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Youth & Public Diplomacy: Cutting Europeanism short.

by on May 17, 2013

Since 2012, budget-cutting measures are being applied to EU study exchange programmes as a consequence of new austerity policies adopted by the European Parliament. Spain particularly opted for a 60% cut – around 21.5 million euros – on Spanish Erasmus students financing.

For those who aren’t aware of it, Erasmus is the leading European student exchange programme. Established in 1987, it was designed to promote mobility between university students of the 33 EU participating countries. So far over 3 million students have taken part in the scheme, enjoying long term benefits of such a life boosting opportunity. Learning a new language, creating social, academic and professional international networks are some of the main benefits young participants have highlighted.  The Guardian journalist Oltermann went as far as praising the scheme for its romantic potential of getting Europeans of diverse nationalities together, so contributing to a future pan-European society.


In the light of such valuable outcomes, it is puzzling to witness the European Commission’s discussions on applying cuts to the educational sector. The Erasmus programme has been specifically targeted, with plans of detracting around €2.5 billion, around fifteen per cent, from its overall budget.

So what is happening to those post- Maastricht Eurocrats, who have been working so hard over the past two decades, in the name of Europeanism? Is it already time for the ‘I told you so!’ moment Euro-sceptics have been longing for?

Cultural diplomacy might not have been a priority on the EU agenda, as matters of trade, environment and foreign policy are. However, to cite Giles Scott-Smith, exchange programmes “inescapably operate within the broader political environment of international affairs” (2009), and should not be regarded merely as an apolitical, social experience, but more than just that.

The U.S.A. have long invested in cultural exchange programmes, well aware of their potential for creating new channels of communication within new communities; links with  institutions, and change in notions of identity and interests. The Fulbright Program remains the milestone of American educational diplomacy since 1946, involving over 155 countries in a web of international relations. And despite having undergone ups and downs in Federal funding, it still remains a priority on the governmental agenda, with President Obama recently requesting around $75.7 million in funding for International Education and Foreign Language Studies (IEFLS) programs.

International cooperation requires a certain degree of cross-cultural understanding and affinity in order for common goals to be pursued or achieved, and American political scientist Joseph Nye was one of the first to officially recognize the underlining effects of cohesion in foreign policy making.

In the light of soft power discourse, educational exchanges are important tools of global public diplomacy. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton words finely outlined exchange programme’s benefits, as they “foster leadership, intellectual achievement and innovation, and promote mutual understanding and respect between our cultures.” Once again the EU has failed to learn a lesson from younger sibling America, truly lacking that capacity of foresight. Rushing into action by cutting on the Erasmus scheme is, in the long run, neglecting goals of Europe’s future cohesion and unity. 


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