EU Committee Calls for UK-EU Young Citizens’ Free Movement, Urges UK to Rejoin Erasmus

| April 9, 2024
EU Committee Calls for UK-EU Young Citizens' Free Movement, Urges UK to Rejoin Erasmus

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has approved a proposal that urges the European Union (EU) to lift travel restrictions for young citizens.

It also explicitly called for the EU to negotiate with the United Kingdom (UK) to rejoin the Erasmus program.

The European Economic and Social Committee is an official consultative body of the EU Commission.

Erasmus is an EU program that offers opportunities for young people to travel and gain work experience, study, or train in another country.

The Independent reported that a resolution urging the EU to renegotiate a reciprocal youth mobility partnership with the UK was signed during the EESC meeting on 3 April.

It was approved virtually unanimously, with 77 votes in favor to zero against, with one abstention.

The resolution noted that it is “officially and strongly supported by both the European Youth Forum and British Youth Council.”

Maurizio Cuttin, the British Youth Council’s ambassador to the European Youth Forum, said the UK “owes it to its young people to provide opportunities” for a brighter future.

“Embracing Erasmus+ is undoubtedly the way forward. Students, apprentices, and young volunteers deserve nothing less,” he said.

European Youth Forum president María Rodríguez Alcázar hopes the decision makers on both sides of the channel will discuss “all the recommendations in the EESC’s opinion.”

“Many youth organizations across the UK and the EU” also support the proposal, seeing it as a significant step towards the UK’s reintegration into the Erasmus program.

It also gives hope to British nationals under 30 who missed the chance to work and study in the EU due to Brexit.

Support for a reciprocal UK-EU youth mobility scheme

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has also called for free movement between the EU and the UK for young people.

In January 2024, he insisted the UK government arrange a reciprocal youth mobility agreement with the EU.

This will allow young people to study, travel, and fill job vacancies in critical economic sectors.

He stressed, “I’m clear that I’d be supportive of a youth mobility scheme, which would benefit us economically, culturally, and socially.”

Khan is also open to lifting visa rules restricting travel and working in other European countries post-Brexit.

Former Conservative and Unionist Party cabinet minister and leading Brexiter George Eustice backed a similar idea.

In July 2023, Eustice urged the UK government to negotiate with EU member states on an agreement for young people.

Both EU citizens wanting to work in the UK and British citizens in the EU should be offered the right to a two-year work visa.

A 2023 campaign group Best for Britain poll showed that 68 percent of 10,000 voters support a reciprocal youth mobility scheme with the EU.

The poll also revealed that 61 percent of the respondents supported the UK’s reintegration into the Erasmus program.

Naomi Smith, Best for Britain’s chief executive, said a “reciprocal youth mobility scheme with the EU is win-win.”

“With the EU now backing the plan, it’s time the UK Government signed up to a reciprocal EU-UK Youth Mobility Scheme and allowed British students back into Erasmus,” she added.

Jan Hendrik Dopheide, a senior EU official responsible for UK relations, told the EESC that the Commission is discussing youth mobility options with member states.

The UK and the Erasmus program

When the UK left the EU and the Erasmus program, approximately 200,000 young”UK nationals could no longer study for free at the best universities across Europe.

Post-Brexit travel rules have also made it much more difficult for people to move freely between the EU and the UK for travel, work, and study.

Despite leaving the bloc, the EU offered London to stay in the Erasmus program. However, the UK government turned it down.

Nick Leake, a veteran senior diplomat at the UK Mission, told the EESC meeting that the UK passed on the Erasmus program due to financial matters.

As Politico reported, he told the committee, “The interests of the UK taxpayer are why we decided not to participate in Erasmus+.”

Leake said that the terms for continued participation in the program “would have required the UK to pay €2 billion.”

The amount is “more than we would have received over the course of a 7-year program.” which is around “300 million a year.

Leake also spoke of the imbalance between British citizens’ foreign language ability to take advantage of outward mobility opportunities and people wanting to come to”the UK.

After leaving the Erasmus scheme, the UK set up its own study abroad scheme called Turing.

However, an analysis commissioned by the UK government indicated the program had failed to meet its targets.

The Turing scheme had just over 20,000 students in the 2021/22 academic year, falling short of the target of 35,000.

Almost 80% of participating universities and colleges reported difficulties with the new application process.