Should all Europeans go on Erasmus? The late Italian novelist and semiotician, Umberto Eco, once half-jokingly suggested Erasmus should be compulsory “not just for students, but also for taxi drivers, plumbers and other workers. By this, I mean they need to spend time in other countries within the European Union; they should integrate.”
Eco argued that Erasmus is, of course, about opening minds and broadening horizons, but it’s also about more than that. As Eco put it, it’s a way to reach beyond national boundaries: “a young Catalan man meets a Flemish girl – they fall in love, they get married and they become European, as do their children”.
Eco’s suggestion was made to be provocative. Compulsory military service is considered a respectable policy by many, but requiring people to travel and experience life abroad is an imposition. Teaching young people to kill is fine, but encouraging them to find love outside of the tribe is taking it too far. Also, who would pay for it all?
However, the suggestion (even if made in jest) touches on a very real issue: not all Europeans experience the benefits of EU freedom of movement, beyond the occasional holiday abroad. Travelling, working, and living in another member state is still seen as a luxury for many European citizens.
Are there ways to open up freedom of movement to everyone? The think tank Friends of Europe has published an EU citizens’ “Mandate for Change“, setting out eleven ideas for revitalising the European project. They were formulated in response to a survey of 11,000 EU citizens, and have been presented to Members of the European Parliament as part of the #EuropeMatters project.
One of the ideas was to introduce “a Millennials Premium similar to ERASMUS+ but much larger in scope targeting young millennials that are furthest from the labour market and with very little hope in the ability of the European Union to address their problems. This initiative should have a focus and objective on these millennials becoming ambassadors of the EU’s values, its liberal democracy and a place of opportunity.”
Perhaps making Erasmus compulsory really is taking things too far. However, what about the idea of a “Millennials Premium”, an exchange programme designed not just for students but available for all young Europeans? Would a voluntary programme along these lines, open to all Europeans, help to spread the benefits of EU freedom of movement?
Should Erasmus be compulsory? Is the Erasmus programme too “elitist”? How can more people be given the opportunity to enjoy the benefits and freedoms of the EU? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!