A 145 MEPs have written to the EU President asking for the Erasmus student exchange programme to be extended to Wales.
Ursula von der Leyen, the commission president in Brussels, and Mariya Gabriel, the commissioner for education were asked by the Member of the European Parliament if there was a way for Wales and Scotland to be allowed on the scheme.
The Times has revealed that signatories of the letter, titled Scotland and Wales future in the Erasmus Programme, include a number of influential figures, such as David McAllister, an ally of the German chancellor Angela Merkel, and Radek Sikorski, who was a foreign minister in Donald Tusk’s cabinet between 2007 and 2014.
It took just two days to collect signatures from all over the EU, and they represent a fifth of all MEPs, from across the political spectrum. Erasmus, which the UK joined in 1987, allows students to study and work across the continent.
In a recent letter to Ursula von der Leyen, Mark Drakeford the First Minister of Wales described the UK Government’s decision to pull out of the Erasmus Plus student exchange programme as “deeply regrettable” and said the Welsh Government was “urgently investigating” how Wales could “continue close engagement” in this area.
The letter by the MEPs was drawn up by Terry Reintke, a German Green MEP, who studied in Edinburgh under the exchange project and described it as “one of the most formative periods” of her life.
The letter says: “As voiced by many on both sides of the Channel, we are deeply saddened and concerned to have learnt that the Government Of the United Kingdom decided to leave the Erasmus programme.
“The Erasmus programme has proven to have a significant impact on young people’s lives in Europe – not only on their language, cultural and personal skills, but also on their motivation to strengthen a peaceful and solidary European society.
“We would like to address the following questions as we recognise a pronounced aspiration coming from Scotland and Wales to enable students and young professionals to continue participating in this programme.
“Do you see a pathway to extend the benefits Of Erasmus programme to students and young
professionals in Scotland and Wales?
“Would you consider Scotland and Wales as entities as mentioned in the interinstitutional agreement text on the future regulation for the Erasmus Programme?
“Have you been in contact with the respective above mentioned governments and, if not, would you be willing to further muse this matter in a direct exchange?”.
Mariya Gabriel the commissioner for education, recently had a virtual meeting with Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s higher education minister, to discuss potential collaboration on Erasmus
Of the meeting Mr Lochhead told The Times : “We agreed that withdrawing from Erasmus is highly regrettable and we will continue to explore with the EU how to maximise Scotland’s continued engagement with the programme.”
A commission spokeswoman said that EU negotiators made it clear during the Brexit negotiations that Erasmus would still be available to the whole UK and added that Ms Von der Leyen and Ms Gabriel would reply to the letter in due course.
Boris Johnson’ government has said it will replace Erasmus with a UK-only programme named after the mathematician Alan Turing. Mr Lochhead described this as a “watered down replacement”.