‘Only countries allowed!’ Nicola Sturgeon’s written plea to join EU scheme rejected

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Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish nationalists have made several grovelling attempts to convince the European Commission to open negotiations over Erasmus membership. The UK officially quit the scheme after Brexit with Boris Johnson deciding against membership because the EU’s offer to rejoin it didn’t represent value for money. Richard Lochead, Scotland’s higher education minister, has held talks with Mariya Gabriel, the commissioner responsible for education, to discuss allowing Scottish students to participate in Erasmus.

The discussions came after more than 100 MEPs wrote to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen asking if there was a way to extend the scheme to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Asked if the Commission had received any further correspondence from Holyrood, a spokeswoman said: “I can confirm that Commissioner Gabriella has received the letter you mentioned, and this letter is being analysed now by the services and we will reply in due course.

“What I could mention as well is, in the process of the negotiation the UK decided unfortunately not to join the Erasmus programme after their exit from the Union.

“And in general based on the Erasmus regulations, only countries can join the programme.”

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The Commission’s snub of Scotland came after British officials warned eurocrats to avoid creating tensions within the Union.

Downing Street fears that meddling EU officials could enhance the Scottish National Party’s push for independence.

Express.co.uk last month reported that MEPs had deliberately sought to undermine the United Kingdom by urging the Commission to make pro-Brussels gestures to the SNP.

One insider suggested their letter was a deliberate “middle finger” to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s efforts to reunite the UK after Brexit.

The source said: “It definitely raised an eyebrow, basically a middle finger to Westminster.”

German MEP David McAllister, the EU Parliament’s Brexit chief, and former Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski led the efforts.

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In a letter to Mrs von der Leyen, they called for the bloc to invite Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish students to take part in the EU’s Erasmus student exchange scheme.

They wrote: “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.”

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The MEPs added: “We recognise a pronounced aspiration coming from Scotland and Wales to enable students to continue participating in this programme.”

Downing Street decided not to join the Erasmus scheme after Brexit, instead opting to set up a British alternative offering students from disadvantaged backgrounds opportunities to study around the world.

Sources say Prime Minister Mr Johnson felt the EU programme didn’t fit in with his “levelling up” agenda because it favours wealthier participants.

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