Meeting of the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council: post-pandemic recovery at the centre of the debate.

Politics - December 12, 2022

On 28 and 29 November, a meeting of the Education, Youth, Culture and Sport Council took place in Brussels, which was attended by the ministers responsible for this matter from the 27 EU Member States.

The Council, first and foremost, worked on the subject of Education for the adoption of a recommendation inviting the EU Member States to develop strategies to combat early school leaving and reduce the negative impact that socio-economic conditions have on pupils’ and students’ educational and training achievements. In Europe, the drop-out rate from education and training was 9.7 % in 2021. In some countries, the number of NEETs, i.e. young people between 15 and 34 years of age who are not working, not studying and not attending any educational pathway (from the English expression ‘Not in Employment, Education or Training’), has increased. In Italy, in 2020, there were about 3 million young NEETs, according to the data published in the report ‘Neet Working’, the plan for the emersion and orientation of inactive young people implemented by the Ministry for Youth Policies together with the Ministry of Labour and Social Policies. With 25.1 per cent of ‘Neet’, therefore, Italy ranks fourth in Europe, after Turkey (33.6 per cent), Montenegro (28.6 per cent) and Macedonia (27.6 per cent).
The subject of discussion at the meeting was also well-being in digital education. During the Covid-19 pandemic, due to the restrictions adopted in the Member States, which imposed severe restrictions on mobility and sociability, digital tools became essential to allow school activities to continue. The use of digital tools has therefore increased throughout Europe and continues to grow. Therefore, it is now necessary to work on creating rules that guarantee the well-being of learners and teachers by creating common strategies for digital education.

On the topic of Youth, the Ministers of Education, Youth, Culture and Sport assessed the work done by the Member States during the European Year of Youth, which is coming to an end, and how the impact can be extended beyond 2022. Through the European Year of Youth, the European Union wanted to show concern for those who paid the highest price during the pandemic.
Eurofound’s latest report (2021) ‘Impact of COVID-19 on young people in the EU’ details the condition of the younger generation in the pandemic and post-pandemic era. Eurofound – European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions is an agency of the European Union that works to promote and foster the development of better social, employment and working policies. 12% of young people aged between 18 and 29 who participated in the research stated that they had lost their jobs due to the pandemic. 17% of the unemployed or inactive young people experienced housing insecurity while 43% faced great difficulties in supporting themselves.
Particular attention was given by the EU ministers during the meeting to the need to put young people at the centre of the member states’ policies. In this regard, the Council also approved the conclusions “Promoting the intergenerational dimension in the youth field to strengthen dialogue and social cohesion”.

In the area of culture, the EU ministers discussed the situation in Ukraine. Russia’s war of aggression against Kiev has brought not only death and devastation, but also the destruction of monuments, museums and works of art. For this reason, the ministers considered it necessary to support Ukrainian culture and heritage, as well as to encourage the strengthening of cooperation between cities holding the title of European Capitals of Culture and Ukrainian cities. In addition, the Ministers envisaged specific actions to support Ukraine in the EU Work Plan for Culture 2023-2026.

Already in March 2022, the municipal administration of Mariupol – a city martyred in this war on the borders of the European Union – had denounced through social networks the destruction of the Arkhip Kuindzhi Art Museum, in which the works of the artist and other famous Ukrainian artists were kept. Emblematic are the images of citizens working to defend not only people but also their cultural heritage, demonstrating a deep sense of belonging and love of country. We have seen fortifications built to protect monuments in Kiev, in Lviv, all over Ukraine attacked by the Russian army. Ukrainians not only want to resist, they also want to keep their history alive. Even Unesco has sounded the alarm over the hundreds of cultural and religious sites destroyed or damaged by the fury of war, symbols of a tradition and cultural heritage stretching from the Middle Ages to the Soviet period.
Martin Baxa, Minister of Culture of the Czech Republic, which currently holds the EU Presidency, stated that “we cannot remain indifferent to the destruction and looting of Ukrainian museums and cultural heritage. In the face of Russian aggression, the EU Culture Ministers stand in solidarity with the Ukrainian cultural sector”.

On the subject of sport, the ministers discussed good practices implemented in the member states to stem the damage caused by Covid-19 to the sports sector. Indeed, we must remember that sport was one of the worlds most affected by the pandemic. From the outset, estimates of losses in the world of sport have been strongly negative, so much so that in February 2021 the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling on Member States to include support measures for the sector in their National Recovery and Resilience Plans.  To understand the importance of the issue, one only has to think that before the pandemic, sport accounted for 2.12% of European GDP and 2.72% of total EU employment (with approximately 5.67 million jobs).  The impossibility of contact activities, restrictions on freedom of movement, and social distancing measures have brought a deep crisis to gyms, sports centres, and third sector organisations. Now, the war in Ukraine is also heavily affecting sports facilities, due to the rising cost of energy. For the ministers, the challenge is to turn the crisis into an opportunity. For example, through the dissemination of digital tools that make it possible to practise sport even when it is impossible to go outdoors. The energy crisis, again, could more quickly lead sports facilities to equip themselves with appropriate tools for the use of sustainable resources.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Italian Minister of Sport and Youths, Andrea Abodi, stated that “it is important to strengthen the tools for the participation of young people in political and social life, at local, national and European level. The Italian government will take a multidisciplinary approach, with particular attention to be paid to the relationship between young people and the family and birth rate, the right to housing and access to credit, training and work. Issues of fundamental importance in the daily commitment to improving the quality of life of people, of all generations, and of communities”.

Sport is a fundamental tool for the well-being of European citizens, not only on a physical but also on a psychological level. As the ancient Romans used to say, “mens sana in corpore sano”. In addition, sport helps to overcome barriers built by prejudice, facilitates socialisation, and helps to combat gender stereotypes and forms of violence, including bullying. Sport helps to spread important values such as solidarity, respect for others, loyalty. For this reason, at a time of great socio-economic conflict such as the one we are currently experiencing, it seems fundamental that the European Union invests in virtuous actions to promote sport.