The Organising Bureau of European School Student Unions (OBESSU) deeply regrets the lack of commitment of the European Union to invest in education. Yesterday morning, the President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, delivered the State of the Union Speech at the European Parliament. Two years ago, when President Juncker gave the same speech, we raised our voices to express our concerns: education and the key role that it can play to improve the social dimension of the EU, which at the time was not considered a priority. Two years later, despite having a new College of Commissioners and despite the unprecedented health crisis that we face, which has confirmed us that we must review and increase the funds allocated to our education and training systems, the European Commission’s vision of education remains sadly the same.
While we welcome the European Commission’s proposal to undertake discussions about a possible transfer of health competencies from national EU governments to the EU, we deplore that such an ambition does not apply to education. Yet, our education and training systems have been highly impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and by the measures taken by governments to prevent the spread of the virus. The Covid-19 crisis became an education crisis with millions of students affected by school closures. The shift to online learning has not been standardised across the EU, nor students, their families and their teachers did receive the necessary means to take part in distance learning. Although we back up the decision of investing 20% of the Next Generation EU fund on digitalisation, we expect concrete measures from the Commission to invest in teachers training, independent online learning platforms, students digital literacy and provide guidelines for the use of these funds to tackle the issue of connectivity in rural areas. Well-functioning education and training systems require high levels of public investment. The main programmes that are supposed to support education and training and build the European Education Area, - namely the Erasmus+ programme, Horizon Europe, the European Solidarity Corps and the European Social Fund Plus - have been subject to budgetary cuts in the agreement on the next MFF reached in July 2020 compared to the ambitious proposals of the Parliament which Commissioner Gabriel was requested to back up in her mission letter. We also regret that the European Commission’s ambitious objective to achieve a European Education Area by 2025 has not been mentioned, thus we question the real impact that this initiative could bring.
This crisis has shown us that EU countries do not have the same vision of Education. As a result, school students in the EU do not have access to the same opportunities. More than ever, the disparity of measures implemented across the union are exacerbating existing inequalities, putting students under overwhelming levels of pressure and will have longer term consequences. The European Commission should push for a higher investment in education and training but also a common EU vision of education. We often hear our politicians praise European values but values are also learnt at school and if we keep developing different visions of education within the EU, we might end up having extremely opposite values. We welcome the Commission's efforts to fight racism and hate speech, but we regret that education is not pointed out as a solution to overcome hate narratives.
We congratulate President Von der Leyen for her firm opposition to right-wing political extremisms and for her commitment to ensure a fair Migration Pact where the human is put at the centre. We appreciate that our most recent concerns such as the unacceptable conditions of the Moria camp and the violent actions taken by the Belarus government against protesters are among the Commission priorities and we deeply hope that the words of President Von der Leyen will urgently turn into concrete actions to step up and play an active role on the resolution of these human rights violations happening at the doorstep of the Union.
President Von der Leyen highlighted in her speech the necessity of a green transition. We could not agree more however, the target of a 55% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is not ambitious enough. If we really want to fulfil the targets of the Paris agreement, the EU must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 65% by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2040. School students have put their energy and resilience in the fight against climate change and will tirelessly continue to do so until a realistic plan has been reached.
To conclude, we acknowledge the efforts of President Von der Leyen to address some of the most urgent issues that the EU must face but we denounce that education, despite the recent events, is still not considered as a priority and an area that requires further investments and a strong cohesion.
Today, we urge President Von der Leyen and the EU Member States to not let down the next generation of EU citizens.