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Safeguarding European values: The case for a European Agency for Citizenship Education

Sophie Pornschlegel , Susanne Zels

Date: 07/12/2020
The best way to counter democratic backsliding in the EU and safeguard European values is to equip EU citizens with the knowledge and skills they need to exercise their political rights. With their new initiative 'Values Unite', Sophie Pornschlegel and Susanne Zels make a case for establishing a European Agency for Citizenship Education.

This Agency would improve the access to and the quality of citizenship education in all EU member states and support the development of a European dimension of citizenship education. It would achieve this through promoting a comprehensive approach towards citizenship education, directed at all age groups, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, all over Europe; encouraging the use of innovative and digital learning methods, which have become even more relevant during the pandemic; and through the allocation of funding and providing learning materials, digital infrastructure and capacity-building opportunities to educators.

The respect for the rule of law, non-discrimination and freedom of the press – all crucial principles of European cooperation and enshrined as European values in Article 2 TEU and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – are under increasing pressure. The EU has tried to address this with several measures and instruments (a rule of law toolbox, annual rule of law reports) but so far, they've had little to no impact.

This trend is worrisome. If EU member states stop abiding by European values, the EU will not only face a legitimacy crisis but an existential one too. European values are both the basis for European cohesion and social cohesion within European societies. Without a shared understanding of what these values are, there is no common ground on which to build future cooperation between citizens, nor between governments.

A European Agency for Citizenship Education would allow people across Europe to develop their democratic competences, and learn about their rights and duties as EU citizens. Equipped with the necessary skills, they would be more capable of engaging in political action, and more resilient against disinformation stories about the EU.

To dispel national governments' fears of an EU takeover of their curricula; the Agency would work in a decentralised manner and close cooperation with local and regional actors, but also remain non-partisan and independent of governments and EU institutions' political agenda.

Until the hearts of minds of EU member states can be won, the EU should focus on investing in research and monitoring to determine the current state of citizenship education in Europe. The Union could also identify the steps that are necessary to establish such an agency by launching a Pilot Project and Preparatory Action as part of the next Multiannual Financial Framework.

Read the full paper here.

French Version
Polish Version 

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