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European initiatives taken to develop the European Education and Training area

Although it is not as well-known, there is an equivalent to the Bologna process and the EHEA in the field of vocational education and training (VET). Following the initiative of the European Union institutions, EU member states launched the Copenhagen process in 2002. This process aims to facilitate the mobility of workers and VET learners within the EU, thus contributing to the development of a European Education and Training Area.


This note summarizes the main achievements of the Copenhagen process, pointing out parallels with the Bologna process, as well as other important initiatives of the European Union to facilitate international mobility in VET.


The Copenhagen process


Since the launch of the process by the Copenhagen Declaration, participating countries have regularly met at conferences to evaluate progress made, propose adjustments, and introduce new initiatives. These assessments and new objectives were communicated through the Communiqués of Maastricht (2004), Helsinki (2006), Bordeaux (2008) and Bruges (2010), the Conclusions of Riga (2015), and the Osnabrück Declaration (2020).


In addition to these documents, which are negotiated and approved by the ministers responsible for VET of each participating countries and by the European Commission, European Council Recommendations and Resolutions describe in more details the specific reforms and tools to be implemented (annex 1 provides a list of the most recent of these texts).


For the 2021-2025 period, the Osnabrück Declaration focuses on the following four main areas:

– Resilience and excellence through quality, inclusive and flexible VET

– Establishing a new lifelong learning culture – relevance of C-VET and digitalisation

– Sustainability – a green link in VET

– European Education and Training Area and international VET.


It is important to note that, although the Bologna process and the EHEA include every European Union member state, they are not EU projects. While the European Commission is involved, mostly through its financial support, it is only one participant, among others. The main actors are the 49 countries engaged in the Bologna process and the Council of Europe.


In contrast, the Copenhagen process was initiated by the institutions of the European Union, and the participating countries are EU member states, EU candidate countries and the European Economic Area countries. However, since education is not one of the EU competences, EU institutions contribute through reform recommendations, or the creation of common tools.


Hence, just like in the case of the Bologna process, the implementation of these recommendations is the sole responsibility of the national governments, which thus remain the central players.



Main results of the Copenhagen process


Because of its near 20 years of existence and very broad objectives aiming to improve the quality of Vocational Education and Training (VET) in Europe and to facilitate mobility, the results of the Copenhagen process are numerous. Below are the most important:

  • The European Qualifications Framework (EQF), a tool created to make the comparison of qualifications and diplomas across different countries easier. Although this framework includes all diplomas and levels, from primary school to PhDs, it is especially useful to vocational education and training, as it provides an extension of the general qualifications framework of the European Higher Education Area.
  • The European Credit system for Vocational Education and Training (ECVET), which requires qualifications to be built from units of learning outcomes to ease their recognition, accumulation, and transfer. Its purpose is thus to be for VET what the ECTS credit system is to higher education.
  • The European Quality Assurance in Vocational Education and Training (EQAVET), which promotes collaboration in developing and improving the quality of the VET systems of participating countries using performance indicators and self-evaluation.
  • The European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships (EFQEA), which establishes 14 criteria for quality apprenticeships that include, among others, the need for a written agreement, a pay and/or compensation, appropriate social protection as well as the need for a substantial part of the apprenticeship to be carried out in the workplace.
  • The Centres of Vocational Excellence (CoVEs), which must fulfill a set of criteria whose purpose is to create world-class reference points in terms of training quality, while promoting their internationalisation through transnational collaboration platforms. The first CoVEs receiving financial support from the European Commission were selected in 2019.

The European Education Area 2025


The European Education Area, which the European Commission plans to create by 2025, corresponds to the general policy of the Commission in the field of education for the first half of this decade. Efforts to further develop the European Education Area are organised along six dimensions:

–  Quality

–  Inuclusion and gender equality

– Green and digital

– Teachers and trainers

– Higher education

– Geopolitical dimension

Hence, the European Education Area is a larger framework supported by the European Commission for the development of quality education, and within which the initiatives of the Copenhagen process can continue to be deployed.





Since the inception of the Copenhagen process in 2002, numerous initiatives within the European Union have already laid the groundwork for a European Education and Training Area, with the objective to improve the quality of VET in the EU and to facilitate the mobility of VET learners and workers.


Even though the long-term goals of the Copenhagen process have still not been reached, and although cooperation and mobility for VET are still not as developed as for higher education, building on these existing initiatives seems like the best approach to further the construction of a European Education and Training Area.



Annexe 1


Below is a list containing the most recent recommendations and decisions published by the European Commission and the European Council on the topic of harmonising the systems and practices of EU member states in the field of vocational education and training:

  • Council Recommendation of 15 March 2018 on a European Framework for Quality and Effective Apprenticeships
  • Council Conclusions on moving towards a vision of a European Education Area (07/2018)
  • Council Recommendation of 26 November 2018 on promoting automatic mutual recognition of higher education and upper secondary education and training qualifications and the outcomes of learning periods abroad
  • Council Recommendation of 22 May 2019 on a comprehensive approach to the teaching and learning of languages
  • Council Resolution on further developing the European Education Area to support future-oriented education and training systems (11/2019)
  • Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of Regions on achieving the European Education Area by 2025 (09/2020)
  • Council Recommendation of 30 October 2020 on a Bridge to Jobs – Reinforcing the Youth Guarantee and replacing the Council Recommendation of 22 April 2013 on establishing a Youth Guarantee
  • Council Recommendation of 24 November 2020 on vocational education and training (VET) for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness, and resilience