At the extraordinary European Council meeting in Brussels last week EU leaders discussed the EU’s counter-terrorism measures in the wake of the attacks in Paris. The meeting was proposed by French MEP Alain Lamassoure, urging that it is “high time we (…) addressed the vulnerability of our countries to this contagion of hate”. However, security and anti-terrorist measures can only be a part of the solution at their best. EUCIS-LLL calls on EU institutions and EU leaders to prioritise civic education and diversity in its education and training cooperation, in order to provide a long-term, sustainable response to the “contagion of hate” – democratic, cohesive and learning societies in the true sense of these words.
The state of democracy in Europe indeed does not look promising. As a consequence of the social and economic crisis and rising inequalities, there is a rise of far-right, nationalist and xenophobic parties all over Europe. Fifty-seven per cent of EU citizens say that immigration to their countries from outside the EU evokes a negative feeling in them (Eurobarometer, autumn 2014). The European youth feels their voice does not count and therefore an increasing number of young people seek shelter in radical movements such as the extreme-right and jihadist groups. The recent terrorist attacks and the following turmoil only confirmed that Europe and its divided societies are turning into a powder keg.
We do not need superficial adherence to democratic values nor imposing the values in a normative way. On the contrary, we need to make democratic values alive. Not only should we foster tolerance, solidarity and intercultural understanding, but also empower (particularly) young people to be active citizens able to stand for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The EU cooperation in education and training has so far mainly focused on the employability aspect. Unfortunately, these events remind us that we have forgotten the social and civic dimension of education. “There is no doubt that education and training contribute to developing civic skills to fight intolerance, fear of ‘the other’, identity closure and nationalism”, says EUCIS-LLL Secretary-General Joke van der Leeuw Roord. The EU has a responsibility to defend the fundamental European democratic values under threat and it should deliver policies contributing to social welfare, well-being, and active citizenship.
EUCIS-LLL proposes that civic education and diversity, including intercultural and interreligious dialogue, become priority areas of EU cooperation in education and training, with clear roadmaps. “Focus on the acquisition and assessment of transversal competences and on the implementation of inclusive, flexible and affordable learning pathways are an important asset to these policies”, said David Lopez, President of EUCIS-LLL. This should be reflected within the Erasmus+ programme, Europe for Citizens’ programme and the European Social Fund (ESF). Additional synergies should be made between these to have a large-scale impact as called for in several initiatives already, together with the increased use of open method of coordination (OMC) providing a crucial added value. For example a sub-group on citizenship education and intercultural learning could be set up within the Thematic working group on transversal skills.
These policies have the potential of building strong, cohesive and learning societies in Europe resilient to the serious threats to their democratic values. Let’s act together to tackle the contagion of hate!