STRASBOURG The European Union celebrated 30 years of its Erasmus student exchange scheme on Tuesday, with its chief executive boasting the program had fostered cross-border romances that may have borne a million children.
Telling a festive debate in the European Parliament that he "fell in love anew" with Europe whenever he traveled across the continent, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said:
"That also seems to have happened with some of those taking part in Erasmus, including in a more romantic sense. There are rumors that there are even a million Erasmus babies.
"The Commission can't take the credit for that but I very much welcome this way of bringing Europe closer together."
The celebrations in Strasbourg hailed the program taking in its 9 millionth student since its founding in 1987. Erasmus funding and networking helps university students follow some of their studies in other EU countries outside their homeland.
With the now 28-nation Union reeling from the blow dealt to 60 years of peaceful postwar integration by the unprecedented British decision to quit, the former premier of Luxembourg urged member states to extend funding for the educational program.
"Erasmus," Juncker said, "is a good response to the stupidity of selfish nationalisms and of turning inwards."
The EU parliament's Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, said it was a "priority" in talks with London to ensure young Britons go on taking part in Erasmus after their country leaves the EU and that Britain's universities be open to continental students.
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; editing by Ralph Boulton)