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Former European Commission Vice-President opens SEI anniversary conference

Professor Aleks Szczerbiak (left) chairs the keynote address by Lord (Leon) Brittan

A former Vice-President of the European Commission opened the 20th-anniversary conference of the Sussex European Institute (SEI), which was held on campus last week.

Addressing a packed audience, Lord (Leon) Brittan gave a wide-ranging talk on the European Union, asking: ‘Is there life after the Eurocrisis?’.

He drew on his ten years of experience as a European Commissioner (1989-99) responsible for competition policy, financial institutions, external economic affairs and trade policy, to analyse the current Eurozone crisis and set out his prognosis for the future of the European political and economic integration project.

The two-day conference on 27-28 September - which was sponsored by the Higher Education Innovation Fund and European Commission Representation in the UK - also included sessions on European values, identity and citizenship; the Eurozone crisis; the future of the European economy; and the position of Europe in the world.

In these sessions, delegates listened to presentations from, and participated in debates with, leading international experts in these fields including all three former SEI directors: Professors Jörg Monar, Jim Rollo and Dame Helen Wallace.

Apart from current SEI-linked faculty, researchers and postgraduate students, the 100 conference delegates included many from among the more than 600 students who have taken SEI Masters courses and 70 PhDs who have graduated at SEI during the past 20 years.

The conference was also attended by many of the SEI’s long-standing academic visiting fellows and its network of ‘practitioner fellows’ - senior non-academic specialists whose work has brought them into contact with the European integration process - as well from the 140-strong undergraduate EU Society.

SEI Co-Director Professor Aleks Szczerbiak commented: “The conference took place at a time when the European integration project faces momentous challenges – indeed, a potentially existential Eurozone crisis that represents the greatest challenge in its history.

“Nonetheless, conference participants approached these questions in a spirit of critical engagement and sober reflection. I’m confident that they came away with a very much clearer understanding of the challenges that Europe currently faces.”

SEI Co-Director Professor Sue Millns added: “The conference generated a series of extremely high-quality debates about the future of Europe, the European Union and the Eurozone.

“Reflections were sometimes pessimistic, occasionally optimistic but above all realistic about the prospects of European integration and the European project.

The conference is the first of a series of SEI events sponsored by the European Commission and will be followed up by four, more focused workshops that will build and expand upon the themes discussed last week.

These will run from November through to June 2013 and will cover issues such as challenging financial times in Europe; social citizenship and migration in Europe; EU foreign policy making and the external action service; and Euroscepticism in the UK and reconnecting the UK public with the EU.

SEI showcases student talent in symposium on French election

 L-R: Louis Godfrey, Julius Veasey, Joe Sheridan-Power, India Thorogood and Patrick Dowson alongside their tutor, SEI-based French politics specialist Dr Sue Collard, after being presented with a bottle of French wine each to celebrate their achievements.           

Sussex undergraduates studying French politics as part of their degrees have showcased their emerging talent at a symposium on the French presidential election.

Forty staff, students and visitors attended the half-day event on Wednesday (25 April), which was organised by the Sussex European Institute (SEI) and the Politics Society.

There were presentations from undergraduates Patrick Dowson, Louis Godfrey, Jonathan Green, Joe-Sheridan Power, India Thorogood and Julius Veasey - who have all taken courses on the ‘Politics of Governance: France’ and ‘Political Change: The Mitterrand Years’.

The topics they covered included: the importance of the presidential election in historical context; controversies over the election rules; the candidates’ programmes and the main issues and debates during the campaign; the evolution of opinion polls during the campaign and comparison with results of the first round.

Earlier the students had been on a study trip to Paris that included a visit to the National Assembly and a tour of most of the significant sites for French political history such as the Pantheon, the Basilica at St Denis and the Invalides.

Dr Sue Collard, who convenes the undergraduate French politics courses and organised the Paris study trip, said: “I wanted to get the students involved in this event as some of them engaged fantastically well with this election campaign and have developed a really good grasp of the complexities of French politics.

“It was a great opportunity for them to demonstrate this in a public forum, and also to get a taste of what it’s like to be on the other side of the lectern.”

SEI Co-Director, Professor Aleks Szczerbiak, commented: “This symposium is part of a broader effort by the SEI to draw undergraduates into our research community, for example by engaging with the University’s Junior Research Associate (JRA) bursary scheme.

“Hopefully, presenting and discussing their own analysis of the French election alongside Sussex faculty will - apart from helping them to hone their analytical and presentation skills - encourage our students to deepen their understanding of European politics by undertaking postgraduate study and their own research.”

At the symposium, Dr Collard and two other SEI-linked French specialists, Dr Sally Marthaler and Dr Adrian Treacher, gave their expert analysis of the campaign, voting patterns and the broader implications for Europe.

The seminar was held three days after the first round of voting in the French presidential election and ahead of the second round scheduled for 6 May.

The closely fought election has seen centre-right incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy face a major challenge from the socialist François Hollande, together with a strong first-round performance from Marine Le Pen from the radical right French National Front.

SEI Co-Director visits Croatia ahead of EU referendum

 Prof Aleks Szczerbiak and Sussex graduate Andrea Covic at a meeting at the EU delegation office, held as part of Prof Szczerbiak's visit to Croatia.           

A Sussex specialist on European referendums and East European politics visited Croatia last week just days before Croatians voted to join the European Union.

During his two-day visit from 19-20 January, Professor Aleks Szczerbiak - Professor of Politics and Contemporary European Studies and Co-Director of the Sussex European Institute (SEI) - was involved in a number of meetings with academics, policy makers, journalists and business leaders to present and discuss his research on EU referendums.

With his SEI colleague Professor Paul Taggart, in 2009 Professor Szczerbiak co-authored a book on EU Enlargement and Referendums, analysing the outcomes of the 2003 referendums in the former communist states of central and eastern Europe on whether to join the EU.

The two Sussex scholars also co-convene the European Parties Elections and Referendums Network (EPERN), which was set up in 2000 originally to research Euroscepticism but subsequently expanded its brief to look at European referendums and the impact of the European issue on electoral and party politics

Commenting on his visit, Professor Szczerbiak said: “This was a tremendously exciting time to be visiting Croatia and an excellent opportunity for me to share the findings of the research that Paul and I carried out on EU referendums.

“I’ve learnt a great deal that I can put to good use both in further research on this topic but also in the Sussex courses that I teach on East European politics.”

Professor Szczerbiak gave the keynote address at a major academic conference hosted by the Zagreb University Political Science Institute and attended by the Croatian foreign minister.

He also spoke to 60 young professionals (including more than 20 SEI graduates) at a meeting sponsored by the British Council in Croatia.

Since 1999 the Croatian government has been sending young people to Sussex to take the SEI’s MA in Contemporary European Studies - in return for working for them for up to five years after returning home. As a result, SEI has now trained nearly 100 Croatian graduates.

Professor Szczerbiak said: “I was particularly pleased to meet up with so many SEI alumni who are now having a huge, positive impact on public life in their country. It was really gratifying to hear them talk about their positive experiences at Sussex and how helpful this has been to them in their professional careers.”

Professor Szczerbiak’s visit was organised by the Academy of Political Development, a Croatian NGO aimed at developing democratic political culture and promoting dialogue and co-operation among future leaders in Croatia.

The Academy is headed by Ana Brncic, who graduated from the MA in Contemporary European Studies in 2002 and is now head of communications in the EU delegation in Croatia, having previously been a senior official in the Croatian ministries of foreign affairs and European integration.

Symposium celebrates SEI professor’s achievements

Current and former Sussex faculty and doctoral researchers marked the retirement of a Co-Director of the Sussex European Institute (SEI) with a one-day symposium.

Professor Jim Rollo has been an SEI Co-Director and Professor of European Economic Integration at Sussex since 1999, having previously been Chief Economist at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Colleagues who contributed papers and reflections at the event on Wednesday (6 July) included:

  • Professor Alasdair Smith, former Sussex Vice-Chancellor and currently a Research Professor in the Department of Economics, who has been both a professional collaborator and personal friend of Jim's since their undergraduate days at Glasgow University in the 1960s;
  • Professor Jörg Monar (who was SEI Co-Director with Jim in 2001-05);
  • Dr Peter Holmes from the Department of Economics;
  • Professor Dame Helen Wallace, founder and Director of SEI between 1992-2001, and currently a Visiting Professorial Fellow at Sussex, who worked with Jim at SEI and previously at the Foreign Office and the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London;
  • and SEI Visiting Professorial Fellow, Alan Mayhew.

The rest of the symposium contained contributions exploring the themes that have been a major focus of Jim's work over the years, particularly the impact of globalisation on European trade and migration policy.

Professor Aleks Szczerbiak, who has worked with Jim as SEI Co-Director for the last five years, said: "Given his distinguished career as both an academic and practitioner, Jim embodies the SEI's mission of producing research that is both at the scholarly cutting edge and policy relevant.

"During the last 12 years, Jim has played a huge role in helping to develop SEI as one of the foremost centres of postgraduate training and interdisciplinary research on contemporary Europe.

"He has been a huge intellectual presence at Sussex."

Sussex experts discuss governance of European migration

A one-day workshop hosted by the Sussex European Institute (SEI) gathered more than 40 specialists to examine recent developments in the governance of EU migration.

Migration governance is a relatively new and rapidly evolving field, arising from the EU's decision in 1999 to create a common asylum and migration policy.

Opening the workshop on 8 April, SEI Co-Director Professor Jim Rollo said: "Free movement of labour has always been a key area of the single market but more recently the pressure of people flows from outside the EU has grown both from the east and from the south across the Mediterranean.

"Whether these are refugee flows or economic migrants matters little; in the end they represent both management and political challenges that require a European level response.'

The workshop included papers on each of the main aspects of EU migration policy - legal migration, asylum, illegal migration, and external relations - and considered the extent to which a distinctive mode of governance of European migration has emerged in the last 12 years.

Among the six presentations was a paper by SEI's Dr James Hampshire, which examined how digital technologies are being deployed to reassert state border controls in a European context of 'territorial unbundling'.

Dr Hampshire, who organised the workshop, said: "Although national migration and asylum policies still vary across the Union, the papers showed that Europe now has a supranational migration regime, which has transformed the way in which migration flows to and within Europe are regulated."