Contemporary European History


From Monnet to Delors: Educational Co-operation in the European Union


This article presents an historical analysis of the European Union's educational policy from the inception of the European Community to the establishment of a directorate for education in the European Commission in 1993. It tells the story of a policy that was not anticipated in the original EEC programme but which developed as a result of the Single Market plan and the gradual acknowledgement that educational issues were related to common economic concerns. 1 The story turns on the ideas and efforts of key individuals working within the Commission and in national ministries. These functionaries took the lead in formulating a limited European educational policy based on co-operation, the sharing of information and, much later, the creation of specific action programmes that sought to increase the mobility of students, teachers and skilled professionals across the Community. During the political uncertainty that characterised the Community in the early 1970s, the functionaries identified education – which was understood to include any formal instruction that prepared the student for a qualification in a particular profession, skill or trade – as a potential policy area that could provide the floundering Community with direction at supposedly low cost to member states. From vague discussions about the value of a skilled and mobile workforce that were enshrined in intergovernmental resolutions, the idea of a European educational policy was eventually seized upon by officials within the Commission and institutionalised in trans-European programmes and Commission-sponsored organisations. Assisted by the European Court of Justice, the Commission was able to initiate educational programmes that received the blessing of the member states and later secured a place for education in a new directorate. Although education never because a supranational policy, it raised the Commission's standing and supported claims that the Community was actively creating a ‘people's Europe’.


1 For a recent discussion of education, economic integration and the Single Market plan see Brad K. Blitz, ‘Professional Mobility and the Mutual Recognition of Qualifications in the European Union: Two Institutional Approaches’, Comparative Education Review, 43, 3 (August 1999), 311–31.