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Education: key to building a citizens' Europe

French MEP Laurence Farreng, member of the Committee on Culture and Education in the European Parliament, talks to us about the construction of Europe through education.


Do you consider that Europe is shaped by education?

The European Union is made up of peoples who decide to unite and work together. So European consciousness is necessarily formed through education. The European Union is currently facing many challenges: it is disliked and, above all, misunderstood. Education about Europe plays, and must play even more so in the future, an essential role in the construction of a citizens' Europe. This education is both formal, through schools, but also informal, in particular through the actions of the Europe Houses and associations working in the field.

Although education remains an area of competence of the Member States, the European Union has a role in supporting and backing up the education system. The Erasmus + programme is the main vehicle for this education for Europe. It is aimed not only at students, but also at secondary school pupils, apprentices and teachers: in my opinion, this is very important, as they are the vectors for transmitting the construction of Europe through education.

Do you consider, as a pro-European MEP, to have a role in transmitting and educating young audiences in their knowledge of the European Union?

Of course, it is part of my mandate to be accountable to citizens for my work as a MEP, but also to make young people aware of what Europe is doing for them. I have had the opportunity to take part in awards of the European Union Ambassador School' label, and it is always very impressive to see the dynamism of the pupils and the commitment of their teachers. Meeting them and sharing my convictions with them is enriching and encouraging for me.

Young people demonstrated their awareness of the EU's role in the elections through their commitment to climate protection. In doing so, they recognised the importance of the European level for action and therefore we, as elected representatives, are accountable to them. And we are acting accordingly by pushing ahead with concrete measures for the New Green Deal. For my part, I will shortly be submitting a report on the integration of climate objectives into the Union's educational and cultural programmes.

What actions do you carry out with school audiences?

I will regularly meet classes in French Region of Nouvelle Aquitaine, in order to answer their questions, present my work and listen to their expectations. I also welcome school groups at the European Parliament, in Brussels, or in Strasbourg. It is always a great moment for them to discover from the inside how European democracy works, and I would like to be able to welcome more of them!

What are the other MEPs' best practices in this area?

Most of my colleagues also meet with school groups, either in their constituencies or in the European Parliament. During the plenary sessions in Strasbourg, it is interesting to see groups of young people from different European Union countries meeting each other.

What vision of the European Union do the school audiences you meet have?

In general, the young people I meet have a fairly positive view of the European Union, which they see through the prism of its flagship programme for mobility and youth, Erasmus +. It is one of the EU's greatest success stories, and probably the most concrete for everyone: everyone has a brother, a sister, a cousin etc. who has benefited from this mobility. This possibility often makes us dream.

They see Europe as a continent of peace. It is the first generation that, since its birth, has been able to move freely in the Schengen area and use the euro. Hence the importance of reminding them of the potential fragility of these achievements!

What knowledge or images and misconceptions can young people in the European institutions have?

Although the young people I meet are generally well aware of the possibilities offered by Erasmus + for students, most of them do not know that this programme is also for apprentices, for high school students, whether they are in general or vocational courses. This is a pity, because some people think it is not for them.

Generally speaking, they are fairly familiar with the history of Europe, its past, but have little knowledge about its present and what Europe does for them as citizens. The European Union and its policies seem to them, unfortunately, to be a long way off.

Is Europe, European history, sufficiently taught in general in Europe and in particular in France according to you?

Unfortunately, it is not taught in a homogeneous way, as the teaching of history in general is, which is optional from a certain grade level in European Union member countries. That is why I am calling for the establishment of a European framework for the teaching of History: it is not a question of teaching exactly the same thing in each European State, which necessarily has its own national historical specificities, but of envisaging a common basis for teaching the great events that have made the History of the continent. I place great hopes in the project initiated by France at the Council of Europe: an observatory of history teaching in Europe, which will be formally launched in November 2020, with the support of 22 countries.

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