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Under the Belgian constitution (Art. 127-133) the relevant areas of responsibility of the communities – and these also include intercommunity and international relations – are the exclusive competences of these communities. For them, opening the community to the outside is necessary not only from practical considerations but also in addition a central element of their autonomy defined in the constitution and their identity.
Primarily since the 90s, the government has identified opening the German-speaking Community to the outside as an important policy field and also driven it further forward in the last few years. Quite particularly also under the aspect of a Europe of the Regions, as part of their competences, they are reinforcing their efforts to establish or deepen relations with neighbouring communities and regions and with other European countries, to exchange experiences and – not least thanks to the European support programmes – to conduct joint programmes.
Because of its small size, in the area of human and financial resources the German-speaking Community has inherently only limited possibilities for involvement in international organisations and European programmes and initiatives. However, it is active on many levels and, to better coordinate the various activities, in 2002 the Ministry set up a service for external relations.
There are no statutory provisions that deal especially only with the European dimension in the education and training system of the DG. However, it should be noted here that the foundation decree of 31 August 1998 in which in the Chapter "Task assigned by society to the school governing bodies and the school staff it states Article 10: School shall teach cosmopolitanism and promote the European ideal and multilingualism."
As a constituent part of the federal state of Belgium, the German-speaking Community has considerable autonomy in the area of external relations which even allows it to make international treaties in its areas of responsibility. It maintains numerous international contacts with neighbouring states, partner regions and international organisations, central importance always being attached to education and training.
Mobility and exchange measures are mainly found among pupils and students and to a much lesser extent among teachers.
Mobility of pupils and students
Erasmus+: With its programme Erasmus+ (2014-2020) in which the DG is also involved, the EU wants to improve the skill level and employability of young people and modernise education and youth work. Erasmus+ promotes cross-border partnerships and brings together the predecessor programmes Lifelong Learning (2007-2013) with Comenius, Erasmus, Leonardo Da Vinci and Grundtvig under one umbrella. Pupil mobility likewise includes the mobility of trainees from vocational education. The coordination office for Erasmus+ in the German-speaking Community of Belgium is the Youth Office of the DG. Students can have the opportunity of a study visit to another country; in addition graduates can go abroad for an internship for up to a year after the completion of their degree.
Erasmus Belgica: Since 2004 the programme Erasmus Belgica has offered students the opportunity to complete an internship or a study visit within Belgium. Erasmus Belgica is a partnership project of the Flemish, French and German-speaking Communities.
eTwinning: Alongside the pupil exchange and the school partnerships, via the eTwinning project an international exchange may also be possible: eTwinning pursues the aim of promoting European school partnerships by using modern communication and information technology (ICT). From the academic year 2014-2015 eTwinning partnership projects can also be carried out within Belgium. Also projects between schools from the DG have been possible since 2014.
Prince Philippe Fund: In cooperation with the education ministries of the three communities of Belgium the Prince Philippe Fund organises exchange and cooperation projects between pupils, schools and teaching staff. With the project "Building Sustainable Bridges" the Prince Philippe Fund would like to promote structural cooperation between organisations and/or establishments from different communities of our country and an open attitude towards the other communities. The Prince Philippe Fund wants to promote joint initiatives and exchange between Dutch, French and German-speaking establishments and organisations beyond language boundaries. There may be the following options: exchange of ideas and/or persons, starting a dialogue, increasing mutual understanding, carrying out campaigns, linking objectives.
Bilateral initiatives and programmes
The DG maintains bilateral relations both at national level (with the other communities and regions of the country) and at international level (with states or regions). In the relations with some states the DG joins in with various international cultural agreements which the state of Belgium made in the 50s and which through the state reform have fallen into the area of competence of the communities.
These bilateral relations mostly lead to agreements on future cooperation that, depending on the legal possibility of the partner, take the form of a joint declaration or a cooperation agreement.
In most bilateral declarations or agreements the areas of education and training play a central role.
- 1992: Joint declaration on cooperation with the autonomous Province of Bolzano-Bozen in South Tyrol (Italy); (exchange of experience at the administrations level; exchange of experience in the area of raising children to be multilingual; teacher exchange as part of a Socrates project);
- 2000; 2008: Cooperation agreement with the French Republic; (possibility of conducting joint campaigns as part of the European programmes with the aim of promoting cooperation between schools and training establishments as well as pupil and student exchanges; cooperation on matters of acceptance for university study, professional development in the area of French as a foreign language); exchange between the Autonomous University and IUFM (Institut de la Formation des Maîtres); partner of the Formaprim programme;
- 1994; 1997; 2000; 2002: Cooperation agreement with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (in agreements; including financial compensation for accepting Luxembourg pupils into the special school system in the DG; agreement: award of scholarships and internship visits; exchange of information and experience);
- 2002; 2006; Cooperation agreement with the Republic of Hungary (with particular focus on education: exchange of information and experience; promotion of cooperation in the areas of upbringing, nursery teaching, methodology of bilingual teaching and teaching foreign languages, of German as native language, in vocational training and development and in special education; encouragement of teacher-pupil exchange programmes and partner relations between training facilities);
- 2002: Joint declaration on cooperation with the federal state of Tyrol (Austria); (exchange of information and experience as part of the European networks and promotion programmes in the areas of general education, including nursery schools and universities, training and development of teaching staff, vocational education, careers guidance and occupational research)
- 1993; 1997; 2003: Protocol / joint declaration on neighbourly cooperation with the federal state of Rhineland-Pfalz (Germany); (General exchange of information and experience; use of European programs for reinforcing school partnerships and pupil, teacher and authority exchange; cooperation in the areas of professional development, recognition of school qualifications, vocational education)
- 2004: Joint declaration on neighbourly cooperation with the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia (Germany)
Multilateral initiative and programmes
Through the multilateral relations maintained by the DG, many people who have responsibility in the areas of policy, administration, education and training can attend conferences and congresses where current topics and trends are discussed and debated. Not least in the areas of education and training, which are some of the most important areas of competence of the communities, such contacts at European level are very enriching and to be reflected in their own legislative activity.
Alongside their membership and active participation in international committees such as the "Assembly of European Regions" (AER), the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion, the Greater Region Saar-Lor-Lux where among other things also education and training-relevant topics are discussed and occasionally cross-border projects encouraged, the German-speaking Community maintains also the following multilateral international relations:
- Ongoing contact with the European Minister Councils; including active participation in the events on the occasion of the Belgian presidency in 2001;
- Representation in the Education Committee of the European Commission; Youth Committee;
- Participation in community action programmes (e.g. Eurydice)
- Attendance at minister conferences of the European Council (education; sport; youth) and participation in the Pestalozzi education programme
- OECD: participation in PISA studies; participation in the PEB programme on the developments in the school building programme;
- Participation in the PIRLS study (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study)
- Introduction of the EUROPASS
Other initiatives and programmes
Immersion language exchange project (every year from 2004): this bilateral exchange project has now been in existence for some years and takes 12-year-old pupils from the French Community who would like to "experience" the German language, into the DG and pupils from the DG who would like to "experience" the French language into the French Community. These language immersion programmes consist of two-week visits and take place at the end of the school holidays in one school and one residential school; there the young people receive educational support from 9:00 to 16:30.
The Youth Office supports mobility of young people and experts in the socio-cultural field and it promotes national and international cooperation in the youth sector. Consequently the Youth Office serves as the national agency for the Erasmus+ programme and as the agency for the national programme Bel’J.
Both youth information points are sending and hosting organizations for the European voluntary service (EVS).
There are no specific quality assurance measures on cross-border learning mobility in the German-speaking Community, although most of the programmes (Erasmus+, Bel-J,...) are being regularly monitored and evaluated.