political revue


Year XXXVI, 1994, Number 2 - Page 126



The economic crisis afflicting Europe, which is provoking enormous social problems because of rising unemployment, combined with a wave of Euro-pessimism as to the chances of achieving political union in the wake of the difficult ratification of the Maastricht treaty, is creating a disturbance of such proportions to make catastrophic arguments, such as that of those who forecast the advent of a “new Middle Ages” [1] for the old continent, seem credible.
Among the many consequences of this climate, which makes it difficult to conceive of future progress for Europe’s economy and society, the great confusion provoked in the field of education should be highlighted. This confusion is justified, given the enormous contradictions between the demands that are currently made on educators and the resources they are provided with. On the one hand, they have the responsibility to provide young people (tomorrow’s protagonists in political economic and social life) with the cultural, professional, and moral resources adequate for best managing their individual and collective capacities. On the other hand, the world of education and training is asked to change without being offered the necessary institutional and material support and, above all, without making it clear what direction this change must take.
In other words, this debate does not take into account that if the aim is to think seriously about the future of education, it is necessary to tailor ourselves to an economic and social scenario that is different from the current one and in step with the great changes underway in the world.
This is not an impossible enterprise, even if it does require the courage to reason in new ways, recuperating a historical perspective that is currently being lost. This perspective can be found in Delors’ white paper.[2] This represents, in its underlying design, an attempt to think about what is necessary to do today in order to be able comprehensively to achieve a new form of society in the future.
The plan is by now a reality: even though it is not yet backed up by the clear political will of the European political parties and governments, it has been adopted by the December 1993 European Council in Brussels. It represents, objectively, one of the alternatives (if not the only clear alternative) which must be taken into consideration when thinking about the future of the young generations.
The nature of the Delors plan.
The federalists have defined the Delors plan a real and effective European government programme. What justifies this judgement is primarily the particular perspective the plan embarks from in dealing with the issues of employment and economic growth in Europe. The perspective is wide-ranging, both temporally and thematically, and in the even more significant terms of the political and idealistic choices that influence it.
From the first viewpoint, the explicit nature of the plan is that of seeking to look far into the future, projecting itself into the economic and social situation that will emerge in the 21st century. In this sense, as will be seen below, the plan seeks to elaborate a global framework for the changes presently underway as a consequence of what can be summed up as “the advent of the post-industrial mode of production”(resorting to an expression that, in this context, is used to indicate the economic and social order in the wake of the scientific and technological revolution, or as some call it, the second industrial revolution).
As regards the second characteristic, it should be said that, while not made explicit, the choice that leaps from the page when reading the white paper concerns two basic issues: a) the institutional future of Europe, to the extent that certain actions that are comprehensively realisable only by a democratic government of the Union are proposed; b) the values that will have to guide the development of European society. In this regard, the white paper goes decisively against the current with respect to an exaggerated free market and technocratic orientation that, together with nationalism, seem currently to be re-emerging in many European countries. In fact, one of the basic presuppositions of the plan’s choices of political economy is that a healthy and competitive economy necessarily includes the safeguarding of undeniable values such as solidarity (domestic and international), the right of every person to work and, in general terms, to a good quality of life, as well as protection for the environment.
When Delors talks of a “new development model”, then, he goes well beyond the explicit objective of formulating a political economy strategy that would guarantee “growth, competitiveness and employment” in Europe. This can be deduced, for example, by the fact that alongside plans of action that would allow the exploitation of all the opportunities offered by the scientific and technological revolution, there is a constant concern in the plan to focus on the necessary correctives to ensure that the process of changing the economy and society occur in a controlled fashion and with social solidarity.
Within this orientation, the white paper dedicates particular attention to the proposal of new educational and training strategies, conceived of as necessarily the road to go down nowadays. This is for two reasons: to guarantee the economy the “human capital” it will need in the technological age, and to offer European citizens all the educational, training and cultural resources[3] that are their right for their development as human beings, as well as for their economic well-being.
The departure point: the nature of the economic crisis and unemployment in Europe.
The European economy is nowadays incapable of coping with international competition for reasons that are, at the same time, cyclical, structural and technological. In this situation, unemployment (which has become the no. 1 problem for European states) is progressively increasing.
Since the phenomenon is not only the result of cyclical factors, it is clear that to reverse the trend it is not enough to resort to cosmetic measures. Cyclical unemployment, explains the white paper, has superimposed itself in recent years on unemployment of a structural nature (aggravating its proportions) and on the sacking of a considerable number of workers from firms that have adopted automatised production processes (so-called technological unemployment).
Structural unemployment is caused by the fact that Europe is currently paying, through a loss of competitiveness and hence a constant reduction in growth rates, for its persistence with a development model that has by now been overtaken by the advent of the scientific and technological revolution.
The solution of the problem can not however be proposed only in terms of modernising machinery. In fact the issue is much more complex, as is demonstrated by the debate that developed from the 1950s on,[4] about the social consequences of automation. If the introduction of highly automatised processes, made possible by new technologies, is not enacted within a framework of a global strategy of investments in new sectors of activity and the re-training of the non-skilled workforce, there exists the risk of increasing unemployment rather than decreasing it. This is what is happening in Europe, where technological unemployment is the result of the fact that the introduction of technological advances in certain fields of production has not been accompanied by action designed to abolish the gap “between the speed of technical progress, which is concerned primarily with how to produce (manufacturing processes and work organization) and which therefore often destroys jobs, and our capacity to think up new individual or collective needs which would provide new job opportunities.”[5]
The basic issue is that the development model generated by the industrial revolution no longer functions. All the same, this understanding, coupled with the will of economic operators to adapt to the change is not sufficient, of itself, to resolve the problem. Political and institutional points of reference that have the power to “give a new direction” to development, based on a clear analysis of the nature this development must take, are required.
The white paper aims to respond to this need. Let us see how.
The context: economy and society on the threshold of the 21st century.
The industrial revolution, whose effects spread far and wide during the course of the 19th century, changed people’s patterns of working and living. The central elements of this change were the transformation of craftsmen into workers, and of subjects into citizens. Not only factories were created, but also states, cities, communications, consumption, schools, services, political groupings, and cultural and artistic trends in contemporary history.
The second industrial revolution, which has already begun and which will determine the history of the 21st century, is destined to produce changes that are equally radical in material, institutional and cultural forms of life in society.
Three key elements of this revolution can be identified, which are in practice related aspects of a single process.
The first is the liberation of an enormous quantity of energy and time for people, thanks to the introduction of machines capable of rescuing them from unskilled tasks: workers will be replaced by technicians and scientists.
The issue of free or freed time, of a different relationship between work and spare time (which includes the issue of a generalised reduction of the working week[6]) is central to this perspective. Delors is aware of this, even though he does not deal with it explicitly. In the white paper, probably for tactical reasons, he prefers to leave it to readers to work out for themselves from certain choices whose significance is nevertheless precise (such as that of focusing on “continuing training” which requires interruptions, even long ones, in a working career) or through rapid asides, such as those found in the proposals on “Flexibility and job creation”.
The second element is linked to the fact that science and technology represent the prime resource of the economy. This means that the key factors for production, hence work, are not material: they become research and management of information. Human capital is the core element of economic growth. New jobs require creativity, flexibility, and continuing training.
The prime importance of creating and exchanging information, in the field of production, makes even the disappearance of factories, or at least of traditional factories, conceivable. To make but one example, it is sufficient to reflect on the consequences, also in terms of urban development and territorial organisation, that could be provoked if teleworking (a scenario the white paper also considers), carried out in people’s houses via computer, were developed for certain tasks.
The third element consists of the progressive extension of the area of interdependence among people, until it includes the entire world and all spheres of activity. Already today information can be transmitted in real time from one end of the world to the other; the scientific community has world-wide references; the mobility of people among states and continents is a daily fact; the great goods and capital markets are global; the labour market itself will end up by taking on these proportions.
This leads to designing not only a new worker, but (making explicit a component that does not appear, at least not openly, in the white paper) also a new citizen.
The novelty consists primarily of the fact that the entire world (the level which it is by now normal to think of for many aspects of daily life) is becoming a community of destiny, a reference point for one’s own sense of belonging. This is a community in which it is equally important to feel equal to people who live on the other side of the globe and, at the same time, to safeguard one’s own cultural roots, those that anchor us to our immediate environment of life and relationships. Secondly, by increasing both the time free of work as well as personal and cultural resources, citizens can place a considerable part of their energies at the disposal of voluntary activities for the good of society, the most important being participation in political life, above all in the local community.
In this context it becomes clear why nowadays the traditional educational and training systems are in crisis. They were created not only for training the workers required by the old mode of production, but primarily for creating citizens of the nation-state, which is centralised and closed within its frontiers.
The “plurality of membership” which ranges from the local community to the world, brings with it an institutional set-up that is suited to the democratic management of issues that are raised at different levels. The new citizen is cosmopolitan, the new society is multicultural. In order to manage this situation, a new form of statehood is needed, one that can guarantee unity in diversity and democracy at all the levels. It is necessary to move away from the national criterion toward the federal one – in a continental and world perspective.
All the same, it is on this point that the white paper shows its greatest limitation. On the one hand, it delineates a framework that presupposes a new institutional set-up. On the other, it leaves the issue in the background, creating a contradiction between the scenario of the transformation underway in the world, dealt with in the first part, that will inevitably lead to the creation of democratic governmental authorities at the supernational level, and the fact that in the second part the responsibility for implementing the plan is attributed to the current organs of the Community. These organs have for some time now proved their political ineffectiveness, stifled as they are by their fundamentally undemocratic nature: they manage the affairs of Europe by resorting to the instrument of treaties and intergovernmental accords based on the unanimity rule, rather than on the basis of a constitution and democratic dialectic that is placed under the control of citizens.
This ambiguity ends up calling into question the feasibility of the plan itself. This can be clearly seen in relation to the policy on education and training.
Education and training in a 21st century perspective.
The white paper, in line with the scenario that it leaves the reader to work out, attaches central importance to the issue of education and training. The white paper contains both suggestions for short-term policy (ideas for improving the prospects of labour market entry for low-paid workers) and the outlines of a long-term strategy, which links new educational directions to transformations in the economy, society and state referred to in the preceding paragraph.
The trump cards of the change which it is already necessary to start to launch in the educational and training systems are (extrapolating from both the short and long term suggestions) the concepts of permanent education, of flexibility and creativity and of interdependence (horizontal and vertical).
By permanent education (or “lifelong learning and continuing training”, as the white paper defines it) is meant a different way of spacing out over a person’s life the time spent in school (or in a training system, if one prefers) and that spent in the workplace. Today, these two periods are still conceived of as separate, with a very strict sequential criterion: first people learn (usually behind school desks), then this experience is concluded to enter definitively the world of work. Some exceptions to this logic are already beginning to make headway in practice. For certain professions (for example teaching) updating courses are organised, which usually do not decisively interrupt the working period; in some European countries (such as France and Germany) specialisation (of a technical nature) is provided for at the secondary level which also contemplates temporary forays into the world of work (usually apprenticeship periods that are carried out during the summer holidays or toward the end of studies); “back to school” initiatives are being developed at the end of working careers, such as those linked in Italy to courses of the so-called “Università della Terza Età” (University for retired people). The idea of permanent education (or training), nevertheless, brings with it a much more complex and radical change, linking itself to the logic of close interdependence between the world of education and the world of work, between the public sector and the private one, that is not yet to be found in Europe.
On the subject of permanent education, the basic suggestion is that “education and training systems must be reworked in order to take account of the need – which is already growing and is set to grow even more in the future – for the permanent recomposition and redevelopment of knowledge and know-how. The establishment of more flexible and more open systems of training and the development of individuals’ ability to adapt will become increasingly important, both for businesses, so that they can make better use of the technological innovations they develop or acquire, and for individuals, a considerable proportion of whom may well have to change their line of work four or five times during their lives.”[7]
In the passage cited above, the connection between the concept of continuing training and that of flexibility and creativity, which represents the second new characteristic referred to above, is clearly displayed. What has been said so far justifies in an almost intuitive way the affirmation that the transformation of educational and training systems must be oriented toward criteria that place prime importance on flexibility and creativity. It is therefore not necessary to add much more on this subject, nevertheless it should be emphasised that the reference to flexibility and creativity permits the by now decades-old issue that in Western countries opposes two different orientations for the reform of secondary schools to be done away with. On the one hand there are the upholders of reform based on criteria that strictly focus on professional training; on the other, there are those who stress the need to privilege basic training curricula in this reform, deferring the moment of professional training in a strict sense. Looking to the long term, the white paper opts decisively for the latter perspective: basic training should characterise school-life up to the age of 18, a period of specialisation at university or a university-type institution, and for the rest of a working life a series of repeated returns to the world of training, coinciding with temporary breaks from work (continuing training).
Closer contact between the world of school and training on the one hand, and the world of work on the other, a greater interlinking between public and private, a high degree of internal work mobility (the possibility to move repeatedly between different professional activities) are all previously-mentioned elements that contribute to characterising what could be summed up as horizontal interdependence. This interdependence should be encouraged by the creation, in a decentralising perspective, of “employment areas” at the local level.
There nevertheless also exists the criterion of vertical interdependence, in the sense that the birth of a European labour market presupposes the elimination of all the obstacles (cultural and professional, apart from normative) that hinder the geographic mobility of workers. It is in this sense that all the proposals enacted to intensify student, teacher, and apprentice exchanges, to coordinate and harmonise educational initiatives, to encourage so-called “distance learning”, should be interpreted. Interdependence and exchanges are equally crucial in the field of research, where not only a closer relationship between the public authorities, universities/research centres and businesses should be promoted, but also the continuous transfer of information and resources among the different levels and areas.
The need to stimulate and organise all these related areas of activity makes the role of national and supernational authorities an issue.
Responsibilities in the fields of education and training.
The white paper foresees the attribution of specific responsibilities to the various levels of government.
The local organs must manage the employment areas and the interdependence between schools and businesses that should stimulate the best allocation of human resources in the local labour market (meant as the basic unit of a European labour market that is presently in the making). What the plan does not make explicit is that in many European countries this innovation already requires profound institutional change. In many states, the local administrations would be inadequate for this task, which necessitates a change in the distribution of territorial responsibilities, functions, and powers, as well as control over resources.
As regards the member states, by concerted action at the European level, they should, among other things: 1) promote “the development of genuine ‘training policies’ with the involvement of the public authorities, businesses and the social partners”;[8] 2) establish “generalized and versatile systems of ‘training credits’ (‘training vouchers’) which all young people would receive and could spend relatively freely throughout their working lives”;[9] 3) create “On the basis of a partnership between universities, public authorities and businesses, systems of initial and continuing training ... in the areas corresponding to the technological and social skills required for developing functions and occupations (multidisciplinary types of training; training for work in an environment which makes intensive use of information technologies; compound, technical and management skills, etc.)”;[10] 4) pass, at a later date, the “provisions needed to increase the flexibility of the various parts of education systems and the level of decentralization of management of education systems.”[11]
The European authorities can undertake three types of action: a) “to develop still further the European dimension of education”, with initiatives that stimulate interdependence (mobility and exchanges of information and experience) between universities and schools, creating a “European area of – and market in – skills and training”, making European data banks available and so on; b) “In association with the measures taken at Community level in the areas of social and employment policy, and in concert with the Member States, the Community should set in place a political framework for the medium and long-term measures for linking the systems of continuing training and training credits with measures for increasing flexibility and reducing working time”;[12] c) “Generally speaking, the Community should set firmly and clearly the essential requirements and the long-term objectives for measures and policies in this area in order to make it easier to develop a new model for growth, competitiveness and employment in which education and training play a key role and to ensure essential equality of opportunity and the coherent development of the three dimensions of the European system of education and training (education, training and culture).”[13]
The plan foresees also specific training initiatives in the short term to help the low-skilled unemployed. Specifically, there is a suggestion to modify systems of unemployment compensation and to reallocate “part of this funding for training measures” for the unemployed and young people in search of their first job who left school before gaining a diploma. The suggestion to offer these young people a period of apprenticeship in the public utility sectors of other Community countries, to be financed out of the European social fund, is also interesting.
To achieve all this, it is not sufficient to think of action by the Community, that is to say of the summits of the heads of state and government (constrained by the need to defend national powers and particularisms) and of Brussels’ bureaucratic organs. If, as is affirmed at a certain point in the white paper, the launch of this educational and training policy can happen “only within certain limits, and in combination with measures in other areas (industrial and trade policies, research policy etc.)”,[14] then this task requires strong support from citizens and the creation of real instruments of government at the European level. Above all, in fact, the industrial and trade policy suggested in the white paper requires a high degree of monetary stability. Without a single currency, one of the central presuppositions of the plan is missing, hence also the possibility to start to realise the framework within which educational and training reform is conceivable. Second, the creation of a European labour market necessitates a political authority that has the power to control it. And this is, typically, the task of a democratic government.
There is however a more general consideration to bear in mind, concerning the fact that when discussing changes to the educational and training systems, it is not possible to ignore the values that inspire educational action. It is at this point that the above-mentioned contradiction between the first and second part of the white paper appears more serious. In the first part a scenario which implies a clear option in favour of transforming the current Community into a federal state, endowed with democratic governmental organs and which sets up a citizenship based on the principle of the plurality of membership, on cosmopolitarism, rather than on exclusive loyalty to the nation-state is shied away from. In the second part, instead, it is almost taken for granted that the great changes which European society needs can be launched by the Community’s current structures. All the same, even limiting itself to the problem of professional training, it is clear that the changes the Delors plan outlines are not solely comprised of mere technical actions, but raise the issue of an ideological factor that can not be passed over in silence. In effect, the individual states are being asked to renounce the exercise of exclusive control over training citizens, as well as workers. This means calling into question the current Community set-up, based on the recognition of the member states’ national sovereignty. If they really put the suggestions of the Delors plan into practice in the field of education, the European states would in fact have to renounce one of the pillars of their own survival: the creation of the exclusive loyalty of citizens through the homogenisation of language, culture, and values, effected by schools over all the national territory.
It is highly probable that the ambivalence of the plan with regard to the crucial problem of the institutional changes (a democratic government for a federal state structure that designs a form of citizenship based on cosmopolitanism) needed for its actual implementation, is the price Delors had to pay to make the white paper acceptable to the council of the heads of state and government. It would hence be ungenerous to deny Delors and his team the merit of having nevertheless carried out a courageous and far-sighted effort. They have performed their task, delivering to Europeans a plan for the government of European economy and society. The task of creating the government capable of implementing the plan now falls to the Europeans themselves, and primarily the political forces.
The achievement of political union through a constitution and a democratic government is the question that must begin to be seen as being the priority: it should be overcome as soon as possible so as to enable European society successfully to face up to the challenges posed by the transition from the industrial to the post-industrial age.
Marita Rampazi

[1]This argument seems particularly dear to Alain Minc, for example.
[2]European Commission, Growth, Competitiveness, Employment. The Challenges and Ways Forward into the 21st Century. White paper. Office for official publication of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 1994.
[3]This concerns dimensions that, together with the equality of opportunity, are elaborated on particularly in chapter 7 (“Adaptation of education and vocational training systems”) of the plan.
[4]The debate on the social consequences of automation began to develop in the United States toward the end of the 1950s, as can be read in Pollock’s book, Automation. Materialien zur Beurteilung der ökonomischen und sozialen Folgen, Frankfurt a/Main, Europäiche Verlagsanstalt, 1956/1964. This work, in the course of the following decades, became the reference point for the argument of the so-called ‘pessimists’, who came to oppose in this debate the ‘optimists’, whose diagnosis rested initially on the vision put forward by R. Richta in Civilzace na rozcesti, Rozmnozeno proakastniky konference “Clovek a spolecnost ve vedeckotechnicke revoluci, v Marianskych Laznich 1-6 dubna, 1968.
[5]European Commission, Growth, Competitiveness, Employment. The Challenges and Ways Forward into the 21st Century. White paper. Office for official publication of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 1994, p. 11.
[6]For the present state of the issue, around which there developed a debate fed initially by a study promoted by Delors himself at the beginning of the 1980s (Echanges et Projets, La Révolution du temps choisi, Paris, Albin Michel, 1980), cf. the work of A. Gorz, Metamorphose du travail. Quête du sense Critique de la raison économique, Paris, Ed. Galilée, 1988.
[7]European Commission, Growth, Competitiveness, Employment. The Challenges and Ways Forward into the 21st Century. White paper. Office for official publication of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 1994, p. 136.
[8]Ibid, p. 137.
[9]Ibid, p. 137.
[10]Ibid, p. 138.
[11]Ibid, p. 138.
[12]Ibid, p. 138.
[13]Ibid, p. 138.
[14]Ibid, p. 133.



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