Gerald Häfner’s address to ECSWE

By Georg Jürgens, December 2014

ECSWE was honoured to welcome former MEP Gerald Häfner at the last Council meeting in Brussels and Court-Saint-Etienne. Häfner, a former Waldorf teacher and founding Member of the German Greens, was invited to speak on decision-making in Brussels. His presentation consisted of a general part covering European Integration and the European law-making process and a more specific input covering Educational Policy and potential fields of activity for ECSWE.

Gerald Häfner left

His initial analysis of European Integration and EU decision-making gave a critical account of the European political sphere. Although the European Parliament gained considerable strength throughout the past few decades, European Integration was mainly driven by governments and economy. The executive branch negotiated agreements, while parliaments had no real say on the content. Even nowadays, the European Parliament depends largely on the European Commission’s right to initiate the legislative process.

And even the regular involvement of the European Parliaments does not necessarily ensure a transparent and democratic procedure. The ordinary legislative procedure is often bypassed by the popular fast-track procedure, which aims at quicker and more efficient decision-making in so-called first-reading agreements. Häfner expressed his deep concern about this trend which comes at the price of negotiations behind closed doors in which only few MEPs are involved.

He raised the question, how to organise policy-making in a polity consisting of 28 countries without serious if unintended side effects. Looking at the enormous output of new EU-policies, he suggests less legislation at the EU level. The EU’s role should more often consist of setting goals while allowing for different and individual ways to reach them nationally. Häfner labels this idea as a “polyphonic Europe”, which “profits from its variety”. The goal should be compatibility of legal systems as opposed to unified legal systems.

In Educational Policy, harmonization was of course never the case. However, the EU still has augmented rights and possibilities to intervene through different instruments. The approach is to evaluate what works and what does not work and to offer a framework allowing learning from each other. Even this very gentle and cautious mode of politics has imminent dangers, as there is the tendency of creating a variety of expert groups without a political mandate. The people involved tend to long for more power and to get more grip on national education through the European sphere.

According to Häfner, the first phase of the policy making process offers the biggest potential for influence and makes it crucial for stakeholders to be present in Brussels and to take part in the stakeholder hearings and consultation organised by the European Commission. To be involved, it is crucial to create and work with a network of partners, which disseminates information and formulates and implements common strategies.

In the European Parliament, the CULT committee is a potential access point, but, apart from European funding schemes, it rarely decides on educational matters. The Committee of Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee offer more arenas for civil society to get involved, although their political influence is even more limited.

However, most of the relevant arenas are not located in the spotlight: The European Commission outsources many activities to agencies and networks such as the EU Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) or the EURIDYCE Network, which provides valuable information and analyses European education systems and policies. Apart from this the Commission also creates thematic working groups, on important topics like Early Childhood Education and Care, Early School Leaving and the Professional Development of Teachers.

The Commission also tries to encourage change and activities by funding relevant projects. EU programmes such as ERASMUS+, and the Europe for Citizens programme provide a variety of funding options. Apart from the Commission, the Parliament is involved in defining and implementing the programmes and is therefore an important access-point for advocacy in this special field.

Looking at the variety of possible arenas, projects and access points the necessity of being present in Brussels became more than obvious. Gerald Häfner considered it as imperative to build strong links, partnerships and friendships with people in the European Institutions, other NGOs and expert groups. This could best be achieved by working with the various well-connected platforms in Brussels such as EUCIS-LLL, Eurochild, and the QoC Working Group in the European Parliament.

If necessary, it may be valuable to call on someone who is capable of negotiating on a higher level while in between it is important to have someone on the ground in the ECSWE office. A good starting point might be to evaluate, who in the European Commission and the Parliament might in any sense be connected to Waldorf schools or Anthroposophy. In the Parliament sometimes one person can change the whole direction of a policy initiative. We should make MEPs aware of and friends with ideas of anthroposophy and Waldorf education.

Häfner also suggested organising a congress or a big event on freedom in education. The aim would be to not only look into freedom from state intervention, but also the freedom from economic interests. Possible partners might be the European Forum for Freedom in Education (effe), the Alliance for Childhood and – in specific areas – the Pedagogical Section of the Goetheanum.

Apart from this, he recommends defining two or three concrete goals to serve as guidelines for the Advocacy work of the next few years.

The adress was held at 21st September 2014, Court-Saint-Étienne

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