Special Aegee-Europe anniversary: How did Aegee managed to get Erasmus adopted? (3)

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Written by Franck Biancheri   
Thursday, 15 September 2005

On 22nd – 25th September 2005 AEGEE-Europe will celebrate in Praha the 20th Anniversary of the association. Newropeans Magazine has decided to look back to the origins of what has been without no doubt the most influent European youth movement all over our continent for the last 20 years, and will present different abstracts of the book: “The Emergence of Eurocitizens – A brief history of AEGEE-Europe from its creation to April 1988”, edited by the founder of AEGEE- Europe – Franck Biancheri.

3) How did Aegee managed to get Erasmus adopted?

Imageln fact, the real reason for this opposition to Erasmus was not even budgetary. The national administrations of those three nice big countries did not want to see Europe encroaching on what they considered to be their private property: education. And the budget argument allowed inadmissible and very nationalistic motives to be disguised.

From what the Commission told us, France held the key position since Germany and the United Kingdom had declared they would follow her lead if she finally gave the budgetary go-ahead.

So it was that in November 1986 we asked Ms Gendreau-Massaloux to try to arrange a meeting for us with President Mitterrand. Instead of a meeting, she proposed something extraordinary: that for the 30th anniversary of the EC's creation, the entire CD be invited to lunch by the President. She simply had to submit the proposal to his other chief advisers.

ln the meantime, at the beginning of January '87, l was invited to accompany President Mitterrand to London for a speech he was to give to the Royal Institute. l took advantage of this trip to discuss the problem with Ms Elisabeth Guigou, President Mitterrand's adviser on European affairs at the time. On two occasions l also attempted, in vain, to attract President Mitterrand's attention to Erasmus. The first time was during the questions at the Royal Institute (which, incidentally, brought me a crushing remark from James Callaghan, who was chairing the session; since as l was not a member of the Institute I was not allowed to participate, but his British courtesy nevertheless obliged him to let me speak); the second was during lunch at the French Embassy in London. These fruitless attempts made me understand that although everything was blocked, the President was in fact under the impression that Erasmus was underway. Attracting the attention of a head of state to a non-urgent problem is hardly an easy task. His advisers were aware of this and, after another meeting with Ms Elisabeth Guigou, it was decided we should be invited to lunch in March 1987.
At the same time, and with a courage rarely found in the Commission, the Commissioner Manuel Marin had decided to withdraw the Erasmus proposal in view of the totally ridiculous offers of financing made by the Council. This situation thus increased pressure on the three states concerned.

The President, the European students and the EC programme

On the morning of the great day, the entire CD (plus Gilio Fonck, President of AEGEE-Luxembourg, who had asked to be included in the list so that a Luxembourg national might take part in the lunch) met up in the Rue d'Amsterdam office for a complete briefing. Our one and only objective was to make President Mitterrand aware that Erasmus had not been adopted and might never be, so that he would intervene publicly to get things moving. Each of us worked on an argument and the team headed for the Elyse.

Gilt, televisions. photographers, Republican Guards, ushers ..., the pomp of the Republic impressed us ail. The lunch, which was to take place in two parts, commenced. At first the President did not listen to us at all and used our remarks to give us lessons on the construction of Europe. He obviously thought we were there simply as young pro-Europeans invited to mark the 30th anniversary of the European Community.
There was nothing for it but to risk all if we wanted our cause to advance.

Which is what I did near the middle of the meal when, seizing the opportunity of a lull in the conversation, I told President Mitterrand that he had not apparently understood what he had been told, that he thought Erasmus was going ahead when this was not in fact the case at all! A heavy silence fell.
And we all imagined ourselves being forcibly ejected from the Elyse.
Fortunately, the President then turned to Ms Guigou, who confirmed that Erasmus was well and truly blocked and risked remaining that way indefinitely if no significant political pressure was brought to bear. From that point on, the President's attitude towards us changed radically and a real conversation was engaged for the rest of the meal.

During a television interview the following day, President Mitterrand announced that as a result of lunching with young European students he had become a convinced militant for Erasmus and considered it unacceptable that the few million ECU for this programme could not be found when thousands of millions were being spent on agriculture. A few weeks later the Council of Ministers for Education adopted Erasmus!

-Back to: Part 2 -
-Next :
Part4 -

Franck Biancheri, Prsident Newropeans

Read the history of Aegee foundation years, by Franck Biancheri


Last Updated ( Friday, 23 September 2005 )
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In memoriam
In memoriam
After a long battle against the disease Franck Biancheri passed away 30th of October 2012, at the age of 51. A great European, a militant democrat, a wonderful person.
Franck Biancheri was founder of AEGEE and founding fathers of the ERASMUS programme. He also was research director of the European thinktank LEAP 2020. In 2005, following the no of the Dutch and French to the Constitutional Treaty, Franck Biancheri founded the European citizens movement Newropeans.