In the United Kingdom, the Erasmus programme is often held up as an example of where the EU really does work and add value. I am hopeful that this programme, which by providing opportunities for over four million people to study, train, gain work experience and volunteer abroad, will benefit the European economy in the long run by helping to boost the skills and employability of students of all ages.
The success of Erasmus led to the renaming of the culture and education committee funding programmes to Erasmus+. I commend the notion of streamlining funding streams and reducing bureaucracy, as well as a reduced structure.
I am also particularly delighted that sport has, for the first time, a dedicated budget and, although I would have been happy to have given sport an even a larger share of the Erasmus+ budget, this is a very positive first step.
"Sport helps to tackle the many challenges in our society; it tackles social exclusion, helps to cut crime and gives everyone in our communities a sense of pride and self-worth"
The elements of the new sports programme that supports cross-border collaborative projects to address challenges such as combating match-fixing, doping, violence and racism are certainly to be welcomed. I am also continuing to push the case for community sports to be taken more seriously. Sport helps to tackle the many challenges in our society; it tackles social exclusion, helps to cut crime and gives everyone in our communities a sense of pride and self-worth. In this sense, the power of sport must not be underestimated. During negotiations on the new Erasmus programme I was a strong advocate of a sports programme that focuses what little resources it has on grassroots sport, rather than glamorous and elite sports organisations with close links to the commission. Moving forward, I want the EU sports programme to be designed so that it focuses further on helping grassroots sport and projects which are run by their community and for their community.
Unfortunately, while there have been some positive developments, I cannot say that the new Erasmus programme is entirely without its faults. This year's European elections have seen an influx into the European parliament of non-traditional parties as citizens across the EU have made it clear that the EU simply cannot carry on as before. I therefore must reiterate my great scepticism towards the not inconsiderable sums that have been attributed to the Jean Monnet programme, which finances and promotes the teaching of European integration to elite students. I would have preferred to get rid of this scheme altogether, and I find it very inappropriate to spend more money on this than on the entire sport programme. Surely, at a time when European economies continue to struggle, this money could have been better spent on other parts of the Erasmus programme, for example in bridging vital skills gaps, rather than on educating a future elite of EU civil servants.
"I want the EU sports programme to be designed so that it focuses further on helping grassroots sport and projects which are run by their community and for their community"
I have also expressed concerns regarding the new Master's loan guarantee fund, which will see the European commission providing a financial guarantee to banks willing to lend money to students wishing to study for a Master's degree in another EU member state. While I am sympathetic to the problem of student financing which the commission wishes to address, my concern is that this is potentially a huge extension of the EU budget competences and would place massive liability on the EU budget, with potential long-term debts that would need to be underwritten. I fear that this well intentioned scheme may not work quite so well in practice.
During the negotiations on this programme, I felt it was important to gain the best possible support for grassroots sport and crucial that money should not be swallowed up by national and international sports bodies. It was also important to limit the exposure of taxpayers to the Master's loan guarantee fund. That element's share of the overall budget reduced from five per cent to 3.5 per cent, thus reducing the risk to taxpayers. I'm hopeful that the Erasmus+ programme will allow persons of all ages to take advantage of the opportunity to study overseas, to learn new skills and experience different cultures and, more importantly, that the new Erasmus+ focuses on delivering value for money.