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SOTEU 2021: youth, education and research

On 15 September, European Commission’s (EC) president Ursula von der Leyen gave her annual State of the Union Address (SOTEU) to the European Parliament. This speech is carefully followed every year by policy makers and stakeholders. In the speech, EC’s president traditionally announces major policy initiatives, and this carefully crafted speech is a good indication of what will be the top political priorities in the upcoming year.  

This year’s address focused on three internal policy priorities, framed as responses to ongoing crises in global health, economy, and climate. This text provides a short digest focusing on the topics (and their lack of mention) relevant to our readership – primarily in the field of (higher) education and research, but also with regard to skills and youth. 

Unfortunately, as in her first SOTEU address, education was not mentioned as a policy area which is contributing to EU’s recovery in any of the three pillars of her speech, with science being praised for advances in vaccine production and in combatting climate change. Research was also mentioned in the context of the newly announced European Chips Act (not part of the agricultural portfolio) which aims at boosting EU’s technological sovereignty in the years to come. 

Not only semi-conductors, but also investment in digital skills is expected to be crucial in supporting EU’s economic recovery. With the Digital Education Action Plan (2021 – 2027) already up and running, it was somewhat surprising to hear von der Leyen stressing the need for further political commitment . In her words, “this task needs leaders' attention and a structured dialogue at top-level.” 

Furthermore, to support EU’s economic recovery, a new ALMA programme will be put in place for young people who are not yet in any kind of employment, education or training. This programme will provide mobility schemes for temporary work placements for youth completed in another member state. This is similar to the discontinued Leonardo da Vinci programme, and questions remain of how it will build on the experience of the Erasmus+ programme and how it will relate to already existing VET policies. 

Further activities targeting youth can be expected as a follow-up to von der Leyen’s announcement to make 2022 the Year of European youth, a move welcomed by Members of the European Parliament. Finally, young people will be closely involved to “help lead the debate in the Conference on the Future of Europe”. 

 Read the full speech here.