• Stephan Raab

Educating for Europe: Perspectives of a European Agency for Civic Education

Photo credit: https://www.amazon.it/Cina-nuova-Simone-Pieranni/dp/8858145151

Looking at the trajectory of the European Union in the period of 2008 to 2022, it seems like looking at a history of crisis. A multitude of challenges such as the monetary crisis, migratory crisis as the rise of right-wing politics draws a gloomy picture for the prospects of the European project. However, do we know where we acquired our particular perspective on the matters?? This contribution will present arguments to emphasize the need for setting up a European Agency for Civic Education as a lesson for the future of the European project.

What is the European Union? A never-ending (hi-)story of change

“DETERMINED to lay the foundations of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe” (European Commission 25.03.1957) and “RESOLVED to continue the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity” (Eur-Lex 26.10.2012).

Both quotes come from the founding treaties of the European Community, established in Rome in 1957 and later the European Union, established in Maastricht in 1992. Both quotes emphasise the open concept of the European Union as a dynamic ever-changing process. Likewise, these words underline that an ever-closer union requires a strong social foundation. However, what do you know about Europe? Where did you acquire your current knowledge about the European Union? How do you learn about the mechanism of European integration?

This contribution will discuss the perspectives of a European Agency for Civic Education. The first section will explain the principles of civic education, using the case of Germany after the war. Then the second section will show various perspectives on the European Union, arguing that a simple Europhile or Eurosceptic dimension does not suffice any longer. After that, the third section will present the empirical results of a survey conducted by the initiative French German-Voices of Youth. This contribution concludes with the idea that European Integration is a process built on lifelong steady learning by its European citizens.

Democratisation and the dimensions of civic education

“Democracy is the kind of societal way of life that does not produce by itself, but that has to be learned” (Negt 2002, S. 174). Probably, Germany had to learn this lesson the very hard way, as any act of education contains a certain dimension of politics. Therefore, education has to be confronted with its own circumstances delimiting its leeway (Mollenhauer 1972, 11f.). Consequently, after the end of the Second World War, especially Western Germany saw itself confronted with what educationist Blankertz considered an “Unpädagogik,” best described as the abrogation of the principles of education. Instead of emancipating people, the goal of the fascist ideology was to deprive people from their capacity to make their own reasoned judgments and decisions (Blankertz 1982, 272f.). After the collapse of this ideology, allied forces in the West, particularly the USA decided to reestablish democracy in Western Germany, what later was supposed to become the Federal Republic of Germany. Here, the allied forces reattached to the old institution of the Weimar Republic which already promoted democratization among the society, setting up an agency for civic education in 1952 (Siegfried Schiele 2004, 257ff.).

According to “München-Manifest,” here the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung considers itself as impartial forum for democratic discourses. The goals are described as promoting democratisation, learning from the past while preparing citizens for the future in a highly complex and uncertain word (Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Baden-Würtemberg 1997). Today, agencies for civic education only exits as Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung in Germany, as Politische Bildung in Austria and Zentrum für Politische Bildung in Luxembourg.

Strangely, besides its tremendous societal task, civic education often faces tremendous challenges. On the one hand, civic education serves as fundamental to ensure the legitimacy of democracy in a democratic society. On the other hand, it has to provide legitimacy for its benefits on society in order to get funding (Görtler 2016, 1f.). Since early days, education as proclaimed by the enlightenment was highly associated with the principles of democratization. Every kind of political system, disregarding its democratic or authoritarian features, has to provide a certain kind of education, instilling certain norms and values to ensure legitimacy among its members (Hügli 2012, S. 156). Here authoritarian systems can rely on force and manipulation to enforce legitimacy, as certain members of the system proclaim themselves as fully educated. In contrast to that, in a democratic system nobody can proclaim such a status, speaking on behalf of the absolute truth. Consequently, democratic systems cannot enforce legitimacy, but have to rely upon the consensus of their members, willing to concede certain powers. Here, every member is both a learner and a teacher, contributing to the evolution of the democratic curriculum (ibid. p. 158ff.). A fixed curriculum does not exist, "[d]emocracy, one has to learn, autocracy is imposed on the person“ (Lewin 1951, S. 65). Nevertheless, democracy requires educated people who are able to cope with the plethora of information, opinions and ideas, asserting well-reasoned judgements and deliberately taking decisions.

The multitude of meanings of the European Idea

Despite historical predecessors considering a unified Europe, especially two founding fathers namely Altiero Spinelli and Jean Monnet, were decisive in the early years. Both approached the concept of an ever-closer union from two diverse ideas. On the one hand, Altiero Spinelli, who spent the war as a political prisoner on the island of Ventotene, pledged for setting up strong European Institutions first. On the other hand, Jean Monnet, preferred an approach of small steps of rapprochement, which eventually will create a sense of European solidarity among the member states (Burgess 2000, 33f.). The first president of the European Parliament Robert Schuman emphasised the concept, stating that: "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity” (Schuman 1950). Consequently, an ever-evolving union was the preferred outcome

Since the heyday of European Integration, the hopes seem to have faded away in favour of scepticism, delusion and even open opposition and resistance toward the European dimension. According to the hypothesis of US-political scientist Roland Ingleheart people can not associate with the European project as it remains far, aloof and too complex for easy explanations. Conversely, if European citizens would understand the process of European Integration, they would perceive the European Institutions in a different light (Ingleheart 1970, S. 47). Building upon this, a survey among Dutch voters at the European elections revealed a diverse array of meanings European citizens associate with the European Union. Pragmatists consider the EU a means to an end, where member states can not solve certain issues on their own. At the centre stand the national states with pragmatists unwilling to concede too much sovereignty to the European level. Differently, federalists argue that the Union is more important than its member states. This group feels that member states are intentionally hampering the progress of European Integration. Moreover, the anti-establishment group accuses the European Union of exploiting the common people. This group considers the EU as a project of the elite, abusing a lack of clarity to exploit the common people. Eventually, the disengaged group does not care about Europe at all, as they consider the decisions taking place in the institutions as ‘too far away’ (van den Hoogen et al. 2022, 8-12).

What all of those different meanings have in common is a ground for discussion about the future prospects of the European, represented in the five options of carrying on, reducing Europe to the single market, creating a Europe of different speeds, focussing European competences on certain core activities or creating a much more federal union (European Commission 2017).

Potentials and perspectives for a European Agency for Civic Education

“If EU member states stop abiding by European values, the EU will face not only a crisis of legitimacy but an existential one. European values are both the basis for European cohesion, and for social cohesion within European societies. Without a common understanding of basic values