Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Bill Rammell MP, Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, Department for Education and Skills to the Chairman

  I am writing to inform you of the forthcoming Education and Youth Council in Brussels on 23 February and to provide an overview of the items on the agenda. I attach a copy of the agenda for the Council meeting for information (not printed) as my officials have already provided your clerk with an annotated agenda confirming the scrutiny status of each agenda item. Unfortunately, I will be out of the country on long-planned official business for the week of the Council and so Anne Lambert, the UK's Deputy Permanent Representative, will represent the UK at both sessions of the Council.

  At both the Education and Youth Councils, the Commission will present information on the Preparation of the Spring European Council and its 2006 Annual Progress Report—a Communication to the Spring Council: "Time to Move Up a Gear: The New Partnership for Jobs and Growth". This Communication reports on Member States' progress during the first year of the relaunched Lisbon strategy after the 2005 Mid-Term Review and specifically on their Lisbon national reform programmes drawn up on the basis of the Integrated Guidelines for Growth and Jobs. The Commission Communication also sets out priorities for next steps and suggested action points, on which EU Heads of State and Government are expected to adopt Conclusions at the Spring European Council on 23-24 March. The document of course covers the whole range of Lisbon policy areas, but there are specific references to education and training policies and to youth. For example, there are actions suggested on investing more in knowledge and innovation, a clear priority for Higher Education in accordance with the informal special summit at Hampton Court last October, which we very much welcome; and suggested actions on responding to globalisation and ageing, including lifelong learning and increasing entry into the labour market for young people.

  The Austrian Presidency do not plan a discussion of this report at the Education Council, as they propose that Education Ministers should input into the Spring Council via the established Education Open Method of Co-ordination. Accordingly, the Education Council will then be asked to adopt the 2006 Joint Interim Report on progress under the Education and Training 2010 work programme, "Modernising Education and Training: a vital contribution to prosperity and social cohesion in Europe". It will also agree key messages on this report which will go to the Spring Council. These messages also take account of the priorities in the Commission's Communication to the Spring Council. The UK supports the key messages which the Education Council is asked to adopt, particularly their emphasis on demographic challenges and globalisation; HE-business links and the Hampton Court agenda; involvement of stakeholders and partners, including at sectoral level; and raising of adult skills. No debate is planned on this item, however. I am grateful to your committee for recently clearing scrutiny on the report.

  The Youth Council will also receive a presentation on the Commission's Communication to the Spring Council but will have an exchange of views on youth issues raised by this Communication. The Council will be asked to comment on three questions about reinforcing the youth dimension of the Lisbon agenda through the European Pact for Youth and providing access to the labour market, particularly for young people with fewer opportunities, and engaging young people and youth organisations in the implementation of the Pact.

  The remainder of the morning session will be given over to two exchanges of views in the Education Council. The first is the proposal for a Recommendation on key competences for lifelong learning, where the Council will discuss whether the competences proposed are the most appropriate ones and, if so, how they should be promoted.

  The second is the Commission's Communication on The European Indicator of Language competence, where Ministers will be asked four specific questions: what is their view of the approach outlined in the Commission Communication; would they agree to the proposal to establish an Advisory Board composed of a representative of each Member State whose initial mandate would be to clarify/define the parameters for implementation; is ISCED level 2 (this is age 14/end of year 9 in the UK) the right level for gathering data on competences in first and second languages; and a suggested approach for the choice of languages in the first round of data gathering. The UK supports the establishment of the Advisory Board, as we believe it is essential to have further information on how the indicator would operate in practice, as well as costs and burdens before we take a final decision on whether or not to participate in its implementation. We will also ensure that the indicator fully respects Member States' responsibility for the organisation of their education systems and that there is a sufficiently flexible testing window for implementing the indicator in due course.

  Both of these dossiers are still held under scrutiny and I shall be writing to the Committees shortly to update you on progress and to answer questions which have been raised.

  The morning Education session will conclude with an informal lunchtime discussion—on the Commission's Communication on "A new Framework Strategy for Multilingualism".

  The afternoon session will start with the exchange of views on the youth aspects of the Commission's Report to the Spring Council as mentioned above. Following on from this exchange of views the Council will be asked to adopt Conclusions on implementing the Youth Pact. These Conclusions will form the contribution of the Council to the European Council. They are not subject to scrutiny.

  I will report back on the outcome of the Council as usual.

17 February 2006

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