The reason I am here with you is to collect your ideas and take them back to Brussels to use in my everyday work, as the future of the EU is yours!
On 15 June, the University of Economics in Varna hosted a Citizens' Dialogue with Commissioner Tibor Navracsics. The Commissioner was joined on stage by Rumen Radev, President of Bulgaria, and Krasen Kirilov Kralev, Minister of Youth and Sports in Bulgaria. The lively discussion with a roomful of people from all walks of life and all age groups touched upon various angles of education, sports, and culture and their role in cohesive societies and in shaping the future, the involvement of young people in decision making, educational reforms, the added value and future of Erasmus+, Brexit, and brain drain, to name but a few.
The President of Bulgaria kicked off the debate by explaining that “the fact that Commissioner Tibor Navracsics is here in Varna shows that the EU institutions are with us, among us and they are open and willing to hear our voices”. Commissioner Navracsics continued by confirming “the reason I am here with you is to collect your ideas and take them back to Brussels to use in my everyday work, as the future of the EU is yours!”
The first questions of the discussion focused on the quality of education, the relationship between education and literacy, and the most important skills for today’s young generation. Some participants expressed their concerns regarding the discrepancy between the level of education in different types of schools and the impact of low quality education on individuals and society in general, calling for more investment in education in Bulgaria as well as in other parts of Europe. Other participants wanted to know how the EU supports its Member States in reforming their education systems and how it facilitates the exchange of experience and the sharing of good practices. Commissioner Navracsics stressed that high quality education is one of the most important pre-conditions of social cohesion and that he is working towards making it accessible and inclusive for all. On the reform of education systems, he added that the Commission helps Member States identify the key challenges and make their education reforms more skills-oriented. He drew attention to the very important role of teachers in this context. “If we want to be more competitive in the future, we need to invest more in education today” he added.
Several participants asked about the Erasmus+ programme, “the most recognised programme of the EU", as one participant put it. They wanted to know whether there will be changes in the focus of the programme, whether it will receive enough funding, whether Brexit will have any impact on it, and how some existing obstacles, especially regarding the transfer of credits, can be overcome. Commissioner Navracsics agreed that that the most well-known and popular part of Erasmus is students’ mobility. He expressed his hopes that funding for the programme will continue, or may even increase in the future, referring to the positive feedback he got from the Prime Minister of Belgium as well as from the French President. Regarding Brexit, the Commissioner stressed that “We will protect the interest of European citizens. It is the core of the mandate of the European Commission for the Brexit negotiations.”
The discussion then moved on to the possibilities beyond the Erasmus+ offered by the EU to young people to get to know Europe better and to acquire new skills. The Commissioner referred to the European Solidarity Corps, which offers the possibility of volunteering all over Europe and acquiring real life experience of what European identity means.
Further questions touched upon the upcoming European Youth Strategy highlighting the need to focus on inclusive education; employability; a chance for social mobility; the dilemma between a more liberal and a more centralised education system; and the concerns regarding young Bulgarians leaving to work in other Member States.
Commissioner Navracsics stressed the role of regional development and local incentives in tackling brain drain, and added that Erasmus+ can help attract young people to Bulgaria and other Central-Eastern European countries in the future.
Last but not least, a participant wanted to know about the purpose of the future scenarios in the White Paper published by the European Commission. The Commissioner expressed his hopes that, these documents will trigger strong debates and that by the end of the year it will be clearer what future scenario of the EU is supported by the citizens and the EU governments. The snap vote that closed the Dialogue revealed the first word that came to participants' minds when hearing the term “EU” was “peace”.
The event in Varna was part of a series of Citizens' Dialogues that involve the whole European Commission and take place in all EU Member States.