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National education targets and patent issues vex EU decision makers

On 14 February, the EU’s Education Council convened to adopt conclusions on the role of education and training in the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy. In June 2010, member states set key national targets in these areas (See ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, June 2010). Two of these stated goals are the reduction of early school leaving rates to below 10%, and the achievement of a minimum of 40% of adults in the 30- to 34-year-old cohort who have completed tertiary education (or the equivalent). Achievement of the headline targets has been linked to future economic growth of the EU and realisation of other Europe 2020 goals, such as the promotion of research and development and an increase in employment rates.

The meeting proved contentious, however, Androulla Vassiliou (the EU commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth), declared that the agreed-upon headline national targets are not sufficient to fulfil the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy. And the UK delegation – which had supported the targets in the (unanimous) vote on these issues in June 2010 – formally rebutted them. Specifically, the UK claims that the headline targets are not legal, given the strictly national nature of education regulation and oversight within the EU. Alongside the UK, the Netherlands could not settle on its headline national targets during the meeting and asked that the group reconvene on the matter at a later date.

Meanwhile, a years-long debate on the creation of a unitary patent protection system at the EU level moved to a new level. On 10 February, the European Parliament gave its consent to draft legislation aimed at authorising “enhanced cooperation” with regard to the patent issue. Under the Treaty of Lisbon, enhanced cooperation can be used when there is a parliamentary stalemate. With the exception of Italy and Spain, all EU member states have pledged to sign onto a procedure toward the creation of an EU patent. The proposed EU patent will not replace national and European patents. However, the latter patents, which are issued by the European Patent Office—a non-EU body—are subject to towering fees and are mired regulations. Under the proposed EU patent, the total patent cost would be greatly reduced due to translations being limited to English, French or German, much to the chagrin of Italy and Spain, who have refused to sign the proposal. On 9-10 March, the Council of Competitive Ministers will meet to formally adopt the parliamentary decision to grant enhanced cooperation, which is needed to push the EU patent toward realisation.

European Commission

European Parliament