The European Commission’s revised proposal for the next long-term EU budget (2021-2027) brings both hope and disappointment. The strong commitment to European cooperation and public investment demonstrated by its proposed allocation of 1.1 trillion euros, along with 750 billion euros for recovery instrument NextGenerationEU, is a positive sign for the future of Europe. Addressing the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the green and digital transitions, certainly requires ambitious public investment. In this regard, Europe cannot afford to leave people behind by failing to adequately channel such investment into funding programmes which have a tangible and positive impact on their lives while also helping to tackle the above challenges and contribute to the EU’s recovery. However, compared to the Commission’s original proposal from 2018, the revision surprisingly reduces the allocation to such programmes.
On 27 May, the European Commission published its revised proposal for the EU Multiannual Financial Framework (2021-2027) along with the new financial instrument Next Generation EU aimed at helping EU Member States recover from the crisis provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Together these amount to a total of 1.85 trillion euros for the next seven-year period.
We welcome this ambitious financial package as a clear demonstration of the added value that European cooperation brings in such challenging times. Nevertheless, while increases to many funding programmes including Erasmus+ compared to the current MFF are a welcome development, we are concerned that the key role of education, training and lifelong learning in the recovery and overall future of Europe have not been recognised. Indeed, the proposed budget for Erasmus+, which at 24.6 billion euros in 2018 prices amounts to less than the doubling put forward that year, falls short of the ambition expressed by the European Parliament and Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen herself.
As drivers of social cohesion, economic prosperity and innovation, education, training and lifelong learning remain vital for the personal and professional development of all people across Europe, as well as their well-being. They are key for empowering citizens in their daily lives. Hence, we stress that they should be a cross-cutting priority across the next generation of EU funding programmes. Erasmus+, for instance, has repeatedly proven its immense value in promoting skills development across various fields, fostering a sense of European belonging and solidarity and supporting cross-border cooperation among learners, educators, civil society organisations and policymakers. In light of the far-reaching impact of the pandemic on our education and training systems, including the investment gap in digital solutions that it has brought to light, we need this now more than ever.
Synergies between the future Erasmus+ and other programmes touching on social welfare, skills and employment (European Social Fund Plus, 86 billion euros), digitalisation (Digital Europe, 8.2 billion euros), social infrastructure (InvestEU, 31.6 billion euros) and research and innovation (Horizon Europe, 94.4 billion euros) also have vast potential for supporting Europe’s path to recovery. After all, education, training and lifelong learning are not just means to an end, or for meeting short-term demands on the labour market, but serve as a vehicle for promoting creativity, adaptability, entrepreneurial spirit and innovative solutions. These will all be crucial in dealing with Europe’s common challenges in the months and years to come.
We call on the Member States to back an ambitious budget for education, training and lifelong learning – in all their shapes and forms – in the next MFF and as part of the EU recovery plan. As we navigate our way out of this crisis, they will be fundamental for empowering people, supporting their well-being and active participation in society, and ensuring our readiness to solve the challenges that lie ahead.
The Lifelong Learning Platform (European Civil Society for Education) is an umbrella that gathers more than 40 European organisations active in the field of education, training and youth. Currently these networks represent more than 50 000 educational institutions and associations covering all sectors of formal, non-formal and informal learning. Their members reach out to several millions of beneficiaries.
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