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How education helps tackle the crises the EU has been facing

In its recent history, the EU has faced various interrelated crises. They include, but are not limited to, the rise of populism and xenophobia, aggravating economic challenges and political divisions, Brexit, and the recent start of the invasion of Ukraine – a war on the EU’s doorstep.

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"The 2017 Communication presents a common European identity as already existing but which needs to be strengthened through education"

Such crises gave way to questions about whether the EU would survive. They emerged in the public debate a while ago and still remain.

However, the EU education initiative – the European Education Area – has been supporting EU integration in these challenging times, helping it withstand and solve the problems that arise.

The crises in the EU inspired the authors of the EEA to utilise education as a tool for EU deepening, which is an aspect of EU integration related to the strengthening of the relationships among its member states.

EU deepening could be understood in opposition to differentiated integration when smaller regions within the EU start pursuing their own distinct developmental and cooperation objectives that differ from those of other groups of the member states, such as the Visegrad group of countries.

The bloc initiated a formal creation of the EEA in 2017 exclusively for its member states as a platform for inter-EU cooperation with the aim by 2025 to build “a Europe in which learning, studying and doing research would not be hampered by borders… A continent in which people have a strong sense of their identity as Europeans, of Europe’s cultural heritage and its diversity”, according to the 2018 Communication of the European Commission.

The EEA has been developing with the help of a range of initiatives across all levels and types of education, for example convergence in quality in early childhood education and care, a mutual recognition of diplomas, and key competencies for lifelong learning.

“The EEA has been developing with the help of a range of initiatives across all levels and types of education”

Interestingly, some of these EEA initiatives replicate other very similar initiatives that the EU has been involved in, such as the idea of a mutual recognition of diplomas to access higher education, proposed for the EEA, replicates EU countries’ international cooperation in the framework of the European Higher Education Area, which is much wider than the EU.

The European Higher Education Area, too, places emphasis on such developments. The need to create a platform to deal with such similar issues but exclusively for the EU evidences the importance for the EU of education cooperation solely within the region.

More importantly, EEA goals and their implementation continue to support the EU’s deepening by positioning the EEA as a driver in the development of a common European identity, strengthening European economy, developing the EU as a socially-just society and as a continent of progress with the aim for the EU to stand strong in the face of the current and new crises.

For example, the 2017 Communication of the EC on the EEA presents a common European identity as already existing but which needs to be strengthened through education: “…strengthening our European identity remains essential and education and culture are the best vectors to ensure this”.

An illustrative message about the role of education in the EEA in boosting European economy in the context of the changing skills needs can be found in EC’s press release: “It is in the shared interest of all MSs to harness the full potential of education and culture as drivers for job creation, economic growth.”

In addition to a common European identity and integrated economy, the EU as a socially-just society is another aspect of the EU’s deepening supported with the help of education in the EEA, explicated well in the 2019 Council of the EU Resolution.

“The role of education and training in promoting citizenship and democracy, personal development, social inclusion, equal opportunities and empowerment, and in fostering wellbeing and supporting cohesive societies,” it states.

Last but not least, EEA international documents provide references to the aims of the EC and the Council of the EU to use education as a tool to create the EU that would become a land of progress in all of its areas with opportunities for everyone, as well as excellence and competitiveness as its general characteristic.

The EU is being built as a continent ‘where citizens have new opportunities and social development and economic growth’ and which would become “a continent of excellence“, with international competitiveness “allowing talent in Europe to flourish”, according to the 2019 Council of the EU Resolution.

My research analysis highlights the paramount role of education developed in the framework of the EEA in the EU in inspiring the strengthening of the relationships amongst the EU member states as an essential stepping-stone to developing common solutions to the ever-emerging difficulties that descend on the European continent and beyond, echoing everywhere.

About the author: Iryna Kushnir works as a senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent University in the UK. She previously worked at the Universities of Edinburgh and Sheffield in the UK. She also completed her PhD at Edinburgh. In addition to Iryna’s academic work, a wider societal impact of her work is in co-establishing and co-developing the Ukrainian Education Research Association which has become the biggest national research association in Ukraine and a hub for education research and quality. The research which forms the basis of this article has been published in European Review and the European Journal of Education.

Contact Iryna at iryna.kushnir@ntu.ac.uk and follow at @IrynaKushnir7 on Twitter

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