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12.12.2018 | Von:
Maarten de Groot

The EU budget 2021-2027 & Citizenship Education

State of play in the negotiations

Maarten de GrootMaarten de Groot (© privat)
On 2 May 2018, the European Commission published its proposal for the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for the period 2021-2027. 7 months afterwards, the European Parliament is ready to enter into negotiations, eagerly aiming for an agreement prior to the European elections of May 2019. The Parliament calls upon the Commission to be more ambitious in its budget proposal, including in its funding proposals related to citizenship education. Instead of the proposed 642 million EUR for the Rights and Values programme, it calls for 1.8 billion. When it comes to Erasmus+, it calls for the budget to be tripled to 47 billion EUR, unlike the doubling proposed by the Commission. However, there is little hope for the Parliament’s ambitions if they do not receive the support from the Member States. The latter seem to be less in a rush to enter into interinstitutional negotiations, and various Member States have indicated their wish to reduce the overall EU budget. A progress report of the internal Council negotiations is expected still before the end of 2018. Many civil society actors have been actively following and responding to the Commission’s MFF proposals. The Commission’s proposal for the Rights and Values programme has received mixed reactions: it did most definitely not meet the hopes of those campaigning for a so-called ‘European Values Instrument’, but at least it provides for a continuation of funding for activities currently supported by the Europe for Citizens programme.

The interinstitutional battle over the next EU budget

The MFF negotiations are of critical importance for the future of Europe, as they determine the EU’s financial resources for the next seven years. While the proposal is made by the Commission, and while the Parliament needs to give its consent, it is the Member States that have the biggest say on the budget, as it needs to be unanimously approved by the EU27. While formally speaking it is a matter of the Council of the EU, in which the ministers of the Member States are represented in various Council groupings, during the previous negotiations on the current MFF 2014-2020, the heads of state and government represented within the European Council also interfered considerably. The European Parliament strongly objects to this kind of interference, and it pushes back against the dominant position of the Member States more generally. More concretely, it calls upon Member States to decide on the MFF 2021-2027 by qualified majority, making use of the so-called ‘passerelle clause’. The chances of this actually happening appears to be close to zero though, as Member State governments have little interest in giving up their dominant influence over the negotiations. While the formal power of the Member States cannot be matched by the Commission and the European Parliament, this does not mean that these institutions play no important roles in the process: by having the sole right to make legislative proposals, the Commission determines the starting point for discussion and negotiation. The European Parliament, in turn, benefits from being an arena for open and public debate, thereby being able to shape the political discourse about the MFF negotiations to a certain extent, and to exert public and political pressure on individual Member State governments.

The Commission’s MFF proposals in relation to citizenship education

The Commission’s overall proposal for the next MFF was published on 2 May 2018, setting out the overall size and structure of the budget and the budget lines for individual spending programmes. The Commission proposes a spending ceiling of 1.1% of the EU Gross National Income, which is higher than the current ceiling of 1%, but effectively it is no increase as compared to the actual money spent in the budget period of 2014-2020. Furthermore, the Commission proposes to simplify the overall structure of the budget, aiming to make it a “more coherent, focused and transparent framework.” It proposes a reduction in the number of spending programmes from 58 to 37. In addition to this overall proposal, the Commission published detailed proposals for individual spending programmes at the end of May and early June of this year. On 30 May, it published proposals for spending programmes falling under the heading of ‘Cohesion and values’ – one of the 7 MFF headings – including proposals for a ‘Rights and Values’ programme and the future of the Erasmus+ programme. For the Rights and Values programme, it proposes a budget of 642 million Euros and for Erasmus+ a budget of 30 billion Euros. In addition to these programmes, the Commission made proposals for several other spending programmes – such as Creative Europe, European Solidarity Corps and the European Social Fund Plus – with potential significance for the broader field of citizenship education.

Civil society critique of Rights & Values programme proposal

The Commission’s proposal for a Rights and Values programme has received a lot of civil society attention,[1] which is in part because the proposal follows a strong civil society campaign for a so-called European Values Instrument (EVI). The main purpose of the campaign was to channel EU funding to organisations that are active at local and national level in defending EU values, including democracy and the rule of law, within the EU itself. While the EU has traditionally strongly invested in democracy promotion outside its own territory, the rise of populism, nationalism and authoritarianism and the accompanying phenomenon of ‘shrinking civic space’ has led civil society organisations CSOs to call for serious investment in EU fundamental values within the EU. The civil society mobilization for a European Values Instrument received the backing of the European Parliament, which adopted a resolution on the topic on 19 April 2018. Civil society responses to the Commission’s proposal for a Rights and Values programme have varied to some extent, while there are also many commonalities. The size of the budget proposed by the Commission is considered highly insufficient by all CSOs, as the 642 million Euros is far from the 1.4 to 2 billion Euros called for by CSOs, the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee. Another problem is observed in relation to the accessibility of the funds, as funding is reserved for activities and organisations with ‘European added value’, potentially excluding grassroots organisations active at the local and national level. Another critique is the absence of a certain amount of funds being earmarked for civil society organisations only. The main difference in civil society communication about the Rights and Values programme is the tone, with some organisations denouncing the proposal as completely inadequate and others claiming that it is at least positive that the Commission proposal allows for continued funding of activities and organisations previously supported by the Europe for Citizens and the Rights, Equality and Citizenship programmes, which the Rights and Values programme effectively replaces. Additionally, the Democracy and Human Rights Education in Europe Network (DARE) has specifically called for the establishment of a neutral European Agency for Citizenship Education in its statement about the Rights and Values programme.

Civil society perspectives on the future of Erasmus+

Compared with the Rights and Values programme, and considering the differences in size of the budget lines, it seems that the Commission’s proposal on the future of the Erasmus+ programme has received relatively little attention from civil society. However, as was the case for Rights and Values programme, also the responses to the proposal on future shape of the Erasmus+ programme are part of an ongoing civil society campaign, which was launched under the name of ErasmusX10 by the Erasmus+ Coalition. This civil society coalition called for a multiplication of the Erasmus+ budget by ten, alongside improvements in the accessibility and inclusiveness of the programme. Lifelong learning Platform (LLLP), one of the key leading organisations of this campaign, has responded to the Commission’s proposal for the future of Erasmus+: it welcomed the Commission proposal to double the budget, while emphasizing that a significant further increase will be necessary “to ensure the EU’s most iconic and impactful programme reaches beyond Europe’s elite.” Additionally, LLLP calls for more concrete plans on the integration of a lifelong learning approach “in all stages, sectors and forms of education.” Lastly, LLLP calls for social inclusion to become a “guiding principle across all actions of the programme” and for concrete mechanisms on how to reach learners and supporting staff from disadvantaged groups.

The European Parliament sides with civil society in calling for more ambition

Like civil society organisations, also the European Parliament has called for a more ambitious budget in several respects, while similarly praising the Commission on its overall efforts. On 14 November 2018, the Parliament adopted its interim report on the overall budget proposal, thereby indicating its readiness to start the negotiations. While the Parliament’s Budget Committee was leading the development of this report, 13 other parliamentary committees have fed into the report by means of opinions. This includes an Opinion by the Committee on Culture and Education (CULT), which had made several suggestions for highlighting the importance of citizenship education in the future budget. These suggestions were welcomed and supported by NECE and the bpb, which had already shared its views on the importance of adequate funding for citizenship education as part of the public consultation on EU funds in the area of values and mobility, prior to the finalization of the proposal of the Commission. Unfortunately, the interim report as adopted by the Parliament’s plenary does not make any direct reference to citizenship education. The Parliament’s report does, however, criticize the Commission for not demonstrating a “clear and visible commitment [..] to be a front-runner in implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals”. Additionally, and consistent with its resolution on EVI, the Parliament calls for 1.8 billion Euros for the Rights and Values programme, of which 500 million should be earmarked for CSOs under a Union values strand. This is in line with demands from civil society. When it comes to the future of Erasmus+, it calls for a tripling of the budget to 47 billion Euros, unlike the 30 billion proposed by the Commission. The Parliament’s more specific responses to the Commission’s proposals for individual programmes are still under construction.[2]

No word from the Member States yet

As of yet, the Council has only published a short recap of the state of play in the negotiations among the Member States, which does not contain any direct references to the Rights and Values and Erasmus+ programme proposals. They Austrian Presidency has indicated that they would publish a progress report still in December 2018. While the overall expectation is that the Council will aim for a less ambitious rather than a more ambitious budget than proposed by the Commission, there is also hope for citizenship education. Education is higher on the political agenda than ever before, in particular in the context of the European Pillar on Social Rights adopted in Gothenborg in November 2017 during the Social Summit.


Find a number of responses here: an opinion by the European Civic Forum, an open letter by the Civil Liberties Union supported by more than 80 CSOs (1.10.2018), another joint open letter by Stefan Batory Foundation and many other CSO (10.10.2018).
Find the procedure file related to the Rights and Values programme here and the procedure file related to the future of the Erasmus+ programme here.