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Erasmus Programme and the EU’s Cultural Diplomacy

September 19, 2010

A few weeks ago the President of the European Commission Barroso gave his first “State of the Union 2010” speech in which he said that “Europe must show it is more than 27 different national solutions.” This made me think about the EU’s efforts to promote European cultural integration and the importance of it in shaping citizens’ attitudes towards the EU. One of the most successful EU-wide programmes aimed at strengthening educational and cultural cooperation in Europe is the Erasmus programme. With an annual budget of 450 million EUR it makes possible for around 200.000 students a year to study and work in another European country. There are many benefits of this programme for students, staff and universities, but one I find especially interesting in the public diplomacy context is the broad cultural impact it has on participants – it helps to promote a shared idea of Europe, understanding of which becomes crucial when citizens have to vote. Among other things Erasmus is said to give “students a better sense of what it means to be a European citizen”. It is probably true that when it comes to identity most people will feel German, Italian, Spanish etc. before identifying oneself as European. Nevertheless getting to know another culture by living in that country can contribute to a better understanding of what being “united in diversity” (motto of the EU) is really all about. If EU topics are sometimes hard to communicate because of the proverbial lack of interest for them, success of such programmes gives a nice example of a good practice in making the EU closer to its citizens and promoting mutual understanding.

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