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In line with Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), the promotion of European values is one of the primary aims of the EU Erasmus+ programme. Europe needs communities with stronger cohesion and without marginalisation that allow its citizens to play an active role in democratic life. In adult education, this means an obligation to develop value-oriented programmes among other implications. However, adult education is not just about telling adults how they should behave, but also how they can address the various expectations of advocates of certain values. The EVEQ project has taken on this challenge and in doing so has taken the needs of teachers and students into consideration in equal measure. Alongside the coordinating body from Germany (VNB), partners from Austria (uniT), North Macedonia (Eco Logic), Denmark (mhtconsult) and the United Kingdom (Inteval) have also participated in the project.
Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and preservation of human rights including the rights of minorities – it is essential that the member states of the European Union respect these values as outlined in Article 2 TEU. In recent years, however, extensive and sometimes contradictory processes of change have become apparent in various European countries and regions, creating political divisions born from national (and sometimes nationalistic) ideologies. This leads to all those affected fighting for the preservation of their personal set of values. How can this be compatible with European interests?
Is the European Union a community of values?
One sentence that you often hear in political discussions about the European Union is: ‘The EU is a community based on common values’. This is the message that is often delivered when preconceptions about the European Union only existing for economic reasons, it only benefiting large corporations, or it creating pointless regulations need to be corrected. It is true that the Treaty of Rome, which governed the relationships between the European states after the Second World War from 1957, was used to establish economic cooperation, but the primary consequence of this treaty was that it secured peace in western Europe.
Article 6 of the Treaty of Maastricht, which marked the official founding of the European Union in 1992, states: ‘The Union is based on the principles of freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to all Member States’. This means that Europe is a community of values – at least according to its legislation. However, it also comes down to how individuals interpret this.
If Europe is a community of values – what are these values?
What values are we talking about and what do they mean, not only for the cohesion of the European Union, but for its citizens? As things stand with this question, if you were to ask a randomly amalgamated group of people in Europe, you would discover some significant points of contention. For some, the core values of democracy, human rights and freedom are at the top of the list. Others, on the other hand, believe that social cohesion, the preservation of natural resources, religion or security should take precedence.
In a Eurobarometer survey in the spring of 2012, democracy was only cited by 28% of respondents as one of their three most important values*. This makes it clear how important it is to teach these fundamental values, especially during a time when Europe seems to be on shaky ground and even core values are being questioned in many places.
How can European values be taught and discussed in a way that makes them relevant?
Before teaching European values, it is essential to first clarify the terminology used. What are universal values, how do they differentiate themselves from individual moral concepts and conventions? What one person may see as an irrefutable value may in fact just be their own personal belief or the belief of a particular group and cannot be defined as a common value for a community. At the same time, however, the beliefs and opinions of each and every individual must be tolerated and treated with respect. This then brings us back to the core values, demonstrating how there is often tension between them. The way we address these values and how we discuss them with one another is much more important than the question of which values people hold and where. Many students will have had their own personal experience of European values, their potential and limitations, and will bring these experiences into discussions about values.
What does the EVEQ project contribute to discussions about European values?
The aim of the project was to provide teachers and students with the essential foundations for open, fruitful and knowledge-based discussions about European values. To achieve this, we developed a strategy for teaching European values based on the Cultural Intelligence (CQ) model. CQ is defined as a person’s ability to behave perceptively, effectively and intelligently in culturally diverse situations and environments.
The ‘Val-EU – Values of Europe’ guidelines developed as part of this project were based on this strategy. These guidelines are intended to encourage teachers, who work in both adult education and other areas of education, to engage with the teaching of European values in their courses and programmes and to successfully plan and implement appropriate teaching and learning activities. Based on the Cultural Intelligence approach, the guidelines describe four steps for action that can be useful when developing courses and educational opportunities to teach European values: motivation & drive, knowledge & resources, reflection & awareness, and planning & practice. These four steps are explained in more detail in the guidelines and are complemented by many examples of practical implementation that have been tested on different groups of students as part of the project.
The results of the project can be downloaded in various languages free of charge and for unrestricted use from the project website www.val-eu.eu.
About the author:
Tino Boubaris has been working as a project coordinator at the Association of Education Initiatives in Lower Saxony (Verein Niedersächsischer Bildungsinitiativen e.V., VNB, www.vnb.de) for almost 20 years. He has been involved in numerous European projects and networks in the field of adult and vocational education. In addition to this, he advises associations and initiatives on issues relating to organisation and finance, as well as other areas. He volunteers for the Lower Saxony Refugee Council (Flüchtlingsrat Niedersachsen) and is the chairperson of the Education Lab Association (Bildungslabor e.V.), which develops and implements innovative projects at the interface between art/culture/education. Since summer 2017, he has been the German ambassador for the Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe (e-Plattform für Erwachsenenbildung in Europa, EPALE).
*European Commission: Standard Eurobarometer 77, Spring 2012: The Values of Europeans, source: http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm
EVEQ Theater-Buddies.jpg: Theatre Buddies – a campaign by uniT Graz as part of EVEQ (photo © EVEQ)
EVEQ Value Toolbox.jpg: Students from Skopje trying out the values toolbox (photo © EVEQ)