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The Next-Generation EU and the need for a European School

By Francesco Billari

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Source: Anastasia Shuraeva / Pexels

The future of the European Union should be one of the central topics in the political debate for 2023, indeed. But what does “future” mean exactly? On the one hand, there are indisputable goals for the near future: a return to peace and lower inflation combined with economic growth within a “green economy”. On the other hand, there is the medium to long-term future. In this case, future means 'Next Generation EU': children, young people, and other future generations. The Union will be stronger and better off if, after solving the immediate challenges, it also thinks about a European school, for the benefit of future generations.

The EU has already introduced fundamental regulations for generations entering the labour market or studying at the university. The freedom of movement of workers, ensured by EU regulations, is exploited at large by young people moving from one country to another, or the Erasmus programme for university students. The figures are striking: around 10 million Europeans live in an EU country other than their country of citizenship; Italy is the second largest country of origin. Thanks to the Erasmus programme, more than 12 million European university students have been able to experience a period of studies in another country. It is therefore not surprising that Europeanism has deep roots among young people. A recent Eurobarometer showed that support for the Euro is much stronger among younger people: 77% of respondents aged 15 to 24 believe that having the Euro is good for their country, compared with 66% for those aged 40 and over.

However, the Union has not yet done enough for children, young people and future generations who do not have the right to vote. European integration has hardly touched the school system. There is no policy in place to facilitate the mobility of children and young people between EU countries when they move with their parents, nor exchange programmes for those towards the end of their secondary education. There is a virtuous but limited example: the 'European Schools', designed for the children of EU officials. In Italy, there is only one, in Varese. Due to the complexity and costs of these schools, this is a useful but not very scalable example.

What is needed is something more inclusive and ambitious: access to a European, international education, from primary to secondary school, regardless of parents' financial capacities. International schooling today is the privilege of those who can afford the fees of private institutions, even if there are public experiments such as in Germany. The EU should also facilitate the establishment of public schools with a European approach in every country by explicitly funding institutions and providing scholarships.

For the future of Europe, we must move towards a real, and not only virtual, “European Education Area”. As it has been achieved for the advancement of the university system, we must push for greater integration among national school systems. Besides benefiting future generations, this will also strengthen the traditional pillars of the Union. The mobility of workers and their families, for example, will lead to a positive and successful integration within countries when children can integrate quickly in the country of destination.

 

Based on an Italian version of this article which was published in the newspaper “Repubblica” on the 7th of January 2023: https://www.repubblica.it/commenti/2023/01/06/news/scuola_ue_billari_rettore_bocconi-382366295/

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