The Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union began with 280 participants arriving for the EU Youth Conference. The program of the Youth Conference included a panel with decision makers working with the youth field, such as Tibor Navracsics, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport and Annika Saarikko, the Finnish Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services. We got the chance to ask both of them about the Erasmus+ program and its accessibility.
The Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union strikes a strange time; the formation of the newly elected European Parliament, the lack of political power in the European Commission, negotiations and finalization for the multiannual financial framework (MFF) and not to mention, Brexit. Even though the current European Commission lacks the political power, it has not lost its influence and expertise. It is especially needed now that the negotiations for the multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027 are ongoing and have been estimated to come to a conclusion during the Finnish Presidency.
What especially interests JEF Finland is the Erasmus+ program and it’s funding. The European Parliament proposed for the current budget of 14.7 billion euros to be tripled. Something happened on the way and now the proposed plan is for the budget to be doubled. Even though the Erasmus+ program has grown to be more equally accessible, more can and needs to be done. In 2014 the previous program Erasmus transformed into an umbrella program, Erasmus+ that includes initiatives like DiscoverEU, the Centres of Vocational Excellence and the European Universities Network, the programs reach has grown exponentially. Still, an inequality among those who are able to participate and those who aren’t exists.
We asked Tibor Navracsics, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, how we could make the Erasmus+ program more accessible and more equal.
“The Erasmus+ -program (2014-2020) has developed and grown during the past years and now, as we approach the last year of action. Since the beginning of the program (2014), about 2.8 million have participated in the program, and 1 in 3 participants come from a socially or ethnically disadvantaged background.” the Commissioner begins.
But what are the actions we need to take in order to increase accessibility?
“The planned increase in the budget of the Erasmus+ program brings the opportunity to address the issues that are still a disabling factor in increasing equal participation. With the budget increase and the intensity of funding are the main resource that will increase the accessibility.” the Commissioner states.
As the European Commission is finishing up its term, the role of the Finnish Presidency is highlighted as Finland tries to wrap up the negotiations on the MFF.
And how would Annika Saarikko, the Finnish Minister responsible for science, culture and youth, develop the Erasmus+ program?
“When we talk about youth, we talk about everyone. Not just about those who are hard-working or students, who are now the main participants in the Erasmus+ program. The problem you’re raising exists. If there’s something positive to be found, it’s that the problem is addressed and the solution is actively sought.” begins Minister Saarikko.
“I agree with Commissioner Navracsics about the role of funding and through the increase the option to provide more support for those who need it. One problem that could improve the situation once solved, is improving the European Solidarity Corps (ESC) program. Currently, several providers and organisations taking part in the ESC program are finding it difficult to find the right people. By providing help to the organisations seeking for volunteers and especially on how to address different groups of people, we could increase the program’s accessibility.” the Minister sums up.
The resources require guiding
The Minister and Commissioner clearly share the opinion of the problem that is Erasmus+ participants unvaried background. The increase of the Erasmus+ program’s funding will provide more resources, but if those are not efficiently used, the situation won’t change. Accessibility and equality should be themes that guide the use of the budget of the Erasmus+ and we should aim for quality and diversity instead of just increasing the amount of participants. After all, isn’t the European Union about providing for all and not just for the fortunate?
TEXT Hanna Kivimäki
PICTURE Anna Enbuske
The author works as the copywriter for Tähdistö webzine and is currently interning at the Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland. Her interests include youth participation and equality, citizenship education and continuous learning.