MEPs call for Scotland and Wales to be included in EU’s Erasmus programme

Appeal follows decision by UK Premier Boris Johnson to withdraw Britain from the flagship student exchange scheme.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

25 Jan 2021

A total of 150 MEPs have written to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen asking whether Scotland and Wales could rejoin the Erasmus programme.

The letter was organised by German Greens deputy Terry Reintke, who spent a year in Edinburgh on an Erasmus exchange.

Reintke, deputy leader of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, said, “Following the end of the Brexit transition period and with it the UK leaving the Erasmus programme, many young British people are left without the chance to develop close ties with their European neighbours.”

“The Scottish and Welsh government has already made it known that they wish to stay in the Erasmus programme.”

Under new rules, agreed to under the Brexit trade deal on Christmas Eve, UK students are no longer eligible for the scheme.

The UK government has said it intends to replace the initiative with its own "Turing Scheme" - named after the mathematician and code breaker, Alan Turing - which it says will provide more students with opportunities to study abroad than the Erasmus programme.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Education, recently held talks with Scottish higher education minister Richard Lochhead about the possibility of the EU and Scotland working together on the scheme.

“Following the end of the Brexit transition period and with it the UK leaving the Erasmus programme, many young British people are left without the chance to develop close ties with their European neighbours. The Scottish and Welsh government has already made it known that they wish to stay in the Erasmus programme” Terry Reintke, deputy leader of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament

Lochhead said at the time of the UK decision on Erasmus - used by more than 2000 Scottish students and young people annually - was a huge blow, arguing, “This is simply unacceptable and we are looking at alternative options. After years of discussions and meetings, the UK government has made these decisions irrespective of the views of the devolved administrations.”

"The UK’s alternative scheme is a watered-down and less well-funded version of Erasmus and it’s not even an exchange programme because there is no support for visits to Scotland."

In a tweet, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said, "Ending UK participation in Erasmus - an initiative that has expanded opportunities and horizons for so many young people - is cultural vandalism by the UK government."

The Welsh party, Plaid Cymru said it also supports Erasmus with its Higher Education spokesperson Bethan Sayed saying, "This is a welcome intervention from our European partners, which is proof of the strong feeling that exists across Europe for Wales to continue to participate in the Erasmus programme.”

Sayed said, “Erasmus is not just about sending UK students to Europe for a few terms, it’s about ensuring EU students can come here and gift us with their talents and strengthen our universities and colleges. It’s about collaboration on cross border learning and shared research projects. It’s about benefiting from the talents of our partners across Europe and participating in important cultural exchanges."

Since its launch in 1987, Erasmus has offered student exchanges as well as school links, work experience and apprenticeships across Europe. Under Erasmus+, around 200,000 people have taken part, including around 15,000 British university students each year.

Non-EU members are able to participate in the university exchange part of the programme.

In the letter to the Commission, MEPs said they want “to explore pathways” that could allow the UK to participate in Erasmus.

“Every young European should get the chance to participate in an exchange programme. It not only helps to understand the host country, but also to experience first-hand European values and ideas. I was able to have this experience during my Erasmus exchange. My time studying in Edinburgh was one of the most wonderful and formative periods in my life" Terry Reintke, deputy leader of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament

Reintke said, “Every young European should get the chance to participate in an exchange programme. It not only helps to understand the host country, but also to experience first-hand European values and ideas.”

“I was able to have this experience during my Erasmus exchange. My time studying in Edinburgh was one of the most wonderful and formative periods in my life.”

The letter says, “As voiced by many on both sides of the Channel, we are deeply saddened and concerned to have learnt that the UK Government decided to leave the Erasmus programme. 

“The Erasmus programme has proven to have a significant impact on young people's lives in Europe - not only on their language, cultural and personal skills, but also on their motivation to strengthen a peaceful and solidary European society.”

She said there is a “pronounced aspiration coming from Scotland and Wales to enable students and young professionals to continue participating in the programme.”

The deputies ask if the European Commission sees “a pathway to extend the benefits of the Erasmus” Programme to students and young professionals in Scotland and Wales.

They ask, “Would you consider Scotland and Wales as entities as mentioned in the interinstitutional agreement text on the future regulation for the Erasmus Programme?”

Meanwhile, the European Parliament is set to adopt a proposal for greater transparency and stricter criteria for the EU’s tax havens list, to be adopted by the end of 2021 – the first ever resolution of the newly established Tax Matters Sub-Committee.

Pedro Marques, MEP and S&D Group tax matters coordinator, said, “The criteria for the EU’s tax havens list are broken. It speaks volumes that notorious tax havens like Switzerland, Hong Kong or Jersey never made it onto the list and that in a shocking decision last year even the Cayman Islands were taken off the list.”

“We want the EU tax haven list to become a tool with teeth to protect us from tax dumping. In the wake of Brexit we must be particularly watchful that we maintain a level playing field with the UK.”

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