On 14 September, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, addressed the European Parliament during their Plenary Session for the customary, annual, State of the European Union (SOTEU) Address. SOTEU 2022 emerges in the context of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. In the presence of Ukraine’s First Lady, Olena Zelenska, Ursula von der Leyen reiterated the support and solidarity that the EU will show towards Ukraine in these historical challenges that threaten Europe’s democratic values. In this context, SOTEU 2022 recognised the importance of Ukrainian young learners in times where they were deprived from their education.
The European Commission is also preparing a Communication to propose changes to the EU fiscal rules. Some of it might go in the same direction as LLLP’s current campaign on Public Investment in Quality Education and Training. It remains to be seen if these are ready to make public investment in education and training more flexible.
Education and training was further referenced in SOTEU 2022 which addressed how the pandemic recovery, the digitalization process, the climate crisis response and the fight against attacks on European values require education and training. In this context, Ursula von der Leyen has announced 2023 as the European Year of Skills. The attention placed on the validation and recognition of prior qualifications is laudable, as well as on the support provided to European learners to adapt to the current crisis. However, SOTEU 2022 reveals a danger of conflating learning, and the adaptation to fight any challenge of our current times, to labour market participation. The European Year of Skills was announced on the backdrop of the recognition that EU unfilled job vacancies are at a record high and of the requirement for learners to adapt to labour market needs. This misguided approach to learning is inconsistent to President von der Leyen’s pleas in SOTEU 2022 for changing the paradigm when thinking about the climate crisis, the promotion of democracy, the crisis recovery and the realisation of the social market. The meaningful engagement of education and training stakeholders in the European Year of Skills is the only way forward and LLLP looks forward to actively participating in the process, as this can ensure that any initiative will be learner-centred and attuned to the needs of the learners rather than those of the labour market.
LLLP looks forward to work in the framework of the European Year of Skills given how crucial skills development is, but will continue promoting a lifelong and life-wide learning approach that goes beyond the labour market and aims to holistically develop learners, supporting them in reaching self-fulfilment and becoming active participants in society, especially as learning must be based on the needs of the learners.