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Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe



What is the situation concerning Active Citizenship Education in the European Union? A reflection based on the Grundtvig and Europe for Citizens programmes

by Nina Geis
Language: EN
Document available also in: DE FR


Theoretical: Anchoring of Active Citizenship Education in the programmes of the EU
Active Citizenship Education was created by the EU to counteract deficits in the integration process, above all, the much criticised democratic deficit. It looks to increase the political conscience of citizens and their identification with the EU, and to strengthen social cohesion and European solidarity. With the creation of Union citizenship under the Maastricht Treaty, the Union set itself the objective of improving and intensifying the level of collaboration in political education.
Active Citizenship is supported by the European Union in two political fields: in its education policy and its cultural policy.

  • Within education policy, it is the programme for lifelong learning with Grundtvig, its pillar for adult education. In addition to employability, active citizenship is also a concrete objective.
  • Within the framework of its cultural policy, the EU created the Europe for Citizens programme with the objective of emphasising “common values, its common history and common culture as central elements of its affiliation to a society”, “in order that the citizens support European integration without reservation” (Europe for Citizens, Preamble, Para 1).

Practical: The focus is on employability, social inclusion and European identity
The well-known accusation that Active Citizenship Education is only an objective of the EU on paper, and for whom, above all, it is about the improvement of employability (cf. e.g. Nuissl et al. 2010), was substantiated by a short study as part of a final paper at the Humboldt University of Berlin.
The results highlighted that the specific dimension of Active Citizenship Education of the EU can be found, above all, in two aspects. Firstly, above all in the projects of the Grundtvig programme, there is a close connection with the labour market policy objective of employability. Only a minority of the projects are dedicated in any way to the objective of active citizenship and, as a rule, do so to such a limited extent that they do not get beyond the first stage (according to Johnston 2005: “Lernen für inklusive Staatsbürgerschaft” [“Learning for inclusive citizenship”]). Their focus remains on social inclusion and they do not in any way advance Active Citizenship within its real meaning, as is intended in the programme description.
Such a fixation on social inclusion advances a deficit perspective on adult education to a great extent, which cannot be intended from a pedagogical standpoint. Furthermore, the often-stated criticism of the utilisation of adult education for the development of employability was able to be confirmed.
A second specific criteria of Active Citizenship Education of the EU is the close connection with the creation of a sense of belonging, an identification with the European Union in itself - whether that be with its present and future, or with its history. Even though such reflections also played a role in the history of political education in the individual member states, the national political education programmes in Europe today are far less associated with questions of identification. This fact harbours a danger to the extent that Active Citizenship Education could receive a (too) strongly uncritical, EU-affirming direction. Such a type of political education no longer corresponds to the current level of didactic research, which goes against forms of uncritical mediation, and where the top objective is the empowerment of people to develop their own standpoint.

What are the consequences?
A fundamental contradiction can result between the political education for strengthening European values, and the danger of too strong an imposition of a European identity. This could at least be solved in part, if there were greater consistency in following the now established approach, to think of civic identity and civic rights as separate from each other. While identity could continue to primarily lean on an affiliation to a nation, and nobody would be forced to feel European, an affirmation of the rights and values at European level could occur irrespectively, and a civic integration within this meaning could be achieved. A requirement for this would be, however, that the EU itself also embodies the “European values” that it repeatedly states as being central, and not just theoretical.
The “didactisation” of economic or political problems in the EU is also problematic, that being the tendency to want to utilise adult education as a substitute for policy, which should be viewed as very questionable. An objective of critical, political adult education should therefore be to question the de-politicisation, and to make it part of the agenda of political debate.

Link to the programme guide Europa für Bürgerinnen und Bürger (English: “Europe for citizens”)

Johnston, Rennie (2005): A Framework for Analysing and Developing Adult Learning for Active Citizenship, in: Wildemeersch et al (Hg.): Active Citizenship and Multiple Identities in Europe. A Learning Outlook, Frankfurt/ Main, p. 47–65.

Nuissl, Ekkehard et al. (2010): Europäische Perspektiven der Erwachsenenbildung, Bielefeld.

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  • Christina NORWIG's picture

    Danke für den Beitrag, Frau Bethmann! Das sind interessante Erkenntnisse und Vorschläge. Hier noch eine aktuelle Ergänzung zu Ihren Ergebnissen zur Rolle von aktiver Bürgerschaft im Grundtvig-Programm: Die Europäische Kommission hat in Folge der Pariser Erklärung der EU-Bildungsminister das Thema „Citizenship“ kürzlich zu einer Priorität der Strategie ET 2020 erklärt. Auch im Erasmus+ -Arbeitsplan für 2016 ist eine Schwerpunktverlagerung von Beschäftigungsfähigkeit hin zu aktiver Bürgerschaft sowie der Förderung von Demokratie und interkulturellen Kompetenzen zu erkennen. Man kann gespannt sein, was daraus wird!