Members' Research Service By / August 30, 2023

Hearings of European Commissioners-designate: Iliana Ivanova – Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth

This Briefing concerns a portfolio change in the European Commission in mid-mandate and takes the same format and approach as those Briefings published in September 2019 to give Members of the European Parliament an overview of major issues of interest in the context of the Hearings of the Commissioners-designate.

© European Union, 2023 – Source EP

Written by Krisztina Binder, Clément Evroux, Tarja Laaninen and Magdalena Pasikowska-Schnass.

Hearing due to be held on Tuesday 5 September 2023 at 09.30 hours.

European Parliament committees responsible: Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) and Education and Culture (CULT).

Since 2013, Iliana Ivanova has served as a Member of the European Court of Auditors. She has been a rapporteur for 27 audit assignments, including on topics such as: regional development and cohesion; the Youth Unemployment Initiative and the Youth Guarantee; and the European digital agenda, innovation, digital skills and education. Prior to that, she was a Member of the European Parliament, elected in 2009. As a member of the European People’s Party (EPP) Group, she sat on the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection and the Committee on Budgetary Control, on the latter of which she served as vice-chair. She also took an active part in the work of the Special Committee on the Financial, Economic and Social Crisis, where she was vice-chair.

Born in 1975, Ivanova studied international economic relations at the University of Economics in Varna (Bulgaria) and holds a Master’s degree in international economic relations from the same institution. She was a coordinator for international financial institutions at the Bulgarian Ministry of Agriculture and Food from 1999 to 2002 and was an investment and business analyst in various financial and banking institutions in the US from 2004 to 2006. She also holds an MBA in Global Management from Thunderbird School of Global Management (Arizona State University, US).


Science, innovation, and youth are closely interlinked. Scientific knowledge is necessary to understand global challenges such as climate change; ensuring young people get a good education and feed into the research and innovation talent pool is key to sustaining the EU’s competitive edge. This contributes to the EU’s ambition to lead the transition to a climate-neutral economy and new digital age. The various components within the ‘Innovation and Youth’ portfolio – namely research, education, culture, youth and sport – have a central role in building a resilient and inclusive society for the future. They are relevant for all EU citizens, be they students, researchers, teachers, parents or professionals, but also medical patients or users of innovative solutions.

Horizon Europe – the EU’s extensive research and innovation programme – supports the EU’s position as a global leader in science, attracting the best ‘brains’ and supporting EU researchers, businesses and innovators. As an interface between scientific research and industrial policy, innovation policy aims to create a conducive framework for bringing ideas to market, ensuring the capacity of EU innovation ecosystems to experiment and deploy their innovative solutions.

Education and training policy has gained momentum at EU level, working towards making the European Education Area (EEA) a reality by 2025, and thus creating a common space for quality education and lifelong learning for all. The COVID-19 pandemic posed unprecedented educational challenges affecting around 100 million learners and teachers across Europe. It highlighted the crucial importance of multilateral cooperation, knowledge-sharing, and inclusive and accessible digital education. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine also had a profound impact, and mobilised the EU to support the education of displaced Ukrainian children and youth.

Europe’s creative and cultural industries employ around 7.4 million people (down 10 % due to the pandemic) and are instrumental in promoting Europe’s cultural diversity around the world. EU countries account for nearly 40 % of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, and eight in 10 EU citizens say that they take pride in Europe’s cultural heritage. The EU is tasked with a variety of missions: protection and promotion of cultural and linguistic diversity, advancement of cultural exchanges, support of artists’ mobility, etc. EU youth strategy aims to foster the participation of young people, while sport improves mental and physical wellbeing and has a substantial economic and social impact. Sport can also be a valuable tool to engage with various social groups.

Recent developments

The EU’s position as a leading knowledge-based economy relies on its ability to generate and transform world-class science into innovation that ultimately allows the creation of new markets, more skilled jobs and a better quality of life. Regulation (EU) 2021/695, establishing Horizon Europe, factors in these complementary objectives. On 1 July 2023, with at least 7 694 grants signed (each corresponding to one project), the EU had already invested €21.36 billion as its net contribution to these projects. Whereas the university sector represents the majority of participants, private for-profit entities represent more than 30 % of participants. The collaborative approach is especially beneficial for small and medium-sized enterprises, and for the 15 Member States indicated in the legal basis as ‘widening countries’ (BG, CY, CZ, EE, EL, HR, HU, LT, LV, MT, PL, PT, RO, SI and SK). In 2022, the number of grants signed that included at least one ‘widening’ legal entity almost doubled.

In 2021, the new Erasmus+ programme, with strengthened priorities in areas such as inclusion and diversity and striving for carbon-neutrality, kicked off with nearly twice the budget of its predecessor programme. The European Universities networks, comprising 430 higher education institutions from 35 European countries, are set to enable students to obtain a degree by combining studies in several countries. The Commission’s 2022 report on progress towards achieving the EEA looked at the ongoing work and accomplishments such as the adoption of Council recommendations on learning for sustainability and micro-credentials and the launch of the Erasmus+ Teacher Academies. The implementation of the higher education package is under way. Similarly, the implementation of the 2020 digital education action plan (DEAP) is ongoing, with key actions already completed. Total EU expenditure on education and training is expected to triple between 2021 and 2027 compared to the previous budget period, and in 2022 the Commission launched the Learning Lab on investing in quality education and training to make investments in education more effective.

The New European Agenda for Culture, adopted in 2018, is the current framework for cooperation on cultural policy at EU level. It strives to bring together the economic and social aspects of culture in a globalised world, taking into consideration the digital and green transitions. The Creative Europe programme continues to support cultural and creative sectors in the 2021-2027 period, through cooperation projects connecting artists across Europe.

2022 was designated the European Year of Youth, with the aim of boosting involvement of young people in Europe’s democratic life, as well as mainstreaming youth policy across all relevant Union policy fields. Funding for sport is available in the form of a specific chapter in Erasmus+, serving to combat doping, match-fixing, violence and discrimination. It also contributes to health-enhancing activities, grassroots sport and equal opportunities.

Priorities and challenges

The budget for 2021 to 2027 increased resources for Horizon Europe (€100 billion), Erasmus (€30 billion) and Creative Europe (€2.44 billion, 50 % increase). This is an indication that research and education policies have not only maintained their relevance, but have gained in importance.

To achieve the European Research Area (ERA), the 2021 Commission communication identified four key objectives: prioritising investments in research and innovation (R&I), improving access to excellence, translating R&I results into the economy, and deepening policies that promote the free circulation of knowledge. Member States and the EU were invited to develop synergies between the ERA and EEA, to harness knowledge as a foundation for democratic, resilient and inclusive societies.

As work towards achieving the EEA continues, including the expected adoption of a Commission proposal on learning mobility, challenges such as inequality in education and widespread teacher shortages need to be addressed. For the green and digital transitions, the education and training sector has to be prepared to provide the knowledge and skills, including digital skills and sustainable education, that citizens need to cope with change. Promoting women’s participation in the digital and STEM fields, and fostering excellence and innovation in higher education, are of particular importance. The EEA mid-term review process is being carried out this year, and a review of the DEAP is envisaged in 2024. For Erasmus+, the Commission has to carry out an interim evaluation of the 2021-2027 programme and a final evaluation of the 2014-2020 programme by the end of 2024.

The European youth strategy will also be evaluated in 2023. There should be a meaningful legacy from the European Year of Youth 2022 (EYY2022), and a proper follow-up of the demands raised during the EYY2022 and the Conference on the Future of Europe – including a possible ‘Youth test’ for future EU legislative proposals. Young people from all walks of life need to be better represented in the structured dialogue with EU decision-makers.

Creators, cultural entrepreneurs and legislators alike face the digital transformation, accelerated by the COVID-19 related lockdowns, which were particularly onerous for cultural sectors. As a result, new business and monetising models emerged, changing already fragile work environments and employment conditions, and blurring national borders. Tackling this new challenge as well as globalisation in general has required increased focus on preserving the richness and diversity of European culture. Linked to this is the need to foster awareness of Europe’s shared cultural heritage, history and values, to help instil a sense of belonging to the EU’s integration project. Defence of multilingualism requires reflection on improving the digital presence of minority and regional languages.

Physical inactivity is also a growing concern, with a 2018 survey showing that 46 % of respondents never exercise or play sport. Efforts to try and reverse this trend need to be sustained.

European Parliament

Treaty basis and European Parliament competence
The EU and Member States have shared competence in the area of research and innovation (Articles 179-188 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, TFEU). Policies in the area of education, vocational training, youth, culture, the audiovisual sector and sport are essentially decided and implemented by the Member States (Articles 165-167 TFEU). The EU’s role is one of support and coordination, with harmonisation of laws and regulations being specifically excluded. Respect for linguistic diversity and the protection of cultural heritage are enshrined in Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU).

Parliament has consistently stressed the importance of adequate funding for education, research, culture, youth and sport. Parliament successfully proposed to nearly double funding for Creative Europe 2021-2027. During the negotiations with the Council on the regulation establishing the Erasmus+ programme for 2021 to 2027, Parliament obtained an additional €1.7 billion (in constant 2018 prices). Parliament also insisted on concrete measures to secure the inclusion of young people with fewer opportunities, and emphasised the importance of fostering active citizenship and European identity through the programme. During a May 2023 exchange of views with the Commission on its 2023 annual work programme, members of Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) expressed concerns about the impact of rising living costs on beneficiaries, and about problems with the programme’s IT environment.

Parliament has emphasised that the EEA should play a crucial role in improving access to quality education, and be a milestone in the recognition of diplomas and qualifications across the EU. Parliament requested the development of a strategy and common framework on citizenship education with a European dimension, and stressed the importance of establishing academic freedom as a core principle of the EEA. Parliament has also stressed the need to close the digital divide, and has highlighted the importance of modernising vocational, education and training systems to provide the skills needed for the green and digital transitions. Parliament has emphasised the need for better recognition of the teaching profession, and deems it imperative that teachers’ professional development be supported.

In an April 2022 resolution, Parliament called on the Council and the Commission to give it a stronger role in managing association agreements signed under Horizon Europe. Regarding Russia’s war on Ukraine, it called on the Commission to develop calls for projects under Horizon Europe to strengthen the Ukrainian scientific sector and boost cooperation between the EU and Ukraine.

Further reading

Binder K, Taking stock of progress towards the European education area, EPRS, European Parliament, January 2023.

Evroux C., The EU’s global approach to research and innovation, EPRS, European Parliament, March 2023. Evroux C., Upcoming interim evaluation of Horizon Europe, EPRS, European Parliament, July 2023.

Read this briefing on ‘Hearings of European Commissioners-designate: Iliana Ivanova – Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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