When a young official at the nascent European Parliament introduced me to Altiero Spinelli, one of the people who had spurred my interest in European integration as a student, awe turned to action. In a very small way, everyone could contribute to shaping Europe’s future, as Jean Monnet had said.
In 1984, turning the European Parliament into a legislature with genuine legislative power was highly contentious but an aspiration to be grasped and realised. It took years, but it happened. Constitutional renewal and treaty change are milestones that confirm pragmatic responses to innovation and the challenges each generation addresses.
So, when a former student of mine half-jokingly said “You’re responsible for creating EU citizens liable to be stripped of their EU rights if Brexit happens”, he reminded me of how making EU citizenship a tangible reality has enthused a generation. He had been part of the generation that came to University at one of the most exciting times in the EU’s history.
He was one of those to have engaged in European Weeks, European mobility schemes, efforts to inform the public about ‘Europe’, raise awareness of what Europe had done for us, and had responded by aiming to effect change, for the betterment of all. For him, the Single European Market symbolises Europe trying to boost prosperity and wellbeing together. He feels that more can be done together than singly; that the UK constitutes an integral part of Europe and the European Union.
By the time the Maastricht Treaty (1993) confirmed the concept of EU citizenship (first expressed in the political right to elect MEPs), academics and officials had been flouting establishment and political opprobrium for many years. The Brexiteers’ anti-academe tirades in 2017 put a face on a lingering, nasty under-current. Government leaders determined to realise the Four Freedoms and used mobility accordingly. Academics designed joint study and degree programmes and internships that, without the European Commission and forward-thinking government leaders, would never have materialised.
That was no easy feat. Months and years of interminable scrutiny of national rules, school exams, admission criteria, waiving tuition fees, pastoral care provision, mutual recognition of marking schemes and standards, module content and duration, exam schemes, linguistic meanings, health and social welfare entitlements, and equivalence of qualifications eventually paid off. More and more students and researchers from different disciplines became mobile. The UK benefited from EU students coming here. English became a standard language for University courses elsewhere in the EU.
For years, language students had done ‘exchange’ schemes, and from the 1980s with financial support from the EC. Over the next 30 years, many different programmes (from Jean Monnet Programmes to Socrates, lifelong learning and Horizon 2020) enabled bricklayers, medics, local government, bureaucrats, engineers, electricians, scientists, volunteers and those without formal Higher Education entry qualifications to join in.
Ever-more ambitious schemes responded to international challenges as Eastern Europe sought membership of the EU. International research, mobility and exchange programmes merged into Erasmus Plus: by 2016 over 4,000 institutions and around 5% of students had participated in ‘Erasmus’. Europe is their home. They are EU citizens in a real sense.
2018 presents us with some of the biggest challenges and opportunities for imaginative innovation and constitutional renewal for EU citizens.
What would that itinerant monk, Desiderius Erasmus, the 16th century Dutch philosopher and critic of dogmatism, after whom these education and research programmes were named, make of Brexit?
Juliet Lodge (Prof Em) is a founding ‘Jean Monnet Professor’ and was awarded the honour of ‘European Woman of Europe’ in 1992 for her voluntary work in building public awareness of the EU. She has published widely on EU politics, policies and the Euro-elections, democratic legitimacy, biometrics, and EU border management. She is European by conviction and birth.