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EU spotlight: Civic education and academic freedom

As Europe approaches crucial elections amidst heightened scrutiny on democratic resilience, the need to cultivate active citizens aware of shared values is increasingly critical. During the recent meeting of the Council of the EU, held at the end of November, ministers have endorsed conclusions that highlight the vital role of education and training in strengthening common European values and democratic citizenship. 

The Council considered the outcomes of the Conference on the Future of Europe related to more robust and forward-thinking education and life-long learning in Europe, with a focus on civic education about democratic processes, EU values, and European history.  The Council also emphasised the importance of education for democratic citizenship for Europe’s resilience during crises and rapid changes, fostering key competences, including social, cultural, and emotional dimensions, as well as the ability for critical thinking and reflection. 

Shifting focus to the Erasmus+ programme, the Council aims to reinforce the fourth horizontal priority: participation in democratic life, common values, and civic engagement, along with knowledge of the EU and mobility. The Council commits to reducing bureaucratic barriers and facilitating participation in the programme, especially considering the specific needs of small institutions and those in rural, remote, peripheral, and less developed areas, as well as outermost regions or disadvantaged environments. 

Academic freedom is one of such core values in higher education and research. On 29 November 2023, the European Parliament's Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) organised a high-level event under the title "Academic Freedom - The state of a fundamental value for Europe" to highlight the vital role of academic freedom in fostering scientific advancement, innovation, societal progress, and the sustenance of democratic principles in Europe. The event was moderated by Robert-Jan Smits, President of the Executive Board of Eindhoven University of Technology and opened by Christian Ehler, MEP and STOA Chair, featuring a keynote speech by EU Commissioner Iliana Ivanova.  

The panel discussions, featuring a diverse group of experts, explored various aspects of academic freedom, underscoring its importance in modern democratic societies. The event also included breakout sessions dedicated to enhancing the European Parliament's Academic Freedom Monitor and providing support to researchers facing challenges in their work. These sessions highlighted ongoing efforts and potential strategies to safeguard academic freedom in Europe.