The signatories come from every Member State of the EU and include the Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar, the president of FC Barcelona Sandro Rosell, Nobel Prize winner Professor Christopher Pissarides and several Olympic champions.
They are responding to concerns that student places on the scheme, as well as grants, may have to be severely reduced due to wrangling over the 2012 and 2013 EU budgets. The programme already faces a €90 million shortfall this year and it is feared the situation will worsen in 2013. Over the past 25 years, Erasmus has enabled nearly three million young Europeans to study abroad. More recently, it has also supported job placements in companies abroad. A whole generation has learned what it means to live and work alongside people from another culture, and to develop the skills and versatility which are vital for the modern labour market.
The letter warns that unless the 2012 and 2013 EU budgets are sufficient to meet pledges already made to students on the basis of previously agreed commitments, "thousands could miss out on a potentially life-changing experience".
The threat to the programme could not come at a worse time for Europe's young people. Youth unemployment among 15 to 24-year-olds has increased by half since the start of the crisis and, today, one in five young Europeans – more than five million – are without a job.
The letter calls for investment in education and training to be at the heart of Europe's response to the crisis. It also highlights the Commission's plans to increase opportunities for young people to boost their skills and employability under the new 'Erasmus for All' programme, due for launch in 2014.
The letter concludes: "Erasmus for All will cost less than 2% of the total EU budget. In the coming weeks, you, the EU's government leaders, will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to endorse the new programme and give it the resources it needs. Our youngsters deserve it. Our future depends on it."
Androulla Vassiliou, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, welcomed the publication of the letter. "The Erasmus programme has been changing lives and opening minds for 25 years. Long may that continue! Young people have had to bear the brunt of the crisis. They need our support more than ever now. I am proud and moved that so many people, from different walks of life, have come forward to declare their support for Erasmus."