EU Day

Learn about EU Day and the keynote delivered by David O'Sullivan, Ambassador of the EU to the U.S. on the 15th Annual EU Day on March 15.

Master of Arts in European Union Studies

The European Union Center at the University of Illinois offers the only Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) program in the Western Hemisphere. Learn more here.

Language Shapes Opinion Towards Gender Equality

Dr. Margit Tavits discussed langauge and gender as a part of the EUC Faculty Lecture Series.

Conversations on Europe

Watch the collection of online roundtable discussions on different EU issues sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh.

Transatlantic Relationships after US Elections

Watch the EUC Sponsored Roundtable on Transatlantic Relations after the 2016 US Election with Moderator Niala Boodhoo

Videos of Previous Lectures

Missed an EUC-hosted lecture? Our blog's video tag has archived previous EUC-sponsored lectures.

Monday, March 30, 2020

From the End of History to the Crisis of Liberal Democracy: A Symposium on Europe

Photo by Libby Wheeles
On March 4, 2020, the European Union Center hosted an interdisciplinary symposium, “From the End of History to the Crisis of Liberal Democracy: A Symposium on Europe,” featuring speakers from three different disciplines and institutions. Francesco Biagi is Senior Assistant Professor of Comparative Public Law at the University of Bologna, as well as Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Stephanie Craft is Professor of Journalism at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Jae-Jae Spoon is Professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh and the director of the University of Pittsburgh’s European Studies Center.

Francesco Biagi’s presentation focused on Poland and Hungary, the “most evident cases in Europe of departure from democratic standards and European constitutional heritage.” Dr. Biagi gave three reasons for anti-constitutional backsliding in Hungary and Poland. First, although both countries made a successful transition to democracy, neither of them has produced a strong enough democratic culture that could act as a bulwark against authoritarianism. Second, the transition from a centralized economy to a market economy meant that many segments of the population in Poland and Hungary experienced economic inequality, a matter that was made worse by the financial crisis of 2007-2008. Third, the growing popularity of identitarian politics and rhetoric has also boosted the rise of Orbán, Kaczyński, and their parties. 

However, recently the Polish constitutional court declared three laws to be against EU law, which, Dr. Biagi argued, represented a departure from the trend of the last several years, during which Polish courts increasingly acted as vessels of the executive branch. Dr. Biagi ended his presentation with the suggestion that the EU cut off structural funds to countries that are violating EU principles.

The next presenter, Stephanie Craft, spoke on the issue of a growing assault on press freedom in Europe and in the U.S. In Hungary, media outlets were closed or sold to entities with government ties, thereby silencing them. Kaczyński criticized Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s leading newspaper, as “against the very notion of the nation.” In Serbia, there has been surveillance of reporters and smear campaigns in pro-government tabloids. In Slovakia, the investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée were shot in a targeted killing in 2018. Kuciak had been investigating political corruption and organized crime, and Marian Kocner, a Slovak businessman who is accused of organizing the murder, had been implicated in Kuciak’s reporting. 
Photo by Libby Wheeles

Dr. Craft gave several reasons for why there has been a decline in media freedom over the past decade. Over the past decade and a half, media outlets have been facing the problem of a broken business model. Traditionally, they have relied on advertising for revenue, a model that has become outdated. The rise of digital media outlets has transformed the news environment and flooded the journalism industry with competitors. At the same time, journalism norms and practices — for instance, reporters who cover politics might choose to refrain from voicing political opinions or voting — have been slow to change. Dr. Craft argued that journalists need to work in concert to point out violations of press freedom and that we — as the public — need to confront what future leaders might learn from the success of the current assault on press freedom. 

The final presenter, Jae-Jae Spoon, spoke about the decline of mainstream political parties in Europe and the implications for liberal democracy. Mainstream parties on either side of the political spectrum have been losing votes and seats in government. Center-left parties in countries including France, Netherlands, Hungary, Germany, and the U.K. have seen their vote shares decline in the past two elections. This decline has been particularly stark in France, where the Socialist Party lost 250 seats in the 2017 election.

What explains this decline? The story of the center-right parties has been one of contagion from the far right, and for the former, their only choices are to accommodate, oppose, or ignore the latter. Dr. Spoon noted that research findings on whether accommodation reduces the vote share of far-right parties have been mixed. The center-left parties, Dr. Spoon explained, have struggled to offer solutions to problems that voters care most about. A shift in focus from politics of redistribution to politics of recognition may have pushed away working-class voters, whom the social democratic parties have historically represented. In the case of Britain, the Labour Party has been struggling to hold on to its working-class constituencies in Northern England and the Midlands (the so-called “red wall” that, until recently, has steadily voted Labour). Some of these voters are now voting for the Conservatives; others are voting for the far right, whose anti-migrant positions are presented as protecting native workers. 

Photo by Libby Wheeles
Dr. Spoon noted that the Labour Party’s recent struggle to hold on to its working-class constituencies may be an anomaly, rather than the start of a trend. As for whether the decline of mainstream political parties represents a crisis for liberal democracy or a wake-up call, Dr. Spoon suggested that perhaps it is the latter: “Parties are meant to link citizens to government. If they aren’t doing this, other parties will form and attract voters. It is then the responsibility of the mainstream parties to get their voters back by doing what parties are supposed to do.” 

The question of whether we are seeing a crisis and how new this crisis is was further discussed during the Q&A session following the presentations. Emanuel Rota, director of the EU Center, asked, “How much of what we are witnessing is an actual decline and not disappointment over what we had expected in 1989, [that is], a world progressing not the way liberals would like it to go?” Dr. Spoon agreed but also noted that something that is new is the number of challenges to liberal democracy in Europe, as well as the rise of the far-right parties.

This symposium was generously supported by a Jean Monnet Center of Excellence grant from the European Commission’s Erasmus+ program.  


Monday, March 2, 2020

A FLAS Fellow's Semester Abroad in Amman, Jordan

Wadi Rum Desert
by Audrey Dombro, an agricultural & consumer economics student and 2019-20 FLAS fellow

My name is Audrey and I studied as a European Union Foreign Language and Area Studies Scholar in Amman, Jordan for the fall semester. Amman is a sprawling city built across hills and valleys that resembles a small town; people will roll down their car window on the street to chat if they notice you’re foreign, and invitations to come to dinner or tea are free-flowing. On the bus, everyone sits close, and sometimes a baby ends up on a lap of a random passenger. 

Although Jordan is a 98% Muslim country, Christmas time of year the mall is packed with people viewing the elaborate 30-foot tall Christmas tree and other decorations, some wearing hijabs and others in Santa hats. During a long dry period, the churches and mosques of Amman offer “istasqa”, an Arabic word that means prayer to God for rain. Culture and conditions are embedded into the language, so my intensive language focus provided to me a depth of understanding in addition to a connection with others.

My courses included Modern Standard Arabic, Arabic Writing, Colloquial Conversational Arabic, and Intro to Islam. All of my classes were taught in Arabic and I took a language pledge to speak in Arabic, even among my peers. I lived with a host family in Jordan, which was composed of my warm, wise host mother who always asked if I was hungry whenever I walked through the doorway and my grown-up, married host siblings that resided all over the city and paid frequent visits to their beloved mama. 

I treasured the opportunity to explore faith in a geographic area that is riddled with sites of great importance to the Abrahamic religions. I visited a mixed religion school, where under the guidance of a priest and an imam who loved Christmas cookies, high school students were nurtured in an interfaith environment. In Islam class, I delved into a world religion that is largely misunderstood in America, learning through resources directly from Muslim Arabic-speakers that I felt would not otherwise be available to me without my Arabic study. I learned the true impact of this one day on the bus. 

Church of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple
King Hussein Mosque
 When I boarded the bus, the passengers were busy, tired, on their phones or eyeing the traffic. I was startled when a man began shouting at me in English. He stared directly at me and told me to be quiet and to listen to Islam, to learn about it, to study it. I originally gauged his outburst as an act of proselytization, so I turned away. Anguished, he then explained in English and in Arabic to the man sitting beside him that his daughter and wife were hijabis and had been mistreated in the United States. I finally understood that he had expressed a plea to me, to learn about Islam instead of fearing it, and to bring that attitude to my country. I wish I had told him that I understand the reality of harassment of Muslims in America, and I wish I had said that there are people working towards a more tolerant future. I still carry his message with me and recognize my responsibility to be a part of that work. 

The religions and cultures that predominate the Middle East permeate through all aspects of society. For instance, Islamic law creates a unique economic situation for banking in countries with Muslim populations. A class guest speaker from the Islamic banking industry shared details of Islamic investment portfolios and strategies that allow for investing without “ribah” (interest) because it is not permitted in Islam. The bank might buy a product and then sell that product to a business at a higher cost, rather than providing a loan with interest, or perhaps might take a share of the businesses’ gains. Additionally, Islam at times intersects with politics; another speaker discussed the Muslim Brotherhood, and his perception as a supporter varied greatly from what I’ve heard in other venues. He strongly believed the ultimate goals of the Brotherhood are democracy and social service provision.

"Distinguished Italian shoes" for sale in Jerash
The weeklong bus trip across Jordan, the program’s “rural retreat,” was a highlight because of the strides that I made in Arabic as well as the adventure that I encountered. We traveled the historic King’s Highway, a route traversed by peoples like the Nabateans and the Romans, and stopped in rural towns along the way. We visited the ancient city of Petra with its magnificent architecture built into rock, stayed in Bedouin camps at the Wadi Rum Desert, dipped in the Dead Sea, and explored the rural town of Shoback. According to several locals, Shoback in the past was a luscious landscape of trees, but it was stripped to gather wood for the Ottoman Railroad project. We drank tea at the home of a woman nearing 100 years old who reminded me distinctly of my deceased great aunt, the kind and sharp Italian matriarch. Both were witty, strong in their respective faiths and loving to the other inhabitants of earth, and although one spoke Arabic, I felt nonetheless enveloped in a strong sense of familiarity. 

Shoback Castle

The Treasury at the Petra

One day, I was informed that a farm visit was happening shortly and then five of us squeezed into a truck. As we pulled up to the farm, a hexagonal pen stood out against the field, and a multicolored whirlpool of black, brown, and white sheep swept through it. After the farmer weighed the first sheep, I came to understand that we were to choose one. We settled on a nervous brown, blue-eyed creature who proceeded to soil the carpet of the truck. Tied up outside our camp, for days he treated me to vocal greetings every time I walked from the outhouse to the kitchen. Then the day arrived. 

The majority of our group chose to be absent during the slaughter. I felt that if I was going to eat meat, I couldn’t ignore the process that brought it to the table. I watched my friend hold the sheep down while our guide said bismillah and slit the throat, letting the blood drip across the ground. I got queasy and took a break. When I returned my stomach was upside down but my mind was open as our guide hoisted the body and hung it, asking for us to pass him different buckets and knives as he skinned it and began removing the organs. He taught us the Arabic words for every body part he held in front of us that afternoon. Hours later, we ate the meat with rice. I came to respect the intimacy of local slaughter, a practice that espouses gratitude and respect. 

I am so thankful for the opportunity to study in Amman, Jordan. My Arabic proficiency has improved which has opened my world to new people, ideas, and perspectives. The classroom cultural, political, and historical knowledge that I gathered in the United States has been expanded and supplemented with examples and experiences. My studies have become three-dimensional because of my experiences in Jordan. 

Abdali Mall Christmas decorations



Monday, February 24, 2020

Eric Calderwood's book Colonial al-Andalus: Spain and the Making of Modern Moroccan Culture wins a Laura Shannon Prize Silver Medal

The EU Center extends major congratulations to Eric Calderwood, associate professor of comparative & world literature and a EU Center affiliate, whose book, Colonial al-Andalus: Spain and the Making of Modern Moroccan Culture (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2018), has been awarded a prestigious Laura Shannon Prize Silver Medal by the Nanovic Institute for European Studies at the University of Notre Dame. 

This year, the jury consisted of Dudley Andrew, the R. Selden Rose Professor of Film and Comparative Literature, Yale University; JoAnn DellaNeva, professor of Romance languages and literatures and academic director of Notre Dame’s London Global Gateway, University of Notre Dame; Lydia Goehr, professor of philosophy, Columbia University; Michael Jennings, the Class of 1900 Professor of Modern Languages and professor of German, Princeton University; and Declan Kiberd, the Donald and Marilyn Keough Professor of Irish Studies, University of Notre Dame.

The jury says of Colonial al-Andalus“We have many accounts of ‘moorish’ influences in Spain, but almost none of the lingering shadow of the Spanish presence in Morocco. Colonial al-Andalus offers an original, deeply researched, and compelling narrative of a relationship of increasing international importance. With exemplary analyses of Spanish- and Arabic-language texts that demonstrate the pervasiveness of the ‘myth’ of Andalusia in both Spain and Morocco in modernity, Calderwood’s work is well documented, vivid in style, and timely.

Colonial al-Andalus has won two additional awards to date: the 2019 L. Carl Brown AIMS Book Prize in North African Studies and Honorable Mention for the 2019 Nikki Keddie Book Award from the Middle East Studies Association. It has also been translated into Spanish as Al Ándalus en Marruecos (Almuzara, 2019).

Click here for more information on Colonial al-Andalus and here for more information on the 2020 Laura Shannon Prize.


Friday, January 31, 2020

Announcing the EU Center's 18th Annual European Union Day Celebrations on February 20-21, 2020

Consul General Wolfgang Moessinger
We’re excited to announce the schedule of events for our 18th annual European Union Day celebrations on February 20-21, 2020. 

The keynote address will be given by Wolfgang Moessinger, Consul General of Germany in the U.S. Midwest, at 10:30am on Friday, February 21, in the Levis Faculty Center. CG Moessinger’s address is titled “’The New Cold War’: Liberal Democracy vs. Authoritarianism — Why the EU is Today More Important Than Ever Before.” Drawing on his previous experience as Consul General for Germany in Eastern Ukraine, CG Moessinger will discuss the need for international cooperation in promoting liberal democracies. He will elaborate on the history of liberal democracies, beginning with the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and of German re-unification, and explore the current threats to democratic governments. Finally, he will explain why the European Union serves as a model of peaceful international collaboration.

Angie Estes
CG Moessinger’s keynote will be preceded by a EU Day of Art on Thursday, February 20. The Jupiter Quartet will give an invitation-only performance at 12:15pm in the ACES Library Heritage Room, and at 4pm, award-winning poet Angie Estes will give a reading of her work in the Illini Union Bookstore Author’s Corner. The poetry reading is open to the public, and there will be an opportunity for Q&A afterwards. Estes is the author of six poetry collections, including Enchantée (winner of the 2015 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award) and Tryst (a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize).

The EU Day of Art events are co-sponsored by the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, the Center for Advanced Studies, and ACES - International Programs. 

EU Day 2020 Schedule of Events 

February 20, 2020 | EU Day of Art
11:30 am – Reception prior to Jupiter Quartet performance
12:15 pm – Jupiter Quartet performance (INVITATION ONLY)
Heritage Room, Funk ACES Library, 1101 S. Goodwin Ave, Urbana, IL 61801 (map)
4:00 pm – Poetry Reading by Angie Estes
Illini Union Bookstore, Author’s Corner, 809 S Wright St, Champaign, IL 61820 (map)
February 21, 2020
10:00 am – Welcome Reception
10:30 am – Keynote by Wolfgang Moessinger, Consul General of Germany in the Midwest
Levis Faculty Center, Third Floor, 919 W Illinois Street, Urbana, IL 61801 (map)


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