Please find here my full speech pronounced on 9 November 2018 at the 3rd EUROPEAN VOCATIONAL SKILLS WEEK's closing ceremony held in Vienna, Austria.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is for me a great honour to have been invited to speak at the Closing Ceremony of the 2018 edition of the European Professional Skills Week. The Skills Week is now an eagerly awaited forum in which it is possible to discuss how best to actively resolve crucial difficulties related to employment, economic competitiveness and social cohesion. On a personal note, it was a real source of gratification for me to have received the prize for political innovation – here in Vienna – a year ago. This prize was for a pilot project adopted by the Parliament whose aim was to promote long term mobility on the part of apprentices by means of the Erasmus+ programme. All credit goes to Commissioner Marianne Thyssen for having organised a meeting that is now enthusiastically attended by anyone that is concerned about the opportunities that we are able to offer young people.
This is particularly the case with regard to the integration of young people into the world of work. In this context, today, I should like to say a few words about the importance of increasing the amount of money available for European projects designed to improve the life chances of apprentices but also about the need to overcome non-funding related obstacles.
Whilst it is regrettably true that the European Union does not yet have a Union-wide education and vocational training programme, the EU nevertheless seeks to support the Member States in their efforts to improve the work opportunities and well being of its younger citizens. A number of programmes – Erasmus +, the Youth Employment Initiative, and more broadly, the European Social Fund – have all been deployed to further this goal. To these programmes might also be added the Globalization Adjustment Fund, a fund that encourages vocational training schemes for people who fall victim to large scale redundancy as a result of geographic relocation or technological change, but also automation, digitalisation, or the transition to a low-carbon economy.
All of this involves significant sums of money. In total, over the seven year period from 2014-2020, more than 94 billion euros will be committed to this objective. For the post-2020 financial framework, the Commission plans to double the volume of Erasmus + appropriations by 30 billion euros, and the ESF by 101 billion euros, of which 761 million euros are dedicated to the Employment and Social Innovation strand. For our part in Parliament – in the interim report that Parliament will vote on next week in Strasbourg – we are hoping to triple Erasmus + credits, to bring YEI to its double and the ESF+ to 106 billion euros.
Clearly, the European Parliament hopes to spur the Council into being more ambitious. Indeed, despite the commendable efforts of the Austrian Presidency, the Council has been slow to define its position and its mandate. That being said, the European Union is certainly moving forward and laying the groundwork for what will become the European social area.
An example of this is found in the Erasmus + programme and the steps that we are taking to extend its benefits to professional learners and apprentices. In 2017, the thirtieth anniversary of Erasmus was celebrated with great gusto in all countries. It goes without saying that – in the course of their studies or vocational training – young people benefit enormously from coming into contact with different teaching methods and professional practices. Similarly, it is a source of great personal enrichment for them to be able to understand and express themselves in a new language and to live in a country where they can experience its culture over a period of several months. However, it remains true that despite the significant amounts of money that have already been committed, we still require more ressources. Indeed, that the money available for the project only enables the satisfaction for 50% of all eligible application remains a source of frustration.
At the same time, we also need to extend the benefits of the Erasmus programme beyond the privileged few. Justifiably, Erasmus is a programme that both participants and the general public genuinely appreciate. Why should it be reserved for students? Indeed, a pilot project for the long term mobility of apprentices was launched precisely in order to combat elitism in the matter and, in the process, to substantially reduce youth unemployment. In the same vein, the Commission has developed an "Erasmus Pro" scheme for apprentices and trainees in vocational training. To this end, 400 million euros has been earmarked for the years 2018, 2019 and 2020. These appropriations – in addition to the funding of "Erasmus Pro" grants – allow 50 000 apprentices to complete at least six months of their training in another country within the EU while permitting VET centres to cover their costs.
But it is not enough to simply throw money at Erasmus Pro. Beyond the contribution that Europe is able to make, full success still requires real commitment from the various national actors and partners. In particular, it is necessary to remove the obstacles created by particular national legislations just as it is necessary to overcome the resistance that some national authorities show when it comes to recognising the real value of mobility.
In so far as national legislation is concerned, we must put pressure on our governments to harmonise provisions governing labour law and to ensure the feasibility of long term apprenticeship contracts. In this respect, national authorities can usefully draw on the Commission's recommendations for a “European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships”. As for the recognition of prior learning, the obvious reference point in this respect is framework provided by the ECVET (European Credits System of Vocational Education Training). However, its actual implementation is still excessively complicated and much greater simplification is required.
We also need to devote more energy to testing twinning between VET centres in different countries. Such twinning should involve quality charters defining the terms and conditions of the technical education on offer and a clear definition of what exactly is expected when it comes to apprentices taken on by companies. It should also be possible to clearly assess the quality of any training apprentices receive by means of certification of the knowledge and experience acquired.
So, Madame Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen,
by way of conclusion, let me say that training is, of course, key to our investment in the future. Evidently, it should be possible to mobilise the Structural Funds and the European Social Fund so as to release financing for the creation and equipping of vocational training centres. In this way, the European Union will prove that it remains and will continue to serve as a reliable partner in the fields of education and training. In particular, with the example of the Erasmus before us, it is possible to see to what extent the programme stimulates and consolidates the idea of European citizenship. The programme simultaneously allows for a comparison of practices, inspires individuals to make progress and serves as a platform on which it will be possible to generate prosperity in Europe. In short, Erasmus equips young people with the skills they require if they are to take control of their own futures.
This is itself sufficient grounds for removing existing barriers to its implementation and for making sure that we devote enough funding to the programme to allow us to bring our ambitions to full fruition.
Thank you very much.
(Speech pronounced on 9 November 2018 in Vienna - only the oral speech is authoritative)