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Funding for Erasmus+ should double to €30 billion, says European Commission

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • Erasmus+ is one of the largest student mobility initiatives in the world but the current European Union funding agreement for it will come to an end in 2020
  • Earlier this month, the European Commission proposed a doubling of Erasmus+ spending for an overall allocation of €30 billion, or about US$36 billion, for the upcoming budget cycle for 2021-2027

The European Union is drawing to the end of a €15 billion (US$18 billion) commitment to support Erasmus+ grants for more than four million people to study, train, gain work experience, or volunteer abroad. This funding allocation has made Erasmus+ one of the world’s largest mobility initiatives, spanning the 28 EU member states as well as a number of non-member countries.

The current funding provision for the programme ends in 2020, and budget planning is well underway for the next multi-year budget cycle within the EU. Last week, the European Commission (EC) proposed a new long-term budget to the European Parliament. The proposed budget for the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021–27 is notable for the continued priority it places on the areas of research and education.

The proposed MFF for 2021–27, which attaches budget to the EU’s policy priorities, clearly reflects the European Commission’s position that research and innovation are essential to improving Europe’s competitiveness. It recommends that funding be significantly bolstered for two key programmes aimed at youth and students: Erasmus+ and the pan-EU research initiative currently called Horizon 2020.

Recommended: Double the Erasmus+ budget

The EC has recommended that Erasmus+ move from its current budget of €15 billion to €30 billion over 2021–27, and include a special provision of “€700 million for Interrail passes for young people.”

The proposal to double the Erasmus+ budget signals the EC’s firm belief that student mobility – and youth empowerment in general – is an essential linchpin in Europe’s success going forward. This conviction prompted the creation of Erasmus+ in the first place.

The programme was established in 2014, and a significant part of its mandate was to address high levels of youth unemployment in Europe. Androulla Vassiliou, then the EU’s Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, said at the time:

“Erasmus+ will contribute to the fight against youth unemployment by giving young people the opportunity to increase their knowledge and skills through experience abroad. As well as providing grants for individuals, Erasmus+ will support partnerships to help people make the transition from education to work …. this is crucial if we are to equip our young generation with the qualifications and skills they need to succeed in life.”

Remember that at that point Europe’s youth unemployment crisis was acute, with unemployment for those aged 15–24 exceeding 50% in Spain and Greece. The situation has improved since then, but youth unemployment remains a persistent issue in the region. The average youth unemployment rate in the EU at the end of 2017 was 19%, but much higher in some countries, hovering around 40% in Greece, Spain, and Italy.

A recent Business Insider article reporting on the issue quotes Jessica Hinds, European economist at Capital Economics, as saying that, “The eurozone’s youth unemployment rate remains worryingly high. It is hardly reassuring that almost 20% of those who are ready to work are jobless.”

Recommended: Billions more for research

In addition to its proposals to expand student mobility, the EC has recommended that Horizon 2020, one of the largest publicly funded research efforts in the world, be called Horizon Europe as of 2021 and receive a 30% funding boost. The recommendation is for a €100 billion (US$84 billion) funding envelope for research in the time period 2021 through 2027.

The plan is for Horizon Europe to build on the success of Horizon 2020 and to prioritise research devoted to the “development of prototypes, intangible assets, knowledge and technology transfer.” There is also a call for a new European Innovation Council to serve as a “one-stop shop for high potential and disruptive innovators, aiming to make Europe a front runner in market-creating innovation.”

University associations and leaders responded by calling the proposed budget increase for the Horizon programme “a step in the right direction,” but considered it insufficient if Europe is to emerge as a leader in research and innovation. There had been hopes that the budget proposal would recommend a doubling in funding allocated to research.

Overall priorities for the MFF 2021–27

The EC says the budget proposal reflects European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s mission to make “the Union more united, stronger and more democratic” and is guided by “the principles of prosperity, sustainability, solidarity and security.” The organisation calls it,

“An honest response to today’s reality in which Europe is expected to play a greater role in providing security and stability in an unstable world, at a time when Brexit will leave a sizeable gap in our budget.”

As a result, the EC prioritised “research and innovation, young people, the digital economy, border management, security and defence” in its proposal, while recommending that funding be cut by 5% for Agriculture and Cohesion (i.e., spending that aims to reduce regional disparities within the EU).

The following is a summary of the policy areas for which the EC proposes increased funding through 2027:

  • “An almost 9-fold increase of investments in digital transformation and networks to reach €12 billion;
  • More than doubling programmes for young people (such as ERASMUS+ with €30 billion and the European Solidarity Corps with €1.3 billion);
  • Almost tripling expenditure for external border management, migration and asylum, to reach around €33 billion, up from the current €13 billion;
  • Increasing investment in research and innovation by 50%, with €100 billion set aside for the flagship programmes Horizon Europe;
  • Increasing investment in security by 40% to reach €4.8 billion and creating a €13 billion Defence Fund to complement and catalyse national expenditure in research and capability development;
  • Reinforcing funding for external action by 26% to reach €120 billion, with a specific emphasis on Europe’s neighbourhood and preserving a reserve to deal with emerging challenges, notably in the area of stability and migration.”

For additional background, please see:

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