The pilgrim province in which to rebuild an ideal

November 2, 2001

Patrick Masterson says the EUI is key to overcoming problems in Europe and the wider world.

It would be hard to think of two places further apart - in the popular imagination at least - than Florence and Brussels. The first is a cradle of European civilisation, now home to the European University Institute, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Brussels (if we believe the caricature) is the great bureaucracy at the heart of the European Union, issuing multilingual but sometimes incomprehensible directives threatening the British sausage, French camembert and the Florentine T-bone steak, among others, all in the name of some grey, featureless uniformity.

Behind the stereotypes there is a shared purpose. It is a purpose the EUI is distinctively qualified to articulate when a cogent and illuminating scenario is needed for momentum to be regained and the vision of the founders of the European project revitalised. Next Wednesday, for the first time, the European Commission will meet not in Brussels or Strasbourg but at the EUI, in recognition of its importance as an independent intellectual resource for Europe.

These days it is not only the cynics who say many aspects of that European project appear problematic. Even the most convinced Europhile has to accept that there are issues that will not go away and could well become even more intractable. The enlargement agenda is proceeding fitfully. The aftermath of September 11 has highlighted controversial issues of defence policy. The majorities within most EU countries in favour of European integration are being eroded as the democratic deficit widens. The introduction of the euro will not be a panacea in a world in which economic growth has again begun to stutter.

Statistics suggest the EUI has something to be proud of. It has lived up to the idea of its founders that it should contribute "to the development of the cult-ural and scientific heritage of Europe as a whole". It has an academic community numbering about 1,000, some 850 of whom are full-time researchers, PhD students or academics. About 80 PhD theses are defended ann-ually, with a median time-to-degree of 4.1 years and a completion rate of 76 per cent, comparable with the best graduate schools in the United States. More than a quarter of graduates find work in countries other than their countries of origin, while the breakdown is: academia 69 per cent, private sector 13 per cent, international organisations 10 per cent and public administration 8 per cent. It is involved in teaching and research networks with more than 75 universities internationally.

One of the lessons of Europe today is that the indices of economic growth, employment and international influence are not powerful enough in themselves to generate the European identity of which the founders of the community dreamed.

They may have been over-optimistic, but they believed in the power of ideas. In two specific areas in which the EU is facing serious problems, the EUI is ideally situated to generate the ideas that will make an essential contribution to the re-launching of the European ideal.

Both areas pose a challenge to the original cultural mission, understood today in a wider sense. One is internal and relates to the political culture of Europe: the reform of the institutions; human rights; the consolidation of the treaties into an intelligible form; and other issues that directly address the central problem of the democratic deficit. The other is external and relates to questions involving enlargement, migration, and the intercultural crisis of which September 11 was the terrifying harbinger.

The EUI's departments of law, economics, history, and social and political science, with the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, provide an independent intellectual resource that EU institutions will turn to increasingly to help discern the solutions to those internal problems. The political culture of Europe is at the core of research projects in all these areas.

There is an urgency and sense of focus in the manner with which the EUI is addressing external issues. A round-table discussion within two weeks of the destruction of the World Trade Center drew experts from the EU and institutions abroad. It was marked by the core experience of the EUI - the experience of its academic staff and researchers who have discovered here in Fiesole a pilgrim province of the mind, where their separate frameworks of human experience and value systems can rise to the challenge of achieving new comparative ways of addressing issues and the possibility of overlapping cultural consensus based on a profound mutual respect. It is difficult to think of a more important goal for the times in which we live.

Patrick Masterson is president of the European University Institute in Florence, which celebrates its 25th anniversary on November 7.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments