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European area of lifelong learning

To facilitate the transition to a knowledge-based society, the Commission is promoting the establishment of strategies and specific activities for lifelong learning, with a view to achieving a European area of lifelong learning. This objective is at the heart of the Lisbon Strategy, in particular the "Education and Training 2010" programme. Member States have undertaken to develop appropriate strategies by 2006.


Communication from the Commission of 21 November 2001 on making a European area of lifelong learning a reality [COM(2001) 678 final – Not published in the Official Journal].


Europe’s future depends on the extent to which its citizens can face economic and social challenges. A European area of lifelong learning will empower citizens to move freely between learning settings, jobs, regions and countries in pursuit of learning. Hence, lifelong learning focuses on learning from pre-school education until after retirement ("from the cradle to the grave") and covers all forms of education (formal, informal or non-formal).

In the context of the strategic objective set out by the Lisbon European Council in March 2000, to enable the European Union (EU) to become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge economy in the world, the guiding principle of the integrated policy cooperation framework "Education and Training 2010" is lifelong learning, in synergy with the relevant elements of youth, employment, social inclusion and research policies. The new integrated guidelines adopted in 2005 in connection with the Lisbon Strategy also include the objective of lifelong learning.

The central role of the learner, the importance of equal opportunities, quality and relevance of learning possibilities must be at the centre of the strategies to make lifelong learning a reality in Europe.

Components of a lifelong learning strategy

Successive European Councils after Feira in 2000 have emphasised the need to implement coherent and comprehensive strategies. The Member States have undertaken to have such strategies in place by 2006.

This communication sets out the building blocks of such strategies, in order to assist Member States and the other actors concerned. The transformation of traditional systems is the first step towards allowing everyone access to lifelong learning. Other building blocks have been identified in the light of the need to:

  • develop partnerships at all levels of public administration (national, regional and local), as well as between suppliers of educational services (schools, universities, etc.) and civil society in the broad sense (businesses, social partners, local associations, etc.);
  • identify the needs of the learner and labour market in the context of the knowledge society (including for example the new information technologies);
  • identify adequate resources by encouraging an increase in public and private investment and new investment models;
  • make learning more accessible, notably by multiplying local learning centres at the workplace and by facilitating learning on the job. Specific efforts are needed for persons who are disadvantaged, including the disabled, minorities and the rural community;
  • create a learning culture to motivate (potential) learners, to increase levels of participation and to demonstrate the need for learning at all ages;
  • put in place evaluation and quality control mechanisms. By the beginning of 2003, the Commission was to launch a prize for firms that invest in lifelong learning, in order to award and draw attention to good practices in this area.

Priorities for action of a lifelong learning strategy

As emphasised in the communication, in order to achieve a European area of lifelong learning, it is essential to:

  • value learning. This means valuing formal diplomas and certificates, as well as non-formal and informal learning, so that all forms of learning can be recognised. This includes improving the transparency and coherence of national learning systems, preparing transnational mechanisms for accumulating qualifications for 2003, defining a common system for presenting qualifications (inspired by the European curriculum vitae) by the end of 2002 and creating diplomas and certificates that pertain to European training on a voluntary basis;
  • strengthen information, guidance and counselling services at European level. In 2002, the Commission was to launch an Internet portal on learning opportunities at European level and a European guidance forum to promote exchanges of information;
  • invest more time in learning. The Commission is inviting the European Investment Bank to support learning, preferably by creating local training centres, requesting the European investment fund to support risk capital in this area, suggesting that Member States make greater use of the European Social Fund, and committing itself to presenting a survey of tax incentives in the Member States;
  • bring learning opportunities closer to learners. This will be possible by developing local knowledge acquisition centres and by encouraging learning on the job;
  • provide everybody with basic skills;
  • support research into innovative pedagogy for teachers, instructors and mediators, while taking account of the growing role of information and communication technologies.

The Commission, European Parliament and other European institutions, Member States, EEA countries (European Economic Area), candidate countries, social partners, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and international organisations are called upon to collaborate with a view to driving forward lifelong learning. To this end, the Commission communication proposes the creation of a database of good practices, information and experience in this area, as well as the establishment of a high level group consisting of representatives of the ministries responsible for lifelong learning, with a view to following up coordination between decision-making levels (Community, national, regional and local).

Implementation will be ensured by programmes, instruments, networks and a limited number of indicators.

A contribution on the subject was presented to the Barcelona Council in March 2002. In 2003, the Commission produced a report on progress in Member States and at Community level in the field of lifelong learning. It was then decided that the achievements to date would be followed up in the two-yearly report on implementation of the "Education and Training 2010" programme.


The Feira European Council in June 2000 asked the Commission and Member States to identify a coherent strategy to enable all Europeans to access lifelong learning. The Memorandum on lifelong learning launched a wide-ranging consultation at European level. This communication is the result of this debate, which in 2000/2001 involved approximately 12 000 persons in Member States, EEA countries, candidate countries, Community institutions, social partners’ organisations and NGOs.


Resolution of the Council and of the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States, meeting within the Council of 21 November 2008 on better integrating lifelong guidance into lifelong learning strategies [Official Journal C 319 of 13.12.2008]. This resolution emphasises the need to strengthen the implementation of an active guidance policy within the framework of national lifelong learning strategies. It sets out four priority areas for lifelong guidance, which aim to enhance:

  • the acquisition of empowering career management skills;
  • access to guidance services, in particular for people from disadvantaged groups;
  • the quality of guidance services;
  • coordination and cooperation among all relevant stakeholders at all possible levels.

With a view to improving the provision of lifelong guidance, exchanges of information on national policies and practices must be organised, along with proper monitoring and evaluation of their implementation. In addition, cooperation must be further encouraged at national, European and international levels. To that end, the Lifelong Learning Programme, the European Structural Funds, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) and the European Training Foundation may be employed.

Recommendation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 on key competences for lifelong learning [Official Journal L 394 of 30.12.2006].

This recommendation puts forward a reference tool identifying the key competences for lifelong learning.

Decision No 1720/2006/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 November 2006 establishing an action programme in the field of lifelong learning [Official Journal L 327 of 24.11.2006].

Council Resolution of 27 June 2002 on lifelong learning [Official Journal C 163 of 9.7.2002].

The Council welcomes the Commission communication of November 2001 on "Making a European area of lifelong learning a reality". It also welcomes the fact that this communication established lifelong learning as one of the guiding principles for education and training.

Last updated: 03.06.2009