There has been a lot of austerity and general socio-political woes in Europe for the past year. Economics and finances have been breaking the EU apart at the ideological seams. As soon as someone messes up and the chips are down, it's no longer "Europe" but Greece, Germany, Spain, France, etc. Understandable and human, but also not what the EU project is about. So it's no wonder that Erasmus is getting the short shrift. Times are tough and it's hard to keep lofty ideals floating with cash when that's hard to come by.
I have seem students benefit from Erasmus and similar programs. I worked for an educational NGO in Budapest, which was the base for European operations, and I helped out at the scholarship seminar held there for all the winners. These students come from all over the central and eastern half of Europe (it's a region specific program) to do team building activities with no regard to where they come from. There are some language barriers, but they all speak English with equal proficiency to make up for it. They do presentations, do rope courses and hilarious challenges, and they also party together (including lighting a particular alcohol in their mouths--egad). I had a nice Czech fellow regale me on how difficult his language was by firelight. I'm an American and I had a lot of fun with my contemporaries from across the pond. Not to mention the ties I made from working in a pan-European office with interns from Russia and Italy.
My experiences there have only continued my obsession and strengthened my ties with the region. One of my good friends, Paweł, was a former winner and returned as a counselor the year I was there. We met and became good pen pals. This blog has seen a lot of great contributions because he is so excited to share Polish things with me. These participants become friends with each other, and not just Facebook friends; some run marathons together! It's a great program that boosts those ties and increases cultural understanding. It's no longer the Czech Republic or Moldova, but Europe. It's such a great testament to the goals of the EU and it's funded by a private company (that's not even European! gasp!). This company recognizes the need to cultivate local human capital and to erase the multifarious borders that exist in Europe. It enhances business and creates more stability in the social realm as well. This is why Erasmus is crucial politically and economically. Most of the students I met spoke their native tongue, English, and at least one other language. These ties are the slow way to create European-minded citizens, but it's the surest way to do it. If those opportunities are available and beneficial, it boosts the competitiveness of being pan-European and suddenly it's the only way to go. If you marry the market to social ideals in a positive, reinforcing way, it sticks. KEEP ERASMUS.
In other news, Krugman chimes in on Serbian economics and austerity is killing Europe (turns out the didn't learn the IMF lesson...). More reasons to keep putting money into Erasmus. Just sayin'.