is an important further step to improve the situation.
Our proposal already integrates many of the comments and recommendations contained in Mr Mann’s report; I am sure we can agree on that. I therefore consider that Parliament and the Commission are very much following the same line on this issue. The document on which you have commented was a consultation paper issued in July last year. Since then, we have moved further on the road towards a more practical and user-friendly instrument.
Mr Mann is right to say that we should do more on vocational education and training. I would like to remind you that it came into the treaties in the Treaty of Rome, in 1957; and higher education not until the Maastricht Treaty; in 1999 we started the Bologna process, and only later on the Copenhagen process. Now we have two parallel processes, which feed well into the European qualifications framework, but we need it to get there in order to start the real implementation of important clauses in our treaties. We are doing that now: in the Bologna process, 45 countries; in Copenhagen, 32. Two weeks ago I was in Switzerland and they want to join the Copenhagen process. So those are good messages for our work.
EQF will provide the full benefit only if correctly implemented by Member States. They will need to link their qualification systems to the EQF. I am convinced that our proposal provides the common language and the means to develop the necessary mutual trust, which is the basis for real implementation of such an instrument. That strategy is also helpful to employers and individuals in comparing qualifications across the Union and across diverse education and training systems.
I am sure that this key initiative is helping people in Europe to face the challenges and reap the benefits of a knowledge-based society. We are looking forward not only to further discussions but also to further cooperation following the recent adoption of the proposal.
Stefano Zappalà (PPE-DE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the Lisbon Strategy proposes to speed up the process of modernising the European education and training systems, with the aim of making the European economy the most competitive economy in the world by 2010.
Greater mobility within the labour market and an effective lifelong learning system are the basic, essential conditions for this. The lack of communication and cooperation among the national authorities and among the training systems at various levels is preventing the skills and knowledge already acquired from being used effectively. For this reason, we need to promote a certain interplay among the education and qualification systems of the various Member States.
As the Commissioner has mentioned, through Directive 36 on the recognition of professional qualifications, for which I was the rapporteur, work has already begun on certain aspects, and the creation of a European Qualifications Framework will naturally supplement and continue it. This work will be the way to enhance and strengthen mutual trust among the various systems, and will promote mobility and lifelong learning. It must provide a structure that is flexible and that can be easily integrated with the corresponding national structures, while at the same time upholding the various specific characteristics of those structures. It must ensure that qualifications relating to vocational education and training are recognisable, compatible and transferable, as Mr Mann rightly maintains.
This will mean increasing and improving the exchange of information in terms of titles, qualifications, certificates and professional experience recognised in the Member States.
In its current state, however, and as it is conceived in the Commission proposal, the European Qualifications Framework does not appear at all clear; it needs to be made more understandable, and certain aspects that now appear inconsistent need to be revised. We therefore suggest that the Commission revise and reformulate its proposal, while nevertheless maintaining the objectives.
Milan Gaľa (PPE-DE), draftsman of the opinion of the Committee on Culture and Education. – (SK) I am pleased to observe that the entire area of life-long education and training has recently moved from a marginalised position into centre stage. The review of the Lisbon Strategy for growth and employment and the need to fulfil its goals have been a major incentive. As early as 2000 an important step was taken in adopting the Education and Training 2010 work programme, aiming not only to improve the quality and efficiency of education and training systems but also to make them readily and broadly accessible.
The proposed concept of the European Qualifications Framework that we are discussing today is a concrete initiative arising from the work programme. I regard this concept as a constructive incentive that will contribute significantly to transparency in the transfer and recognition of qualifications on a European level. It should also stimulate national and sectoral reforms for the promotion of lifelong education, while playing a substantial role in fostering the mobility of students and employees. In today’s discussion I would like to highlight the new element introduced by the EQR, namely the recognition of unofficial and informal education. This will alter the approach to evaluation, which has traditionally been based on the duration of education or the type of institution, putting instead more emphasis on performance, knowledge, skill and proficiency.
I would like to thank my fellow MEP, Mr Mann, the rapporteur for the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, for his work on the report into the establishment of a European Qualifications Framework, as well as the attending member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Training, Culture and Multilingualism, Mr Figeľ, as well as his team who have worked on the policy paper. It is good news that at its meeting on 5 September the European Commission endorsed the draft recommendation of the European Parliament and Council establishing the European Qualifications Framework for lifelong education. I trust that the European Parliament will adopt Mr Mann’s report at this plenary session, putting us in a position to debate a new Commission paper on the European Qualifications Framework.
Zita Pleštinská, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (SK) I consider it an important task of the EU to enact European legislation that will formally and informally enhance the rules regulating the business environment. Human capital constitutes a key component of that environment; therefore, business associations describe the directive on the recognition of professional qualifications as the most positive measure taken by the European Union during this term.
Another major step that deserves particular attention is the establishment of the European Qualifications Framework, which should ensure the transparent treatment of education irrespective of the method of attaining the underlying qualifications. I would also like to praise the new element, that is, the recognition of formal and informal education, including the acquisition of professional experience. In this regard I would like to thank my fellow Members, the rapporteurs Messrs Mann, Gaľa and Zappalà, for drafting a consistent report. I agree with the rapporteurs’ recommendation to simplify and make more transparent the eight-level reference scale that constitutes its basic element.
I believe that although the European Qualifications Framework is voluntary, it will, along with national qualification frameworks, establish a system that will help tackle obstacles in the European Union’s labour market. I am convinced that the business sector will also appreciate this initiative by the European Commission, as it will make the diverse national qualification certificates easier to understand, and employers will then be in a position to use the European Qualifications Framework as a reference tool in selecting highly qualified staff on the basis of education, skill and competency.
Françoise Castex, on behalf of the PSE Group. – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, with the European Qualifications Framework, the Union is providing itself with a tool that can certainly be improved, but that is key to developing mobility within the European Union.
The mobility of businesses and European citizens actually opens up a new labour market at Community level. For all European employees, be they engineers, technicians or manual workers, professional qualifications are the only genuine guarantee of their value in the labour market, both at national and at Community level.
Just as the single currency, the euro, is a shared value in terms of guaranteeing that the economy is flexible and integrated into the Community, we need a shared value for professional qualifications that is recognised on the European labour market. Businesses and employees both need the shared value of professional qualifications to be recognised. For businesses, qualifications guarantee an employee’s level of competence and his or her suitability for the role; for an employee, they guarantee and promote this level of competence wherever he or she is within the European Union. Whatever our national traditions may be, certification always confirms a person’s ability to do a job and to use the skills necessary to that end. That ability is the fruit of knowledge acquired, either through training or through work experience.
I should like to emphasise how progress has been made in some of our Member States in terms of validating acquired experience, which, as has been said, complements training. In the long term, the European Qualifications Framework will have to integrate this process and be open to all forms of recognition. The next stage will have to consist in making the social partners aware of, and involved in, this process straight away so as to ensure that the EQF is taken into account in the agreements and collective agreements and so as to combine a genuine social guarantee with the flexibility of the labour market.
The value truly placed in employment, Mr President, can be seen in employment contracts and pay slips.
Anne E. Jensen, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (DA) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, as has been said several times this evening, education and training policy is to be decided on a national basis. That, moreover, is how matters should stay. As today’s debate also shows, however, there are many common initiatives under way to develop education and training in Europe through exchanges and cooperation. These are sound initiatives, and it is important for them to be communicated to a broad range of the population.
We in the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe can sincerely endorse the creation of a European Qualifications Framework, or what is popularly known as the EQF. This framework is designed to promote the recognition and use of qualifications and skills that have already been acquired and thus to facilitate access to lifelong learning for everyone. The fact that 32 countries are participating in this form of cooperation makes possible a broadly-based development of education and training and employment opportunities in Europe. The very fact of concentrating on qualifications already acquired is an important breakthrough. The focus is on results and actual ability, and not only on the ways in which that ability is acquired. Proper account is thus being taken of the very different structures for, in particular, vocational education that exist in Europe, and, at the same time, we are setting common targets. In this connection, I would emphasise Mr Mann’s call for us to focus more on vocational education, including continuing education. It is not only university education we should focus on.
Moreover, it is important to produce a system that is not unduly complicated. It needs to be simpler and clearer than what was proposed in the working paper. If EQF is to be a success, it is also important, as the Commissioner has already said, for all the countries to be involved voluntarily and to introduce their own national – or, where relevant, regional – framework systems for assessing qualifications. It is important to build on the work already done on assessing the quality of education and training and to avoid setting up unnecessary bureaucracy. It will not be easy, but we are setting ourselves ambitious targets this evening.
Sepp Kusstatscher, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, it is surely a very good thing that the Council and the Commission are concerned that skills, abilities and competences acquired at school, in working life or in leisure time, should be, as far as possible, mutually recognised. I also want to express my high regard for Mr Mann, who deserves support for his proposals, particularly his proposal that far greater provision be made for vocational training alongside academic education.
In the one minute available to me, I would just like to say a brief word about the problems with the recognition of qualifications. The main difficulty is that knowledge and ability are non-material goods, and, as such, very hard to standardise and measure. People who were very good at school, for example, often get nowhere in day-to-day working life, since the qualities measured and marked in school are often quite different. If people are going to be successful in working life, they need, above all else, emotional, creative and social competences, nerve, enthusiasm, practical intelligence, tenacity, and the capacity to cope with stress. These qualities are, alas, not especially called for or encouraged at school, nor, indeed, can they be.
Guntars Krasts, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (LV) First of all, I would like to thank the rapporteur for his very well drafted and balanced report. I have no doubt that an effectively functioning European Union employment market is still just a matter of time. The European qualification framework will be an important step in that direction, creating the preconditions for the formation of a single employment market and a single training environment. I have no doubt that qualification comparability would not only foster mobility in the labour force, but would impart a different quality to the employment market, by effectively distributing the labour force. The qualification framework would foster a much closer connection between Member States’ national education systems and the requirements of the European Union’s employment market. These steps are closely related to the Lisbon Strategy and the Lisbon objectives. The most recent enlargement created an unprecedented increase in the mobility of the labour force within the European Union. Jobseekers have travelled from various new Member States in central and eastern Europe to the United Kingdom and Ireland – older Member States, which were the only ones to open their labour markets without restrictions. In fact, the situation at this moment is unique, as far as assessing the need for the comparability of European qualifications is concerned. The significant differences in salaries have encouraged thousands of highly-qualified jobseekers from central and eastern Europe to take simple jobs that only demand low-level qualifications. A study recently carried out by Ireland’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment shows that most employees are working in jobs at a lower level of qualifications than their professional training would permit them to do. A not insignificant number of workers with university degrees work in jobs that require basic training of just a few hours. Those are the difficulties in comparing education systems that are completely different. Those are both resources that are lost to the states from which jobseekers come, and wasted resources in the states in which they cannot make use of their professional training. I hope that the European qualification framework will encourage those Member States between which there is active movement by the labour force to become pioneers in putting the framework into practice and in the comparison of qualifications, and that these Member States will not be the only ones. Thank you.
Jan Tadeusz Masiel (NI). – (PL) Mr President, I would like to congratulate Mr Mann on his interesting report. Mobility is one of the principles of a common Europe. The mobility of students and workers can only come about, however, if the problems concerning recognition of certificates and diplomas are finally resolved. This requires the European Union to set European Qualifications Frameworks. The work set in train in Bologna, Barcelona, Copenhagen and Maastricht must be carried forward. We need to ensure that as soon as possible, workers arriving from other Union countries are not told by local administrations that there is work for them but their qualification is not acceptable.
EQFs will improve the quality of training in all Member States of the Union. They will help rise to the challenges of globalisation, and increase competitiveness on the labour market. There is also a significant psychological dimension involved. Recognising someone’s qualifications underwritten by a vocational certificate or academic diploma amounts to recognising the effort made by the individual concerned to gain an education. Conversely, there is an element of discrimination and denigration in the refusal to recognise a qualification as equivalent in another Member State.
We must not delude ourselves. EQFs are not a straightforward matter. Institutions of higher education and training centres in the same country often find it difficult to reach agreement, so it is hardly surprising if the same happens at Union level. That is why the decision must be a political one, at Union level, rather than academic in nature. For example, a Polish certificate in bricklaying should be recognised in Germany and a German one in Poland. An Oxford degree in psychology should be recognised everywhere, and the same should apply to a psychology degree awarded by a less prestigious university in a smaller country. Local professional associations should not be able to raise objections. Yet in Belgium, for example, there is not even a competent body to consider the validity of the qualifications of self-employed Polish painters or bricklayers. As a result, certain individuals are unable to do certain jobs.
The question of EQFs is particularly important for the citizens of new Member States. It is they who will be offering their professional qualifications, rather than capital investment, to other Union Member States for the foreseeable future. A common denominator for capital investment already exists, namely the euro.
Maria Matsouka (PSE). – (EL) Mr President, Commissioner, it is true that Europe has, during the course of its history, faced many challenges and serious threats, such as unemployment, poverty and job insecurity. Nonetheless, these worrying trends towards social disruption are not a self-fulfilling prophesy that we should accept fatalistically. The solutions need to be sought far from perceptions which consider that competitiveness must be achieved by showing disdain for employment.
With respect for European values and our social sensitivities and with knowledge as our epicentre, we can follow a development course, bearing in mind that the globalisation of economic activity, social progress and environmental protection are based on the continuous development of new skills and the use of new technologies.
If we upgrade research centres to pillars of innovation and acquisition of professional experience, we shall make lifelong learning efficient, for the benefit of one and all. Workers' new skills must meet common European evaluation criteria, thereby expanding their potential for development.
In light of this and with respect both for the idiosyncrasies of the various professional sectors and the idiosyncrasies of the various regions, we need to determine in a clear, explicit and integrated manner the axes and prospects of the European Qualifications Framework, with knowledge as a social, not a commercial commodity at its epicentre.
To close, I should like to congratulate Mr Mann.
Ján Figeľ, Member of the Commission. (SK) It is not only the discussion but also the report itself and the atmosphere surrounding qualifications in Europe that constitute a major challenge for us to establish a space with a more European content. This would mean rules and standards that establish a certain quality, and hence mobility, for citizens.
I would therefore like to emphasise several aspects important to the entire issue. One is about creating a space, which means not only availability and quality of primary education, higher education and training but also a space for follow-up education, continual or lifelong learning, and for the recognition of unofficial and informal schooling. The European Qualifications Framework is moving in just that direction. Secondly, this is a follow-up contribution to what we have already done: the Europass adopted in this Parliament helps make qualifications more transparent, but the Qualifications Framework will be instrumental in making qualifications compatible and comparable, and will thus enable their transfer. This is a very important shift.
If we manage to adopt it definitively, it will provide a good framework not only for employers and employees but also for education and training providers, as it will open up this space and as a result will bring pressure to bear for improvements in quality. Openness is all about promoting better-quality education and training. Mrs Jensen has mentioned 32 countries. I believe that their number will gradually grow as we succeed in developing the Copenhagen Process and the Bologna Process, offering credibility, high standards and guaranteed qualitative parameters. I am convinced that this will benefit the EU as a whole, as well as its citizens and institutions. I believe that this will be instrumental in ensuring that a plumber, for example, whether Polish or from another country, is not perceived as a threat but as a very important contributor to mobility and competitiveness in a common Europe. Let us keep up the good work on this Qualifications Framework.