Education, research and innovation for Europe’s future Germany’s 2020 Presidency of the Council of the European Union

Germany held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union between 1 July - 31 December 2020 and launched several initiatives for excellent education, research and innovation, thus contributing to a resilient, sovereign and sustainable Europe.

“The defining issue of our Council Presidency was the question of how we can work together to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic in Europe and what lessons we can learn from it. For example, digital learning has taken on a whole new level of importance in light of the pandemic. We should make every effort to use this momentum to modernise our education systems. In this context, I believe it was particularly important that we focused our attention on excellent advanced VET in Europe. New European research cooperation has also proved indispensable. Despite the global challenges we are currently facing, we took important steps and worked together with our European partners to put the European Research Area (ERA) on a new footing and to launch promising initiatives in the ERA.”

Anja Karliczek

The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting crisis have changed our lives fundamentally. In addition, we are faced with major societal and economic transformation processes driven by both technological change and the fight against climate change. The crisis has shown us how important a united and strong Europe is for all of us.

With its Council Presidency, Germany set an important course that will enable Europe to emerge from this crisis stronger than before and better equipped to face future crises. The BMBF played a key role in working towards these objectives. Education, research and innovation are in the spotlight now more than ever. They facilitate progress. And they must be able to provide a better, more agile and rapid response to new challenges to stimulate the change, creativity and enthusiasm that will allow citizens to live a safe, future-proof and better life.

Which measures did we take?

German EU Council Presidency 2020
German EU Council Presidency 2020 © BMBF

Milestones for education, research and innovation in the EU

We strengthened VET that supports individual development and lifelong learning. This will help to safeguard jobs and maintain economic competitiveness. The Osnabrück Declaration and the Council Recommendation on vocational education and training served to set the right course for the future. Both documents are aimed at promoting the equivalence of academic and vocational education in particular. Special focus was placed on digital education as part of a cultural change to create the conditions for strengthening digital skills in Europe. The political agreement on the EU programme Erasmus+ and the Council conclusions on digital education provided an important foundation for this. During this process, our actions were constantly guided by our shared foundation of European values and freedom of expression – particularly in educational institutions.

Liberal values also played an essential role in the context of the European Research Area (ERA). By signing the Bonn Declaration in October 2020, the EU member states sent out a strong signal in support of freedom of scientific research in Europe. The Council conclusions on the European Research Area provided new and important impetus for improving and modernising European research and innovation cooperation. The specific objectives and joint initiatives on topics such as green hydrogen and cancer research highlight the added value of the ERA.

During the last days of the Council Presidency, an agreement was reached between the EU institutions on Horizon Europe, the new Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, as well as on the Euratom Research and Training programme and the ITER nuclear fusion reactor. This will allow the programmes to start as scheduled and a large number of research and innovation projects will now be able to receive EU funding over the next seven years.

Close cooperation with Portugal and Slovenia

The Council presidency rotates every six months among the EU’s member states.

When Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU finished at the end of 2020, Portugal took over in the first half of 2021 and will be followed by Slovenia. Together, these three countries make up what is known as a trio presidency. The three countries will reinforce the trio presidency model in the fields of education, research and innovation by following a joint roadmap that extends over 18 months.

Joint initiatives include the citizen science campaign “Plastic Pirates – Go Europe!” which was launched by the trio and encourages the involvement of young people across Europe. School children from Germany, Portugal and Slovenia are all called upon to gather data on plastic waste which is then analysed by scientists from these three countries. This will provide information about the state of our rivers while at the same time contributing to environmental education. It is the first time that there has been an overarching joint trio activity of this kind. The European Commission has confirmed that it will support the Europe-wide rollout of the initiative.

Germany will also work closely with its trio partners on the future of the European Education Area and the European Research Area in 2021.

Summary of events during Germany’s Council Presidency

Minister Anja Karliczek chaired the following meetings of EU education and research ministers in the second half of 2020:

In addition, the following expert conferences were held, thus strengthening the European research and education community. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the events were held as virtual conferences.

Unterzeichnung Bonner Erklärung EFR

Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek signs the “Bonn Declaration on Freedom of Scientific Research during the Ministerial Conference on the European Research Area on 20 October 2020 in Bonn.

© BMBF/Rickel
Informeller Bildungsministerrat

EU education ministers met with European social partners and the European Commission in Osnabrück on 16 – 17 September 2020 to discuss the Osnabrück Declaration for an innovative, powerful and future-proof vocational education and training in Europe.

© BMBF/Hans-Joachim Rickel
Informeller WBF-Rat
Federal Research Minister Karliczek hosting the informal meeting of research ministers on 21 July 2020. © BMBF/Hans-Joachim Rickel
Aktion „Plastic Pirates – Go Europe!
Pupils of the Geschwister-Scholl-Gymnasiums in Nossen, Germany doing a sampling in and along the river Freiberger Mulde as part of the citizen science project „Plastic Pirates – Go Europe! “ © BMBF/Gesine Born

Education and research policy in Europe

Education and research are essential elements of European cooperation which have proven successful over many decades. European exchange not only helps to develop our societies further, improve individual conditions for self-determination and support Europe's economic competitiveness. It also helps to ensure long-standing peace in Europe. Even if borders have had to be closed during the coronavirus crisis, it is imperative that they should not become barriers to us working together to overcome challenges, exchanging ideas and sharing resources in order to tackle the challenges of the future.