Frances Rafferty reports on the financial crisis afflicting Europe's main education programme
THE UK government is to join other member states in blocking the European Parliament's attempt to boost funds for Socrates, its main education programme, which in-cludes pupil and teacher exchanges.
The Parliament is now caught in a stand-off with member states and a crisis meeting has been called for November 9. If an agreement is not reached, Socrates, including its social exclusion projects, could collapse. The debacle is being seen as a test case.
The Parliament has called for an increase of Socrates' budget from pound;1 billion to pound;1.5bn. The European Commission has gone for the compromise figure of pound;1.3bn. But the "common position" among the majority of member states would mean virtually no increase at all.
Labour MEP Robert Evans said: "This is a fund that could be spent ten times over - pound;1bn shared between all the members does not amount to very much. The programme supports some excellent projects and surely it is vital, particularly for English-speaking people, to have this European dimension to their education."
Graham Lane, education leader of the Local Government Association, said he would be putting pressure on David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, to support the increase.
Unlike in some EU countries, the money for Socrates and other education programmes comes directly from the Department for Education and Employment's budget, and Mr Lane blames the Treasury for wanting to block the increase.
He is also concerned that deprived areas, which should benefit from the European social exclusion projects, are missing out on the money. "The increase proposed by the Parliament is nothing when compared to the Common Agricultural Policy. If Socrates collapses it will be a major tragedy."
Socrates: cradle-to-grave, multi-purpose education programme includes
Commenius, the schools cooperation scheme, and Erasmus for higher
education. Projected seven-year budget from 2000: between pound;1bn-pound;1.75bn
Leonardo da Vinci: vocational programme. Seven-year budget for 2000 (already approved): pound;0.8bn
Youth for Europe: for disaffected young people. Projected budget for five years from 2000: pound;245m