On 5 June 2019, the European Commission published the Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs), as part of the Spring Package of the 2019 cycle of the European Semester. Addressed to the governments of each EU Member State, and encompassing the European Commission’s view on the reforms needed in each Member State to respond to the new economic and social challenges, they are to be discussed by the European Council in June 2019, and then formally adopted in July.

Because of its key role in balancing both economic and social priorities, education is again on the spotlight of this year’s CSRs. Reflecting on the European Pillar of Social Rights’ principles, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Romania and the Slovak Republic were all recommended to ensure access to quality education and to raise the levels of basic skills for disadvantaged groups. The promotion of the teaching profession is directly targeted in both Czech Republic and Cyprus, confirming its central role in delivering quality education. Yet, it is regrettable that the alarming levels of current or foreseen teachers’ shortage in more than half of the European countries are barely addressed. ETUCE also warns about the continuous focus on promoting the labour market relevance of education as well as on providing students with contingent company-required skills, as this might risk to overshadow broad education policy objectives, which are vital for a long-term sustainable development of Europe, where prosperity is fully shared by all.

It is, however, on the investment side that this year’s CSRs reflect the new boost of the European economy. Demands to focus investment-related economic policy on research and innovation are addressed to almost all EU countries, even to those who are still struggling with low levels of public education investment. Such demands sit alongside recommendations to prioritise efficiency in the public sector and in public investment (to Belgium, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Portugal) and to encourage increased cooperation between education and business (e.g. in Spain, Lithuania and Poland). With the Eurozone emerging from a decade of austerity, it is regrettable that no more than four countries are recommended to enhance education investment.

Educational quality and inclusion is crucial for a EU-growth that is sustainable and more equally experienced”, said Susan Flocken, ETUCE European Director, “with the current level of social distress and dissatisfaction fuelled by raising inequalities, it is more urgent than ever that public education investment are boosted across Europe and that education as a public good keeps serving all people, rather than falling prey to a few business interests”, she continued, reminding that ETUCE has for many years called for excluding growth-enhancing and socially-oriented investment on education from the calculation of public debt and deficit levels under the rules set by the Growth and Stability Pact.

In the face of constraints to public investment threatening inclusive and vibrant public education systems” concluded Susan Flocken, “more efforts are needed to combat tax avoidance and evasion and to implement fair, adequate and progressive tax systems that redistribute wealth and increase the revenue base for countries”.