News from the IES

On Tuesday 12 February, the PILC students of the IES had a rare opportunity to witness an important piece of EU law being created. In the landmark case C-619/18, the Commission has boldly taken Poland to Court for breaching the rule of law. More specifically, Poland is charged for failing in its obligation to provide remedies sufficient to ensure effective legal protection in the fields covered by Union law (Art 19(1) TEU & Art 47 EUCFR), because it had unilaterally decreased the retirement age of the judges in the Polish Supreme Court. The change effectively forced the judges to leave the Court against their own will, which threatens the independence of the judiciary. This is in the Commission’s view a serious failure that jeopardises the mutual trust on which the entire EU politico-legal system is based.

The Institute for European Studies (IES) at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) is proud to announce the appointment of Prof. Dr. Alexander Mattelaer as its new Academic Director, as a successor to Prof. Dr. Luk Van Langenhove. With this new appointment, the IES sees a familiar face take charge of its academic activities. Indeed, Prof. Dr. Mattelaer is not only a senior member of the IES’ International Security cluster, he also has a longstanding affiliation with the Institute in different managerial capacities, having served as Assistant Director and Acting Academic Director for several years in the past. Beyond the IES, Prof. Dr. Mattelaer held posts as Director of European Affairs at Egmont Institute, and Fulbright Schuman Fellow at Harvard University and National Defense University. With a research background on diplomacy and defence issues, he currently teaches several courses at VUB related to EU and international security.

Climate policy is currently high up on the political agenda in Belgium, not in the least because of the public demonstrations taking place in various cities since the beginning of 2019. On 5 February, Sign for my future was launched, a new initiative aimed at a more ambitious Belgian climate policy. This initiative is supported by companies, universities and civil society organisations alike. IES researcher Tomas Wyns is one of the members of its Steering Group and, together with VUB rector Caroline Pauwels, also acts as one of its ambassadors.

A new 4-year research project entitled “Policy integration: decarbonisation and security of supply in the European Union's external energy policy” is currently taking off at the IES’ cluster on Environment and Sustainable Development. The project explores varying levels of integration of the key policy objectives of decarbonisation and security of supply into the European Union’s external energy policy toward third countries. It specifically focuses on the EU’s external energy policy toward and gas relations with key partner countries (Russia, Norway, Algeria/Azerbaijan).

The European Commission and antitrust regulators worldwide are focusing their policy and enforcement priorities on key aspects of the digital economy including e-commerce, big data and algorithms. Blockchain appears to be now next in line for scrutiny.  On 16 January 2019, the IES assembled a unique expert panel to explore and debate the “promises and perils” of this emerging and transformative technology in the antitrust context.  The panel was led by Dave Anderson, IES Associate Researcher (and Head of the Brussels office of the law firm BCLP LLP), and it included a diverse spectrum of expertise on blockchain and antitrust: Fabio Falconi from the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, Pontus Lindblom who has been commissioned by the Swedish Competition Authority to advise them on blockchain, Thibault Schrepel from Utrecht University who is a leading commentator on the antitrust risks involved in blockchain and Falk Schöning from the law firm Hogan Lovells who participated e.g. in the OECD Blockchain roundtable last year as a private sector expert.

On 23 January, Ramon Pacheco Pardo was invited by the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights to provide his views during a hearing focused on the gradual opening up of North Korea and on recent diplomatic developments related to the Korean Peninsula, zooming in on the human rights consequences in particular.

The Group of Chief Scientific Advisors of the European Commission's Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) is in the process of producing a Scientific Opinion on the heatedly debated topic of microplastics. The Group’s Initial Statement on this topic was published in July 2018, followed up by a background paper on the microplastic pollution policy context in November 2018, and thereafter an Evidence Review Report authored by an interdisciplinary consortium of scientists (SAPEA). In the 10-11 January expert workshop, the state of scientific knowledge on micro-plastics was discussed on the basis of the SAPEA report and other input, and aimed at facilitating the formulation of the Scientific Opinion. 

The extensive commercialisation of civil drones has made them accessible to a broad range of users for leisure, business-related, and professional activities. However, their growing number has also raised a series of societal concerns about this fast-evolving technology, related to security, safety, privacy, protection of personal data, liability and environmental issues.

With the support of the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union, the Jean Monnet Network on Governing the EU’s Climate and Energy Transition in Turbulent Times or GOVTRAN brings together a broad range of scholars interested in climate and energy governance in the European Union. GOVTRAN reaches out to the wider epistemic community and actively fosters engagement with policymakers and the broader public in this field. The project is coordinated by the IES’ research cluster on Environment and Sustainable Development (Prof. Sebastian Oberthür) and implemented in collaboration with three other universities: Ghent University, the University of East Anglia and the University of Eastern Finland. 

VUB Rector Caroline Pauwels has repeatedly called for tearing down ‘disciplinary walls and fragmentation’ within the VUB. Inspired by such a vision, VUB scholars led by IES professors Ilke Adam and Florian Trauner have created the ‘Brussels Interdisciplinary Research centre on Migration and Minorities (BIRMM)’. It brings together over 90 VUB researchers from 10 disciplines. BIRMM has the ambition to become a key point of reference for VUB research on migration and minorities-related topics and to act as the university’s transmission belt to the outside world.