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Resetting education and training for the digital age

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Today, the Commission adopted two initiatives that will strengthen the contribution of education and training to the EU’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis, and help build a green and digital Europe. Setting out a vision of the European Education Area to be achieved by 2025, the Commission proposes new initiatives, more investment and stronger cooperation of Member States to help all Europeans, of all ages, benefit from the EU’s rich education and training offer. The Commission also adopted a new Digital Education Action Plan, reflecting lessons learned from the coronavirus crisis, and devising a plan for a high-performing digital education ecosystem with enhanced digital competences for the digital transformation.

The Communication on the European Education Area outlines how cooperation can further enrich the quality, inclusiveness and digital and green dimension of Member State education systems. It shows how together, Member States can shape a European Education Area based on freedom for learners and teachers to learn and work across the continent and for institutions to freely associate with one another in Europe and beyond.

The European Education Area is underpinned by six dimensions: quality, inclusion and gender equality, green and digital transitions, teachers, higher education, a stronger Europe in the world. Initiatives will inter alia look at ways to enhance quality, notably with regard to basic and digital skills and to make school education more inclusive and gender sensitive and improve school success. They will help strengthen understanding of climate change and sustainability, foster the greening of education infrastructure, support the teaching profession, further roll out European Universities and enhance connectivity among education and training institutions.

The Communication sets out the means and milestones to achieve the European Education Area by 2025, supported by Europe’s Recovery Plan (NextGenerationEU) and the Erasmus+ Programme. In addition, it proposes a framework for cooperation with Member States and engagement with education stakeholders, including a reporting and analysis structure, with agreed education targets, to encourage and track reforms. Efforts to establish the European Education Area will work in synergy with the European Skills Agenda, the renewed Vocational Education and Training policy and the European Research Area.

The Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027) proposes a set of initiatives for high‑quality, inclusive and accessible digital education in Europe. It is a call to action for stronger cooperation between Member States at European level, as well as with and between stakeholders, to make education and training systems truly fit for the digital age. The coronavirus crisis has put distance learning at the centre of education practices. This has shed light on the pressing need to improve digital education, as a key strategic objective for high-quality teaching and learning in the digital age. As we move beyond the emergency phase imposed by the outbreak of the pandemic, we need a strategic and longer-term approach to digital education and training.

The Action Plan has two long-term strategic priorities: (i) fostering the development of a high-performing digital education ecosystem and (ii) enhancing digital competences for the digital transformation. In order to strengthen the cooperation and exchange in digital education at EU level, the Commission will create a European Digital Education Hub, which will foster collaboration and synergies between policy areas relevant to digital education, create a network of national advisory services and strengthen the dialogue between stakeholders from the public and private sector.

Both initiatives will also feed into the third European Education Summit, which the Commission will host online on 10 December to bring Ministers and key stakeholders together to discuss how to make education and training fit for the digital era.

Members of the College said

Executive Vice-President for a Europe Fit for the Digital Age, Margrethe Vestager, said: “Education and training have faced huge disruption due to COVID-19 and a quick shift to distance and online learning. The mass use of technology has revealed gaps and exposed weaknesses. This is also an opportunity to reset education and training for the digital age. 95% of respondents to the public consultation on the Digital Education Action Plan see the crisis as a turning point for the way technology is used in education and training. This is a momentum to shape and modernise education for the digital age.”

Vice-President for Promoting the European way of live, Margaritis Schinas, said: “Education is a mainstay of our European way of life. Our vision for the European Education Area is deeply rooted in the values of freedom, diversity, human rights and social justice. Together with the Digital Education Action Plan, we propose new initiatives to learn and work together across the continent. For our youth, for our citizens, for our prosperity.”

Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel, said: “The European Education Area and the Digital Education Action Plan are both essential for European recovery and future growth. They set out a common vision of the future of education linked to our commitments towards the digital and green transitions. We now need to focus on implementation and on creating synergies between them.”

Background

The European Education Area is rooted in decades of education cooperation at EU level. The strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020) helped build trust and mutual understanding to support the earliest European Education Area initiatives.

In 2017, Heads of State and Government discussed education and training at the Gothenburg Social Summit, guided by the Commission’s communication setting out its vision for a European Education Area by 2025. This resulted in December 2017 Council conclusions calling on Member States, the Council and the Commission to take forward the Gothenburg agenda. Many initiatives have already been developed. Based on this rich legacy, today’s communication sets out a vision for the European Education Area, together with a reinforced approach in order to achieve it by 2025. The European Education Area also ties in with Next Generation EU and the long-term budget of the European Union for 2021-2027.

In that context, the Digital Education Action Plan is a cornerstone of the Commission’s efforts to support the digital transition in Europe. It builds on the first Digital Education Action Plan adopted in January 2018, running to the end of this year. It is more ambitious in its reach, notably with a wider scope going beyond formal education, and with a longer duration, running until 2027

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EU Politics

Coronavirus response: EU support for regions to work together in innovative pilot projects

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The Commission has announced the winners of a new EU-funded initiative for interregional partnerships in four areas: coronavirus-related innovative solutions, circular economy in health, sustainable and digital tourism, and hydrogen technologies in carbon–intensive regions. The aim of this new pilot action, which builds on the successful experience of a similar action on “interregional innovation projects” launched at the end of 2017, is to mobilise regional and national innovation actors to address the impact of coronavirus. This initiative also helps the recovery using the new Commission programmes through scaling up projects in new priority areas, such as health, tourism or hydrogen.

Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, Elisa Ferreira, said: “Interregional partnerships are proof that when we cooperate beyond borders, we are stronger as we come up with smart and useful solutions for all. This new pilot initiative supporting interregional innovative partnerships is especially important in the current coronavirus context, showing how much cohesion policy is committed to contribute to Europe’s prompt response and recovery.” 

Following a Commission’s call for expression of interest launched in July 2020, four interregional partnerships were selected, with one or several coordinating regions in the lead:

  • País Vasco (ES), together with three regions, will focus on the support to an emerging industry sector for prediction and prevention of the coronavirus pandemic;
  • In the field of Circular Economy in Health, the RegioTex partnership on textile innovation involves 16 regions led by North Portugal (PT);
  • In the field of Sustainable and Digital Tourism, the partnership coordinated by the Time Machine Organisation, an international cooperation network in technology, science and cultural heritage, involves five regions and Cyprus, led by Thüringen (DE); 
  • In order to enable the development of innovative solutions based on Hydrogen technologies in carbon–intensive regions with a broad geographical coverage, two partnerships will merge: the European Hydrogen Valleys partnership gathering 12 regions led by Aragon (ES), Auvergne Rhône Alpes (FR), Normandie (FR) and Northern Netherlands (NL), and the partnership led by Košice Region (SK) with four other regions.

These partnerships will benefit from the Commission experts’ support, providing, among others, advice on how to best combine EU funds to finance projects. In addition to this hands-on support from the Commission, each partnership can benefit from external advisory service of up to €100,000 for scale-up and commercialisation activities. The money comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

Next steps

The work with the partnerships will start in this month and will run for one year.This pilot further stimulates interregional cooperation, with the possibility for the partnerships to apply for support under the new programmes and the “Interregional Innovation Investment” instrument from 2021 onwards.

Background

In recent years, the Commission has called on national and regional authorities to develop smart specialisation strategies aiming at more effective innovation policies and enhanced interregional cooperation in value chains across borders. To date, more than 180 regional smart specialisation strategies have been adopted. Their implementation is supported by €40 billion of EU Cohesion policy funds.

As part of a set of actions presented in 2017 by the Commission to take smart specialisation a step further, a pilot action on “Interregional innovation projects” sought to test new ways to encourage regions and cities to develop new value chains and scale up their good ideas in the EU single market. This pilot action, which involved nine partnerships in high-tech priority sectors, was completed in 2019 and showed significant potential to accelerate the investment readiness of interregional investment projects.

The lessons learned will be integrated in the new “Interregional Innovation Investment” instrument proposed in the framework of the post 2020 Cohesion Policy package.

The new pilot action has similar goals. Moreover, in the context of the crisis, it aims at finding solutions to the coronavirus challenges and accelerating the recovery through the commercialisation and scale-up of innovation investment. 

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EU Politics

Commission proposes to purchase up to 300 million additional doses of BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine

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image: BioNTech

The European Commission today proposed to the EU Member States to purchase an additional 200 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine produced by BioNTech and Pfizer, with the option to acquire another 100 million doses.  

This would enable the EU to purchase up to 600 million doses of this vaccine, which is already being used across the EU.

The additional doses will be delivered starting in the second quarter of 2021. 

The EU has acquired a broad portfolio of vaccines with different technologies. It has secured up to 2.3 billion doses from the most promising vaccine candidates for Europe and its neighbourhood.  

In addition to the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, was authorised on 6 January 2021. Other vaccines are expected to be approved soon.  

This vaccine portfolio would enable the EU not only to cover the needs of its whole population, but also to supply vaccines to neighbouring countries.

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EU Politics

Brexit deal: How new EU-UK relations will affect you

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EU-UK relations are changing following Brexit and the deal reached at the end of 2020. Find out what this means for you.

The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020. There was a transition period during which the UK remained part of the Single market and Customs Union to allow for negotiations on the future relations. Following intense negotiations, an agreement on future EU-UK relations was concluded end of December 2020. Although it will be provisionally applied, it will still need to be approved by the Parliament before it can formally enter into force. MEPs are currently scrutinising the text in the specialised parliamentary committees before voting on it during a plenary session.

A number of issues were already covered by the withdrawal agreement, which the EU and the UK agreed at the end of 2019. This agreement on the separation issues deals with the protection of the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in other parts of the EU, the UK’s financial commitments undertaken as a member state, as well as border issues, especially on the Isle of Ireland.

Living and working in the UK or the EU

EU citizens in the UK or UK citizens in an EU member state who were already living there before January 2021 are allowed to continue living and working where they are now provided they registered and were granted settlement permits by the national authorities of the member states or the UK.

For those UK citizens not already living in the EU, their right to live and work in any EU country apart from the Republic of Ireland (as the UK has a separate agreement with them) is not automatically granted and can be subject to restrictions. Also, they no longer have their qualifications automatically recognised in EU countries, which was previously the case.

For UK citizens wanting to visit or stay in the EU for more than 90 days for any reason need to meet the requirements for entry and stay for people from outside the EU. This also applies to UK citizens with a second home in the EU.

People from the EU wanting to move to the UK for a long-term stay or work – meaning more than six months – will need to meet the migration conditions set out by the UK government, including applying for a visa.

Travelling

UK citizens can visit the EU for up to 90 days within any 180-day period without needing a visa.

However, UK citizens can no longer make use of the EU’s fast track passport controls and customs lanes. They also need to have a return ticket and be able to prove they have enough funds for their stay. They also need to have at least six months left on their passport.

EU citizens can visit the UK for up to six months without needing a visa. EU citizens will need to present a valid passport to visit the UK.

Healthcare

EU citizens temporarily staying in the UK still benefit from emergency healthcare based on the European Health Insurance Card. For stays longer than six months, they need to pay a healthcare surcharge.

Pensioners continue to benefit from healthcare where they live. The country paying for their pension will reimburse the country of residence.

Erasmus

The UK has decided to stop participating in the popular Erasmus+ exchange programme and to create its own exchange programme. Therefore EU students will not be able to participate in exchange programme in the UK anymore. However, people from Northern Ireland can continue to take part.

Trade in goods and services

With the agreement, goods exchanged between the UK and EU countries are not subject to tariffs or quotas. However, there are new procedures for moving goods to and from the UK as border controls on the respect of the internal market rules (sanitary, security, social, environmental standard for example) or applicable UK regulation are in place. This means more red tape and additional costs. For example, all imports into the EU are subject to customs formalities while they must also meet all EU standards so they are subject to regulatory checks and controls. This does not apply to goods being moved between Northern Ireland and the EU.

Regarding services, UK companies no longer have the automatic right to offer services across the EU. If they want to continue operating in the EU, they will need to establish themselves here.

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