Student’s (potential) sway over the EP elections

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Markus GastingerMarkus Gastinger a researcher in the Department of Political and Social Sciences. His work focuses on Delegation and Agency in EU External Relations.

The popular exchange programme Erasmus provides students with crucial funds to finance a study period abroad.

When in December 2012 squabbles over the EU budget led to Erasmus funds running dry, thousands of exchange students were stranded in a foreign country without their grant. The reaction that this provoked was stunning. Thousands of students rushed to platforms like Facebook and Twitter to pledge their support to the programme. Within days the crisis was averted, a compromise between the EP and Council was found, and the flow of funds to students all across Europe was unblocked.

This episode teaches us two things: one, Erasmus has the potential to mobilize people.

The second lesson is: the EP matters. Having started as an annex to the EU with little practical relevance it has expanded considerably in role and function. In budgetary procedures, it is on an equal footing with the Council since the Lisbon Treaty. The composition of the EP, therefore, has a direct impact on how much money is allocated to which Union programmes

The project “Help Erasmus” merges these two basic insights in an attempt to reach out to students and increase their impact on the May elections We will publish a table allowing students to identify candidates that are particularly supportive of the Erasmus programme. The list already includes around 90 candidates in the May elections and is open to members of all political groups.

In total, 400 million people will be eligible to vote in the elections. But probably only 200 million of them will do so. There are around 20 million students in the EU. Therefore every tenth vote could be cast by a student. It does not take a lot of imagination to realize the impact that they could have on the election outcome when voting together.

While funds for Erasmus have steadily increased, the number of students that are interested in studying abroad has also expanded. Clearly not everyone who wants to go abroad gets a chance to do so.  The signs so far are encouraging that students understand what is at stake. Several European student associations (ESN, ESU, EMSA, AEGEE) already support the project. However, in the end its success will depend on the resolve of individual students to go vote in the EP elections. They could show that they not only support the programme on Twitter and Facebook when it is on the brink of collapse. But realize that in a democracy the more meaningful mechanism to shape the world around them is through elections.

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