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On the Austrian EU Presidency

31 January 2019

by Professor Christa Neuper
Rector of the University of Graz
Member of the Coimbra Group Rectors’ Advisory Group

Looking back at the Austrian EU Presidency in the latter half of 2018, we can see a number of positive initiatives and events, which took the negotiations on the future European programmes for education and research a big step further. Both the next Erasmus programme from 2021-2027 and the content of the Horizon Europe Regulation were in the centre of attention and focus of core discussions.

In the area of education, the topics laid out in the European Commission’s communique on “Strengthening the European Identity through Education and Culture“ from November 2017, some core elements promoting mobility, the European Universities initiative, and the mutual recognition of diplomas on secondary and tertiary level were prioritised. Reaching agreement on the draft Regulation proposal for the follow-up of the Erasmus programme, only a few months after its publication end of May, represents a major outcome of the Austrian Presidency.

Apart from the negotiations on the new programme generation, the Presidency also focused on the mutual recognition of diplomas in upper secondary education and training. This resulted in the „Council Recommendation on the Automatic Mutual Recognition of Diplomas and learning periods abroad“, which was adopted in November 2018.

This is definitely an important step towards the promotion of seamless mobility, the removal of barriers in recognition and the assurance of no-loss of progress in learners’ career paths on a much wider scale.

The most important achievement in the area of research during the Austrian EU Presidency was reaching the agreement of the Council on the content of Horizon Europe. According to the European Commission proposal, € 100 billion shall be available from 2021 to 2027 for promoting excellent research at the frontier of knowledge, for mobility and training of researchers as well as for research infrastructures. A newly established “European Innovation Council” will promote breakthrough innovations that will be able to create new markets, jobs and wealth in Europe; finally, a part of Horizon Europe will be dedicated to supporting structural reforms of Member States in the European Research Area, with a special focus on low R&D performing countries. End of November the Competitiveness Council achieved a so-called “Partial General Approach”, i.e. an agreement on the substance of the Horizon Europe Regulation. In addition, the Presidency pursued negotiations on the Specific Programme of Horizon Europe, leading to a second Presidency compromise text right before Christmas 2018.

A number of beneficial initiatives were also introduced during the Austrian EU Presidency as around 40 RTI related events took place during the second half of 2018. Graz hosted some of the conferences and workshops, such as a workshop on the impact of universities on their regional innovation ecosystems and the conference “Europe’s Transformation: Where People Matter”, focusing on how economic growth can be achieved while simultaneously protecting the climate. This conference made a key contribution to the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate protection.

Other events brought together leading experts from Social Sciences and Humanities to exchange experience on how to increase and demonstrate the impact of research and innovation. With regard to this topic, the University of Graz was pleased to host the meeting of the CG SSH Working Group and the symposium “Curiosity and Commitment: Cultural/Social Sciences and the Transformation of European Universities” last October. At this event, SSH experts from CG universities met with colleagues from other international institutions to address the political transformations within universities and their influence on academic everyday spaces, working strategies and research motives from the 1970s to the present day.

The achievements of the past months will at best widen the scope of cooperation for new initiatives in Europe and for the Coimbra Group universities in particular, in terms of building new European University Alliances and embarking on joint research networks and educational projects.