Once Erasmus forever Erasmus…
2012-2022 personal consideration from garagErasmus co-founder

…this is what I felt and the majority of us shared when we thought about bringing a generation together:

The Erasmus year was so significant in my life, that as soon as I understood, as soon as we understood, that it was a widespread sentiment among many, we thought we had found a “magnet” that had the ability to “aggregate” a generation potentially very strategic.

But… was that year so relevant for us because we all felt like European citizens? Or was it a “life-changing” experience because in a critical moment of our lives, when our heads were open like a melon, we found ourselves outside the usual environment and we felt all our senses turned on as never before: smells, sex, flavours, reading, friendships, travel, sunrises, nights and sunsets, new acquaintances, exams and languages and cultures and colours….. Wouldn’t it have been the same “Once Erasmus forever Erasmus” if, instead of being in Europe, we had been to Tunisia or Australia or US or China? Even before founding the garagErasmus project, I co-wrote “Erasmus Generation: Italy of new ideas” (2011). In the book, which inspired the establishment of the foundation, I did not speak of pro-Europeans or European citizenship, but of a new vision, a dichotomy that went beyond the political distinctions of right and left and which in the book we defined as “internationalists versus localists”. A vision that a mobile generation such as Erasmus’, could interpret better than others thanks to the mobility experience. In order to translate this vision into a more “concrete” and action-oriented mission, we shaped and launched garagErasmus. Its appeal, read at the EU Parliament on the 5th of November 2012, was encouraging the “Erasmus generation” (the very first generation of European citizens) to reunite and to boost the unification of Europe.

Pay attention to this step: we have made EUROPEAN CITIZENSHIP predominant in our reading of Erasmus with respect to the experience of MOBILITY itself.

At this point, I like to think, that if our European institutional partners would have allowed us to reunite that generation instead of generating some platforms of little use, we would have had a chance to “ignite” that pro-European sentiment and also its regenerative capacity (garage of social innovation) that we assumed was encompass in the experience of mobility.

10 years later: 2022

The world has changed compared to 2012, geopolitical balances have changed, technology/digital/social media, immigration, some more traditional political parties have collapsed, and a contrast has emerged between sovereigntists and “Europeanists” (!). From 2020 to 2022, because of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, we have been witnessing an acceleration of some international dynamics. An acceleration that frankly I don’t remember seeing before.

In these 10 years, with these strong winds, Europe has remained very much disunited; a kind of confederation with a single currency, which has reached with delay partial and sometimes unfair agreements on some emergencies (i.e. financial and covid), while on others tragic emergencies such as immigration, it is still at the mercy of local national interest. We are witnessing a Europe which has dramatically lost weight in the world, where paradoxically it remains the most important market.

In these 10 years, despite many former Erasmus students have become decisionmakers, there has been little trace of European vision once they have returned to national ranks; the Erasmus generation, with its 3.5 million former students (out of over 400 million citizens), has not been able to demonstrate its capacity to strike a blow for more unified Europe. It existed in the slogans of some political parties, especially during elections.

In this point I list three hypotheses: 1) the Erasmus generation exists and has failed; 2) the Erasmus generation has yet to be “reunited” to achieve weight and this is a work to be completed; 3) the Erasmus generation does not exist, at least in the assumption that the Erasmus mobility experience creates pro-Europe citizens. This was therefore a partly or wholly wrong assumption.

After 10 years, among the 3 hypotheses, I have to say I don’t believe in the first one while I remain open to reflecting on the second and third. My thinking for both of these two hypotheses is that in these 10 years, in particular in the last 3, the changes are so deep, and our Europe is in such a crisis, that a reinvigorated and readapted mission of the “garage” that aims to reunite the Erasmus generation to create a more united Europe, if not well balanced, risks being extremely difficult to achieve, no longer captivating and of limited if not irrelevant impact. Even among the garagErasmus’ crew, different perceptions have emerged, accentuated by the most recent events and which confirm to me that the equation: Erasmus = European citizens has watered down in these 10 years. In particular, moving the concept of sovereignty and identity from the national to the European one does not personally convince me.

These are divisive concepts, which would produce “Peace” within Europe but wars with the world (exactly like the United States of America). I believe in a united Europe with a soul, that takes the lead for a truly multi-lateral world and not as a mere governance solution (respectable but which doesn’t longer warm me up). The world needs a strong Europe capable of dialogue, firm in its values but without the exercise of cultural predominance. A Europe capable of dismantling the hypocrisy of exporting rights as an excuse for a new economic colonialism, a Europe capable of generating a new humanism.

I don’t think the appeal made in 2012 is still valid, I think that in 2023 we have to “give back to Caesar what belonged to Caesar” and restore predominance to the MOBILITY aspect over the EUROPEAN one: Erasmus is an experience of mobility and therefore of personal growth during an extraordinary period of a person. It is an introduction to a “personal professional journey” understood in its broadest sense; what Marchionne expressed by quoting Pavese:

“Cesare Pavese was right when he said that: Travelling is brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and lose sight of the familiar comforts of home and friends. You feel constantly out of balance. Nothing is yours except the essentials the air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky. All things tend towards the eternal or what we can imagine of it”. But this is precisely why travelling, changing ”habitats” and getting to know other cultures is an extraordinary way to grow and to do it quickly. Contact with an unknown world is something that changes you deeply…”

Mobility, says Pavese, forces us to trust foreigners, to look at the world from every perspective, without being afraid of losing or being deprived of our values but making ourselves available with extraordinary effectiveness for building bridges. ONCE ERASMUS FOREVER ERASMUS therefore does not necessarily means that doing Erasmus makes you pro-Europeans, rather it means that once you have experienced what Pavese so masterfully describes, you never go back to what you were before.

This is what happened to me.

I have in me the hunger of known and live different cultures, to try to understand even the most far-thinking, the hunger of knowing the stories of people I met with the obsession to always demonstrate the most genuine and unchallengeable respect for whom they are, where they come from and their societies. As consequence, I engage and commit personally and professionally to anything that aims to dismantle barriers, and that guarantees free movements and exchanges in fairness.

Lately, the raising of new powers at the international level which have seriously started to compete for resources with western society, is causing a dramatic raise of tensions and new political and cultural barriers are emerging as well as dramatic war for the human kid as the one started in Ukraine in 2014.

This situation made it unquestionable that the western predominant policy, followed by the European leadership, has as its objective to maintain the world’s leadership and to firmly contain the growth of other regions. Multilateralism does not seem to be any longer an option and peace has to be maintained by increasing western military investments.

With this scenario the European Leadership has finally got a common position in foreign policy: renouncing to have an autonomous foreign policy, converging on a predominant unilateral vision, and this despite resulting in the continent with major political, social, and economic negative impact as a direct consequence of this unilateral policy.

 While I believe that a multipolar world is an unstoppable trend I am looking with sadness and anger at the opportunity that we, Europe, are missing while remaining of total no relevance during this period of changes. This Europe is not the one which I have dreamed for my sons, not the one I have hoped while starting my journey with garagErasmus’s friends, and definitely not the one which I learned and lived while Erasmus. I write these lines as a personal contribution for a renewed discussion within and outside garagErasmus.


Francesco Cappè, 30.12.2022