The Action Plan establishes three headline targets for the EU to be achieved by 2030:
- At least 78% of people aged 20 to 64 should be in employment.
- At least 60% of all adults should participate in training every year.
- The number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion should be reduced by at least 15 million.
Undisputedly good news is the renewed focus on education, training and lifelong learning as a social right. This progress was already apparent in the European Pillar of Social Rights, but the fact that it is making its way up to the top priority testifies that the EU understands the intrinsic value of learning as beneficial to individuals and societies. The importance set on adult learning is particularly telling: it is a noteworthy leap forward from the 15% in the ET2020 framework to the 60% which is the current target. However, it is important to highlight that education and training should really be seen and funded as rights and for their value, not just as gateways or paths to employment – as the underlying concepts of the action plan seem to imply.
At the same time, the European Commission set to achieve the following objective within the same heading:
- at least 80% of those aged 16-74 should have basic digital skills, a precondition for inclusion and participation in the labour market and society in a digitally transformed Europe.
- early-school leaving should be further reduced and participation in upper secondary education increased.
These targets build on those set out in the European Skills Agenda, the Council Recommendation on Vocational education and training, and in the Council Resolution on the European Education Area.
How to achieve these ambitious goals? The ESF+, with EUR 88 billion, will continue to be the EU’s main instrument to support the implementation of the Social Pillar and achieve the three EU headline targets proposed; other programmes will play an important role as well – the Just Transition Fund, Erasmus+, AMF, HorizonEurope to name a few. These pledges fall within the long-established strategy to break down silos and can only be regarded with favour. However, a more explicit alignment with the UN 2030 Agenda would make the case for a better transition and a more prominent holistic approach.
So, what’s missing from the Action Plan? We are. The involvement of education and social actors. While stakeholder consultations are foreseen for some more technical sectors related to employment, social partners and civil society actors seem to have gone lost with the education goals. The implementation of the Pillar’s principle will be crucial: will it also be inclusive?