Germany abandons resistance to EU’s 2020 education goals


Germany has committed itself fully to the European Union's 2020 education targets, after the German federal states and the federal government ended their resistance to the EU-wide goals. reports.

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 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 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.


Reducing the share of early school leavers and ensuring that more youngsters have a degree or diploma is one of the five priorities of a draft ten-year economic plan unveiled by the European Commission in March, called 'Europe 2020' (EURACTIV 03/03/10).

The strategy defines five headline targets at EU level, which member states will be asked to translate into national goals reflecting their differing starting points:

  • Raising the employment rate of the population aged 20-64 from the current 69% to 75%.
  • Raising the investment in R&D to 3% of the EU's GDP.
  • Meeting the EU's '20/20/20' objectives on greenhouse gas emission reduction and renewable energies.
  • Reducing the share of early school leavers from the current 15% to under 10% and making sure that at least 40% of youngsters have a degree or diploma.
  • Reducing the number of Europeans living below the poverty line by 25%, lifting 20 million out of poverty from the current 80 million.

In a series of articles, the EURACTIV network will present the state of play in individual EU countries on each of the targets. This series looks at how member states react to education targets.

The EURACTIV network already found that Eastern countries are doubtful about the poverty reduction target and face an uphill battle to attain the climate goals (EURACTIV 06/05/10; EURACTIV 16/07/10), while most member states will adopt R&D targets below the EU-wide goal of 3% of GDP (EURACTIV 04/06/10).

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