With an annual volume of around four billion euros, Erasmus is the largest EU program for the promotion of education, youth and sport in Europe. However, there are currently 13 Erasmus projects in which a controversial organization is involved: the European Muslim Union, or EMU for short.
Its founder and long-standing president is the German Islam convert Andreas Abu Bakr Rieger. According to the current retrieval from the register of associations at the district court in Weimar, the lawyer and publicist is a member of the board of directors of the Weimar Institute for intellectual and contemporary issues that he founded. In 2017, the state government of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania described the institute as an "Islamist organization". In 1993, Rieger told supporters of an Islamist organization that was later banned: "Like the Turks, we Germans have often fought for a good cause throughout history, although I have to admit that my grandfathers were not very thorough when it came to our common main enemy." In 2007, he apologized for the sentence, calling it a "black spot" from his past.
In its annual report for 2008, the Brandenburg Office for the Protection of the Constitution found that Rieger was ideologically close to an Islamist movement. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Potsdam also dealt with the Weimar Institute. In their 2009 and 2010 reports, it is mentioned in the "Islamist extremism" chapter. Furthermore, the Kuwaiti news agency Kuna reported in November 2014 that the UAE cabinet had classified the EMU along with 82 other groups as terrorist.
The Muslim organization is currently coordinating the Erasmus project "Into the future with MINT" with other partners, which is funded with 60,000 euros and runs from May 2022 to October 2023. The aim of the project is said to be the promotion of scientific thinking.
The twelve other projects with the EMU as a partner deal with, among other things, hostility towards Muslims, nature conservation and “youth exchange for gender equality”. The funding in these fields totals 903,658 euros. According to the rules, the money will be divided among the coordinators and partners. The EMU is currently promoting two multi-day EU-funded events that will take place in Austria and Turkey in January. Germany is the largest donor to the European Union.
As early as April 2021, this newspaper reported that the EMU received 90,367 euros from Brussels for a project against Islamist online radicalization. In the previous Erasmus program from 2014 to 2020, she had already been a partner in five projects.
The chair of the Budget Control Committee in the European Parliament, Monika Hohlmeier, clearly criticizes the funding practice. "If the Office for the Protection of the Constitution classifies an organization as Islamist and the people behind such associations make a name for themselves with disgusting anti-Semitic statements, then it is completely incomprehensible why the EU Commission pays money to their organizations," said the CSU politician WELT AM SONNTAG . Nicola Beer (FDP), Vice-President of the European Parliament, stressed: "European funds must not fall into the hands of organizations that use them to finance anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred. If there are suspicions that individual projects or their sponsors are not acting in accordance with European law and values, the funding must be stopped immediately.”
The Islamism expert Saïda Keller-Messahli said that when EU funding is awarded, the main focus is on meeting formal criteria. "It is precisely this deficit that actors in political Islam cleverly exploit," explained the President of the Forum for a Progressive Islam.
The EU Commission counters that "strict selection procedures" are carried out when funds are allocated. "We only fund organizations that adhere to EU values," said a Commission official. Safety precautions would ensure this. It was further stated that all projects funded under the Erasmus program would be closely examined and monitored during their implementation.
And how does EMU founder Rieger react to the allegations? When asked, the 57-year-old said he had "intellectually rejected" political Islam in numerous articles and formulated a position that rejected any ideology. Classification as Islamist means "complete exclusion from the discourse". Corresponding assessments are "in their fuzziness ideally suited to defame those who think differently".
According to Rieger, the Weimar Institute “guided thousands of young Muslims through Weimar and contributed to their integration”. The reports mentioned by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution are characterized by "astonishing disproportionality" because he is mentioned there as an extremist without any concrete accusation. In fact, he is committed to "proposing a positive attitude towards the state and society to Muslims in Germany". According to Rieger, he resigned from the EMU board in December 2022: "Not because I feel caught in any way, but because I am simply demotivated to continue to work for the integration of Muslims in Europe."