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The Education, Youth and Culture Council (EYC Council) comprises ministers responsible for these areas in the 25 EU Member States. The council organises three formal meetings a year, with other informal meetings held as required.
One of the EYC Council’s most important tasks is to promote the European dimension in education. Since education in Europe remains above all a national competence, the council is principally concerned with areas where a European approach can be of added value.
Within this context, the work programme for 2010 for education and training systems is a significant initiative which seeks to increase the contribution of European education systems to the Lisbon Strategy’s main objective of turning Europe into the most competitive and most dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.
By adopting this work programme, the Barcelona European Council (2002) decided that the "open coordination method" would apply definitively to education in Europe. The three basic principles for teaching and training systems in the EU are:
1) improved quality and efficiency;
2) easy universal access;
3) opening up to the world.
In 2003, the European ministers for education quantified these objectives by specifying five reference points for comparison, which primarily involve increasing the number of graduates in the exact sciences and technology, reducing premature school drop-out rates and promoting lifelong learning.
The Union has also launched a series of incentive programmes with the aim of increasing the European added value of European cooperation in education. These programmes focus on student mobility, cooperation between teaching institutions, information exchange, the updating of exchange programmes for pupils, students and teaching staff, and the development of distance learning.
The higher education programme is called Socrates, and the vocational training programme is called Leonardo da Vinci. For the period 2000-2006, the budget allocated to these two teaching initiatives will exceed EUR 3.5 billion. In addition, reference should be made to the Tempus programme, which involves cooperation with third countries (outside the European Economic Area) and focuses on the development of higher education systems, particularly in the new Member States.
The Erasmus Mundus programme, which was adopted in 2003, seeks to reinforce international links in higher education by offering students from all over the world the possibility of participating in the masters programmes of selected European universities, and by encouraging the mobility of European students.
A new action programme is currently being formulated for the period after 2007. This will integrate all the abovementioned initiatives, including a Tempus programme aimed at third countries, in a single global lifelong learning programme.
In 1988, the European Union launched the Youth for Europe programme to support exchanges among young people. Several years later in 1996, the Commission unveiled the European Voluntary Service (EVS) Community action programme. These two initiatives have been included in the youth programme covering the period 2000-2006, which also seeks to establish a dialogue among Member States leading to the development of a genuine policy for young people.
After widespread consultation at both national and European level, the White Paper "A New Impetus for European Youth" was published in 2001. In an enlarged Europe with 75 million young people between the ages of 15 to 25, the White Paper is a reaction against the disinterest of many young people for traditional forms of participation in public life, and calls for their increased involvement. Active citizenship is possible only within an institutional framework capable of meeting the needs of young people and responding to their expectations by providing them with the means to express their ideas and become more involved.
In order to help Member States and regions to better implement actions in favour of European youth, the White Paper suggests a new framework for European cooperation involving two major aspects:
a) application of the open coordination method in the more specific area of youth and
b) improved consideration of the youth dimension in formulating other policies.
After including the Declaration on Sport (29) and its social importance in the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997, the European Union began to play a more active role in this area. The EU accordingly increased its support for projects favouring the integration of young people through sports activities and combating doping in sport, and launched an information and awareness-raising campaign in educational institutions stressing the ethical values of sport. Furthermore, 2004 was declared the "European year of education through sport 2004". The Union wishes to promote the educational role of sport and develop its European dimension.
In 1992, the Maastricht Treaty called for the Union to contribute towards culture development in the Member States while respecting their national and regional diversity and, at the same time, bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore. The treaty lists the incentive measures, but excludes any harmonisation. In its measures under other provisions of the same treaty, moreover, the EU is required to take account of cultural aspects, particularly in order to respect and promote diversity. In the audiovisual sector in particular, the protocol on the system of public broadcasting in Member States, appended to the Treaty establishing the European Community, is very important.
Against this background, the Education, Youth and Culture Council is particularly concerned with the natural tension between cultural interests and the need to achieve and ensure the operation of a single internal market. The cultural sector, particularly the audiovisual (films and TV), can be said to belong in part to the market sector. With regard to the commercial sector, Community law and policies have a direct impact on national policies, which explains why the search for equilibrium between cultural and economic interests is the common thread that runs through all the Council’s work.
The exclusion of any harmonisation in the culture sector explains why there is so little legislation in this area. European law (Council and European Parliament) is based on the functioning of the internal market. The Television without Frontiers directive outlines the framework of the free movement of television broadcasting within the EU.
European legislation on cultural assets then establishes how the Member States can effectively protect their own cultural heritage.
Besides legislative measures, the council has established incentive programmes in its capacity as co-legislator:
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