Friday

5th Mar 2021

Opinion

MEPs have one last chance to save Erasmus from Brexit

  • In future it will be considerably harder for British students to spend time at another European university- and most students across the EU will miss out on studying in the UK (Photo: Conor Lawless/Flickr)

On Christmas Eve, the European Union and United Kingdom announced that they had concluded a deal sealing their future relationship after Brexit.

And as a special Christmas present to students, Boris Johnson quietly decided that Erasmus could be scrapped because it was "extremely expensive".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

This means that in future it will be considerably harder for British students to spend time at another European university. By the same token, most students across the EU will miss out on studying in the UK.

This is not what students in the EU want and this is also not what British students voted for in 2016. Young Brits overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU.

Before surprisingly deciding to pull out, Boris Johnson himself stated that the UK's participation in Erasmus was "not under threat." Moreover, the UK may be leaving the EU, but it is not leaving Europe. British students have a moral right to connect with their home continent and European students should continue to feel welcomed in the UK.

Unfortunately, the EU has completely put the fate of Erasmus into the hands of Brexiteers. According to the European Commission, it was the British government's decision to quit Erasmus. The European parliament similarly echoed this sentiment, stating that – alas – the UK decided not to take part in Erasmus.

The truth, however, is also that the EU decided not to push more against this idea.

After all, the EU benefits more from the scheme because it sends more students to British universities than the other way around.

Why the European Commission has not pushed back more against the idea of the British government is unclear.

The UK demanded time-limited and partial access to Erasmus, which would have been unprecedented.

But given that the UK stays part of higher education research through Horizon 2020, where it is typically a net beneficiary, the commission could have made the UK's full participation in Erasmus a key demand.

Would Boris Johnson have risked a no deal Brexit only because of Erasmus? That is unlikely.

Irrespective of how we got here, it is not too late to save Erasmus from Brexit.

Having been part of the EU's first-ever citizens' initiative, I know first-hand that students are Europe's dormant giant.

When in November 2012 Erasmus was at risk of running out of funds, this giant awoke and proved its ability to change Europe. Students were quickly joined by celebrities such as Spanish film maker Pedro Almodovar and Erasmus was quickly saved.

Last chance

This lesson has taught me that Erasmus has great mobilisation potential. The question thus is not whether Erasmus can be saved from Brexit. The question is whether enough students realise that they hold the key to saving it.

There is one last chance to save Erasmus. The European parliament still has to give its assent to the deal. It could make this assent conditional on the UK's full participation in Erasmus.

The parliament is one of the programme's biggest cheerleaders. In fact, the question is gaining traction among MEPs, though so far only with a plea to the commission to "explore" ways to reintegrate Scotland and Wales into the scheme.

The EP should raise its ambition.

It would be perfectly within its gift to demand that Erasmus continues uninterrupted for all EU and British students. It would not be the first time that the EP requires changes to an agreement already negotiated by the Commission and Erasmus really should not be sacrificed on the altar of Brexit.

But the EP needs a little push in the right direction.

Students should write to MEPs that they want Erasmus with the UK to continue even after Brexit. Do it for all the students coming after you, like those before you have saved the programme in 2012.

And, also, do it for all British students that are dragged out of the EU against their will.

They have fallen victim to Boris Johnson's final Brexit lie.

Now it is up to students across the EU not to let him get away with it.

Author bio

Markus Gastinger is Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the University of Salzburg, Austria. He was member of the EU’s first-ever citizens’ initiative, which gathered over 70,000 signatures for more EU exchange programmes.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Magazine

A bigger Erasmus budget to favour inclusion

One of the top priorities of the European parliament's committee on culture and education (CULT), chaired by centre-right German MEP Sabine Verheyen, is to triple the Erasmus+ budget to make it more inclusive and accessible.

EU prepares to ratify post-Brexit trade deal

EU ambassadors of the 27 member states are meeting on Monday to provisionally apply the agreement, while top MEPs also discuss the way ahead for parliamentary approval.

Orbán leaves EPP group - the beginning of a long endgame

Aside from the EPP, Hungary was also protected - at a member states' level - by key bilateral partners; and not only illiberal countries like Poland, Bulgaria or recently Slovenia - but most importantly also by Germany.

Belarusian spring: finding hope in dark times

These are dark times in Belarus, with the government tightening the screws like never before. They are preparing for spring just as much as the opponents of the regime are.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  3. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!

Latest News

  1. China and Russia abusing corona for geopolitics, Lithuania says
  2. Worries on Europe's infection surge, after six-week drop
  3. EU wants large firms to report on gender pay-gap or face fines
  4. EU Commission cannot hold Frontex to account
  5. Orbán leaves EPP group - the beginning of a long endgame
  6. 'Corporate due diligence'? - a reality check before EP votes
  7. Austrian ex-minister joins list of EU's pro-Kremlin lobbyists
  8. Internal Frontex probe to deliver final report this week

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us