This blog was originally posted to the European Voice on October 16, 2014.
by Ian Mundell
Students as far afield as the United States and New Zealand are keeping a close eye on developments in the European Union.
Europe would appear to be the natural home for anyone interested in EU studies, yet there are plenty of academics around the world who study Europe from a distance. There are even students who leave Europe in order to get a better perspective on European Union affairs.
“The great advantage is to know how a world power like the United States views Europe,” says Ilias Bolaris, who studied political science and public administration in Athens, then law in Nicosia, before joining the EU studies master’s programme at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I believe this is a clearer and much more objective view, far from national versus supranational political debates or the narrow regionalist or nationalistic prejudices evident, for example, in how German elites describe the current situation in the Mediterranean countries.”
And if going west involves a crash course in US politics, then so much the better, says Simone Kaiser, who came to Illinois after studying conference interpreting in Graz, Austria. “Studying the EU in the US has the nice side-effect of learning a lot about the American political system, US institutions and policies, especially in such diverging areas as social and labour policy, environmental standards and government.”
Both students started out with personal connections that planted the seed of studying in the US, but the final decision was strategic. “I would not have enrolled in any other programme,” says Kaiser, “and would most probably not have moved to the US at all, but would have decided to try my luck at the concours for the EU’s conference-interpreting service instead.”
European studies master’s degrees in the US often take an area-studies approach, covering the history, politics, cultures and languages of the region in a way that is broader than programmes in Europe. Illinois is something of an exception, offering a master’s degree that deals explicitly with the European Union, covering its history, institutions, governance and policies. Even so, there are differences.
“Naturally we are interested particularly in the transatlantic relationship, as opposed merely to having interest in the internal dynamics of Europe or European integration,” says Matt Rosenstein, director of graduate studies at the university’s European Union Center. “We also approach EU studies in a comparative way, quite possibly with greater emphasis on this approach than a student might be exposed to in Europe.” Federalism, for example, might be examined in both the EU and US contexts.
View from New Zealand The benefits of a different perspective also apply in New Zealand. “The external perception of the EU can be quite different – and sometimes more benign – from internal perspectives,” explains Martin Holland, director of the National Centre for Research on Europe at the University of Canterbury. “Students interested in the EU’s global policies, such as development or CSDP [Common Security and Defence Policy] or in the concept of ‘normative power Europe’, have the advantage of seeing at first-hand how far the EU’s message is being heard – or ignored – outside the EU28.”
This external perspective is built into the centre’s undergraduate and graduate EU studies programmes. “Topics that might seem to be simply internal EU questions – agriculture or the eurozone, for example – are additionally explored from an external perspective: how do these policies have an impact on our region?” Holland says.
As in the US, local comparisons are important. For example, when talking about Europe’s approach to integration, it is useful to look for parallels in ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
So far most of the centre’s international students have come in at the PhD level, both from the EU and its neighbours and from Asia. But Holland hopes that will change. “We are just about to launch a new taught one-year master’s degree on the EU in the Asia-Pacific, and are hopeful that this will prove to be an innovative and attractive option for EU-based students.”