For the benefit of youth – for the benefit of inclusion

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The French Erasmus+ agency registered a 20% increase in financial applications for the mobility project compared to 2016. [COD Newsroom / Flickr]

Funding for Erasmus+ should not be sacrificed as the EU gears up for its massive spending plan to combat the economic damage caused by Covid-19, writes Florian Sanden.

Florian Sanden is the head of office at the European Office for Catholic Youth Work and Adult Education.

The Erasmus+ program of the European Union has provided extensive funding for non-formal youth work since 2014. Erasmus+ is popular. Young people from all socio-cultural backgrounds are interested in participating in an international exchange. Erasmus + works.

A clear leap in personal and professional development can be observed among participants after an Erasmus+ exchange.

In recent years EU-governments formulated ambitious goals for the future of Erasmus +. “An expansion of mobility and exchange through a substantially strengthened, inclusive and expanded Erasmus+ program” was announced by the heads of state and government in December 2017.

In May 2018, the ministers in the Council of the EU adopted a call for “Measures to strengthen and open up participation in order to make Erasmus + more inclusive and equitable”. The European Commission announced in May 2018 a tripling of the number of young people taking part. 

Inclusion and Erasmus +

Why the strong focus on inclusion? When it comes to accessibility the youth sector has a good track record: In 2018 the share of young participants with fewer opportunities was at 37.8%.

A look at the numbers for the participation of young people with disabilities paints a different picture. In 2018, the proportion of participants across the EU was just at 2.7%. The existence of structural barriers to the participation of people with disabilities in Erasmus+ Youth is the most likely cause for the low number.

The UN Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities clearly states the right of people with disabilities to be included on an equal footing in all areas of life. What can be done to break down barriers to access in Erasmus +?

Firstly, both in Erasmus + and in the European Solidarity Corps (ESC) the way disadvantaged groups are addressed and the provision of information should be improved.

When not being spoken to directly, people with disabilities often assume they are excluded from participating. Internet pages and advertising materials should therefore make it clear that Erasmus + and the ESC are there for all young people.

Customer-friendly information on support options for people with disabilities such as personal assistance, therapeutic support and medical material has not yet been made available. Finding accessible facilities is difficult.

Second, both advertising flyers and websites as well as the relevant program documents are currently not legible for everyone. Advertising materials and official, digital documents should always be available in easy language and in the WCAG standard readable for screen readers.

Advertising and explanatory videos should be available in sign language, and printed materials in Braille.

Thirdly, there needs to be more flexibility in the support of additional expenses. The EU is already financing 100% of the additional costs incurred in projects with young people with disabilities.

However, these expenses must be fully indicated in advance. It is often difficult for providers to estimate the resulting costs. For projects with people with disabilities, it should be possible to adjust expenditure while the action is being implemented.

The negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027

The coronavirus crisis has shaken the consensus to strengthen Erasmus +. In the negotiations currently taking place on the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), the European Council only advocates an increase in Erasmus + to €21 billion.

At the same time, a financial package of €750 billion for investments in infrastructure and for rescuing companies is planned. Calculations by the European Parliament’s Budget Committee show Erasmus+ needs at least a budget of €30 billion from 2021-2027 in order to be able to implement its objectives.

Should the European Council’s spending plans become reality, the goals to triple the number of young Erasmus+ participants and to permanently improve inclusion would have to be abandoned.

The European Parliament shares this view and has therefore rejected the current spending plans of the European Council several times. In a resolution adopted on 23 July, MEPs reaffirmed their rejection of the Council’s position by a large majority and vowed to reject the MFF, if necessary.

The European Council’s plans to boost public investment to counteract the economic consequences of the corona-pandemic are to be welcomed. However, spending on infrastructure and the saving of corporations is not enough.

For a sustainable recovery investment in education and youth is just as important. The EU’s flagship programmes should not be sacrificed for a short-term economic-boost. The goal to increase the budget of Erasmus+ to €30 billion should be maintained.

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