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Next EU Budget: Lack of political ambition leads to cut on social Europe

On Tuesday, July 21st, and after over four days of intense negotiations, European leaders finally reached an agreement over the next seven-year EU Budget and closely-related Recovery Fund. 

To any external observer, it was clear that the EU own budget would have fallen victim to the economic needs of the Recovery Fund (called ‘Next Generation EU’), which prompted bitter disputes between Member States. The Multiannual Financial Framework for the next cycle (2021-2027) is 1.074 trillion euros, plus the extraordinary 750 billion euros that will feed the Next Generation EU: an impressive agreement per se, especially in consideration of the difficulties along the way. 

In this context, the total budget for the next Erasmus+ programme is set at 21.208 billion euros, which is the same budget proposed by the Council itself in February before the COVID crisis. This amount openly defies the European Parliament’s concerns and leaves civil society’s cries unheard, including our Erasmus+ Coalition statement. Moreover, this figure represents a 5.2 billion cut (almost -20%) from the original European Commission proposal and a staggering 23.8 billion cut (-53%) from what the European Parliament deemed necessary

Other programmes that transversally touch upon education and training such as Horizon+ (80.9 billion euros, with a total reduction of 13.5 billion euros from previous Commission’s proposals) and Justice, Rights and Values (841 million euros, against the 1.83 billion euros demanded by CSOs and the European Parliament) have suffered cuts in funding. Overall, it is surprising to realise that cuts mostly affect the Heading 7 of the budget, ‘Investing in People, Social Cohesion and Values’: this alone says a lot about the European Council’s priorities.

Addressing the unprecedented consequences of the health crisis in education and training requires serious investments and political commitment. In this very particular moment, Europe cannot afford to leave behind vulnerable learners by failing to adequately inject much-needed investments into the social sphere. While the Next Generation EU rightfully focuses on the immediate recovery of the economy, European leaders do not seem to share the view that a democratic, sustainable and socially cohesive Union, in the long-term, cannot be built on industry and infrastructure alone but shall rise from values, solidarity and competences of its people. Ensuring employment and economic prosperity will not be enough to overcome the consequences of an ongoing traumatic experience for all citizens: this is a short-sighted action.

Furthermore, the agreed budget falls short on Europe’s own ambitions. We can’t help but notice a profound disconnection between political declarations to invest in education, training, research and youth, and the outcomes of decision-making processes. President von der Leyen herself, at the beginning of her mandate, claimed to support the tripling of the Erasmus+ budget; instead, for the next cycle, the Erasmus+ will see a mere +50% increase over the 2014-2020 budget. We regret to acknowledge that European leaders overlooked a great opportunity for upscaling education and training transversally in Europe. This envelope is not enough to deliver on the ambitious (and much-needed) goals of the future programme for learning mobility, cooperation between organisations and support for policy reform across all sectors, not to mention its sought contribution to implementing the European Education Area, EU Youth Strategy and the European Green Deal, among other priorities. 

Make no mistakes: this agreement is a shaky message to European citizens and an earthquake to European ambitions in education and training and other sectors alike.