Tibor Navracsics: Science has essential part to play in policy-making

Young people will increasingly need new competences and skills

Photo: EU Tibor Navracsics

There is a shared understanding that high quality education can reduce socio-economic inequalities and help create a more competitive and cohesive Europe. This is the goal we have set for ourselves with the European Education Area, a space in which learning and knowledge should no longer be hampered by geographical barriers in the EU - and where citizens develop a strong sense of their identity as Europeans, says Tibor Navracsics, EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, in an interview to Europost.

- Commissioner Navracsics, how can events like 'Science meets Parliaments' influence the policy-making process in the EU?

- Science has an essential part to play in the policy-making process. Along with values and beliefs, as well as the political side, it is one of the three pillars decision-making rests on in a democracy. Politicians and civil servants have to weigh the options and the consequences of their decisions, a process that must be informed by solid, impartial scientific evidence.

However, for this to work, scientists and policy-makers need to be able to communicate with each other - they need to be in a constant, inclusive dialogue that enables them to take the best decisions for citizens and our societies as a whole. And this is why we launched Science meets Parliaments: to bring the two sides together so they can build lasting relationships as well as foster transparency and responsibility. This is not only important to tackle the challenges facing us today, but also to look ahead and anticipate the issues that will affect our societies and economies in the future.

This is just as important for local, regional, and national governments as it is for the EU. That is why this year we are going beyond Brussels and organising 26 similar events with local authorities across the EU, exploring how scientists, citizens and policy-makers can work together for local solutions to tackle issues affecting local communities, such as water management, preserving coastal economies or the impact of migration. Every community is different, has its own challenges, strengths and priorities, so it is important that each of them can find what is the best response for them.

Our objective is also to involve citizens, who ultimately benefit from legislation, because we see that facts in isolation do not speak for themselves; neither do technocratic policy decisions, by the way. We need to learn from these events and the questions and feedback they give rise to. It is important to engage and discuss with citizens, taking into account their hopes, concerns and values.

I am glad that Bulgaria is among the most active Member States with two events. First, on 29-31 March, the municipality of Sofia will organise an innovation camp dedicated to energy and climate change, linking to the economic development strategy of the city. This will involve a wide range of stakeholders, including citizens. Then in April, the Region of Gabrovo together with the regional government of Navarra in Spain will look at some of the best options when it comes to improving energy efficiency and water and waste management. I encourage your readers to participate in these events and see for themselves the scientific evidence on these critical issues.

Of course there are limits to what scientific evidence can bring - adding more evidence will not resolve issues of competing values. But a good first step is to know what the evidence says about the options available to us, and understand their consequences for people's lives.

- How is the Joint Research Centre engaging with the citizens?

- The Joint Research Centre engages with citizens in a variety of ways - just like the other departments of the European Commission. This is an important part of our efforts to involve citizens in policy-making in a meaningful way. For instance, we run public consultations, when we ask people and stakeholders directly for their views. We also inform citizens about their rights and the possibilities open to them for getting involved. And we provide transparent information on how policies are made.

The Joint Research Centre is using its special status as the science and knowledge service of the European Commission to support these efforts and to engage with citizens directly. For example, we are developing and experimenting with various approaches for involving citizens that could be used by departments across the Commission. This includes projects like Making Sense: using open source technologies developed by scientists, communities across Europe have been co-creating sensors and devices to gather data and make sense of local environmental concerns, such as air or noise pollution.

Already today, we are making science more accessible to citizens, via the media but also via other platforms such as artist communities and museums. For example, in collaboration with the Berlin Natural History Museum, the Joint Research Centre has created an exhibition called ARTEFACTS which engages citizens in a discussion about the value of EU policies in their lives and the scientific evidence behind them, starting from decisions affecting the environment and the climate. We reach out to citizens by using traditional photography, virtual reality, and live digital chats with scientists.

Another example are open days and TED talks we regularly organise at the Joint Research Centre site in Ispra, Italy.

Finally, our scientists also develop tools that are directly available to citizens, such as the Green Driving Tool that enables people to evaluate emissions and fuel costs or the Cultural Gems mobile application which allows people to put on the map the hidden cultural treasures of their cities and share them with others. This is a great way of showing people how something developed at European level can have a direct and tangible impact on their daily lives.

- According to your observations, how do the national parliaments perceive the culture of evidence-informed policy-making?

- As I said before, the way policies are made varies from place to place. One of the aims of the Science meets Parliaments/meets Regions project is to involve national parliaments and to allow policy makers and scientists to learn from each other. Five of our events (in Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia, the United Kingdom and Greece) are being organised in close association with the respective national parliaments, demonstrating the need to integrate scientific evidence in the legislative process. For example, the Estonian national parliament is setting up an event on bridging the gap between science and policy, and the Joint Research Centre is sharing its expertise on how to train scientists so that they can communicate effectively with policy-makers. And later this year, the Greek national parliament will hold an event on integrating migrants into Greek society. The Joint Research Centre will contribute with evidence from its Knowledge Centre on Migration and Demography.

- With Brexit day approaching, what will happen with young Britons who are now applying for participation in the current Erasmus and European Solidarity Corps, if the UK leaves without a deal?

- The European Commission believes that citizens who are abroad with an Erasmus+ exchange on 30 March should not be affected in the event of a “no deal” scenario with the United Kingdom. This is why, on 30 January, we proposed steps to protect them. They would ensure that ongoing Erasmus+ funded learning mobility activities involving the United Kingdom are not disrupted if the country were to leave the EU on 29 March without a deal. If agreed by the Council and the European Parliament, these measures will be applied to all ongoing learning mobility activities funded by Erasmus+ and will offer the necessary protection and certainty to all individuals engaged in an Erasmus+ mobility to or from the United Kingdom.

- Will they have access to the programmes in the next seven-year period (2021-2027)?

- We cannot speculate on this at this moment in time. Of course, as a third country, the United Kingdom will be able to participate in EU programmes that are open to third countries, subject to the relevant rules and budget contributions.

- Recently, Eurochambres published their survey according to which the business community in Europe see skills shortages as one of their two top problems for 2019. Education and training are national policy competences, but can the Commission intervene in order for this trend to be reversed?

- The nature of many jobs is changing, and young people will increasingly need new competences and skills in an environment where a “job for life” no longer exists. What we teach and how we teach are becoming key questions that our education and training systems need to find answers to.

Yes, education is a national competence. Nevertheless, Member States face common challenges. Working together and sharing knowledge at EU level - combined with funding from Erasmus+ or the European Structural Funds - have proved to be successful in tackling these challenges. Ensuring that young people acquire the right skills is an excellent example: last year, Member States agreed on a set of key competences that education should focus on, including basic skills, digital skills as well as entrepreneurial competences which will be vital in building the resilience and adaptability increasingly required in the labour market.

The European Commission will continue to work with Member State, but will also keep supporting the teaching profession, the business community and other stakeholders in order to help modernise education and training systems.

- What are the main challenges in creating a European Education Area?

- Education is back at the top of the EU's political priorities. There is a shared understanding that high quality education can reduce socio-economic inequalities and help create a more competitive and cohesive Europe. This is the goal we have set for ourselves with the European Education Area, a space in which learning and knowledge should no longer be hampered by geographical barriers in the EU - and where citizens develop a strong sense of their identity as Europeans.

To turn this vision into reality, I have proposed a number of initiatives over the last twelve months. And I am very pleased that Member States have welcomed them, agreeing to foster automatic mutual recognition of diplomas and periods of learning abroad, to promote inclusive education, our common values and the European dimension of teaching, as well as on the key competences I mentioned before. Our work continues on proposals to boost the teaching and learning of languages and high quality early childhood education and care. We have also launched the European Universities initiative, one of the main pillars of the European Education Area. By 2024, we want to have at least 20 European Universities established, with joint teaching programmes at Bachelor, Master and Doctorate levels.

Implementing each of these initiatives can be a challenge. We will all need to keep working together to build the European Education Area by 2025, but I am optimistic seeing how determined Member States are.

- In your view, what are the factors that can ensure the success of the future Creative Europe programme?

- EU Leaders have emphasised that culture and education are important in driving job creation, economic growth and social fairness - and they have sent a clear signal that they want more ambition in our cooperation at European level. The future Creative Europe programme for the period 2021 - 2027 builds on this momentum. We want Europe to reap all the benefits that strong cultural and creative sectors can bring.

The new programme will build on the strengths of the current one: we will keep funding cooperation projects, partnerships and networking activities between cultural and creative professionals from various European countries. But we will also introduce novelties, such as a new format for supporting artists and cultural professionals who want to go abroad for a period of time.

To ensure that Creative Europe can effectively support our political priorities, we believe it needs to be reinforced, which is why we have proposed to raise its budget to EUR 1.85 billion over seven years. I count on the European Parliament and Member States to help us make this a reality.

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Tibor Navracsics is the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport for the Commission of President Jean-Claude Juncker (2014 - 2019). Before this mandate, he served as Head of the Prime Minister's Office in Hungary, member of the Hungarian Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Public Administration and Justice and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In the 1990s, Tibor Navracsics started to teach at the University of Economics in Budapest. From 1997 until taking up office as European Commissioner, he taught at the Eotvos Lorand University's Faculty of Law and Political Sciences in Budapest, where he became an associate professor in 2001.

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