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20th Jul 2018

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University scheme for EU studies marks 20 years

  • European integration studies accompanied the enlargement process (Photo: European Commission)

A university student support scheme on EU integration this year marks two decades of helping new member states and candidate countries grow accustomed to European Union history, law and economics.

Named after a French entrepreneur who in the aftermath of the Second World War played a key-role in the creation of what later became the European Union, the Jean Monnet programme was introduced in 1989 to help universities set up departments and courses on European studies.

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It has since expanded to 62 countries all over the world and reaches 250,000 students every year, with an annual budget of over €23 million.

The bulk of the funding, almost €18 million in 2009, goes to six special institutions entirely devoted to EU studies: the Belgium and Poland-based "College of Europe," seen as the main recruiting pool for the young staff populating the EU institutions, as well as the Italian "European University Institute," which focuses more on academic research.

The European Institute of Public Administration based in the Dutch city of Maastricht, with further facilities in Luxembourg, Barcelona Warsaw and Brussels, is also funded by the scheme, as is the Academy of European Law in Germany.

The other two institutions funded directly by the Jean Monnet programme are the International Centre for European Training offering a combined masters degree in France, Germany and Turkey and the European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education, based in Denmark and aimed at coordinating national policies in this field.

Speaking last week at an event celebrating the scheme's 20 years of existence last week, the EU commissioner for culture and education, Jan Figel, said that the Jean Monnet network of professors and experts "play a crucial role in explaining Europe both worldwide and to the EU's own citizens."

Professor Zbigniew B. Rudnicki from Warsaw University stressed the role of EU studies in bringing unbiased knowledge about the continent's history to the former eastern bloc after decades of Soviet propaganda aimed at "convincing people of the superiority of the communist regime over a decadent and degenerated capitalist world."

He recalled that knowledge about western European integration was forbidden, unless it was portrayed in very negative terms.

"Maintaining the division of Europe during the Cold War meant that behind the Iron Curtain information was only allowed after having been subjected to communist censorship. The establishment of the European Communities and the process of integration were perceived by leaders of the so-called socialist states as symptoms of the tightening of an alliance in the western bloc of states – the enemies of the Soviet Union and its satellites," Mr Rudnicki said.

EU propaganda?

However, the same Jean Monnet programme which enabled easterners to set the record straight in relation to Soviet propaganda was accused by British politicians of being a 'propaganda tool' of the European Union.

The British criticism sprung from the fact that Jean Monnet professors are funded by the European Commission, who also selects them directly. This has lead some politicians to claim that this breaches the autonomy of universities.

The EU commission stresses that the selection procedure is fair as it is carried out by a panel of "independent academic experts" who evaluate only the quality of the university project submitted, not the person who gets the grant.

"Obviously, Jean Monnet professors enjoy the full academic freedom and should therefore have a critical view towards EU-actions. Their educational activities should help to foster well-informed discussion on the EU's role and evolution," the Jean Monnet programme description reads.

The so-called Jean Monnet chairs are teaching posts specialised in EU integration studies funded with grants of up to €45,000 for three years.

If "centres of excellence" with multidisciplinary studies and research focusing on EU integration are set up, the grant can reach €75,000 over three years.

See more on European education in EUobserver's special focus section

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