ERASMUS AND CIVIL SERVICE AS THE WAY FORWARD TO A EUROPEAN DEMOS: RATIONALE AND FEASIBILITY

New proposals for a more united Europe.

The authors of the Vision paper are Francesco Grillo, Giuseppe Cipolletta and Marina Obba.

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“Europe has been made, but now we must make the Europeans". Drawing from the words that Massimo D’AZEGLIO – a 19th century Italian novelist, painter and prime minister - dedicated, in 1865, to a just recently united Italy, we could say that if the European Union aims to become truly irreversible and more integrated, we need “positive actions” to create a truly European public opinion and to strengthen a European identity which can live alongside National and local ones. An Erasmus program financially accessible to all second and tertiary education students as well as a community service capable of engaging all European citizens could be the grand and, still financially feasible projects, capable of giving the Union a demos which is ready to defend and promote its further integration.

It is rather evident that Europe is at a cross-road of history and that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the process. Either we become more capable of quickly and efficiently responding to the shocks which define the 21st century or we risk to compromise our prosperity and “style of life”. However, in order to become more efficient, we need to scale up integration and forgo a unanimous decision-making process which is making the Union to lose vital battles on the economic, innovation and welfare plans.

There is no other macro-region with as many Covid-19-related deaths as Europe. (1) No other part of the world which will so slowly regain its pre-crisis production levels (a for the latest European Commission’s forecast) (2). And this is despite the fact that it accounts for half of what is spent on welfare, as Angela Merkel often reminds; the EU absorbs more than half of what is spent on individual protection at global level the EU, and it hosts some of the best health care systems of the world.

The pandemic has magnified the urgency of assisting the European Union in the evolutionary leap that this health, economic and political crisis has made necessary. The European society has been revealed worryingly fragile to emergencies it has never before experienced, and subsequently, the necessity to strengthen it is more evident than ever.

The European society as a whole faces two weaknesses. First and foremost, a widespread weakness that must be the paradoxical by-product of an excess in security and stability. Europe has become unfamiliar with the collective mobilization certain crises demand and this owes to the fact that rights - which have to be daily renovated - have largely been given for granted. Second, the fragility is institutional; in a context in which every decision requires exhausting meanders between States’ crossed vetoes, the revision of the precautionary principle (as in the case of vaccines) – and individual prerogatives (such as those to privacy), answers will always come too late and too little.(3)

Today people, especially young people, are part of the same information system and, still, even among adolescents, on average 9 out of 10 friends with whom they interact most through Instagram are of their own nationality. According to the Eurobarometer, half of Europeans are unable to hold a conversation in a language other than their mother tongue. Only 5 out of 705 Euro-parliamentarians have been elected in a country other than the one in which they were born, and the debates concerning the problems to be solved are still exclusively national, even among Europeans who benefit from globalization.

In 1946 a US-led program known as the ‘Fulbright Program’ was established as the flagship international educational exchange program, with an extensive provision of funding for students’ costs throughout their abroad experiences. In the same line, established in 1987- named after the Dutch philosopher, Erasmus of Rotterdam- the Erasmus program, has offered a wide range of opportunities to European university students. Yet, whether this has been big enough to nurture a sense of unity, can be subject to question.

The budget of the European Commission for the period 2021-2027 has, in fact, almost doubled the funds allocated to Erasmus Plus (from 18 to 28 billion). Yet, this does seem enough to change gears.

A few months ago, Vision calculated the cost of the operation, assuming that Erasmus would become part of the compulsory curriculum for university graduation and instead, for those attending high school, it would become free but not compulsory. The result is summarized in the graph that accompanies the article: to mobilize all European university students, increase the amount of scholarship granted - currently far from covering expenses – and to extend the possibility to all high school students, would require around 18 billion per year, assuming that half of the secondary education students take the advantage of the opportunity.

ESTIMATE OF AN ERASMUS REACHING ALL EUROPEAN COLLEGE STUDENTS AND HALF OFTHOSE IN SECONDARY SCHOOL (COMPARED TO 2018 VALUES, IN BILLIONS, PER YEAR)

 PNG ERASMUS GRAPHIC

Source: Elaboration by vision from Eurostat, QS and DG Education

To cover the expense, reallocating a quarter of the resources assigned to common agricultural policies could be sufficient. Otherwise, an idea would be to have the Commission itself to launch a campaign of crowd funding or through instruments of “impact finance” (with a discount on the issue of the price of European debt): these could become part of a revamped Next Generation Eu package.

Consistent with the idea of an Erasmus program truly available for everyone would be the introduction of a civil service that could offer everyone, periodically, the possibility of providing solidarity to those who are in conditions of hardship.

Few months ago, Vision presented a feasibility plan. Fifteen-week on-the-job-training and apprenticeship to be diluted, as flexibly as possible, between 16 and 25 years- avoiding the interruption of the study period; and another ten weeks of “recall” to be carried out during the professional life.

The project demonstrates that, even considering the organizational cost borne by the army and national health service, and even assigning an allowance for the days of service performed – of a similar amount to the one received in Switzerland, the entire experience could determine a benefit for the finances of the State. The entire third sector - which still continues to develop marginal functions with respect to its potential- could make an unprecedented qualitative leap.

The right to study abroad completely free of charge, could be completed by a compulsory civil service that would furnish everybody to be able to respond to crises, as it already happens in Switzerland or Israel. And if both hypotheses were pursued at the European level, we would have the possibility of making Europe a project that is the responsibility of all of us.

After his death, the dream of D’AZEGLIO to complete Italy’s integration was pursued by the extension to the entire national territory of public schools and military conscription. Today, we are in a context that the ‘Renaissance heroes’ would struggle to recognize. Yet, after 170 years, we must recognize that a community only survives if it can share the duties that give substance to freedoms and individual rights. Rights and freedoms that can die away over time if we decide to “go gently in the good night” of what was the greatest political project of the post-war world-.

 

(1) As for our Vision paper onThe covid19 pandemic: winners and losers

(2) As for our Vision paper onCompleting the HAMILTONIAN moment“

(3) Ibid.

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