"I call it a sexual revolution," late Italian novelist Umberto Eco described the Erasmus program in 2011 in an interview with La Stampa newspaper. "A young Catalan man meets a Flemish girl – they fall in love, they get married and they become European, as do their children. The Erasmus idea should be compulsory – not just for students, but also for taxi drivers, plumbers and other workers."
"Erasmus has created the first generation of young Europeans," Eco said in 2011.
Such enthusiasm from him and others explains why Britain's pro-E.U. advocates are so keen on putting a spotlight on Europe's Erasmus babies: They stand for a Europe which was increasingly growing together until recently -- rather than splitting apart.
Erasmus study-abroad programs are usually open to all students who have been enrolled in higher education institutions for at least one year. Participants generally do not pay tuition fees abroad and may even receive additional E.U. funding to cover living costs.
Nearly 90,000 individuals were polled for the 2014 survey -- the most recent and most extensive attempt to examine the impact of studying abroad. Some of the findings are astonishing: 13 percent of Europeans who studied in their home countries ended up having a long-term relationship with a foreigner, but students who went abroad were more than twice as likely to have a partner with a different nationality, according to the report by the E.U. Commission.
Based on average fertility rates, the researchers calculated that European study-abroad relationships must have resulted in about 1 million babies since Erasmus started, an argument that has come in handy for the pro-E.U. movement in Britain.
"Europe is about more than trade -- it's about family," #INtogether commented on Twitter on Wednesday, reflecting a common sentiment among many who have made use of the scheme.
Few people probably list study-abroad programs as one of the top advantages of being part of the E.U., but the union's advocates have repeatedly emphasized their role in helping Europeans overcome physical and psychological borders -- particularly after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Although British universities host disproportionately many Erasmus students, Britons themselves have been more reluctant to go abroad.
According to the London-based education charity British Council, there are plenty of reasons to go abroad: "Yes, you’ll have a great time, and yes, you will get to experience life in a completely different culture, but it’s about gaining new skills to make you more employable in the future."
"You’ll meet new people, you’ll learn a language, and you’ll have something a little special on your CV that will help you stand out," the authors emphasized.
And in more than 1 million cases, studying abroad may also have helped them have a baby.