COMMENTARY: Centre for Britain and Europe: Open Doors and Building Bridges.

In August 2020, the Centre for Britain and Europe (CBE), based at the University of Surrey’s Department of Politics was awarded the prestigious Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence by the European Union, for 2020-2023. This is a great acknowledgment of the high-quality of research which has been carried out, as well as an acknowledgment of the high-standard teaching and the expertise of the academic staff on issues related to Europe.

The role of Jean Monnet Centres of Excellence is very crucial, and their contribution in the promotion of research on issues related to Europe more timely and significant than ever. In the last decade we have been witnessing multiple overlapping and severe crises within the Eurozone. Since 2010 EU countries – notably in South Europe – are in the epicentre of an ongoing financial crisis which have led in the implementation of hard economic adjustment programmes. These programmes have brought serious economic and socio-political consequences for their people. Parallel with that, since 2015 we have been witnessing the development and escalation of another severe crisis – the refugee crisis. Almost one million forcibly displaced people came to Europe through South European countries, like Italy and Greece. This is one of the worse forced displacements in history after the Second World War. The refugee crisis has been a particular challenge for Europe as it put pressure at its Southern EU borders and enabled an overwhelming securitisation and militarisation of the EU borders. At the same time, it has significantly challenged what in the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon has been established as the European values. Undoubtably, the BREXIT crisis – which unfolded in 2016 and ended, once and for all, with the official withdrawal of the UK from the EU – is another challenge we are encountering. Apart from the increasing Euroscepticism, we have been witnessing a severe rise of racism, and xenophobia, far-right and neo-Nazi groups across Europe with various collateral consequences for people and whole communities. In these challenging times the role of Jean Monnet Centres of Excellence, and ultimately of the academic interdisciplinary research is more imperative than ever to address, study, and question these processes by providing policy recommendations, and essentially lead to a social change.

Our CBE centre has brought together wonderful academics, researchers, and colleagues at different stages of their academic journey, and development. All of them have brought their expertise, and their interdisciplinary approaches to studying Europe and key European issues including de/re-Europeanisation, migration, gender, and foreign policy. In the end of January, we organised our first Winter School were all these aspects were discussed. The first session opened with an engaging discussion by Dr Theofanis Exadaktylos and Prof Simon Usherwood around the issue of de/re-Europeanisation – a theme which is closely linked with the Open doors and building bridges between Britain and the European Union thematic of the CBE. The second session started with another engaging discussion around electoral behaviour in Britain and Europe by Dr Alia Middleton and Dr Roula Nezi. As far as Europe concerns, Dr Nazi explored issues regarding to national and European identity in respect to electoral behaviour. Whilst Dr Middleton spoke about the issue of leadership in British politics, and elections.

The third session opened with another interesting discussion by Prof Holger Breinlich from the Department of Economics, Dr Noreen O’Meara from the Department of Law, and Dr Venetia Evergeti from the Department of Sociology. Prof Breinlich spoke about the financial implications in respect to the negotiations of Britain with the EU concerning BREXIT. Dr O’Meara talked about the key trends in EU from a legal perspective by focusing on the Court of Justice, the European Commission, and the future of the EU Law. Dr Evergeti in her discussion focused on the issues of transnationalism in respect to migration, and transnational borders. Later in the day, Ogerta Lala, the Communications and Recruitment Assistant of the College of Europe presented various facts and useful information about the College of Europe.

The final session of the Winter School finished with a very interesting discussions around the issue of Brexit and the pandemic with contributions from Prof Roger Awan-Scully, Cardiff University and Chair of PSA, Dr Nicholas Startin, University of Bath and Chair of UACES, Professor Amelia Hadfield, University of Surrey and Dean International, Dr Olga Litvyak University of Vienna and Chair of the UACES Graduate Forum. In this session the main focus of the discussion was on young researchers and the challenges they are facing due to the pandemic. This was a significant contribution as well, which highlighted that the Centres of Excellence, like our CBE, have a duty of care towards students and academic staff. It also gave prominence to the valuable support offered by academic associations like the Political Studies Association (PSA) and the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES) to through their various activities, including the much-needed Graduate Forum.

To conclude, the Winter School event on January was only the beginning of the various exciting activities which are going to follow around the challenging, contemporary aspects of European policy.