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Still scrapping over Socrates cash

Eurofile. Many areas of European policy stimulate as many different views as there are member states. However, in the education field there is a degree of unanimity.

No one can now seriously imagine a European Union without Lingua or Erasmus, for example. Applications for assistance under these educational initiatives outweigh the money available by as much as ten fold.

As part of the wider Socrates programme, more than 100,000 student exchanges have taken place and more than 20,000 teachers have been able to study or work in one of the other member states of the Union.

Across 15 countries, trilateral projects allow young people at home and in school to make contact with other European cultures, helping to develop strong and lasting attitudes against racism and xenophobia.

The opportunities created and links formed for cooperation and fruitful dialogue across borders are laying the foundations for a peaceful and successful Europe in the new millennium.

And yet the train of success appears to be running into the buffers.

Critics of the Socrates application procedure complain that it is terribly bureaucratic and many would-be applicants, both individuals and establishments, get discouraged before they've even started.

It is also said that in the UK grant-maintained and independent schools have had more than their fair share of the money.

But the greatest frustration, above all, is the pure lack of funding. The Socrates budget was agreed in 1994 for five years. It was set at 850 million ecu (Pounds 700 million) - considerably less than the 1,000m ecu the European Parliament asked for.

Since then the budget has come under further pressure with the accession of Sweden, Finland and Austria to the union. The planned expansion into the former eastern bloc will only add to the financial problems and undermine the effectiveness of the whole programme.

It was against this background that education ministers met in Luxembourg last month to thrash out the new budget for Socrates.

Word has it that there was no agreement to any figure above a 30m ecu increase which some will argue is insufficient to prevent the programme contracting. The question comes back to the negotiating table on December 11 when, short of some unlikely additional funding, by the French, German, UK and other governments the stalemate looks set to continue.

* Robert Evans is the Member of the European Parliament for London North West and Labour's European spokesperson on education.

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