New rules for Erasmus student program open the door for post-Brexit Britain.
Brussels on Wednesday extended an olive branch to the United Kingdom, opening the door for British youngsters to take part in its Erasmus program even after the country leaves the EU.
As the European Commission unveiled its Erasmus proposal for the next seven years, Education Commissioner Tibor Navracsics announced it was doubling funding for the program — which helps young people study or train abroad — to €30 billion, adding a new travel program and widening the opportunities for disadvantaged young people.
But one of the biggest moves — and one not mentioned by Navracsics during the launch — is that the rules of the game will be changed so that the U.K. can take part.
As Brexit talks remain deadlocked, it’s a sign the Commission might be prepared to make similar arrangements for a host of other initiatives in which the U.K. has a strong vested interest, such as the Horizon Europe research program.
Thomas Jorgensen from the European University Association said he views the change in Erasmus rules as a direct consequence of Brexit.
“It’s not something that’s been done because of an explicit political wish to globalize the program,” said Jorgensen. “I have never heard discussions that the Erasmus program should be open to the world.”
The previous system limited the countries that could access Erasmus’ student, teacher or volunteer grants to EU countries plus accession countries, those in the European Free Trade Association and countries covered by the European Neighbourhood Policy.
Wednesday’s proposal adds a new category, allowing any country to join Erasmus as long as it agrees to a “fair balance” of contributions and benefits — meaning countries must pay to take part.
Non-EU countries would not get “decisional power” over the program, the Commission’s proposal states.
In its pitches to remain part of other EU programs, the U.K. has been firm in its determination that it should get a say in how they are run.
A Commission official said the new rules are designed “to make Erasmus more inclusive and to enlarge the number of beneficiaries that take part in the program.
“The U.K. is still a part of the Erasmus program, and what will come after [Brexit] will be a result of the negotiations, and the agreement thereafter,” the official said.
The regulation set out Wednesday must be agreed on by the European Parliament and the Council, and could be significantly amended.
Council talks also provide a route through which the U.K. may fight to have the language on governance toned down, since it will still be part of institutional discussions until it leaves the bloc.
Britain has focused much of its lobbying on its participation in the valuable Horizon Europe research program, for which the Commission will set out its plans on June 7.
An early draft of the proposal suggested Brussels could add a similar category of richer, non-EU countries that would be able to take part in certain sectors of the program.
“I would not be surprised to see [similar language on international participation]” added in the Horizon text, Jorgensen said, in order to have “a coherent system.”
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