“A Changing Neighbourhood” and academic reflections on it

Few, if any, inpiduals were as instrumental in emergence of what is now called European unity as the brilliant French diplomat Jean Monnet. One of the main architects of European integration, Monnet, who is rightfully considered to be the “Father of Europe”, left a legacy that inspired generations. One part of this inspiring legacy is Jean Monnet Program, a European Initiative that encourages academic insight into the field of European integration – or European Studies, as they are commonly called.

Launched in 1989, the program is now present in 72 countries throughout the world, including Georgia. Between 1990 and 2011, the Jean Monnet Program has helped set up approximately 3,700 projects in the field of European integration studies, including 165 Jean Monnet European Centers of Excellence, 879 Chairs and 2,139 permanent courses and European modules.

On June 22-23 of 2015, the Jean Monnet seminar «A changing neighborhood», dedicated to the European Neighborhood’s new policy, took place in Tbilisi. The idea was to offer academic insight into and reflections on the changing reality in the Eastern Partnership countries and the EU’s new approach towards them - the one of differentiation. That is, the main narrative is still intact - to bring the Eastern European neighbors closer to the EU by means of supporting and encouraging reforms in the EaP countries for the benefit of their citizens, but wise folks in Brussels have now realized that in both long and short runs, these six countries need distinctively different approaches in order to succeeded.

The seminar itself was organized by the European Commission. The event was a feast of academic thought - the event attracted around 70 participants from the EU and EaP counties. The two-day-long seminar was pided into several workshops where participants could discuss the various issues of the Eastern partnership. The interest in this initiative was staggeringly high due to dramatic events currently unfolding in the EaP area.

Georgian Journal was privileged to discuss with Mr. Vitto Borrelli, from European Commission’s Directorate General Education and Culture, who is in charge of Sector Jean Monnet & China Desk, the weight and importance of deeper knowledge on European integration among the youth of countries that aspire to closer ties with the EU.

”We have decided to organize this seminar in Tbilisi to review the new ENP policy and we wanted to discuss it in a country that is directly affected by it,” says Mr. Borrelli, a soft-spoken Brussels diplomat with a distinguished career in international cooperation in the education field. “Also, we chose Tbilisi for greater visibility of our new program in higher education, the Erasmus+, because to be honest, Georgia is not amongst the most active participants in the Eastern Partnership region, so we wanted to attract new potential participants in our program.”

Whether the input of academicians is going to have a lasting impact on the new ENP policy remains to be seen, but as Borrelli puts it, the consensus is not always the case.

“By definition, academics should be a bit more critical in assessing things, and that’s exactly why we are inviting them to discuss these things and consult with them. For example, the EU’s so-called “more for more” approach has been challenged by academicians, who maintain that this principle does not apply well to all countries, and we need a differentiation approach instead, which means a different approach to each country. This stance of theirs is echoed in upgraded ENP policy as well,” he explains.

However, it is not all about academicians who have spent many decades researching the concepts of Europe. It is also about the younger generation - those who are now embracing these concepts. European studies programs worldwide have proven to be essential tools to enhance the society’s awareness of the European integration process and Mr. Borrelli is keen to emphasize on that.

“Studies such as these inspire young scholars to also provide an input into the European conscience of the whole country,” he states. As for the career attractiveness of choosing European studies, Borrelli maintains that diplomats, statesmen and their ilk are by far not the only ones who can benefit from European Studies program.

“I’d like to emphasize that European studies aren’t just about teaching and learning about the EU; they includes the whole Europe, its cultural, social, political and economic dimensions,” he lectures concisely. “Even when narrowing down to the European Union, I think that there can be an interest in studying the European integration process or the system of European governance, which is a model of inspiration for multinational organizations. It’s probably the most developed system of political-economic integration in the world, so there is much to learn.”

Borrelli’s sentiments were echoed by his colleague at the European Commission delegation to Georgia, Dr. Oliver Reisner, who provided us with feedback on Jean Monnet activities in Georgia:

”There were five Jean Monnet actions supported in Georgia so far, covering the establishment of a Jean Monnet chair in European Law at TSU and various kinds of information exercises reaching out to best EU practices in innovation policy. Relevance of EU studies in Georgia is very high, especially with the conclusion of the Association Agreement between Georgia and the EU. I hope that such a conference is not just contributing to the ENP Revision consultations, but also popularizing the Jean Monnet program in Georgia.

Young professionals should be well aware of EU standards and regulations related to their professional field of expertise. With the conclusion of the Association Agreement, Georgia committed itself to serious reforms that require broad understanding not only in the government, but also in the society. It is important that the whole Georgian society has a clear understanding of its commitment. Here, the EU is providing serious support to the government as well as the civil society. High standards of professionalism should also contribute to employment in Georgia,” stated Reisner in an e-mail exchange with Georgian Journal.

It’s hard not to agree with these two knowledgeable gentlemen, as it is the path to Europe that Georgia has chosen - a path to its better future. This is not the easiest nor the shortest route, however, and its is thorough understanding of the this journey that will be crucial for not veering away from it. And that’s precisely what European Studies are about.

Author: Vazha Tavberidze