Politics & The World

by Valentin Steinhauer

This goes out to all the EU enthusiasts of my generation. To those out there in their twenties, spending their time studying the EU, working with or within the EU. To those who are or have been on Erasmus and those participating in the European Voluntary Service. Simply put, to anybody of my generation who is enthusiastic about the European project. It’s time to tell our side of the story.

We are the most mobile generation to date. While our parents were often confined to geographical, political and socio-economic boundaries, the concepts of space and time have been redefined and continue to change in our globalised world. This high level of mobility comes both with great opportunities as well as a price to pay. The downside of mobility is a feeling of uprooting. The more mobile we are, the less predictable our future. Relationships and friendships are as often created through mobility as they are burdened by it. Nevertheless, we do not want to complain because mobility, for us, means choice. Having the choice to stay abroad is a privilege.

As a German, I have studied in the Netherlands for almost four years, spent my Erasmus exchange in France and lived in Belgium for an internship. However, sometimes I still catch myself forgetting that the opportunities provided by the European Union, most notably the right to move, study and work freely across the continent, are only exploited by a minority. Indeed, what we need to realise is that our borderless life is often far from people’s reality at home. Thus, telling our side of the story is not about saying how great we are. On the contrary, it is about saying how lucky we are.

Nothing is more dangerous than a situation in which the ones who are benefitting the most from integration forget about the people at the core of the project. Inequality of opportunity is what ultimately poses the biggest threat to Europe. The European Union can never sustain itself as an elitist project. Today, most Europeans do not spend much time abroad, except maybe for holidays. Thus, encouraging mobility remains the most vital tool to make Europe a real life experience. However, while mobility can and should be strengthened, we urgently need to direct our attention at how to bring the EU closer to the people right now.

With this in mind, we also need to ask ourselves how we can contribute to shift the European Union from the realm of the abstract to the world of the tangible. The benefits of integration may appear obvious to you, but they appear less and less obvious to the majority of the people. While this is certainly an obligation for politicians, I strongly believe that our generation’s privileges come with obligations, too.

European integration has given our generation opportunities and possibilities we would not have had without it. Thus, we need to ask ourselves what our legacy will be when the next generation reaches its twenties. Will they look at us as the generation who effortlessly left the stage to Farage, Le Pen, Wilders and co., or will they see something different in us?

Far from saying that the EU is flawless, we nonetheless have to contest that it has become the preferred victim of populist movements across the continent because it can easily serve as a scapegoat for others’ failure. While there seems to be an army of critics out there, ready to attack the EU, Brussels’ defence appears unorganised and all too afraid of the enemy both outside and inside its walls.

It is important to remain critical about the European Union, but it is also time to stand up for the things we love about it. In doing so, we are not engaging in a selfless act but rather in an act of self-preservation. Efforts to reverse integration, to restrict our freedom of mobility, to replace bridges with borders – things we witness at the moment – are ultimately actions aimed at our way of life. To cut a long story short, although a borderless continent has been given to us, it does not mean that they will never again take it from us.

Hence, it is time that we start telling our side of the story. A story which is different from the one told by populist parties but also different from the one told by politicians traditionally in favour of the European project. Discussions on Brexit, migration schemes, or Eurozone bail-outs are important, but do not make Europe approachable for its citizens. Despite all current problems, Europe needs to remain a positive experience for its people if its nations are not to drift apart any further.

In many ways, our generation has embraced the European project like no one before us. We combine the memory of a violent past with the privileges and opportunities of the present. We are the last generation to have had the opportunity to speak to family members who have witnessed Europe’s bloody past. I had the chance to talk to my grandfather who spent his twenties on Europe’s battlefields. By cherishing the memory of our grandparents, we honour the single most important heritage of our generation.

What follows is that our side of the story must be one of principle. Never shall we allow nationalists to gain the upper hand in Europe again. However, too many of us have remained silent in the public debate. Despite the rise of ‘Neo-Nationalism’ across Europe, we have remained invisible on the streets of Europe. Despite the efforts of some Member States to reconstruct borders between our nations, we have kept watching.

I believe the time has come to stand up and start telling our side of the story. Yes, mobility often comes as a double-edged sword. It has the power to create as much as it has the power to destroy. However, whereas you can always lose what you have by staying where you are, truly new experiences can only be made by moving forward. Thus, our story is one about creation. About European friendships, jobs, families, love, hope, future, freedom and peace. A story worth sharing because it is worth preserving.


Image by Rock Cohen, taken from flickr

Career & Education

Oliver Štoffa reports about his mind-moving experiences during his exchange semester in Sarajevo.

“But seriously, why did you guys come to study here? Even my grandma couldn’t believe that…” was the question followed by a horse-laugh of my two Bosnian classmates, interrupting work on our school assignment for a good few minutes. This burst of emotions left me thinking, although I had to get used to clarifying this conundrum as a daily routine during my exchange semester in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in the autumn 2014.

After spending one awesome Erasmus semester in Finland, I could not simply sit still without trying to find my way to another international experience. Although the range of possibilities was pretty wide, nothing seemed more attractive and challenging than the beauty, temperament and chaos of Western Balkans – the labels I had in my mind before and during my stay, and I could use them without big adjustments even today. My patience-testing quest for classes held in English turned out to be a fine filter resulting in a single choice – Faculty of Economics at University of Sarajevo. Here comes my first advice for potential followers: It is never too early to start researching about course offers. Yet it doesn’t give you any guarantee that during the first month of your stay you won’t be coming back from your faculty unsure about courses you can take. For some of my friends it turned out to be quite frustrating, because they weren’t even sure whether they could participate in their exchange programmes.

My first encounters with the city, its people and culture were well guided by my awesome Bosnian flatmate, who made it hard for me to imagine a better start of the exchange. Instantly submerged into joys and troubles of local life, I learned very soon what makes people fall in love with Sarajevo, and, on the other hand, what makes many want to leave.

Already before my arrival, he had been a great help for us to find a common accommodation – a cosy apartment near the very centre of the city. In general, it is relatively easy to find a decent place to live for any time period, sometimes with the only obstacle being the language barrier. With student dorms rumoured not to be in the best shape and with rather strict curfew, most exchange students opt for private apartments.

The first two weeks before the semester began were dedicated to our orientation consisting of miscellaneous trips and activities arranged by Erasmus Student Network (ESN) Sarajevo. Together with an intensive Bosnian language course it formed a rather tight schedule with a strong team-building effect, as the total count of exchange students was not more than twenty. The fledgling branch of ESN seemingly having more members than that certainly had a tough role entertaining our small, rather untypical ‘Erasmus cohort’. Sadly, after the very intensive start only few of them had spare time for their realization within ESN and besides one or two short trips, our contact with them was limited to hanging out at dinner parties or bars. Yet, to my knowledge, they have been making certain progress in balancing their workforce and activities.

The less can be more, and so it was with our ESN caretakers. Some have become closely connected to us, as it in general goes easily with warm and welcoming personalities of locals in Bosnia.

What people also treasure about the ambience of the local culture is the relaxed lifestyle based on abundance of coffee and cigarettes, where probably the only legitimate reason to hurry somewhere is warm burek (pastry stuffed with beef) or its variants with cheese, potatoes, etc. I am not sure, if I ever met anyone who wouldn’t love these gems of local cuisine, unless calories set priorities.

So what keeps locals fit enjoying dangerously tasty greasy pastries while sports are not really a part of daily grind? “We have a lot of stress with our authorities and all the bureaucracy, that’s where most of our energy goes to” I once heard somewhere.

Bosnian bureaucracy. That was a big pain also for us foreigners, as many of us agreed that we hadn’t seen it on such ridiculous levels anywhere else. Not to get lost in verified copies of verified documents needed for verification of copies of other verified documents proved to be sometimes quite challenging. On the other hand, the detailed requirements for residence permit made me feel confident that I did not bring HIV into Bosnia. Thank you, the ministry of foreign affairs.

When it all gets too frustrating, you just have a cigarette. No matter where you are. That is why, unfortunately, one must simply forget about tolerance for non-smokers.

I could discourse on pages describing the beauty of diverse nature of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Having my mountain bike with me, I was lucky to discover many marvels in the mountains literally surrounding the city. Besides that, most of the country situated in Dinaric Alps gives ideal opportunities for various trips, even if you are free only on weekends. The luckier ones will appreciate the proximity of other, normally only difficult accessible Balkan countries.

Although I can’t say that this experience makes me want to spend my life in Sarajevo, I do believe that only few places in Europe offer such an interesting and diverse exchange semester. And such good burek.


Career & Education

Since 2014, the European Voluntary Service (EVS) is one of the new components of the Erasmus+ program. It offers an opportunity to applicants aged between 17 and 30 to spend 2-12 months volunteering abroad, most often within the non-profit or non-governmental sector.

However, the EVS remains unknown to many young people across Europe. That might be one of the reasons why very few consider it as a valuable working experience, or even as a way into the job market. Moreover, the term ‘volunteering’ might come with a specific/negative connotation evoking a free time activity rather than something connected to professional development.

Whatever the reason might be, it seems that the European Commission is either putting little effort into spreading information about the EVS, or does a bad job at disseminating them. Certainly, this program has been left behind in terms of promotion, especially in comparison to the Erasmus+ exchange semester.

The promotion of the EVS usually depends on the local organizations offering vacancies. Increasingly, social media play a role too. Vacancies are posted in a number of unofficial Facebook groups, not only for the EVS, but also for a rising number of youth exchanges under the Erasmus+ program action.

Attitudes among young Europeans towards the EVS also vary considerably across EU member states and partner countries. Many young people in Germany – and presumably in other western European countries, view the EVS mainly as an opportunity to spend a gap year between high school and university abroad while improving their language skills. On the other hand, people from the central and eastern European countries approach the EVS more as a working opportunity, although the language aspect remains very important for them too.

Most interestingly however, especially young people in the EU partner countries (e.g. Ukraine, Moldova) have become increasingly aware of the EVS, since it constitutes a relatively easy way to be able to work in an EU country without complicated visa application processes. Interestingly, as opposed to volunteers from Western Europe, the young people coming from elsewhere are usually older (in their mid-20s) and hold either a Bachelor’s or even Master’s degree.

But what is it actually like to work as an EVS volunteer? Can it really be seen as a relevant work experience?

The EVS offers a lot of perks. The move abroad is made very easy, one could perhaps say as easy as possible. Everything from accommodation and address registration to insurance with unusually wide coverage is taken care of. This includes even assistance with buying tickets from one’s home country if needed. A financial assistance is also provided. While the exact remuneration depends on the country, it generally falls short only slightly of the earnings for most European interns or trainees. Maybe only someone who has already moved to another country to either study or work ‘on their own’ before can appreciate this to the full extent. Besides having the time to simply enjoy the new country, participants can take care of those aspects of the EVS which might not be as well organized.

Anyone who has ever taken part in an Erasmus+ exchange semester during university studies, or even in a short-term youth exchange mentioned before, knows that it involves lots of bureaucracy. This can lead to difficulties with regard to general organization, delayed payments, and a long list of other problems. This, of course, goes for most EVS stays too. While the above mentioned assistance when moving to another country might not always go as smooth and the application process can take up to one year, the main problem probably lies in the stay itself, which is governed by few rules given by the European Commission.

However, this ambiguity in the European Commission rules, as well as in the hosting organization requirements, might be exploited in favor of the volunteers. Participants can, to a large extent, shape their experiences themselves. With a proactive approach, it is feasible to focus on the tasks a person is interested in and over time gain more responsibility in the organization. The organizations are after all required to respond to the needs and wishes of volunteers, and there are quite a few channels available for participants to voice their concerns or complaints if needed.

In this sense, there is more pressure put on the ‘employer’ than in a conventional job or traineeship. Needless to say, for the things to go smooth, proper research about the hosting organization and clear communication of one’s goals and wishes before the arrival is crucial. There are a high number of organizations participating in the EVS program and it cannot be expected that all of them have been verified to meet certain standards.

It is clear that the EVS is a particular kind of working experience, which might or might not be well accepted by future employers. However, especially in times when entering the job market is becoming increasingly difficult for young people, it might be an option to enrich one’s CV and gain skills.

Working experience abroad in an international environment is something that has almost become a must nowadays. Add a great opportunity to practice a foreign language and the EVS starts to seem like the right choice. And whether or not the stay turns out as expected, how you will choose to sell your experience afterwards is entirely up to you!

image by Knokton, taken from flickr

Career & EducationPolitics & The World

27 years – one million babies. This can be seen as one of the positive balances for the ERASMUS-programme, the student exchange within the European Union. Every third student hooks up with people from other countries – the unofficial Erasmus slogan, titled by the German newspaper Die Zeit “Erasmus Orgasmus” so certainly has its truth.

Yet there is another number worth looking at. With over 2,5 million students participating since its beginning receiving an average stipend of monthly 250€, the estimated costs go into several billions. Albeit, this is with less than 2% nothing compared to the overall EU budget, let alone the 33,1% which go into much less useful agricultural programs.

However, comparing both numbers the question comes into mind how much an decreased budget would change on the Erasmus experience. On the one hand Erasmus brings about connections of different people, multicultural experiences, shared languages, specific knowledge an increasing European identity and some dual-nationality babies. On the other hand, Erasmus stays for many students a semester connecting exclusively with one’s peers, studying little, drinking much, living easy and partying hard.

When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes” Erasmus von Rotterdam, the eponym of the programme once said. The little money Erasmus students get certainly won’t be invested into books. It invests itself mostly into alcohol, entry fees and travel costs, totalling the average monthly stipend often easily. While having fun and seeing the host country is a totally fine and even valuable decision, it goes contrary to Erasmus’ academic goal and should be rather achieved in one’s free time with his own money. As an eponym, the Dutch philosopher Erasmus certainly would not be that delighted about the orgies happening by his name.

The question thus is not about the undeniable value of the Erasmus programme, but rather about the necessity to fund it. Even less or no funds could certainly guarantee a valuable experience for everyone willing to commit to the academic requirements. So far, even doing essentially nothing during one semester is still credited with a full stipend. As studying one semester more or less is not a big deal for many, this certainly gives the wrong incentives.

In wake of the recent discussions about an end of the Erasmus programme the full cut-off cannot be a solution. Yet the questions remains, how much funding is necessary at all. Ultimately most money flows into fun, not into basic living and studying. Also, a huge number of exchange students is not dependent at all on their stipend, mainly those of Northern and Western European countries studying in countries with lower costs of living. Often, these students who are eager to live abroad also come from high socio-economic backgrounds, making additional funding unnecessary.They should be still able to enjoy a semester abroad yet should not necessarily get some pocket money for that. Reciprocal academic exchange between states is a great idea, funding students however should be linked to need, motivation and achievement.

Enabling students from poorer European countries an exchange semester is the important matter, not making rich students from rich countries even richer. This is important because studies regularly prove that high barriers for students of lower socio-economic background remain. Solutions however are not sole task of the European Union. Member states can do a lot to both enable their students as well their host students to live and study without being dependent on Erasmus stipends. This can, but does not necessarily have to be member state funding. For example, in many countries it is hard to find work for foreign students due to various government regulations. Lifting those would enable many students to finance their stay themselves. While the European Union prohibits discrimination against member state foreigners, different work situations pegged for example to minimum wage, certificates and licenses are still remaining.

One often overlooked outcome is the network Erasmus provides. Students gain valuable connections for life and universities better research through cooperation. Also, this increased cooperation makes it much easier to settle questions about insurance, rentals and the overall start in a new country let alone the drastically reduced bureaucracy in university administration. The effects of increasing, interdependent networks can be huge – and they are not dependent at all on any monetary funding.

In the end, a complete withdrawal of EU funding would be bad, destroying one of the only EU programmes widely regarded as successful. Nevertheless, it is not the extremes policy-makers have to decide about. They rather could link an Erasmus grant to stricter academic requirements, financial need and the motivation of real inter cultural academic experience. Everyone wanting to study a semester abroad on his own terms should be able to have the possibility – he or she only has to finance their pleasure themselves. As wealthy EU countries send far more students than those in poorer countries the savings could be either reinvested to enable more students from lower socio-economic backgrounds an exchange semester or be saved at all. In times of constrained budgets and economic crisis, this measure could even improve the outcome of Erasmus while simultaneously saving taxpayers money. Alas, only the future development of dual-nationality baby numbers could slightly decrease with less party and more diligence!


Christoph Heuermann, *1990, is the author of several articles about Europe, innovation, decentralisation and freedom. If he is not travelling the world, he studies political and administrative science in Konstanz, Germany. Having lived in Vienna, Berlin, Brussels and Madrid for long time, he is a strong advocate for a free and cosmopolitan Europe without borders.


Image by Moyan Brenn on Flickr.



The Erasmus Program is continually growing. Over 270.000 European students participate in it each year, and by 2020 on out of five EU students should go abroad every year.


But why is the Erasmus program growing so significantly? And what does it mean for the European society?


In our second episode we made sure to go around Europe and see how the Erasmus Program is affecting Europe. Our first trip led us to Warsaw, Poland, to have a look at how participating students perceive the Erasmus program, and to catch their voices and opinions. Afterwards, we then went all the way to Oslo, Norway, to have a report with an Erasmus student who explains to us how the program helps him personally and how it affects his life. Also the European Commission is included of course, with Ms Debais-Sainton, who is Head of Sector Erasmus+ Higher Education, telling us about the success of the Erasmus Program and why it is so important for Europe. Last but not least, we conclude our trip with a visit at Guild TV in Birmingham in the United Kingdom. They interviewed Professor Stefan Wolf from the Birmingham University who explains to us how the Erasmus has benefited his life and how it more generally leads to a European togetherness.