What does it mean to be an EU citizen? And how to raise awareness for the European project and improve EU citizenship education? To answer these key questions, the EIB Institute organised on Wednesday 27 June the first symposium on EU citizenship education.

The keynote speaker was Professor Kris Grimonprez (KU Leuven). The other speakers were Iliana Ivanova, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Claude Meisch, Luxembourg’s Minister of Education and Florence Mondin from Eurydice, the European Commission’s network initiative focused on sharing and providing relevant data on education systems and education policies in the EU.

“The role of education in shaping active and engaged European citizens is of the utmost importance” said EIB Vice-President Vigliotti upon opening the event. EU Citizenship education is not about acquiring knowledge; it is about shaping values, fostering critical thinking, and nurturing active citizens. It is the antidote to the scepticism and populism growing throughout Europe”.

The Treaty states (art.9) that “Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship.’ But education and thus school programmes are a national prerogative.

“There is a disturbing contrast between the important impact of the EU as a level of governance, and EU learning at school, so often unimportant, fragmented, or simply absent” said Professor Dr Kris Grimonprez from KU Leuven. “If we want to consolidate the European project for future generations, a liberal democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, we need to adapt citizenship education.”

The ultimate goal of EU Citizenship education is to empower every young person to become an informed EU citizen, fostering awareness, empowerment, and critical thinking. Professor Grimonprez stressed that classroom discussions should encompass all aspects of the European project, preventing a vacuum where simplistic slogans from populist politicians take hold and radicalization becomes possible.

To make the European project more concrete for its citizens and for teachers interested in talking about EU citizenship, Professor Grimonprez shared with the audience that KU Leuven has developed several practical case studies about EU rights and EU values. A video “European citizen, does it matter?” is available in 26 languages.

Commissioner Ivanova echoed the EU Citizenship’s objective of empowerment emphasizing that “It is vital that young people understand their rights, duties and democratic values. Citizenship education will give them just that”. Minister Meisch agreed stating that “One of the greatest dangers is believing our way of life and freedom are guaranteed. We must empower young people to become critical thinkers, aware of their roles and voices at a local, national, and European level.”

“Teaching citizenship education is essential for shaping informed, responsible, and engaged members of society. It fosters empathy, respect for others, and an appreciation of diverse cultures and perspectives.” concluded Florence Mondin. Eurydice is working on a report “Citizenship Education at School in Europe,” which will cover 39 educational systems and provide a comprehensive overview of citizenship education across Europe.