The EU, and not the states, should be the one to educate us

, by Radu Dumitrescu

The EU, and not the states, should be the one to educate us
Photograph: Jeremy Jenum // Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Two things separate us from a virtual United States of Europe – the Union’s monopoly of the legitimate use of force and coercion, and its monopoly of the legitimate means to educate individuals.

Max Weber famously described the state as the organisation which successfully lays claim to the legitimate use of force. The lesser-known Ernest Gellner, however, added to that definition that the state is also the only agency which can administer mass education. When it does not educate directly, the state takes over “quality control in this most important of industries, the manufacture of viable and usable human beings”. [1]

Present reality confirms Gellner’s statement. According to Eurostat, “the government’s share of total spending on education in 2014 ranged from just less than 72 % in the United Kingdom and Portugal up to more than 95 % in Romania and Sweden, averaging just over 80 % across 23 of the EU Member States.” [2] Public schooling is and has been the rule for a long time now.

“Distribution of expenditure on education (excluding early childhood educational development) by sector, 2014.” Source: Eurostat

Continuing Gellner’s line of thought, this socialisation outside a small-scale community, this “exo-socialisation”, leads to an unavoidable connection between state and culture, between nationalism and public education. Gellner, a theorist of nationalism, defines his subject of study as a “consequence of a new form of social organisation, based on deeply internalised, education-dependent high cultures, each protected by its own state.”

Education: invisible but ubiquitous

While force, specifically the force of arms, is obviously the sphere of the state, through various police agencies and the army, few people would point to schools and universities as the other side of the branch of state power. And yet, it is education that makes a citizen in a higher degree than being coerced by violence.

Few members of society actually have had a show-down with the state authorities, so that they are reminded of the state’s legitimacy as the only wielder of violence in a given territory. Many more of them are taught the symbols, rules and idioms that make up national identity through public schooling.

Force and education are domains in which the state acts alone, where it has monopoly of action, and it has been so since the centralised kingdoms of the late Middle Ages developed into what we know today as the modern welfare state.

It is here that the EU comes to center stage. The basic idea at the center of the EU is that member states give over some of their sovereignty to the Union. Berlin, Budapest and Paris cannot unilaterally go to war with other states, as they have partly renounced that right to Brussels, meaning to all the other states collectively.

While the case of sovereignty-force is clear, and proposals of a singular EU army are already advanced, the same cannot be said about sovereignty-education. As a result, states fully retain authority over their monopoly of education, which, in turn, produces individuals that are primarily citizens of that state and not of the Union.

Specifically, while Berlin, Budapest and Paris can coerce their citizens only to a certain, EU-imposed limit, they can educate them to be primarily German, Hungarian or French, and not European. This does not need be a conscious effort of the state, but merely a byproduct of the socialisation process.

States would, however, benefit from the EU takeover of education. In my native Romania, the Ministry of Education has been the loser of every budgetary reshuffle ever since 1989. Moreover, every new minister, backed by his or her party, has aimed to be the reformer of Romanian education, resulting in a generation of lab rat students. The EU, by comparison, funds its Erasmus+ program much better than most member states fund their ministries of Education.

Image source: European Commission

An EU-coordinated education infrastructure would see larger funds that are intelligently spent and less likely to be lost to corrupt practices. We would witness universities with a renewed independence, EU-wide research made easier and most importantly, an education that would not foster petty nationalism, but a sense of belonging to the European community. As a result, future generations of voters would be less likely to be taken in by nationalist rhetoric.

At present, the EU is filled with tensions and adversities due to the radical difference between the peoples it contains. Instead of trying to unite a mass of different, previously warring tribes into one, we should first create the tribe members, and then unite them. For these reasons, the Union should be the holder of the only legitimate means to educate. Only then can we have Europeans and the United States of Europe.


[1Gellner, E. (1983) Nations and Nationalism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

[2Educational expenditure statistics by Eurostat available at

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