The Erasmus programme to fight anti-Europeanism

Marco Buemi

For several weeks now we have been witnessing an event that has disrupted our habits and daily lives and that not only jeopardizes our health and our health system, but also seriously exposes the economy, political institutions and cultural systems. From a political point of view, there is no doubt how worried the situation created within the European Union is. The stark contrast to the possible effectiveness of the various financial measures proposed to ensure economic recovery risks fuelling the nationalistic and anti-Europeanist threat across the continent, effectively bringing it back about a century.

Significant and comforting is the position taken by the President of the European Parliament David Sassoli wisely directed towards greater European integration and cohesion, in contrast to the short-sighted and not very constructive attitudes of some European governments. In his speech, David Sassoli urges us to open our eyes to the fact that the Europe that will emerge from this crisis will not be the same. He reflects on the fact that Europe is more than a simple sum of national governments, and to get out of the current dramatic crisis more quickly it is necessary to create a European debt guarantee instrument that allows individual countries to spend what they need.

Leaving aside for a moment geo-political and financial arguments and orienting the discussion on the positive European certainties, what all European citizens (and their rulers) should keep in mind are indeed the important tools that the EU makes available to people, businesses and institutions of its member states. Tools aimed at re-launching social cohesion, trans-national cooperation, sustainable urban development, just to name a few. And certainly not less important are those well-known initiatives, which put concrete resources at the service of young students and professionals to improve their condition.

A concrete example in this regards is the EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, better known as ERASMUS, named after the famous Dutch humanist and theologian Erasmus of Rotterdam, which since 1987 allows European university students to spend a period of study and cultural exchange in a foreign country. Over the course of its evolution, the programme has also gradually extended to the training of professionals, teachers, volunteers, trainees and, in its current name of Erasmus +, today boasts a budget of 14.7 billion euros, providing more than 4 million Europeans the opportunity to study, train, gain experience and volunteer abroad. Erasmus+ is also aimed at actively contributing to the Europe 2020 strategy for growth, employment, social equity and integration, and at achieving the goals of ET2020, the European strategic framework in the field of education and training, and the European youth strategy. The topics covered by the programme range from reducing youth unemployment to adult training; from participation in the democratic life of young Europeans to support for innovation, collaboration and reforms; from reducing early school leaving to collaboration between partner countries to improve mobility abroad.

The intentions of the European institutions for the next programming period (2021-2027) indicate a desire to make the Erasmus programme more effective and more inclusive, and to increase its expenditure from 15 to 30 billion compared with previous programming. The reasons for this strengthened commitment are based on the positive evaluation of the results obtained to date, with specific reference to the positive impact that the projects financed have had on the life of the participants. Generally, those who participate in an Erasmus experience for study abroad have, in fact, at least twice the chances to find a job a year after graduation, compared to those who have never lived such an experience*. Similarly, not many people know that at least one trainee out of three is offered a job by the host organization at the end of the mobility experience abroad *. Statistically, those who have participated in the Erasmus programme, if they are faced with the problem of professional mobility, find work earlier and tend to earn on average 25% more than those who have worked exclusively in their country of origin*. Even an international volunteer experience, like the Erasmus experience, can make the difference in the current job market: 3/4 of recruiters and employers appreciate its presence on the curriculum (*source European Commission-Education and Training Monitor EU analysis, volume 1, 2018). Within the initiatives funded with Erasmus +, the EU4EU programme stands out, an initiative that fully exploits the training potential of mobility in terms of increasing skills and developing them in a global job market.

  EU4EU-European Universities for the EU is an initiative conceived and internationally coordinated by the Italian association EuGen-European Generation, which connects the academic world with the job market, companies, public bodies and the third sector. The network, founded in 2015, is based on a consolidated project structure financed by Erasmus +. The network involved 47 universities from 4 European countries (Italy, France, Spain and Croatia), and a total of 700 host organisations including companies, public bodies and the third sector. The mobility projects have given the opportunity to 1400 students to go abroad and carry out internship in organizations that operate with European funds in the fields of project management, engineering, business consulting, environmental sustainability, training, scientific research, just to name a few. Almost 6 out of 10 students, at the end of the experience, have been employed, with excellent effects on their career path. Today EU4EU is adapting its functions to ensure the completion of activities despite the drastic reduction in mobility due to the on-going pandemic. An initiative therefore, which does not stop even in the presence of a serious crisis situation, but which adapts to changed circumstances by strengthening remote collaboration, represents a concrete response to an unexpected change.

Social innovation, attention to smart working, re-launching remote collaboration through the latest technologies available for a generation that has to get used to resilience are all factors that still allow to meet work supply and demand, adapting to a distance imposed by unexpected, often dramatic, circumstances. This shows how the EU has not stopped, but rather offers new ideas for rebirth. In this context, the importance of effective coordination to support the possibility of participating in Erasmus+ activities even remotely, through IT platforms and digitalization of services, is therefore fundamental for an initiative which, as the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, stated in reference to UE4EU, takes Erasmus+ to an even more advanced level, by improving its functionality. The EU4EU programme has, in fact, recently obtained the patronage of the European Parliament for the conference to be organized in the coming months in Brussels, and, as President Sassoli states in the letter granting the patronage: “the added value of coordinating consortia in different countries will no doubt prove highly fruitful and take one of the EU’s flagship programmes (Erasmus+) a step further by enhancing its functionning”. Furthermore, President Sassoli’s message underlines how Erasmus + “offers benefits for the whole society through a reduction of imbalances and an increase in the sense of unity and belonging” which determine “a greater degree of youth mobility and a more coherent and continuous link between education and access to work”.

It is important to underline how, in an era of particular criticism and mistrust of the European institutions, only a Europe united in its intentions can ultimately offer effective tools to improve the living conditions of citizens in terms of social and work inclusion and to ensure greater representation and participation in decision-making processes.