The EC has suggested to merge the seven existing EU programmes for education, training, youth and sport into one new programme, suggesting that “this will increase efficiency, make it easier to apply for grants, as well as reducing duplication and fragmentation”. Those familiar with the EU’s history of merging programmes for ‘efficiency’ will likely shake their head in disbelief, but there is no doubt that the EC is set on merging the programmes.
Every seven years, the European Union reviews and re-negotiates its multi-annual financial framework. The results have impacts on every policy area and ripple through the entire system of policy-making and funding down to the smallest policy field, including the youth sector.
The current youth programme of the Union, dubbed “Youth in Action”, is running from 2007 to 2013 and has a budget of 886 million euros for these seven years. It is one of the smallest programmes of the Union.
In November 2011, the European Commission has suggested to merge the seven existing EU programmes for education, training, youth and sport into one new programme to be called “Erasmus for All,” suggesting that “this will increase efficiency, make it easier to apply for grants, as well as reducing duplication and fragmentation (source).”
Those familiar with the European Union and its history of merging programmes for ‘reasons of efficiency’ will likely snort and shake their head in disbelief, but there is no doubt that the European Commission is nonetheless set on merging the various youth, education and training programmes. But while it seems only logical to bring together the various splinter programmes in the field of higher education—five of the seven programmes to be merged operate in the field of higher education on global, regional or bilateral level—the Commission has earned widespread criticism for its attempt to subsume the youth programme under the education strand.
It is particularly striking that the plans for the new “Erasmus for All” programme largely ignore the recently established framework for European cooperation in the area of youth policy, which was adopted by the EU’s ministers for youth in November 2009 for the period from 2010 to 2018. The framework defines that the EU will, up to 2018, initiate and support two types of initiatives, namely (1) initiatives that are specifically directed at young people in areas such as non-formal learning, participation and voluntary service, and (2) thematic initiatives in the areas of education, employment and entrepreneurship, health and well-being, participation, voluntary work, social inclusion, creativity and culture, and youth in the World (source).
“Erasmus for All,” however, limits youth activities to youth mobility with a focus on non-formal education as a complementary way of learning. This is supposed to be dubbed ‘Erasmus Youth Participation’, a new brand name to be associated with non-formal learning among young people. No actions or funds are foreseen for voluntary service or thematic initiatives; active citizenship and democracy have disappeared from the plans for the new programme as much as inclusion and well-being. The little bit that is left of the current youth programme is streamlined around education and employability: the language of the proposal considers youth simply as an education sector, and youth work is understood mainly as learner mobility of young people.
It is difficult to not consider the fact that the plans for the new programme largely ignore the EU Youth Policy Framework as an affront of the European Commission towards member states of the Union - and as another attempt to garner more influence in the youth policy area, a field in which member states still hold full responsibility. But beyond the power struggle between the various actors inside the European Union, the proposal—if implemented as suggested—will take youth policy in the EU back by decades.
Not surprisingly, the debate has grown very heated between the European Commission on the one hand, defending the merger for reasons of efficiency, and practically every other actor in the youth field in Europe on the other hand, trying to keep the youth programme from being drowned in the dreaded and feared ‘efficiency’ of the European Commission. At the most recent EU Youth Conference in Sorø, Denmark, yet another debate prompted EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou to challenge the conference attendees for ten reasons why the independent youth programme should stay.
It didn’t take them long to respond. Watch their video response below:
Information of the Danish Presidency on EU Youth Policy:
Information of the European Commission on Erasmus for All:
Background documents by the European Youth Forum:
Information on the EU Youth Conference in Sorø:
 - For comparison: the European Fisheries Fund has a budget of 4.3 billion euros for the time-span from 2007 to 2013; the Lifelong Learning Programme has a budget of 7 billion euros for its seven-year duration; the Seventh Research Framework Programme a budget of 53.2 billion euros, the Cohesion Fund 70 billion euros, the European Social Fund 76 billion euros, the European Agriculture Fund for Rural Development 96 billion euros and the European Regional Development Fund 201 billion euros - all for the same seven-year time period. And these numbers do not even include the Common Agricultural Policy, the European Union’s system of agricultural subsidies which consume 48% of the EU’s budget, roughly 50 billion euros—per year. [↩] back to text
 - The seven programmes are (1) the Lifelong Learning Programme with the sub-programmes Comenius for secondary education, Erasmus for higher education, Leonardo da Vinci for vocational education and training and Grundtvig for adult education; (2) the Youth in Action Programme for youth engagement, (3) the Erasmus Mundus Programme for academic cooperation, (4) the Tempus Programme for the modernisation of higher education, (5) the Alfa Programme for higher education co-operation between Europe and Latin America, (6) the Edulink programme for higher education co-operation between Europe and Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, and (7) the programme for cooperation with industrialised countries for student mobility with industrialised countries, particularly in North America and the Asia-Pacific region. [↩] back to text
Featured Image Credit: GalleryHip