Mission and objectives

As a joint venture of the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU), ACCESS EUROPE aims to establish a platform for education, research, and public debate on Europe, the European Union and its member states in the capital of the Netherlands.

It does so by promoting co-operation in research and education between faculties at both universities, thereby leveraging Amsterdam’s assets as a European capital and centre of excellence in the study of contemporary Europe.  ACCESS EUROPE offers a forum for dialogue and exchange on urgent questions concerning the dynamics and direction of contemporary Europe between academic researchers and a wide range of public and private stakeholders — local, national, and international.

The UvA Faculties of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Law, and Humanities and the VU Faculties of Social Sciences and Law participate in the centre. ACCESS EUROPE includes more than 120 senior research staff members in UvA and VU Faculties.

Background

The Amsterdam Centre for Contemporary European Studies is designed to respond to the urgent societal need and academic challenge of understanding the changing relationship between the EU, the Netherlands, and the world through interdisciplinary collaboration. The societal importance of Europe in the Netherlands has never been greater. In the wake of the global financial crisis, the European Union — and the Netherlands within it — finds itself at a critical juncture.

The Euro crisis raises uncertainty

The deepening of the Euro crisis reveals how deeply interconnected Europe has become in recent decades — economically, legally, politically. This interconnected Europe, as the successive twists of the euro crisis also reveal, is at once more complex and more uncertain. Rising uncertainty in turn raises the stakes for devising effective policies and governance arrangements within and across national boundaries. It likewise increases the importance of developing a better understanding of the evolving capacities of European institutions, member states, and private actors to respond to these conditions of greater interdependence and uncertainty. And it intensifies the urgency of sharing such understanding with wider national and European publics in order to secure the legitimacy of whatever solutions may eventually emerge.

The European Union: unprecedented integration

The European Union is an unprecedented experiment in regional integration and political cooperation. In the half-century since the Treaty of Rome, what is today the EU has evolved from a customs union to a single market with a common currency, accompanied by common policies and a body of supranational laws across a wide range of fields from agriculture and energy through consumer and environmental protection to gender and fundamental rights. These are in turn produced and overseen by a unique set of European institutions from the Commission and the Council to the Parliament and the Court. This deepening of regional integration was accompanied by the enlargement of the EU from six to 28 member states, creating a community of some 500 million people. The combination of deepening and widening of European integration has boosted prosperity and social progress, secured peace and promoted democracy to an extent barely conceivable at the start of reconstruction after the Second World War. In the process, the EU has emerged as a laboratory for innovative forms of governance and regulation, as well as an increasingly influential global actor and standard-setter.

The Netherlands: from strong support to discontent

The Netherlands was historically a key proponent and beneficiary of European integration. As an open trading economy with close links to the rest of Europe, committed at the same time to high levels of social welfare for its domestic population, the Netherlands prospered from the progressive elaboration of a stable institutional framework for transnational market integration and regulation. In recent years however, discontent with the advance of European integration has proliferated among important sections of the Dutch electorate and policy elite alike. Since the rejection of the EU constitutional treaty in 2005, European issues have become an increasing focus of political contention in the Netherlands. But as the political stakes have risen, the level of public knowledge and the quality of debate about Europe in the Netherlands remain disturbingly shallow. With the growing interpenetration of European and national policy-making, we have entered an era of semi-sovereign polities in the EU. Hence within academia, there is a need to move beyond the old division between comparative national studies and European integration research rooted in international relations.

ACCESS EUROPE: an interdisciplinary approach

What holds for regional studies applies to academic disciplines more broadly. Economics, business, politics, society, and law are not separate in today’s Europe, so studying Europeanization requires interdisciplinarity. ACCESS EUROPE is thus designed to respond to the urgent societal need and academic challenge of understanding the changing relationship between the EU, the Netherlands, and the world through interdisciplinary collaboration. It will therefore combine EU and comparative national studies.