On March 15, 2017 the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the European Union Center had the pleasure of hosting David O’Sullivan, the Ambassador of the EU to the US. Before the ambassador’s address to a large crowd of students, faculty, and visitors to the University, he met with graduate students in EU Studies (MA in EU Studies) and the EU Center’s FLAS Fellows. During the meeting, he addressed a variety of topics, including the refugee crisis in Europe and how the 2016 US elections and Donald Trump’s presidency have altered the traditional ways of transatlantic relations. Because the meeting was off the record (“No tweeting!”), I will not go into detail on what the ambassador said. However, I will say that this was the most fascinating part of the day. Not only did we get to hear the ambassador answer our own questions, but we had a candid and frank discussion on a wide range of issues.
After forty-five minutes with the ambassador, we ended our private meeting to prepare for his main address. In that speech, he gave his views on the state of the EU today, seventy years after the Marshall Plan’s establishment. In short, today’s EU would have been almost unimaginable back then. However, though the EU has made great strides in promoting peace and unity in Europe, the EU has been deeply affected by the economic crisis, which exposed problems in the EU’s financial system, as well as the refugee crisis and Brexit. Nevertheless, the EU has overcome many challenges in the past and has adapted to each one, and the EU will continue to do the same in the future.
The day wrapped up with a reception for Ambassador O’Sullivan, several other dignitaries in attendance, faculty, staff, and students associated with the EU Center. All of these guests were mixed together at the tables. The conversation at my table ranged from my thesis, to what living in Washington, D.C. is like, to different styles of religious music. It was tremendously enjoyable to hear everyone share what they study and what brought them to EU Day.
EU Day is one of my favorite events of the year. The private meeting with Ambassador O’Sullivan was a great opportunity because we got to hear him answer our questions at length. His main address put the EU’s most pressing issues today into the context of where the EU has come from and where it hopes to go. The reception was a wonderful opportunity to both share what I am learning and hear about fields completely different from mine. The day was full of good food, good people, and perhaps the best opportunity of the year to hear about everything the European Union and the EU Center have to offer.