Covid-19: how will Europe get back up?

By Hannah Bieber

Disclaimer: this article was written on March 18th, 2020. Due to the instability of the situation, some of the information it contains might be subject to changes.

A lot of people were expecting it, and it finally happened: the world we live in has been challenged. Not the way we imagined it, not in the circumstances we expected, but it did. Europe is now facing one of its major crises since the day the European Union was created. And all the flaws that we knew that existed blew up in our faces. The demography of an old continent getting older and older, the weariness of our welfare states system, the instability of our financial organizations, the limits of a space without borders and the emergence of nationalism have now all been crystalized by a microscopic organism.

The recent Covid-19 outbreak and confinement measures will give us plenty of time to reflect on the consequences it will have on our societies, especially in Europe. Indeed, this virus is almost harmless for the majority of the population, but can be very harmful for the elderly, for instance. In 2016, one EU citizen out of five was over the age of 65. This is why the virus poses Europe an immense challenge today. But what about tomorrow? What will be the consequences of this crisis for the EU?

First of all, in my point of view, the way the virus spread will inevitably lead to the questioning of border control and the Schengen Area. While the free circulation of people is protected by the Treaty of Maastricht (1992), this crisis has led some member states to close their borders unilaterally. Moreover, on March 16th, the EU decided to close its external borders in order to prevent infected third country nationals from entering the old continent. When the crisis is over, populist parties will probably push even harder to reestablish border control or exit the Schengen Area. One can easily imagine far-right parties using this new fear of epidemics in order to convince people that this is now a necessity.

Besides, the financial system of the EU will have to be rethought. The instability of our capitalist economy has been brought to light in the harshest of ways. When the crisis hit China, the stock markets started panicking, but when it reached Europe, they went down. The financial crisis intertwined with a very complicated economic situation. In many European countries like Italy, Spain, France or Poland, stores and shops that are not considered necessary were closed in order to keep people home. Thus, the State has been responsible for helping the firms and workers who were asked to cease their activities. To cover the losses and ensure the safety of their people, the states will have to implement new economic strategies during and after this period. For instance, Peter Altmaier, the German Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, mentioned the possibility of temporarily nationalizing some firms. After the outbreak, the EU will have to rethink its financial and economic rules and objectives because we will probably face a period of recession.

This goes hand in hand with the reorganization of our health systems. What this crisis revealed, above all else, is the fact that we cannot keep cutting corners into our health budgets. Scientists and activists had been warning that such outbreaks would happen in the coming years due to climate change. This crisis interrogates the model of welfare states that still want to remain competitive in a globalized economy – because they do not really have a choice. Ensuring people’s health and making sure that there are enough doctors, nurses and that the facilities are well equipped is a vital element that many states seem to have been forgetting.

In France, for example, although no one could have predicted the outbreak, hospitals had been on strike and protesting for months, asking for more beds to be available, for more staff, and for the improvement of their facilities and working conditions, but had barely been heard by the government. And France will probably take a heavy toll because this call for help was taken too lightly. This crisis has shown that our states must not treat the health sector like any other economic activity and ask hospitals to be more efficient with less tools and staff.

The Covid-19 will also raise questions about the future of our democracies. After the start of the outbreak, some have applauded the way China handled the crisis. Indeed, it succeeded in controlling the problem, and the country slowly comes back to life, after two months of quarantine. But this situation was also handled thanks to Xi Jinping’s iron fist and the surveillance means available in Beijing. In a democracy, it is harder to control people. As a proof: EU citizens did not stop living because of the virus. They kept on going out and acted carelessly – sometimes recklessly. By making the choice of democracy, Europe also gave its citizens the right to do what they wanted. And in this case, in some countries, a lot of people decided to care more about themselves than their community.

This pushed some EU governments to close most venues where people gather and interact, because EU citizens failed to implement the social distancing preconized by scientists. In Italy, Spain and France, the State had to impose harsh confinement measures, which violate fundamental individual liberties, such as the right to gather or the right to move freely. But these measures were taken after people did not change their behavior to contain the virus. This raises an interesting philosophical debate over people’s liberty. Where does our liberty start and where does it have to stop? Did we reach a point where people have too much liberty? This is something that we will need to reflect about.

This also boils down to the question of social media, and media in general. The fact that we are constantly exposed to a somewhat overwhelming flow of information has worsened our feeling of being powerless and anxiety. It has also contributed to the misinformation of people, and ultimately could explain why they behaved in a careless way, sometimes. When the outbreak started in China, the Covid-19 was a ‘mystery pneumonia’. Then, the media depicted it as a bad flu, which could cause complications for most vulnerable people. The French government’s spokeswoman herself assured on live public radio that it was not a lot more dangerous than the flu itself. In this context, one may understand why Europeans did not take the illness seriously. How could they?

This situation even led the European Commission chief to acknowledge that EU leaders ‘underestimated’ the virus. On top of all the contradictory information came the infamous fake news that helped to create an atmosphere of defiance towards authorities at some occasions, with conspiracy theories, or fear at others. Despite their pledge to tackle misinformation, the social media – or people in general – have utterly failed to do so. Could the EU do more to help to control this kind of content in the future? On the other hand, more control over social media content could also lead to abuses from some governments. How will the EU tackle the issue of fake news all the while preserving people’s freedom of speech in the future?

Last but not least, this crisis will try the EU’s unity. All the elements cited above could compromise the future of the Union. Besides, this crisis revealed that, while nations came together – as we saw with the balcony gatherings to applaud hospital staff in Spain, for instance – to face the crisis, they acted as individual states. Few decisions have been taken at the EU level to handle the outbreak and some people have wondered ‘where is the EU, now?’ The crisis is not over yet, and the union will maybe react, but this critical moment has shown that nationalism prevailed over it in such a situation. Even if people have shown their support to their EU citizens counterparts – and this has been all the more true in the context of the Euroculture Master – they seem to care about themselves first, their country second and sometimes their fellow EU citizens third. However, now that ‘Europe has become the new epicenter of the pandemic’, it will maybe come together to face this new challenge. Only the future will tell if it will emerge stronger or more divided than ever from this crisis.

All in one, the Covid-19 outbreak will leave the EU with a lot of challenges, on top of the ones that it was facing before the illness reached our shores. But Europe will get back up. It has been through worse and has still managed to rise from its ashes. Some argue that this crisis will start the beginning of its end. But what if it marks a new beginning? This is the opportunity for the EU to show that solidarity and mutual care are at the core of its existence, rather than financial or economic concerns. Let’s hope that it will learn from its mistakes and grow stronger, so that history doesn’t repeat itself.

Picture: Sean MacEntee, Flickr

Communicating solidarity in trying times: La radio per l’Italia

By Arianna Rizzi

« Are you ready? We are going to live an unprecedented moment of union. For the first time in Italy’s history, all the radios unite in an extraordinary moment of sharing and participation to celebrate our great country – Italy – with music … »

On 31 December 2019, the first Chinese cases of a novel virus were notified to the World Health Organisation (WHO). At that time, what we now call “coronavirus” had a different name – “2019-nCoV” – and seemed to concern only an area remote in space and time from the Western world. But it was not long before COVID-19 had its outbreak in Europe, and Italy was among the first countries to be hit by the epidemic – now declared a pandemic – in the European region.

We all know by now how things have escalated in China – which, as of 20 March, has registered none new locally transmitted cases for a second day – as well as the dramatic pace at which they still are escalating in Italy, France, Germany – and globally. As the states implement more and more stringent measures to slow down the contagion and avoid the collapse of the different national healthcare systems, we find ourselves mostly confined in our homes: in fact, while a vaccine for COVID-19 is being developed, we have to act like a social vaccine and practice physical social distancing in order to not get infected ourselves and not infect other people.

In Italy, the government led by PM Giuseppe Conte decided for a first, selective lockdown on 22 February, when eleven municipalities in the north of the country were declared “red zones”. The measures were soon extended to entire regions (Lombardy, Veneto and Piedmont) and finally, on 9 March, to the whole country. This concretely means that in Italy, several citizens have been in quarantine for almost a month.

In these trying times, many are the initiatives through which Italians have tried and reinvented togetherness, in order to cope with the disruption of our daily routines and social life – from “balcony flash mobs” to live Instagram “concerts from home” and free access to a variety of digital services and products (streaming platforms, ebooks, etc.). It is in this spontaneous framework of grassroots and top-down solidarities that La radio per l’Italia places itself, also as an unprecedented event in the (Italian) history of communication.

Through the brainchild of Radio Italia’s vice-president Marco Pontini, La radio per l’Italia brought simultaneous radio broadcasting to life for the first time in Italian history. On 20 March, at 11 a.m., all the Italian radio stations – both public and private broadcasters, both national and local stations, all at the same time – joined forces and played the same four songs: Inno di Mameli – the Italian national anthem – Azzurro by Celentano, La Canzone del Sole by Battisti and Nel blu dipinto di blu (Volare) by Modugno.

But let’s take a step back to better grasp the sociological relevance of such an event. As humans, we are currently seeing our primary form of sociality – face-to-face interaction – cut down to the bone, because it itself represents a danger to the survival of our societies. Media, as (alternative) means of communication, become then even more prominent: provided that, already in normal circumstances, they allow us to stay informed, keep in touch with our loved ones and stay connected to our local and national community wherever we are, we see how their role becomes vital in a time when even a simple encounter with a friend represents too much of a social risk.

In this historical and historic moment in which media are almost all we have left to maintain our sociality, what does it mean to broadcast the same message, at the same time, on all the available (radio) channels? Most likely, it means trying and uniting a nation by means of what John B. Thompson called “despatialised simultaneity”: mass media – and especially radio, TV and Internet broadcasting – allow people to experience an event as simultaneous, regardless of where they are and where the event is taking place. For instance, when we switch on the television and tune in to a certain channel to follow the news, we understand that many other people might be doing the same. Some of us will in fact be seeing the same images, listening to the same updates, at the same time – but each in their own home. This mechanism becomes yet more evident in the occasion of big happenings: a presidential discourse, the Olympics, a royal wedding.

In the case of La radio per l’Italia, despatialised simultaneity was pushed to its extreme: not one, not many, but all the Italian radio stations jointly decided to offer the same 10 minutes of music, and by doing so they merged their particular audiences into one – that of the Italian people. Anyone – from Milan to Campobasso, from Udine to Messina – turning on the radio around 11 would in fact be listening to the same four songs. A powerful initiative, considering the cultural and patriotic value of the songs chosen. A brief, yet nationwide “event” – of which the effective audience still has to be determined – that proves that mass communication can also serve as a privileged bearer of solidarity messages.

Picture: Pietro Luca Cassarino, Flickr

My Third Semester: Research Track at IUPUI, Indianapolis, USA

Interview conducted by Hannah Bieber

Gianluca Michieletto (2018-2020) is an Italian Euroculture student who spent his first semester at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and his second one at the University of Bilbao, Spain. Soon, he will return to Göttingen for his fourth and final semester. Before enrolling in the Euroculture programme, he did a BA in Languages, Civilisation and Science of the Language at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy. He applied for Euroculture because the degree matched his interests and previous studies, but also because of the international context of the master. For his third semester, Gianluca crossed the Atlantic to do a research track at Indiana University-Purdue University, in Indianapolis, United States.

Euroculturer Magazine: If you had to describe Euroculture MA in one word, what would that be?

GM: If I had to describe Euroculture in only one world, it would definitely be ‘growth’. Euroculture transformed me as a person, not only by the enhancement of my educational skills but also through my mental, social and emotional growth. I would definitely say that all the small things that I had to undergo during the past three semesters – living by myself, finding an accommodation every semester, taking care of everything, getting to know new people and new cities – have shaped me and helped me to become the person I am today.

EM: If you had to talk about two positive and two negative aspects of Euroculture, what would that be? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Research Track at IUPUI, Indianapolis, USA”

My Third Semester: Internship at COMECE, Brussels, Belgium

Interview conducted by Hannah Bieber

Emilio Dogliani (2018-2020) is Italian and studied Euroculture at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and at the University of Strasbourg, France. Before applying for the master’s degree, he did a BA in European Languages and Cultures at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. He applied for Euroculture because the programme allowed him to combine politics and culture and gave him the opportunity to do an internship, but also because he wanted to study in Germany and practice his German. He chose the professional track for his third semester and did an internship at the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) in Brussels, Belgium.

Euroculturer Magazine: What were your expectations when you applied/started the Euroculture MA and does it match the reality at the moment?

Emilio Dogliani: When I applied for Euroculture, I expected the programme to be very strict and with in-depth and specific courses that would allow me to learn a bit more about political sciences and European institutions, in a very international environment. The international dimension of the programme certainly was there, I continued in fact to work and study with many people from abroad, as I had already done during my BA. The focus on political sciences and the depth of the courses lacked a bit, as far as I am concerned. I expected the courses to be very specific and the workload to be pretty heavy, since Euroculture is in the end a Master’s. However, I found that the interdisciplinary aspect of the Programme, which is a plus compared to other monothematic MAs, was in some cases a hindrance to the knowledge that we as students could acquire. I also expected the evaluation methods to be more strict and knowledge-based, as almost all students come from very different academic  backgrounds, but in the end the skill-learning seemed to fairly prevail on the topics learnt.

EM: What was the most difficult thing you encountered after starting the program? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Internship at COMECE, Brussels, Belgium”

What the hell is (still) going on in Chile?

Interview conducted by Guilherme Becker

Since October 2019 Chile is (almost literally) on fire. Just to have an idea of the situation, let’s start taking a look at some numbers regarding the protests that since then erupted against the government and the whole social and economic system in the South American country: At least 30 dead as well as thousands injured and jailed. Among the injured, many went blind because of rubber bullets shot by police – it is estimated that more than 200 people have got eye problems. The demonstrations have also affected the daily life, the public transport and the political spectrum. Monuments, buildings and historical places have been constantly damaged, as the streets are still full of people angrily protesting.

That is the summary of something that might have been postponed for decades.

During my internship at Deutsche Welle, in Bonn, I had the opportunity to meet people from different newsrooms. DW has newsrooms in more than 30 different languages, so imagine that it is a piece of the world inside its own world. One of the journalists that I met was José Urrejola, from Chile, who has been covering the whole situation and its developments. With a local perspective but also through an international coverage of the facts, in this interview he explains what is going on in his country, and explicitly argues that “the protests will continue until this president resigns or a ‘miracle’ happens, and he decides to make the changes that people are asking for.”

Euroculturer Magazine: What is actually happening in Chile? Tell us a little bit about the paths that the country took in the last decades and also why the protests erupted now, by the end of last year.

José Urrejola: Firstly we have to put it into context. From my perspective as well from the perspective of many other political experts and scientists, the current problems of Chile originated mainly in the periods of dictatorship and post-dictatorship. During this dark period in Chilean history, with Augusto Pinochet in power, the country established a constitution in which, among other things, gives the country’s economic elite the power to buy and sell whatever they want. Private property is stronger and more protected than what belongs to the state. That has led, for example, to the fact that even something as basic as drinking water supplies belongs to private companies. Even though Chile has actually grown economically speaking after the dictatorship, the wealth has been accumulated among families of the economic elite, and only a small percentage of this money goes to other social classes. The people in Chile are not protesting because of lack of food or because they cannot buy shoes for their children. Chileans are protesting because of a thousand abuses featured by the economic and political elites that have ruled the country over the last three decades, after the return to democracy, in 1990. People are demanding “dignity”, that is, systems that cover basic needs, with a decent health system, a decent pension system and qualified education, among other things. It is hoped that with the plebiscite for a new constitution new systems can be established for the society.

EM: The government has already pointed out signs for reforms, but the protests continue. Do you believe in a possible deadline for the protests?

JU: It doesn’t matter which reform this government establishes, nothing will satisfy the demands of the people. The president Sebastián Piñera, one of the richest men in Chile, represents the questionable economic elite. He is not the right man to solve this crisis. Basically, if he was up to accept the reforms claimed by the citizens and subsequently change the system, structurally speaking, he and other rich people would be affected and would have to give up the power. Therefore, the protests are going to continue until this president resigns or a “miracle” occurs and he decides to make the changes that the people are asking for.

EM: Do you believe that the riots were already predicted by all sides of it, government and students, unions and the social classes most affected by liberal policies? I mean, they all knew that one day it was going to happen?

JU: Personally I don’t believe people who say “we didn’t see it was coming” or “we didn’t know this could happen”. This social outburst was foreshadowed some years ago, but no one really took it seriously. We can agree that it took long for Chileans to show their dissatisfaction, that they were “asleep” and allowing these abuses for a long time. However, I would describe this as a ticking bomb that sooner or later was going to explode and the trigger was those 30 Pesos in the transport (the demonstrations started after the Chilean government has raised the price of public transport tickets).

EM: How do you face the fact of students now having migrated the protest to the intellectual part of the process? In this case, in Chile, you have to take a test to get into universities, and the students said that this year they will not take this test. What do you think about this and which can be the consequences of this act?

JU: Well, the first people that started doing something regarding the price of the public transport tickets were high school students. It’s the young people who started moving the country. And we could say that this social explosion was “agglutinating” because it binds up all the demands of the citizens: health, education, pensions etc. In the case of the education sector, young students are aware that the Prueba de Selección Universitaria (University Selection Test) is part of the bad Chilean education system. This test endorses social segmentation: while the richest have a better education through a private system, those with less income do not get high scores and have no options to study. In addition, they are forced to get into debt if they want to study. Therefore the problem is not the final test, but the education system that results in enormous differences through income levels. Regarding the actions taken by young people, unfortunately they could not manage to change anything by boycotting the test. Perhaps they managed to get people talking about it, but the underlying problems are rather structural in society. The fault is not the test itself, even though I don’t think it’s good either because it only measures knowledge and not skills.

EM: More liberal sectors have said that the situation in Chile could be even worse if liberal policies had not been launched in recent decades. In this case, these people want to say that Chile could be in an even worse financial situation. What do you think about that?

JU: Part of the society is asking for an overall change in the country’s economic system. I don’t think that’s possible. To me it seems that it is not arguable that Chile has grown through liberal policies in recent years. Meanwhile the wealth has mainly remained with the economic elite, as I mentioned earlier, and just a small percentage of that went to the rest of the society. Chile still has a neoliberal or capitalist system, whatever you want to call it. Nevertheless the country is not growing anymore. It is stagnated, though that meets the current financial situation in a global context. So it is not because the system in Chile is effective or not. Anyway the problems of the Chilean economy are different: it is not dynamic, it is an old-fashioned economy, in which the exploitation of raw materials such as copper, lithium, agriculture and wine are its main markets. If Chile is not capable of developing in terms of innovation, technology or industries, it does not matter what model it has: it will not grow economically. In modern times, it is also necessary to aim at a circular economy, with a focus on the environment. Chile is far away from this and it does happen precisely because of the country’s economic elite. Most of these people are concerned in accumulating more wealth for their personal well-being.

EM: In your point of view, what is the future of Chile and Latin America?

JU: It’s hard to answer this question. In Chile, I don’t see a possible short-term solution. The first thing the country should do is changing the constitution, which was idealized during the dictatorship. Otherwise the economic elite will continue to rule the country. But even if a new Magna Carta is written, there is still a long way to define which society the country wants to build, which pension system, which health system, which education system, among other important ones. In Latin America, I believe that we should focus our efforts on promoting policies that are aligned with the global context, that is, adopting a circular economy, concerned with the environment, and also fighting against the continent’s economic inequality. However, I do not imagine that this will happen soon, unfortunately.

Picture: Nelson Anguita, protestas Santiago, Flickr

My Third Semester: Internship at the headquarters of UNIDO in Vienna, Austria

Interview conducted by Hannah Bieber

Gulnur Telibayeva (2018-2020) is a Kazakh Euroculture student. Upon the validation of her Bachelor degree in International Relations at the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University of Almaty, Kazakhstan, she applied for the Euroculture MA in order to delve further into the question of European integration. She spent her first semester in Strasbourg, France, and her second semester in Uppsala, Sweden. For her third semester, she did an internship at the headquarters of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Vienna, Austria. 

Euroculturer Magazine: What were you expecting from the Euroculture MA, and did it meet your expectations?

Gulnur Telibayeva: It was the first time that I moved so far away from my family and hometown for so long: it’s been a huge mix of emotions, expectations and fears. I remember how excited I was for the degree itself. Naturally, it’s a very comprehensive Master, so I had prepared myself to think about my own priorities. My aim was to focus mainly on the topics of politics and cultural diplomacy. Since there’s a wide range of classes and a lot of freedom for your research paper choice, I have been pretty satisfied with the knowledge I have been gaining. I guess I didn’t expected that much individual and independent work. But this is probably due to simple differences in education system backgrounds. It gets tough, but it’s completely worth it!

EM: Did you struggle with something after starting the programme? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Internship at the headquarters of UNIDO in Vienna, Austria”

My Third Semester: Research Track at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma of Mexico (UNAM)

Interview conducted by Hannah Bieber

Joyce Pepe (2018-2020) is a Dutch-Italian Euroculture student. She did a BA in European Languages and Cultures before applying for the MA, and decided to embark on the Euroculture adventure mainly because of the interdisciplinarity of the programme. She spent her first semester at the University of Göttingen, Germany, and her second semester at the University of Udine, Italy. For her third semester, she chose to do a research track outside Europe, at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma of Mexico (UNAM), Mexico City, Mexico. 

Euroculturer Magazine: Why did you choose the research track? And why did you choose to study at UNAM?

Joyce Pepe: I have to be honest and say that my decision to apply for a research track was quite sudden and improvised. If you had asked the version of me that just started attending classes in Göttingen, I would have told you that I would apply for an internship position. And here I am now, one year later, living in Mexico City. When we received the booklet with all of the information regarding the research track, I initially disregarded it, convinced about my decision to continue with the other path, but when I started looking into the different courses offered at UNAM, I grew more and more interested. For one, I believed it would have offered me the opportunity to improve my spanish, which was already a B2 level. Second, I deemed the possibility to move and study in a university across the ocean a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Thirdly, while I liked the idea of starting putting into practice what I had been learning for the past four years, it saddened me to know that if I had opted for an internship it would have meant the end of my life as a university student, as I would have no longer have attended classes, other than those regarding my thesis. Finally, I was extremely interested in the classes at UNAM, which link my interest in Europe with that in Latin America.

EM: What is the research track like at UNAM?  Continue reading “My Third Semester: Research Track at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma of Mexico (UNAM)”

My Third Semester: Internship at the Alliance Française of Edmonton, Canada

Interview conducted by Hannah Bieber

Richard Blais (2018-2020) is a French Euroculture student who spent his first semester in Olomouc, Czech Republic and his second semester in Groningen, Netherlands. He did a double bachelor degree in History and English Civilisation, language and literature in Paris, France. Upon graduating, he did a one-year civic service at a house of Europe in Bordeaux, France. He applied for the Euroculture Master because of his interest in social sciences and the international aspect of the degree. For his third semester, he did an internship at the Alliance Française of Edmonton, Canada.

Euroculturer Magazine: What were your expectations when you started the Euroculture MA and does it match the reality at the moment?

Richard Blais: I imagined myself moving a lot. And I was not disappointed! Moving around Europe implied a lot of expectations of course, like meeting new people and discovering new cultures. And as cliché and corny as it sounds, it really widened my own horizons! Doing the Euroculture degree helped me to meet a wide variety of students who had the same tastes for discussions, political issues, international culture, arts, and so on. It helped me gaining a more international profile which is probably what I sought when I enrolled in the programme.

EM: What was the most difficult thing you encountered after starting the programme? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Internship at the Alliance Française of Edmonton, Canada”

My Third Semester: Internship at the Council of the EU in Brussels, Belgium

Interview conducted by Hannah Bieber

Arianna Rizzi (2018-2020) is an Italian and Swiss Euroculture Student who spent her first semester in Strasbourg, France, and her second semester in Groningen, Netherlands. After studying Communication Sciences at the Università della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano, Switzerland, she applied for the Euroculture MA because she wanted to switch her study path towards political and cultural studies. She also wanted to add an international experience to her resume. For her third semester, she did an internship at the Council of the European Union in Brussels, Belgium.

Euroculturer Magazine: What were your expectations when you applied for the Euroculture MA and does it match the reality at the moment?

Arianna Rizzi: When I applied for Euroculture, I had no specific expectations: I just liked the idea that, as follow-up to my Bachelor’s in Communication Sciences, I could delve into European political and cultural studies. Maybe I expected the degree to be more focused on Europe and the EU in political terms, but in the end I really appreciated its sociological take on many Europe-related issues.

EM: What was the most difficult thing you encountered after starting the program? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Internship at the Council of the EU in Brussels, Belgium”

Is this really the end of the Erasmus Programme in the United Kingdom?

By Gianluca Michieletto

It has been almost five years since my first taste of Erasmus experience in Brighton, United Kingdom. It was a crisp mid-September morning when I flew from “my” Venice to London Gatwick with one of the many flights that connect the two European cities. I was very excited and scared at the same time, trying to imagine how my life would change from that point on. The year in Brighton did not represent my first study-abroad experience, since I had already enjoyed several short language courses in Northern Ireland and England. However, this represented the first long-term experience away from my family and my country, and, for an average Italian youngster, it is never easy to leave your “mamma” and move abroad (I am sure that my Italian fellow students would agree with me on this). Yet, I could have never imagined that Erasmus changed myself and my life so much in such a positive way.

Even though it was only five years ago (2015), things have drastically changed: I was a degreeless 18-year-old boy, my English and life skills were the opposite of flawless, and Brexit had not happened yet. 

On January 9th, 2020, British MPs voted against the possibility of the United Kingdom to continue benefiting a full membership of the Erasmus programme after Brexit (344 to 254 votes). Proposed by the opposition, the “New Clause 10” would have in fact assured the participation of the United Kingdom also for the cycle 2021-2027.

Even though the government has denied the possibility to fully abandon the programme, the decision represents a crystal-clear stance against the EU. As reported by the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, in fact, different conservative MPs have argued that the decision was taken in order “not to have their hands tied in the next negotiates with the EU”.[1] For the moment, the government and the European Union claimed that funds for the upcoming year are secured and will be honoured, as well as the two-year scholarships. After the transition period, however, it is still not clear what is going to happen.

Yet, the United Kingdom would not represent the first country outside the Union to benefit of the Erasmus programme, since countries like Norway, Turkey and Iceland are called “programme members”’ and fully participate in the programme.[2] It must be mentioned, however, that the new British government’s plan aims at cutting all the old relationships with the EU, trying to maintain only economic ties. This currently leaves the UK with only one option: leaving the Erasmus+ Programme. Moreover, as the BBC reported, even though the United Kingdom wanted to renegotiate the terms and re-enter the Erasmus programme, it would not happen until the beginning of the next cycle,[3] meaning 2027.

Thus, there is a not-so-remote possibility that British universities would not benefit from the programme for almost a decade, consequently denying several thousands of students the possibility to enjoy this huge opportunity. At the same time, also students from other EU member states would have more difficulties applying to British universities compared to their previous “colleagues”, since the Prime Minister Boris Johnson will probably not be soft on immigration policies. Moreover, in the case of a “no-deal”, British universities would lose their appeal in the European university market, since European students would be forced to pay higher tuition fees. Indeed, the current agreement between the EU and Westminster “safeguards” member states’ students with a privileged status, thus paying the same tuition fees as British citizens.

On this line, at the beginning of 2019, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) claimed that EU students have been extremely important in British universities, accounting 5% and 8% respectively at the undergraduate and postgraduate level in 2017.[4] In the same year, moreover, it must be argued that 16.561 UK students enjoyed their semester or year abroad through Erasmus funds, while 31.727 students from other European countries studied in British universities.[5] Since then, the number of incoming and outgoing students have continuously increased.

The decision of the United Kingdom of not renewing the Erasmus+ agreements would deprive students of the possibility to live in another country, to integrate in another culture, to learn a new language, as well as meeting new people and experiencing unforgettable adventures. As the majority of Erasmus students argue, in fact, the Erasmus year represents the best year of their lives and a non-renewal would symbolize only a theft to future generations. Once again, as it occurred in the Brexit election, it is older generations, who never experienced such an opportunity, to decide for our (I also include myself) future.[6]

As already mentioned in the introduction, I consider my Erasmus year in Brighton one of the most important experiences of my life, since it somehow matured me and shaped who I am today. Erasmus is in fact not only responsible for the development of peculiar abilities needed in the university and work environment, but it is essential in the growth of personal skills and values. Indeed, what I did not tell you in the beginning is that the Erasmus experience enlightened my path of life. Some people could argue that it represents a stupid and naive sentence to say, but I am who I am today thanks to Erasmus and all its related experiences.

After my year abroad, in fact, my unconditional support for the European Union, its values and its possibilities, made me understand what I wanted to do after finishing my bachelor’s degree. In 2018, I was lucky enough to enrol in the Euroculture Programme, an Erasmus Mundus Master which focuses on European politics, culture and history. For those who may not know, Erasmus Mundus Masters are EU funded programmes, which give students the possibility to earn a double degree by studying in different countries. As for myself, I studied in Göttingen (Germany), Bilbao (Spain) and Indianapolis (USA).

After explaining my story and my points of view, I feel in the position to state that a possible agreement of the UK to leave the Erasmus Programme could only be considered catastrophic. Catastrophic, not as much for the United Kingdom and the European Union as political entities, but to their future students, who could not benefit from similar opportunities. However, while member states’ future students would continue to benefit from the programme by choosing other university destinations, British students would have fewer opportunities to study abroad, thus being sealed inside their own bubble.

Picture: Dunk, Banksy does Brexit (detail), Flickr

Sources:

Statista Research Department, “Brexit votes in the United Kingdom by age”, Statista, August 9, 2019. Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/520954/brexit-votes-by-age/

Bieber, Hannah. “Brexit and the generation that was robbed”, The Euroculturer, October 13, 2019. Available at: https://euroculturer.eu/2019/10/13/brexit-and-the-generation-that-was-robbed/

Cosslett, Rhiannon Lucy. “Thanks to Erasmus programme, my small world grew big”, The Guardian, January 9, 2020. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jan/09/erasmus-programme-year-studying-europe

Adams, Richard. “UK ‘committed’ to maintaining Erasmus+ exchange scheme”, The Guardian, January 9, 2020. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/jan/09/uk-committed-to-maintaining-erasmus-exchange-scheme

Tommasetta, Lara.”Brexit, il Regno Unito vota per abbandonare il programma Erasmus. Ma è davvero un addio?”, TPI News, January 9, 2020. Available at: https://www.tpi.it/esteri/brexit-regno-unito-addio-erasmus-20200109525875/

Guerrera, Antonello. “Brexit, Londra non conferma l’Erasmus: Eventuale accordo andrà rinegoziato”, La Repubblica, 9th January 2020. Available at: https://www.repubblica.it/esteri/2020/01/09/news/brexit_il_regno_unito_dice_addio_all_erasmus-245321403/

Reality Check Team, “Erasmus: What could happen to scheme after Brexit”, BBC News, 9th January 2020. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/education-47293927

To have more information, look also at: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/about/brexit_en

[1] Antonello Guerrera, “Brexit, Londra non conferma l’Erasmus: Eventuale accordo andrà rinegoziato”, La Repubblica, January 9,2020

[2] Reality Check Team, “Erasmus: What could happen to scheme after Brexit”, BBC News, January 9, 2020

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hannah Bieber, “Brexit and the generation that was robbed”, The Euroculturer, October 13, 2019

[5] Ibid.

[6] Statista Research Department, “Brexit votes in the United Kingdom by age”, Statista, August 9, 2019