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Spoltore Francesco, The Federalist - 1 gennaio 1994
Education and the European federal constitution.


by Francesco Spoltore

The Federalist, 1994, Number 1

National markets and economies are now part of a single global market. School systems must either acknowledge this new reality or be destined to turn into temples for passing on a culture that is an end in itself, and a mediocre vocational training. From this point of view Europe represents the most advanced laboratory for the transformation of education systems. With the coming into force of the Maastricht Treaty, not only have specific legislative powers been assigned to the European Parliament in the area of education, but, with the recognition of the right to European citizenship and to free movement, the preliminaries have been set for the reciprocal recognition of educational qualifications by all the member countries of the European Union. It is from this point of view that such apparently contradictory phenomena should be analysed as the progressive loss of importance in the legal value of national educational qualifications, and the affirmation of the need for greater freedom in teaching and for a b

roader sharing of scholastic powers between different levels of government. The Maastricht Treaty has created in Europe a juridical context unique in the world as regards cooperation between different institutional levels in the field of education. Alongside the powers of the member states of the Union, and within them, of the Länder in Germany, the Local Authorities in Great Britain, the Regions in Italy, the Departements in France etc., for the first time the possibility of the Community "contributing to the development of a quality education" at the European level has been recognised. Limited legislative power has been assigned to the European Parliament, even through a complex procedure, to be shared with the Council and the European Commission in the field of education, training, research, and technological development. Hence the way has been paved for recognition of the principle according to which several levels of government within the Union can have powers in the scholastic field. The Treaty has, in

other words, recognized the validity of the idea behind the article already present in the draft Treaty of Union promoted by Spinelli and adopted by the European Parliament in February 1984, according to which concurrent powers must be exercised in the educational field by the Union and the member states. The member states have thus renounced part of their sovereignty in the scholastic field. However there is not yet a European federal constitutional framework which guarantees citizens against an intervention on the part of the same states to unilaterally modify in their favour the framework of powers in the scholastic field. The fact is that, for the moment, the European States have found themselves forced to include education among those policies on which it is now necessary to share sovereignty, but claim at the same time respect for their responsibility as regards the content of teaching and the organisation of the education system, as specified in the Treaty of Maastricht. However it takes no account o

f the responsibilities which other levels of government, like the regions or the towns, already have, or could assume. This ambiguity has already emerged in the course of the debate on the ratification of the Treaty, when the regional governments of the German Länder rightly expressed their fears of a reduction of the powers which they already have in the scholastic area. The Treaty of Maastricht has thus posed a problem, that of coordinating scholastic policies, without succeeding in solving it. If, as by now seems obvious, the national authorities are destined to see their role in the scholastic field reduced, is it to be hoped that in parallel fashion the Union gradually extends its powers in the field of education? Or should an extension of powers at several levels of government be hoped for? The Union does not at present have any instrument available to decide either way, a constitution not yet having been adopted which defines the fundamental rights of individuals as regards teaching and education and

which establishes the rules for emending democratically, and not through intergovernmental agreements, the obligations of the member states and European institutions towards citizens.11 "Natural rights are those which appertain to man in right of his existence. Of this kind are all the intellectual rights, or rights of the mind... which are not injurious to the natural rights of others." Thus Thomas Paine, already an active supporter of the American Revolution, expressed himself in 1791, in defence of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen approved by the French National Assembly in 1789. As in the time of Paine, so today Europeans are faced with the problem of creating a new common power to conserve their rights. Is it a contradiction to seek to affirm rights through the institution of a new framework of power? According to Paine, the answer is negative, in that "the natural rights which are not retained, are all those in which, though the right is perfect in the individual, the power to

execute them is defective." The development of the process of European unification has put Europeans face to face with the fact of no longer being able to retain their own intellectual rights in a purely local, regional or national context. In this sense the rights of Europeans can now be fully guaranteed only by a federal European constitution. But the conservation of these rights is, as we have seen, also increasingly linked to the type of reform of the school system which will be undertaken. From this point of view, what is new in the Maastricht Treaty with regard to concurrent powers in the scholastic field, can not have all the hoped-for effects unless it is included in the European constitution, while at the same time extending it to all levels of territorial government present in the Union. Only if this happens can the regional and local powers be given their due. In fact it is illusory to think that the reform of schools can consist of a simple reform by the Ministry of Public Education where this a

lready exists (as in France and Italy), or in its introduction where this is not even extant (as in Germany, or indeed at European level). If it is true that the new mode of production and the regional processes of integration impose a greater coordination of scholastic policies, this can be achieved by instituting in the first place mechanisms controllable and transparent to verify the diffusion on the ground of adequate of teaching instruments and the effective raising of education levels. These mechanisms are not comparable to centralised management and control; on the contrary, they could be part of devolved scholastic agencies distributed across the territory. In fact, with the prospect of a diffusion and sharing of scholastic powers to all levels of government, the circulation of information on the quality and the type of education available in the various territorial contexts, which is practically inexistent (because useless) in a system of public education based on national directives and administr

ative hierarchies, becomes the fulcrum for planning scholastic policies. The age of the exclusive management of schooling, only at the national, regional or local level, is definitely over. We now need to create institutions capable of reconciling the need to coordinate scholastic policy with the safeguarding of the independence of the various levels of government. In this sense the battle for educational reform coincides with the battle for institutional reform and, more precisely, with the battle to speed up the overcoming of the national dimension of the state by a federal supranational dimension. To the extent that the world, and primarily Europe, where this transition is now within reach, will be able to set itself on this road, school may really be able to contribute to responding to the challenges of the new mode of production and the globalization of problems.

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