The new European Democracy Action Plan leaves aside social partners and omits to give education a prominent role

© The European Commission

On 3 December 2020, the EU Commission launched the new Democracy Action Plan with the view to improve the resilience of democracies, enhance transparency and integrity of decision-making processes, as well as encourage citizens’ active participation in democracy and politics at national and European level. The new Action Plan, to be implemented by 2024, proposes measures to tackles threats and external interferences in the electoral processes, media and information sectors, instead of looking at internal challenges. ETUCE is appalled to only see a marginal role given to education in the Action Plan and to the themes of equality and inclusion. There is no reference whatsoever to social partners in the action plan.

Despite mentioning the ‘support for education for active citizenship’, we regret that the European Commission attributes to education a mere side role. On the one hand, the plan lacks any reference to members states’ responsibility in the creation of supportive policy frameworks on democratic citizenship; on the other hand, the European Commission has not foreseen clear and effective monitoring mechanisms to ensure the implementation process of citizenship education. European Director Susan Flocken commented: ‘When it comes to democracy, education should be at the core of any political strategy. From early childhood to higher education and lifelong learning, education is key to prepare open-minded, critical-thinking and responsible citizens who actively contribute to the resilient and flourishing democracy. At the same time, education is a crucial tool to address inequalities and empower disadvantaged, excluded and marginalised groups as well as people with special needs, and to enable their active contribution in our democracies.’

In recent years, the increasing surging of radicalisation, terrorist attacks, nationalism and xenophobia sorely undermined the fundamental values of our democracies, including academic freedom, institutional autonomy and freedom in education. In the last years, teachers and education institutions have been increasingly under attack, and ETUCE repeatedly called on governments and political authorities to protect these fundamental values as essential components of our democracies. However, we regret that the Action Plan does not develop this dimension and that academic freedom is only shortly mentioned.

Furthermore, the rapid digital transition, sped up by the COVID-19 pandemic, is entirely redefining the ways of teaching and learning, offering new and open sources of information. It is positive that the European Commission commits to developing ‘common guidelines for teachers and educational staff to foster digital literacy and tackle disinformation through education and training’. However, it is particularly disappointing that education trade unions, who best know the teachers’ needs and tirelessly address their demands, are not even mentioned among the stakeholders taking part in this process.

ETUCE calls on national governments and the European Union to reinforce social dialogue in order to include education trade unions in the Action Plan implementation both at national and European level. Besides, ETUCE underlines that guidelines for teachers and a policy framework for active citizenship are not sufficient if they are not supported by sustainable public funding, and concrete possibilities of training for teachers, who need to be equipped with the adequate tools and pedagogical methods to address the threats to democracy.