Guest post by Laurindo Alberto Pimentel Frias, from the University of Coimbra (Portugal).
Days after the European elections, and with the expected outcome – the consolidation of the Eurosceptic block and extremist movements or the “end” of bipartisanship – it is time to reflect on the challenges ahead in the next five years during which the role of the European institutions, such as the Commission or Parliament, will be central.
The growing Eurosceptic feeling among the general population, and particularly among young people, is one of the most worrying indicators for the stability of the European Project. According to a survey, more than a third of young people are in favour of giving more power for their national governments to the detriment of Brussels and one in five young people supports the idea that their country should leave the European Union. Moreover, disinterest in European issues is increasingly part of our reality, which culminated in low participation of young people in these elections.
The generation that at birth faced a Europe without frontiers, without having to fight for it, is now the same one that protests against the EU, disrupting the pillars of one of humanity’s most successful social projects. So, in order to counteract this crusade that has proliferated a bit in all member states, it is necessary for the European Institutions to plan a strategy against extremism and indifference, starting with those who will be the future European leaders – the youth.
Beginning with extremism among young people, which is not just numbers or words, is the case of Jordan Bardella – only 24 years old, he was head of the list of the Rassemblement National, having won the European elections in his country (France) with more than 5 million votes and beating Macron’s En Marche! Further south, in Italy, now ruled by MoVimento 5 Stelle and Lega Nord, two out of three young people supported Eurosceptic. movements.
In fact, it is strange to discuss this topic between the so-called “Erasmus Generation” and perhaps because of this, it was never given sufficient attention. It is in some ways contradictory that the disinterest for Europe is superior in this age group compared to others, thus requiring urgently a clear analysis of this reality. Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education from 2014 to 2020, realizing this has launched initiatives such as the European Solidarity Corps or DiscorverEU.
Despite the many ways of taking the good part of Europe to the millennials, the best strategy seems to me to be through the programme that has revolutionized the way we study in the EU – the Erasmus + program, created in 1987, having already led to “Europe without frontiers ” for more than 9 million students. Putting into practice the freedom of movement, it has served as one of the main tools for the process of European unification, based on respect for diversity, encouraging the knowledge of more languages and realities and improving socio-economical factors in various regions.
According to the most recent data, 83% of the participants stated “feeling more European” after its conclusion and 81% participated in the European elections in 2014, a number which contradicts the 29% of young people who voted in general (Portugal).In a generation largely indifferent to current European problems, whether in newspapers or other media, the effect of approximation to Europe is undeniable when it is experienced firsthand and not through a television screen.
It is therefore imperative to provide the Erasmus + program with more and better resources by raising its total budget between 2021 and 2027, a measure already proposed by the current EC (16,454,000 Euros between 2014-2020), thus seeking to eradicate economical, cultural and social barriers. To be truly comprehensive and inclusive among all students throughout Europe, giving them the opportunity to experience what the European Project has given us. Moreover, the reduction of associated bureaucracy should be a step towards improving accessibility.
The creation of a common European area of education which goes beyond free movement and that it is possible, with the participation of all Member-States, to promote the mutual recognition of diplomas, key competences or the reinforcement of inclusive education. Building genuine European universities, giving young people new opportunities outside their home country, should be the next step!
The conclusion is clear: the reform of the European Union is necessary and must begin now, avoiding as far as possible that the future of the European Project stays in jeopardy. It is in the hands of committed pro-Europeans to create and implement clear strategies to promote European values – whether in human rights or in the democratic spirit. As Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”Guest contributor