The European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education

Advocacy

Published on December 18th, 2015 | by ECSWE

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TTIP-Update: ECSWE should continue its efforts at the national level  

As reported in earlier issues of our newsletter (see here and here), ECSWE, The European Forum for Freedom in Eduction (effe) and the Lifelong Learning Platform (LLLP) have been actively lobbying the European Parliament for a carve-out of non-profit educational services from the scope of TTIP. This resulted in the European Parliament calling the European Commission

“to ensure with a general clause the right of EU Member States to adopt or maintain any measure with regard to the provision of all educational and cultural services which work on a non-profit basis and/or receive public funding to any degree or state support in any form, and to ensure that privately funded foreign providers meet the same quality and accreditation requirements as domestic providers”.

What remained open is how the European Commission would react to this proposal and if further lobby activities might be necessary. This had now become clear:

27-10-2015 Meeting MungengovaOn 27 October, the Lifelong Learning Platform sent a small delegation to meet with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström’s Advisor, Jolana Mungengová. Georg Jürgens was a member of this delegation and represented both ECSWE and effe. During the meeting, Jolana Mungengová made clear that the European Commission is committed to “exclude education services which receive public funding or State support in any form” from the scope of TTIP, while the decision to exclude other forms of education rests on Member States. The Member States are therefore responsible for deciding what is public and private by means of funding and state support and may additionally declare national reservations on market access for privately funded services. According to the Commission, a general and EU-wide exclusion of non-profit education services is not possible for legal and political reasons.

It therefore depends on the public funding or state support if a service will be treated like a public service. If a Member state wishes to exclude education services which are privately funded, national reservations must be declared in the agreement. A national reservation on privately funded education services as such does not prevent foreign educational services from operating in a country. It simply means that they are subject to the national rules and the other existing international agreements. Consequently, national reservations simply preserve the possibility of national regulation in any given sector.

Thanks to public pressure, the Commission finally published its Services and Investment offer and we may now critically evaluate both the EU-wide and national reservations. Such reservations may concern the following four modes of service supply:

  • 1) the cross-border supply of education services (e.g. offering e-learning services across borders),
  • 2) the consumption of education services abroad,
  • 3) the commercial presence of foreign education services in the country, (e.g. branches of for-profit primary and secondary education services), and
  • 4) the presence of natural persons (e.g. foreign teachers working abroad).

As can be seen on pages 151-153 of the Services and Investment offer, the following EU Member States have so far declared national reservations on market access for privately funded primary and/or secondary educational services: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Romania, Sweden, Slovenia, Slovakia. These reservations differ in both scope and nature.

We may therefore conclude that after celebrating an initial success in the European Parliament, following up on these efforts with the European Commission has confronted us with a rather complex situation that may require individual and tailored lobby efforts at the national level.

The individual reaction should take into account

  • 1) the legal status of the schools in our member countries (public/private/third sector),
  • 2) their funding (public/mixed/private),
  • 3) the question of whether a country has already declared national reservations for privately funded primary and secondary education services and
  • 4) if these reservations are protecting the interests of our schools or not.

Some countries do not offer public funding to independent schools, and despite of the official stance of the European Commission, uncertainty remains as to how fail-safe the EU-wide carve-out of publicly funded education services really is. Missing national reservations might therefore result in the “commercial presence” of foreign for-profit providers, which could eventually become an unwelcome competition for domestic schools. This may be the reason why several countries demanded national reservations in this field.

We should also be aware of the implications in the field of assessment: On the one hand, the liberalised cross border supply of educational services has potential with regards to offering foreign national qualifications in another country (clearly interesting for us, as the case of the New Zealand Steiner School Certificate). On the other hand, critical NGO’s like the Corporate Europe Observatory see the risk that US-based education companies want to use TTIP for pushing questionable products like high-school admission tests into the European market.

Each country therefore has to carefully evaluate the risks and the potential of the current setting and decide if lobbying for national reservations makes sense in the given political context.

ECSWE will follow up on the meeting with the Commission by addressing detailed written questions to Commissioner Cecilia Malmström. Depending on the answers to these questions, we may decide on further actions at the European level. Furthermore, ECSWE will prepare a detailed briefing, giving recommendations to its members as to how to proceed nationally.

—–

Georg Jürgens
Executive & Administrative Officer
European Council for Steiner Waldorf Education

Photo: Flags in front of the European Commission building in Brussels, by Sébastien Bertrand. License: CC BY 2.0

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