The State of the Union (SOTEU) speech is a customary intervention where the President of the European Commission explains the vision for the year to come. President Von der Leyen addressed the European Parliament in her first-ever SOTEU since she took office in 2019.
Many of the European actions for the future are directed towards the recovery from the health and economic crisis. These actions can’t be carried out nationally – she explained – and the current situation reinforces the need for stronger European cooperation. To this extent, Europe shall continue to guide its Member States out of this dim scenario.
When it comes to education and training, her speech fell short of our expectations to root the recovery in education. In her 75-minute speech, the word “education” was mentioned only once, as a means to eradicate racism. But overlooking all other aspects leaves out millions of teachers and learners that faced the largest crisis in decades, affecting their profession, their learning processes, their wellbeing and their mental health. The lack of attention for education is even more astonishing considering that great emphasis was placed on Digital Europe and its modernisation process: no digital revolution can take place without proper investments in education and skills to sustain it.
In the President’s eyes, the recovery of the economy should be based on the new European Skills Agenda. But even when it comes to skills, these are seen as an expendable currency, stretching their nature as to only fulfilling employability goals. And while skills are indeed essential for the new post-crisis job market, this vision risks undermining the very role of education in shaping future generations, sustainable societies and resilient democracies, not to mention its essential contribution to achieving wider EU priorities and strategies from the Green Deal to the European Democracy Action Plan.
Modern problems require modern solutions: we hold that lifelong learning remains the preferred pathway to equip citizens with the tools needed to face 21st-century challenges. President Von der Layen failed to focus the Commission’s intended agenda around the need to ensure lifelong learning for everyone, to bridge the gap between learners and to provide support for teachers and educators. While the Commission rightfully framed its efforts around the recovery, we regret to learn that education is once again left out from European priorities.