Besides stimulating cooperation in the field of higher education and, as part of that, studies abroad, the Erasmus Programme is the European Union’s attempt at social-engineering a transnational European class of open-minded, pro-European integration, multi-lingual, mobile, and high-achieving people, possibly the future leaders of the continent (the program is running since 1987 so we may still have to wait to see).
As a bonus, the European Community Action Plan for the Mobility of University Students (ERASMUS stands for that, though it is also reference to the medieval Dutch scholar Erasmus) may also lead to the birth of children with a fully transnational identity, from parents who have come to know each other while spending time abroad with the Erasmus scholarship’s support.
Recently, a study prepared for the European Commission showed that over a quarter of program participants may have found their future partners like this, and the Commission presented this by leaping to the conclusion that this may have resulted in one-million babies…
(Never mind that “alternative cost” matters here as maybe not these babies but other babies, from other people, may still have been born if the Erasmus pairs don’t come together.)
Italian novelist Umberto Eco is quoted in the article accounting of the report’s findings. He seems overjoyed as European intellectuals often are when it comes to the subject:
“I call it a sexual revolution: a young Catalan man meets a Flemish girl – they fall in love, they get married and they become European, as do their children. The Erasmus idea should be compulsory – not just for students, but also for taxi drivers, plumbers and other workers. By this, I mean they need to spend time in other countries within the European Union; they should integrate.”
Methodology may be a problematic aspect of the European Commission report. The article mentions that it is based on “interviewing” 88,000 students although it is of course not sample size but random selection that is important in determining whether survey results are representative. And for that one has to have a well-defined population in the first place, e.g. students who have done the Erasmus program but not much else prior to that, perhaps (to filter out those for whom the Erasmus experience was not Transnational Experience No. 1). This is all significant as at the European Commission they seem to have arrived at the one-million figure for Erasmus babies by projecting that from the finding of how many former Erasmus students had partners of a different nationality. Anyway, here is the original report. I haven’t had the chance to go through all of its 227 pages yet but there is no mention of the words “children” or “babies” in there.
At least it may be confidently proclaimed that the Erasmus program is really beneficial to many.
The reason why I was recently reminded of this article (albeit it is of relevance to this blog in any case) is the ongoing search for answers as to how the Islamic State finds such a wide audience that is listening to its message, even in Europe.
Now imagine Umberto Eco’s quote with a major twist.
“It is a revolution (um, actually, it even has sexual aspects: beyond things like this, there are all those wannabe jihadi wives who travel there, too): a young French jihadi meets a Syrian jihadi or a young Saudi jihadi meets a British jihadi and … they get married (with or without “love” as such). And they become… (take a guess) as do their children.”
It may feel as twisted as this re-interpretation by Perfect Circle of the Beatles’ Imagine but the Islamic State is indeed nothing less than a competing integration project. It is in competition not only with the EU of course but with everything else in the post-colonial, formerly Euro-centric game of states, borders, inter- and supranational institutions, citizenship and human rights. Its effectiveness as an integration project may pale in comparison with the European project, and it alienates many in the process. But that is still a relevant dimension of measurement right there.
How many Islamic State babies are there by now? This could be an intriguing question.