When the 'Europe 2020' strategy was still under discussion, a debate about education targets was removed from the agenda of an EU summit after Germany expressed concern that the proposed EU objective would step on its federal competences (EurActiv 19/03/10).
Why did the federal state education ministers' change their minds and agree on the EU's education targets without exception?
The agreed goals in the 'Europe 2020' strategy – reducing the share of early school leavers to under 10% and making sure that at least 40% of youngsters have a diploma by 2020 – are EU-wide averages. This means that lower results in certain member states can be balanced out by above-average ones in others.
The German Federal Ministry of Education told EurActiv.de that the agreement was bolstered by the fact that the European Council committed itself to the independence of the member states concerning education and training systems. This was essential for federally-structured Germany.
The Council's commitment to the enhancement of vocational and professional training also helped to sway the German federal state ministers.
On 11 May, the EU's education ministers agreed to recommend numerical average targets to the Council, as proposed by the European Commission in the Europe 2020 strategy. At that meeting, Berlin Senator for Education, Science and Research Dr. Jürgen Zöllner represented Germany's federal states. Together with State Secretary for Education and Research Helge Braun, representing the federal government, he finally agreed to the targets.
On 16 June, the European Council committed itself to the education targets – but explicitly stressed that the national education targets are the responsibility of the member states.
The target of increasing the share of young people with a diploma to at least 40% was interpreted by the education ministers as follows: ''This refers to the percentage of individuals who have successfully completed training of ISCED [International Standard Classification of Education] levels five and six. In justified cases, member states can take national qualifications – that are currently classified as ISCED Four degrees – into account when setting their targets for the number of university and similar degrees.''
Asked by EurActiv.de whether there had been an agreement with Austria, which as a federal country was also originally against the education targets, a spokeswoman for the German Education Ministry stated: ''Germany and Austria came to an agreement at an early stage and lobbied for the enhancement of degrees of ISCED Level Four.''
What happens if the education target is not achieved? ''Voting follows the principles of the open method of coordination,'' she replied.
This method does not provide for any sanctioning mechanism by the Commission, although reporting requirements and comparative monitoring by the Commission increase the pressure on the member states to act.