EU recovery plan deals a blow to popular Erasmus exchange programme

Europe’s popular exchange programme Erasmus, deprived of part of its anticipated funding in the upcoming EU budget, will not be able to send as many people overseas as it had hoped starting 2021. And the most vulnerable applicants could be the first affected, warned the Erasmus+ Agency in France, in an interview with FRANCE 24.

European students in Berlin, Germany, with the Erasmus exchange programme.
European students in Berlin, Germany, with the Erasmus exchange programme. © France 24 screen capture (file photo)

While French President Emmanuel Macron and his Belgian and German counterparts welcomed the signing of a European Covid-19 recovery agreement on July 21, sealed after five difficult days of intense negotiations among the 27 heads of EU member states, some raised an alarm over cuts planned in the future European budget.

Among the recovery plan’s biggest losers is the exchange program Erasmus+, which could see its expected funding cut by more than €3 billion.

Expressing concern over the cuts, the European Parliament has already threatened not to approve the agreement, unless it is “improved” during negotiations with the Council. MEPs have called for budget increases in several areas, including youth, which includes the Erasmus+ programme.

Erasmus+ is particularly popular In France, with more than a million French participants – more than from Germany, Spain and Italy – benefiting from it since the original programme, Erasmus (without the plus), was created in 1987.

Unlike the original Erasmus programme, which offered six-month to one-year exchange stints to university students in Europe, Erasmus+ caters to a wider public, including not just university students, but also high-school students, teachers, training professionals, interns and job seekers.

Does the recovery agreement, as it stands, sign a death warrant for this European symbol of exchange? FRANCE 24 interviewed Sébastien Thierry, deputy director of the Erasmus+ France Agency, in charge of managing the education and training components of the programme in France and analysing its impact.

FRANCE 24: In what way will Erasmus+ be affected by the budget cuts announced by the EU?

Sébastien Thierry: The €21.2 billion budget allocated to Erasmus+ for 2021-2027 is €14.7 billion higher than the budget for 2014-2020. But it is smaller than the €24.6 billion announced by the European Commission in May.

In 2020, we will be financing 62 percent of overseas mobility requests and 46 percent of Erasmus+ partnership requests. With a lower budget than initially planned for 2021-2027, we fear we might still be forced to leave out some candidates.

What are your concerns for the future of the Erasmus+ programme? What will you be forced to sacrifice? 

Since 2014, the Erasmus+ program has benefited a growing number of people, especially disadvantaged candidates with fewer opportunities. The more resources we have, the easier it will be for everyone to have access to a regulated, recognised European and international experience.

We’ve seen that young people who go overseas with Erasmus+ find jobs more quickly than others. Pôle emploi [the French national employment agency], local government-backed associations and companies are also involved in Erasmus+ projects for the professional integration of young people. These are likely to be the first affected by a slowdown of Erasmus+.

Finally, a smaller Erasmus+ budget would threaten the programme’s contribution to the ecological transition planned for 2021-2027: Erasmus+ was expected to cover the additional costs of travel by train, instead of the generally cheaper travel by plane.

Has the coronavirus pandemic changed the programme?

With the pandemic, the European Commission has accelerated the introduction of hybrid exchanges, combining virtual activities with physical mobility abroad as soon as health conditions permit it.

Erasmus students were already worried about the health crisis. Will the exchange programmes planned for next year be maintained?

We’re in almost permanent contact with the institutions and have opened a special unit to deal with difficult situations of Erasmus+ participants caused by the health crisis.

In addition, students and other beneficiaries of the programme – interns, job seekers, etc. – need to stay in contact with their institutions’ foreign relations departments in order to organise their international mobility as best as possible, depending on the reopening of borders and health conditions in each country.

Candidates and participants can get more information about the situation in French on the website Génération Erasmus+ [and on the official EU Erasmus+ page in English and all European languages]. Finally, we encourage departing [French] applicants to sign up with the French foreign ministry's @Ariane app, to receive information from French consulates and embassies.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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