Erasmus: the birth of a dream


Michele Corio

Michele Corio

Thirty years after the birth, here is how everything began…


15th June 1987 is a normal day for most part of European people, actually it is an historical date in which a success story of sharing, cultural exchange and growth for European and international students has become reality. It marks the day of Erasmus birth, the anniversary of the ratification of the European Council of Ministers established the Erasmus programme (87/327 EEC).

Erasmus birth moved on a hard and long path during its first years, bringing together the destiny of many respectful people, worthy of thanks and recognition. They worked jointly and fought for a common purpose, one of the greatest ever reached for the European integration process.

Especially here, I would like to describe the story of Sofia Corradi, Domenico Lenarduzzi, Franck Biancheri, three European intellectual men, which had a key role in the Erasmus birth and in its development.

Sofia Corradi was born in Rome in 1934, she studied law at Università la Sapienza in Roma and in 1957 moved for an exchange program to Columbia University in New York City. In United States she achieved a postgraduate certificate in comparative university legislation. Having exchange period in foreign countries was not very common and, most important, it was hard to convert the results obtained. When she returned to Italy, Sofia Corradi faced Italian bureaucracy, her certificate had not been accepted and she had to complete her studies again in Rome. This fact boosted the Erasmus idea: in that moment everything began.

Domenico Lenarduzzi was born in Turin in 1936. As a consequence of work scarcity he moved to Charleroi, in Belgium, with the family, his father started working in the mines as many other Italians. He studied and graduated at the Université Catholique de Louvain in 1959. In the following years he joined European institutions, it was just the beginning of a long career, culminated with the job at the Employment, Social affairs and Inclusion Direction. Recently he has been nominated as European Commission Honorary Director.

Franck Biancheri was born in Nice in 1961. He founded AEGEE (European students forum) association during his study period with other colleagues. The association name refers to the Aegean Sea where democracy had been invented.This organization promoted European unity and integration in academic environment, leading the planning and implementation process about exchange among students and universities for educational purposes. AEGEE was one of the first associations that opened in Eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall fell.

Corradi, Lenarduzzi, Biancheri seem to be completely different characters, despite all, they shared the objectives and they had a common destiny.All of them were looking beyond to the future, to Europe and to the world spreading new ideas and making history.

The Treaty establishing the European Economic Community, signed on the 25th March 1957 in Rome, did not mention education as a core sector for the EEC field of intervention. An important role was given to the professional training.

Maastricht Treaty in 1992 was the first fundamental agreement, which gave, at last, the necessary attention to the scholarship, the education and the universities cooperation at European level.

In 1959 Sofia Corradi was having researcher activities about the right to education at United Nations. Later she became consultant for the Italian University President Conference. She started spreading her ideas, beginning from her personal experience, convinced to enable and facilitate students of the following generations to easily move abroad for studying and make researches with public contributions.

Her work was difficult and full of commitment. Finally in 1969 in Geneva, while European university world was in a deep phase of riots and strong changes, the European university presidents were gathered to discuss about the future and to organize a new system, able to manage the challenges of that period. Alessandro Faedo, president of the University of Pisa, reported to the assembly a note, written by Sofia Corradi, using the popular machine “Lettera 22” Olivetti:

“The student, although his family does not live abroad, should have the chance to attend a part of his study program at a foreign university, if he previously obtains the approval from his home institution council […]”.

Universities cooperation and coordination theme became, therefore, one of the most frequent in the political and strategic planning discussions. This phenomenon leads to many discussions in the European countries parliaments. An essential step ahead consisted of the establishment of the “Joint Study Programmes” in 1976 with the decision of the European Commission.

Thus, the first official European programmes of exchange and education were born. The countries involved in this historical initiative since the beginning were Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Ireland and UK.

In 1980 was Greece turn to join the program and to conclude Spain and Portugal joined in 1986. The project was ambitious, but the countries were still reluctant to deepen the action adding complete, standard and official exchange programmes to allow a wide student exchange.

Meantime Lenarduzzi, working at the Employment, Social affairs and Inclusion Direction, had the assignment to develop and control European education field. He had always been focused on intercultural exchanges and, above all, he dreamt about the rising of a European dimension among citizens thought. He sponsored Corradi’s theories and brought them inside the commission meetings. The time to build a real, complete, European education system had come.

Everything seemed to be ready to enrich Joint Study Programmes plan, overcoming all the single countries obstacles and the singular agreements between some members of the European Community. What is more, in 1987, the mediation of Franck Biancheri and AEGEE produced the final results, convincing Mitterand, French president, to join the cause and revive the discussion about a synergic European university exchange system. The proposal was approved by the Commission on the 14th May 1987.

The Erasmus birth finally occurred the 15th June 1987.

Its name was an acronym for European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, inspired by the famous European humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam.

The Erasmus birth happened after a tangled route: all the countries renounced to sceptical visions and national egoisms to develop one of the most successful European initiative. Erasmus generates feelings of belonging to something bigger than a nation. It makes people looking beyond borders and allows to have a wider comprehension and awareness about the reality. Meeting other people from many countries, learning different languages, discovering a lot of cultures. Building an international friends network allows the student to grow up as a person and as a future member of the society.

After the establishing of Erasmus program more than 3 millions of students has left and has increased their cultural background. In the current mood of Euro-scepticism, nostalgia for nationalisms and spread awareness about borders defence the Erasmus must be a refuge and the starting point to all the Europeans citizens, promoting rights and looking to sharing and integration among countries trying to reach better results than those obtained by past generations.

The Erasmus has always been a source of inspiration for the attendees: many innovative start up and companies have been created by Erasmus students, European journals like Cafébabel, international networks which connected people without distinction for race, religion, culture or social status.

Jeune Europe faces this uncertainty period with new ideas, to open a space where sharing opinions, feelings, theories among people from Europe or the whole world to proceed on the path suggested by great intellectuals of the past such as Altiero Spinelli or Sofia Corradi. We keep on pursuing the dream to aggregate Europeans beginning from our own territory and moving beyond, not losing our typical characteristics.

Michele Corio


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