28 SES 01, The Fluidity of Europeanization of Education
Historically, education in Europe has always been considered a national competence and therefore the responsibility of national governments (Daun, 2011). Officially, the European Union (EU) has no jurisdiction to determine the education policy and provision of its member states. However, in reality, the EU has emerged as a new ‘policy space’ (Lawn and Grek, 2012) with a significant influence on the organization, administration and management of national education systems (Daun, 2011). Still, whilst a trend of policy convergence was commenced by instruments such as the open method of coordination (OMC) (Alexiadou, Fink-Hafner and Lange, 2010) and the use of knowledge-based measurements, standards, and benchmarks (Grek and Ozga, 2009; Lawn, 2011), there are still distinctions in how nation states and their key educational stakeholders interact with EU regulations, directives and recommendations (Daun, 2011).
This research focuses on one specific aspect of the EU’s policy architecture: the European Semester (ES). This annual process of budget monitoring and fiscal surveillance sits within the EU’s 10-year strategic plan for 2020. The Semester is divided into various stages of monitoring and assessment conducted by the European Commission, including the Annual Growth Survey, a series of country reports, the development of ‘country specific recommendations’ (CSRs) followed by a period of ‘implementation’ at national level (European Commission, 2016).
Although the Semester is principally concerned with economic governance, it has the potential to assert a significant influence on education policy through austerity policies that impact on investment in public education (and, consequently, processes of privatisation) and ‘structural reforms’ focused on the labour market and questions of labour supply. Consequently, this research seeks to understand the European Semester as a process of educational policy enactment through a detailed examination of the ‘semester cycle’ in five EU countries. In this paper, we focus on two questions:
- What is the policy mechanism by which the European Semester influences the education policy of member states of the European Union?
- How and to what extent are social partners in education policy able to influence the Semester process?
Within this study, ‘social partners’ are principally teacher unions although education employers and business representatives are also included.
Hereby, we aim to encourage discussion on the EU as an economic and political project, located in a globalized and globalizing context (Dale and Robertson, 2009), but one which has always been contested, and now finds itself increasingly under challenge (Jessop, 2016).
The study highlights a post-crisis EU with a sharp focus on its core economic objectives: creating the conditions for an integrated single market with a common currency (Holford and Mohorčič Špolar, 2012). The European Semester can be seen as the ‘enforcer’ of this agenda, sanctioning member states that transgress EU rules on public spending and debt management. However, these ‘strong state’ tactics work in very different ways in relation to education policy where the use of so-called ‘soft power’ (Lawn, 2006) is the dominant modus operandi. Here, we found little evidence of a crude top-down policy drive, whilst participation by social partners was often encouraged. The aim of this paper is therefore to explore the various policy actors and networks within the European policy space that is the European Semester. In doing so, we seek to find a theoretical way through some of the tensions that underpin the Semester process. We argue that the European Semester reinforces the neoliberal orientation of the EU as it is currently constituted, but there is a need for nuanced theoretical analysis if we are to understand the complex and uneven ways the Semester shapes education policy in different member states.
Alexiadou N., Fink-Hafner D. and Lange B. (2010) Education Policy Convergence through the Open Method of Coordination: theoretical reflections and implementation in ‘old’ and ‘new’ national contexts in European Educational Research Journal, 9:3, 345-358. DOI: 10.2304/eerj.2010.9.3.345. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2304/eerj.2010.9.3.345 Dale, R. and Robertson, S. (eds) (2009) Globalisation and Europeanisation in Education, Didcot: Symposium Books. Daun H. (2011) Globalization, EU-ification, and the New Mode of Educational Governance in Europe in European Education, 43:1, 9:32. DOI: 10.2753/EUE1056-4934430102. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2753/EUE1056-4934430102 European Commission (2016) Europe 2020. Making it Happen: the European Semester. Available online at: http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/making-it-happen/index_en.htm Grek S. and Ozga J. (2009) Governing education through data: Scotland, England and the European education policy space in British Educational Research Journal, 36:6, 937-952. DOI: 10.1080/01411920903275865. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01411920903275865 Holford, J. and Mohorčič Špolar, V. (2012) ‘Neoliberal and inclusive themes in European lifelong learning policy’, in: S. Riddell, J. Markowitsch, and E. Weedon (eds.) Lifelong learning in Europe: equity and efficiency in the balance. Bristol: Policy Press, pp. 39-61. Jessop, B. ( 2017) The organic crisis of the British state: putting Brexit in its place in Globalizations, 14:1, 133:141. Available at 10.1080/14747731.2016.1228783 Lawn M. (2011) Standardising the European Education Policy Space in European Educational Research Journal, 10:2, 259-272. DOI: 10.2304/eerj.2011.10.2.259. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.2304/eerj.2011.10.2.259 Lawn M. (2006) Soft governance and the learning spaces of Europe in Comparative European Politics, 4, 272-288. Lawn M. and Grek S. (2012) Europeanizing education: Governing a new policy space, Didcot UK: Symposium Books.
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