Documents considered by the Committee on 17 January 2018 Contents

5EU Agenda for Education and Culture

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Cleared from scrutiny; drawn to the attention of the Education and the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committees

Document details

Communication from the Commission: Strengthening European Identity through Education and Culture

Legal base



Document Number

(39224), 14436/17, COM(17) 673

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

5.1As part of a broader process of reflection on the strategic direction of the European Union in the years leading to 2025,55 the European Commission has published a Communication on its vision for the future of the EU’s education and cultural policies.56 This will build on existing schemes, such as the Erasmus+ student exchange programme and the Creative Europe investment fund for the creative industries.

5.2The policy paper includes a number of specific initiatives the Commission will pursue in the coming years, including a pilot project for an EU Student Card; improved mutual recognition of degree certificates and secondary school diplomas throughout the EU; and a discussion on the future of Euronews, the pan-European broadcaster which is part-funded from the EU budget. The Commission is not expected to table any legislative proposals affecting the Member States’ educational or cultural sectors, as the EU’s competence in these areas is very limited. We have discussed the contents of the Communication in more detail in paragraphs 5.11 to 5.17 below.

5.3The Minister of State for Universities (Jo Johnson) submitted an Explanatory Memorandum on the Communication on 6 December. The Government’s position on the policies proposed by the Commission remains ambiguous, considering that very little detail is available at present about their concrete and specific implications. The Minister explains that the Government would seek to ensure that the Commission respects the limits of the EU’s competence in the fields of education and culture as laid down in the Treaties, and that any new benchmarks for secondary or higher education would be “realistic and helpful”.

5.4With respect to the implications of the Commission’s vision for the UK’s EU exit negotiations, the Minister argued that “there are very limited Brexit implications relating to the proposed recommendations”, as they are “non-binding and are part of a longer-term vision for full implementation by 2025 with funding though the EU’s next Multiannual Financial Framework”.

5.5The Communication sets out the Commission’s vision for the principal initiatives that will shape the EU’s education and cultural policy in the coming years. We do not expect there to be any legislation affecting the UK’s educational or cultural sectors flowing from this policy paper. Nonetheless, we consider the document to be politically important, given that some of the new initiatives could be of interest to the UK for post-Brexit participation. As the document contains very little detail on the substance of the policy measures the Commission is preparing, its exact aspirations remain ambiguous and the overall implications of its proposals are unclear.

5.6Moreover, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU creates further uncertainty about the domestic consequences of any new EU initiatives. The scope of both the post-Brexit transition period and the long-term partnership with the EU on educational and cultural matters are yet to be established. However, the provisional Article 50 financial settlement would retain the UK’s participation in existing EU programmes which affect the educational and cultural sectors (such as the Erasmus+ programme and Creative Europe). UK participation in any new initiatives would have to be sought on a case-by-case basis, as they are not expected to become operational until after the end of the transition period.

5.7In light of this, the Committee will carefully consider any proposals for concrete policy initiatives which flow from this Communication. We now clear the document from scrutiny, and draw it to the attention of the Education Committee and the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee.

Full details of the documents

Communication from the Commission: Strengthening European Identity through Education and Culture: (39224), 14436/17, COM(2017) 673.


5.8The European Union has a supporting competence in the fields of education and competence. It has used this, for example, to create schemes that incentivise student and teacher mobility between EU countries (Erasmus+)57 and to create a funding instrument for the creative industries (the Creative Europe programme).58 The EU, through the European Commission, also plays a leading role in the pan-European Higher Education Area (EHEA), in particular the Bologna Process on mutual recognition of university degrees59 and the European Credit and Transfer System for study credits.60

5.9In November 2017, as part of a broader process of reflection on the future development of the European Union after Brexit, the European Commission published a Communication on “strengthening European identity through education and culture”:

“The Commission believes that it is in the shared interest of all Member States to harness education and culture as drivers for job creation, economic growth and social fairness, as well as a means to experience European identity and to promote active citizenship to help prevent populism, xenophobia and violent radicalisation.”61

5.10The document serves primarily to set out the Commission’s high-level proposals for future initiatives in the fields of education and culture. We summarise these below. The possibility of legislative initiatives to give shape to the proposals in the Communication is limited, as the EU only has a supporting competence in the fields of education and culture. Articles 165 and 167 of the Treaty restrict legislative initiatives in these areas to “incentive measures, excluding any harmonisation of the laws and regulations of the Member States”.

EU education policy

5.11With respect to EU education policy, the Commission envisages the creation of a “European Education Area”, where learning, studying and research “would not be hampered by borders”. It also argues that further efforts are needed to ensure the EU’s education policies ensure the Union’s economic “resilience, innovation and competitiveness”. In the context of globalisation and competition from around the world, it argues that “Europe does not excel in delivering high-quality skills, as even the best-performing Member States are outperformed by advanced Asian countries.”62

5.12The Commission has therefore outlined a number of policy initiatives in support of the Member States’ higher, secondary and primary education systems.

Higher education

5.13In the field of higher education, the “European Education Area” would entail the following new initiatives:

Primary and secondary education

5.14To support the Member States’ primary and secondary education sectors, Commission initiatives will include:

EU cultural policy

5.15The second element of the Commission Communication focuses on the future of the EU’s cultural policies. As with education, the EU’s cultural policy is limited to supporting and coordinating initiatives.67 Some of the more high-profile schemes include the Capitals of Culture initiative,68 the designation of 2018 as the “European Year of Cultural Heritage”69 and the creation of the European Heritage Label,70 as well as the provision of funding for the European Youth Orchestra and the EU Baroque Orchestra.71

5.16The EU’s flagship funding programme for the cultural sector is the €1.4 billion (£1.2 billion)72 2014–2020 Creative Europe programme.73 It supports cross-border cultural and artistic projects, artists’ mobility, and the distribution of European films. It also includes a Creative and Cultural Sectors Guarantee Facility (CCSGF).74 This Facility aims to compensate for the creative industries’ limited access to traditional forms of finance, by providing a guarantee to banks or other investors which invest in the sector. Over the 2014–2020 period, the CCSGF is estimated to generate investment in the creative and cultural industries of worth €600 million (£529 million) across the EU.75

5.17In its Communication, the Commission argues that Europe’s cultural diversity “is a strength that fuels creativity and innovation”, and that “understanding and preserving our cultural heritage and diversity are prerequisites to maintain our cultural community, our common values and identity”. In parallel to the more extensive range of measures on educational matters, the Commission has also proposed a more limited (and less ambitious) long-term work programme on cultural matters. The policy paper notes that the following initiatives under preparation:

The Government’s view

5.18On 6 December 2017, the Minister of State for Universities (Jo Johnson) submitted an Explanatory Memorandum on the Communication. It notes that the Government agrees with the Commission that education is important for economic growth and social mobility, and that the UK shares “many of the same priorities of improving basic skills, lifelong learning, digital skills and the learning of modern foreign languages”.

5.19In view of the fact that the Communication itself contains no concrete proposals, the Minister added that his Department “will look carefully at each proposal flowing from the Communication to consider the merits whilst being mindful of the need to avoid competence creep”. He also noted that, where the Commission has suggested setting new EU-level benchmarks, the Government will seek to ensure that these are “realistic and helpful”. Moreover, the Minister emphasised that, where Council Recommendations are foreseen as instruments for implementation of specific initiatives, the UK “will be free to interpret the recommendations in the context of national policy”.

5.20Although the Communication has no financial implications per se, the Minister pointed out that a few of the Commission proposals, such as the boosting of the Cultural Sectors Guarantee Facility and the digital and culture strategies, are likely to have impacts for the EU budget. They will be considered as part of the much wider discussions on the next Multiannual Financial Framework from 2021 onwards, which are due to begin in earnest in autumn 2018.

5.21With respect to the relevance of the Communication for the EU exit negotiations, the Minister states that “there are very limited Brexit implications relating to the proposed recommendations”, as they are “non-binding and are part of a longer-term vision for full implementation by 2025 with funding though the EU’s next Multiannual Financial Framework”. He also noted that the UK participates in the pan-European Higher Education Area (EHEA) along with 47 other countries, and that the Government will seek to ensure that the Commission initiatives do not lead to “duplication or consequences for the mandate and governance of the EHEA”.

Our assessment

5.22Although the initiatives set out in the Commission document cover many different aspects of educational policy in particular, the proposals contained in the Communication are light on detail. For example, it is not clear how the Commission intends to increase participation in Erasmus+ or facilitate cooperation between European universities.

5.23The Committee supports the Minister’s view that education and cultural policy are the preserve of the Member States, and that any concrete policy initiatives which flow from this Communication, insofar as considered necessary at all, should be strictly limited to supporting national or devolved governments. We will reassess any subsidiarity concerns in due course when specific proposals for Council Recommendations or budgetary commitments are presented to us for scrutiny.

5.24The eventual impact of concrete proposals that may flow from this policy paper also depend on the UK’s relationship with the EU on cultural and educational policy after Brexit. During the immediate post-Brexit transitional period, we expect that the UK will remain part of all EU funding programmes (including Erasmus+ and the Creative Europe Programme). However, there is much less clarity about the Government’s ambitions after the end of that transition, when a new UK-EU partnership would have to take effect.

5.25For example, although we note that Universities UK,76 the Russell Group,77 and the NUS78 have called for continued post-Brexit access to Erasmus+ for UK students, the Prime Minister at the European Council in December 2017 explicitly did not commit the UK to participation after the (presumed) end of the transitional period in December 2020.79 The same applies to the Creative Europe programme. The legal acts establishing these schemes expire at the end of 2020, and proposals for their successors (including the rules for participation by third countries) are due to be presented in 2018.

5.26However, little can be deduced about the contents of those proposals from this Commission Communication. It presents no more than a vague indication of possible EU funding allocations for similar programmes under the next Multiannual Financial Framework. Until March 2019, when the UK will lose its representation in the Council, the Government will be able to influence the direction of the negotiations on any relevant proposals, including their budgets, priorities and rules for participation. However, that influence will be limited by the fact that the UK will no longer be a Member State for most of those negotiations (which are expected to last until 2020).80 In any event, post-Brexit participation by the UK in any EU funding programmes will require a financial contribution, most likely in proportion to the UK’s GNI.

5.27The Committee will closely monitor the upcoming negotiations on the post-2020 EU budgetary cycle, including new programmes for investment in the education and cultural sectors. In the meantime, it has cleared this latest Commission Communication from scrutiny.

Previous Committee Reports


55 See also the Commission’s White Paper on the “Future of Europe”.

56 Commission document COM(2017) 673.

57 The Erasmus+ Programme was established by Regulation 1288/2013. The proposal was cleared from scrutiny by the previous Committee on 4 September 2013.

58 The Creative Europe Programme was established by Regulation 1295/2013. The proposal was cleared from scrutiny by the previous Committee on 11 September 2013.

62 See also the Commission’s “Reflection Paper“ on harnessing globalisation (September 2017).

63 The Commission proposes to call this the “Sorbonne Process”, after the upcoming May 2018 Ministerial Conference on the European Higher Education Area.

64 The European Solidarity Corps was established by Regulation No 1288/2013. It was cleared from scrutiny on 12/03/2014.

65 The Commission notes that the UK, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Croatia, Hungary and the French Community of Belgium are the only EU countries where learning more than one foreign language is an option rather than an obligation.

66 Recommendation of 18 December 2006 on key competences for lifelong learning.

67 The EU also has more extensive legislative competence in areas that affect the cultural and creative industries, such as copyright and broadcasting regulation, which are not covered by the Commission in this Communication as they have a distinct Internal Market legal base.

68 The UK was due to host the European Capital of Culture in 2023, but the European Commission recently informed the Government that it should cancel its city selection process as the UK would no longer be eligible to nominate a Capital after Brexit.

69 See Decision 2017/864; the proposal was cleared from scrutiny by the previous Committee on 16 November 2016.

70 See Decision 2011/1194; the proposal was cleared from scrutiny on 5 April 2014. The UK, along with Ireland, Finland and Sweden, does not participate in the European Heritage Label.

71 Both orchestras were based in the UK but are in the process of relocating (to Italy and Belgium respectively) following the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU.

72 €1 = £1.13655 as at 30 November.

73 See Regulation 1295/2013 establishing the Creative Europe Programme. The scheme was last considered by the previous Committee on 11 September 2013.

75 There does not appear to have been take-up of the Guarantee Facility in the UK. The European Commission lists 475 UK-based beneficiaries of Creative Europe funding since 2014, with financial support amounting to approximately €137 million (£121 million). A significant part of that funding will also have been disbursed in other EU countries as Creative Europe projects must be multi-national.

79 Statement by Prime Minister Theresa May: “ I was pleased to confirm at this Council that UK students will be able to continue to participate in the Erasmus student exchange programme for at least another three years—until the end of this budget period” (18 December 2017).

80 The Commission published its proposals for the 2014–2020 MFF and its specific funding programmes in the second half of 2011, and they were formally adopted in late 2013.

19 December 2018