Last week the European Union increased its commitment to providing learning and development opportunities for young people right here in Britain, through the launch of the revamped Erasmus+ programme.
The new revamped Erasmus+ programme has a total budget of £12 billion, with £100million already earmarked for the UK in 2014 alone. Along with my Liberal Democrat colleagues in Brussels we pushed for a bigger Erasmus budget than the previous scheme and were successful in obtaining a 40% increase at a time when the overall EU budget was cut. Grants will now be made available for education, training, youth and sport. In total it's estimated that nearly a quarter of a million students, apprentices, teachers and youth workers will benefit from the EU grants. Studying abroad is great fun and is a unique opportunity to discover new places and people, but it's also a chance to build the kind of skills which many employers value. This can be anything from perfecting a second language, integrating into a brand new environment or learning how to work with people from across different countries.
Young people know only too well that the job market is extremely competitive, especially for that essential first job. That is why now more than ever young Brits need to make themselves stand out from the crowd, and taking part in Erasmus+ is a great way to do just that.
In the context of the wider debate on Europe that is taking place across the country, the launch of the new Erasmus + programme is again more evidence of what we risk losing at next month's European elections. Those wanting to yank us out of Europe and pull up the drawbridge will conveniently dismiss this massive investment in our young people.
As well as repeating fabricated 'facts' about the EU, Ukip try to dismiss the significant benefits of being part of the world's biggest single market, not least in terms of the jobs and investment which young people need and want. That's why the Liberal Democrats will be proudly championing the employment opportunities and economic growth that being in Europe delivers for us at the upcoming European elections.
Those fundamentally opposed to the EU say we should turn our backs on the world and become more inwardly focused. But Liberal Democrats believe that the best way to increase opportunities for young people is by having a strong voice in Brussels and working together with our European neighbours.
Ukip offer nothing to young people; leaving the EU would reduce job opportunities in the UK and take away their right to work, study or train freely in 27 other European countries, including through Erasmus+. But the paradox is, while opinion polls show that young Brits are overwhelmingly pro-European and in particular like the idea of being above to move around the EU freely, they are less likely to vote in the European elections than older sections of the population. So my message to young people is: don't let Ukip or anyone else snatch these hard-fought opportunities from you and restrict your future, get out and vote Liberal Democrat on 22 May.
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