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.