Education International
Education International

European unions: education is a public good, not a commodity

published 15 January 2015 updated 6 February 2015

Keeping public services, including education, out of potential trade pacts is priority number one of unions from across Europe as they meet in Vienna to challenge the liberalisation agenda.

For the next two days, more than 100 trade unionists from public sector unions from over 25 European countries are in Vienna, Austria to tackle the potential challenges of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).

The event, spearheaded by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) and the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), Education International’s European region, together with the Austrian Chamber of Labour (AK) and Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB), is taking place from 15-16 January.

Responsibility for providing quality education remains with governments

“Rules around market access can severely restrict the ability of countries that make commitments on education services to limit and regulate the operations of private and for-profit schools and institutions,” Rømer noted.

ETUCE is a strong advocate for free quality public education for all, and strongly believes that education is a human right and a public good, which is the governments’ responsibility, he said. “ETUCE therefore considers current trade negotiations to be posing significant risks to public education and demands the exclusion of education from trade agreements, a position I will reiterate in Vienna.”

Liberalisation of public services in trade agreements, a danger for the European social model

In a joint statement released 14 January, EPSU General Secretary Willem Goudriaan and ETUCE European Director Martin Rømer underlined that “governments should focus on objectives and actions to maintain and improve the access of all people to high quality health, education and other public services, and not on liberalisation processes”.

They went on to say that CETA, TTIP and TiSA must not be allowed to unravel public services where they exist and prevent them from developing where they do not yet exist.

They highlighted that all citizens benefit from solidarity-based public services, underpinned by the principles and values of universal access, affordability, democratic control, continuity and equality. Public services are also key to fostering economic and social development and cohesion, equal opportunities, job creation, as well as the fair distribution of income and wealth.

The EPSU and ETUCE have for many years called for a positive European Union (EU) agenda for public services as part of their demands for social Europe. While the EU Treaty and the binding Charter of fundamental rights provide for the right of access to public services, “the EU is yet to give ’teeth’ to the public service values it supports”, they regretted.

More information on the TTIP is also available on the dedicated ETUCE website page.