This was the question being asked as Belgian education unionists and civil society activists debated the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement’s implications on the public sector, in particular education, recently in Brussels.
The debate took place at a seminar on 15 June in Brussels, Belgium, organised by a Belgian civil society coalition.
One hundred participants attended the seminar on the theme: “EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), Trojan horse of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)?” Amongst other issues, they discussed the exact implications for access to health, education, and mobility; the prevention of new financial ‘mega crises’, protection of privacy and the quality of food in school canteens.
Education and the CETA’s negative list approach
Eugene Ernst, General Secretary of Education International (EI) affiliate CSC-Enseignement, took part in a session on “CETA: what impacts on public services, education, access to health and social protection?”
In his presentation, he reminded participants that the CETA does not talk about ‘education’, but ‘educational services’.
He also stated that, within the CETA, everything is subjected to liberalism, except sectors whose liberalisation is explicitly limited in the ‘negative lists’. The CETA document and a summary table on the negative lists indicate that the European Union has requested a reservation on education services. Education is therefore covered in the CETA’s European list of exceptions, but this exception applies only to ‘national treatment’ and ‘market access’. So, education is not protected in other CETA rules and standards. “This is worrying in the case of Belgium, which has not preserved the sector of education services,” Ernst said.
The ‘exception on governmental authority’ is also not sufficient to protect public education. The education sector cannot take advantage of this general exclusion if a country’s education system is partly provided on a commercial basis, or if private schools are active there. As a result, many public services, including education, social, health services, and network-based services are universal and are not covered by this exemption clause.
It is appropriate to exclude education and other public services in a more effective and expanded way, Ernst said. Fully privately funded educational services should check what is covered by the ‘ratchet clause’, he added, stating that future changes are only allowed if they plan for more liberalisation.
He went on to reiterate that education is a human right and a public good and, above all, it is governments’ responsibility. Noting that access to quality education should never be based on discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, religion or affordability, he said that “free quality education is essential for promoting economic and social development, social cohesion, equal opportunities, job creation and the fair distribution of income and wealth”.
Ernst concluded: “While there is a growing inequality within and among countries, public services such as education are more important than ever.”