Why Euro­pean Union stud­ies are more rel­e­vant than ever – even to Is­raelis


On Oc­to­ber 19 a con­fer­ence marked the 25th an­niver­sary of the Is­raeli As­so­ci­a­tion for the Study of Euro­pean In­te­gra­tion (IASEI), which brings to­gether aca­demics and prac­ti­tion­ers who spe­cial­ize in the study of the Euro­pean Union. The con­fer­ence also marked the 60th an­niver­sary of the Treaty of Rome, which be­gan the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity, lay­ing the foun­da­tion for what is to­day the Euro­pean Union.

In­ter­est in the EU in Is­rael is only in­creas­ing, judg­ing by the num­ber of Is­raeli stu­dents en­rolled in Euro­pean stud­ies. Many Is­raeli aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions have a BA or MA pro­gram for Euro­pean stud­ies.

Is­rael has had, over the years, three Jean Mon­net Chairs for ex­per­tise in Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion stud­ies at the He­brew Univer­sity, Bar-Ilan and Ben-Gu­rion uni­ver­si­ties. This year the EU is cel­e­brat­ing 30 years of the Eras­mus pro­gram, which has seen the es­tab­lish­ment of joint learn­ing pro­grams be­tween Euro­pean and Is­raeli higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions, and in­creased mo­bil­ity for Is­raeli stu­dents and aca­demics.

Over 50% of Is­rael’s aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions (in­clud­ing uni­ver­si­ties and aca­demic col­leges) have par­tic­i­pated re­cently in the Eras­mus Plus pro­gram, and Is­raeli uni­ver­si­ties have re­ceived close to €20 mil­lion in fund­ing since 2015. In ad­di­tion, since 2010, more than 7,000 Is­raeli or Euro­pean stu­dents and staff have been in­volved in Eras­mus mo­bil­ity, giv­ing them the op­por­tu­nity to visit and study at each other’s uni­ver­si­ties.

Far from the pub­lic eye, in­ter­ac­tion be­tween Is­raelis and Euro­peans is flour­ish­ing. The IASEI is proof of this – an ac­tive as­so­ci­a­tion of more than 85 mem­bers, mostly aca­demics, which is larger even than some com­pa­ra­ble Euro­pean as­so­ci­a­tions. This is be­cause most un­der­stand that the EU re­mains and in fact is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly rel­e­vant to Is­rael from an eco­nomic point of view: in the fields of knowl­edge and in­no­va­tion; cul­tur­ally; so­cially; and of course in pur­suit of our shared val­ues.

A study of civic ed­u­ca­tion text­books in Is­rael showed that the younger gen­er­a­tion con­tin­ues to be ed­u­cated on the ba­sis of democ­racy as the most im­por­tant com­mon thread be­tween us. This is com­mon to ed­u­ca­tion sys­tems in Europe, and will help to en­sure that nor­ma­tive val­ues of democ­racy, the rule of law, hu­man rights and in­di­vid­ual free­doms will re­main the ba­sis for deeper EU-Is­rael re­la­tions in the com­ing years.

This is not to say that there aren’t many chal­lenges for Europe, and also ones which af­fect Is­rael. Re­gional in­sta­bil­ity is a com­mon chal­lenge, as is the fight against ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism. The mi­gra­tion flow­ing into Europe con­tin­ues to cap­ture head­lines and is an­other com­mon chal­lenge of global in­sta­bil­ity.

The con­fer­ence ad­dressed all th­ese is­sues head-on, high­light­ing that Is­rael and Europe con­tinue to learn from each other in work­ing on th­ese is­sues, while at the same time en­sur­ing that our shared, fun­da­men­tal val­ues are be­ing up­held to the high­est stan­dards.

Even within the EU it looked like the Euro­pean project was un­der threat in re­cent years, whether by the eco­nomic and fi­nan­cial-debt cri­sis, mi­gra­tion or Brexit. But when Euro­peans were faced with a need to choose be­tween dif­fer­ent tra­jec­to­ries, over­all it seems that they have cho­sen to re­in­force the union. More rather than less in­te­gra­tion is now lead­ing to im­proved eco­nomic prospects and in­creas­ing con­trol over ex­ter­nal bor­ders and in­ter­nal se­cu­rity – is­sues which made cit­i­zens feel threat­ened.

Is­raelis seem to be mak­ing a sim­i­lar choice, even if this is not al­ways ob­vi­ous, to in­te­grate more and more with Europe. This process be­gins with un­der­stand­ing and the study of the Euro­pean Union, which is a unique and im­pres­sive player in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. The con­tri­bu­tion of Is­raeli aca­demics and stu­dents to the study of Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion only helps us all in this en­deavor.

Emanuele Giaufret is the am­bas­sador of the Euro­pean Union to Is­rael.

Al­fred Tovias is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of the He­brew Univer­sity and co-pres­i­dent of the Is­raeli As­so­ci­a­tion for the Study of Euro­pean In­te­gra­tion.

Maya Sion-Tzidkiyahu is an ad­junct lec­turer at the He­brew Univer­sity and co-pres­i­dent of the IASEI.


MK RACHEL AZARIA and EU Am­bas­sador Emanuele Giaufret at­tend the EU-IASEI An­nual Con­fer­ence last month.

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