By Benjamin Abtan, President of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement –EGAM.
Many young people are attracted by extremism, notably nationalism and Islamism, and fuel the political, social and moral crisis that our continent is experiencing. Europe needs a profound democratic revival, which places youth at its heart. “Universal Erasmus”, or “Erasmus for all”, is an innovative and concrete initiative that will enable Europe’s youth to respond to this challenge with enthusiasm and unity.
“Universal Erasmus” is the generalisation of the circulation of young people in Europe in order to deepen democracy.
All young people in Europe, especially those who are the most excluded because of social, racial or territorial reasons, will be involved in this initiative together. It is not only a change of scale, but also a change in the nature of the programme which has made people love Europe and has allowed more than 9 million people to travel since 1987.
Concretely, this means years or semesters of exchange or time spent abroad for all students, apprentices and unemployed young people and class trips or short exchanges for all high school, middle school and primary school students.
Pedagogical support will ensure that this movement implies a rejection of racism and antisemitism and a commitment to the values of democracy. Indeed, circulation alone does not necessarily imply humanism and openness to the world.
By bringing to life the fundamental values of democracy, Universal Erasmus will make a profound transformation of Europe.
First of all, it is an initiative for equality and justice.
An entire generation will be included in a common project. The passage through Europe will reintroduce social, racial and territorial mobility at a time when societies in Europe are becoming more and more closed off, therefore unjust. This change of logic is strong: it is no longer a question of widening the sphere of beneficiaries around the “winners of globalisation”, but rather its generalisation, to include from now on and under the same title those who are considered the “losers of globalisation.”
This will reduce inequality of opportunity between different societal groups, a generator tensions.
Next, it is also an initiative for freedom.
By offering individuals the opportunity to develop themselves through meeting the Other, to freely form their identities in a non-xenophobic and fully European way, Universal Erasmus will offer them the possibility of emancipation. It is through this exchange that individuals will be able to best identify the cultural and national legacies that have been transmitted to them and open up perspectives to invent their own identity and to make their own life decisions.
On the other hand, it is a popular initiative for the concrete transformation of Europe.
Universal Erasmus will be a new life experience for all young people, a real right and a tangible benefit gained thanks to Europe. By extension, all the families of the continent will be beneficiaries as the European experience and the image of Europe will be changed profoundly for tens of millions of individuals.
If it is fundamentally innovative, this new great European adventure is inscribed in the filiation of older thought schools.
In 1935, the philosopher Husserl, excluded from the German University because he was Jewish, already saw the construction of a European identity as the only way to resist nationalism which was spread across Europe. Some years later, Stefan Zweig called for the circulation of young people in Europe, especially in the context of their education, and for the transmission of the history of culture as a shared experience, in order to strengthen European solidarity and avoid the moral disintegration of our continent.
Universal Erasmus is inscribed in the history of building a European identity and civil society to give it a renewed dynamic. In so doing, it will restore Europe’s ambition of civilization and strengthen solidarity between Europeans as well as citizens’ participation in shared institutions. By profoundly renewing the European project and placing youth in its heart, it will offer them a path towards the future. In this respect, Universal Erasmus is a powerful contribution to the fight against extremism that attracts many young people.
Of course, to achieve the effective implementation of Universal Erasmus, many challenges will have to be met, particularly linguistic, organizational, educational, institutional and financial.
The experiences acquired by institutions and by civil society at the European and local levels offer ideas on how to solve each problem. Financially, one should not be mistaken: Europe is experiencing a period of turbulence that could be fatal, and money will inevitably be spent in the future. Is it better to pay a high price for the costs of the displacement crises or to offer a chance to avoid them by investing in youth and democracy?
In his Speech at The Sorbonne, on September 26, the President of the French Republic endorsed the proposition that “by 2024, half of an age group must have spent at least six months in another European country before reaching 25.”
Universal Erasmus must now be part of the objectives, not only of France, but of all European countries.
It is a vital necessity and a fundamental democratic imperative for our continent.