This is always one of the most difficult points of the year for me, because right now – directly after our annual conference – my head is full of a hundred and one ideas that I want to pursue following discussions with my fellow delegates and it’s very hard to know where to start.
To be able to see and talk with so many members and friends of UACES in Lille last week was an absolute joy, a sentiment that I saw among many others there. Having the time and the space to grab a chat, to catch up and to make new acquaintances is so important for our community and our hosts at ESPOL did a fine job of welcoming us. Huge thanks go to the local team of Sabine Weiland, Michael Holmes, Axel Gougelet, Oliwia Baran and all of the student helpers for all their hard work over the past two years. I also have to lavish praise on Emily, Emma and Melina in the UACES office for all their efforts in managing what is still the central event of our calendar.
The conference also provided an excellent moment in which to consider where Europe, the EU and European Studies is. A recurring theme in our plenary interventions and the panel discussions was the extent to which we stand at a moment of opportunity: the language of the ‘polycrisis’ of the past decade seems to be giving way to a sense of how the EU’s more coherent and substantial responses to Covid, climate change and the Russian invasion of Ukraine might be creating a new phase of integration.
At the same time, that new phase is still very much in the air and I was struck by the recurring discussion about how we as academics need to play our part in helping to inform and enrich public and political debate, through evidence-led and impartial analysis. We saw many examples of this in practice from the panels, but it’s certainly something that I will be looking to get UACES to do more in support of, whether that’s through training sessions or exchanges of good practice.
Of course, the conference is also the moment that we acknowledge the contributions of colleagues to European Studies, through our prizes.
An exceptionally strong set of titles made up the shortlist for the Best Book Prize and I can thoroughly recommend them all: you can find details on the UACES homepage. The winner – Elena Baracani’s EU-Turkey Relations (Edward Elgar) – was described by the judging panel as ‘detailed and rigorous throughout’, ‘demonstrating the role of contextual and contingent factors in an emerging EU policy’ with a ‘framework that offers obvious value to those working on the EU’s relations with third countries’.
Likewise, the number and quality of theses for the Best Thesis Prize speaks both to the strength of new European Studies research and the value that early career researchers can offer us all. Marij Swinkel’s winning work – The Role of EU Leaders and Ideas in Managing the Eurozone Crisis: Navigating Uncharted Territory (Utrecht University) – offers ‘an original research agenda on the importance of leaders’ ideas in dealing with a transboundary crisis’ with a ‘compelling story of how individuals’ ideas and perceptions made compromises difficult’, using ‘an incredible amount of different literatures’.
Our final winner was Loukas Tsoukalis, who becomes our latest recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Loukas’ work began in the 1970s with economic and monetary integration, making him a then-rare crossover between political and economic research fields, before moving to consider the wider path of integration, as seen in his forthcoming Europe’s Coming of Age (Polity). With positions at Oxford, the College of Europe, Athens and Sciences Po, Loukas has also been a long-standing part of UACES, both as Secretary and as an editor of our Journal of Common Market Studies (JCMS). Like many other colleagues, I have always found his work to be lucid and accessible and his ideas compelling, something that I was very pleased to be able to explore with him in a UACES podcast that we will be releasing early next month.
The conference dinner in Lille where we made our awards also marked the end of Prof Jocelyn Mawdsley’s time as UACES Treasurer. Having known her since we did our Erasmus exchange together in Bonn a few years ago, I have always found her to be a thoughtful and considered colleague and a good friend. Her efforts in continuing to ensure the financial health of the Association are deeply appreciated and our thanks go to her once again. Of course, we also have a wonderful new Treasurer, Dr Rosa Fernandez Martin, who has already picked up the role with great aplomb.
Finally, let’s remember that UACES is very much more than its conference.
With my fellow Officers and the rest of the Committee, we are starting to develop a number of plans to better provide for members. This includes some work to revisit how we create and run the Research Networks, mainly with a view to allowing our support to extend as long as colleagues have activities to pursue: a new call will go out in due course. We are also working on ways to support and connect colleagues with regard to building impact, to come back to my earlier comment about bringing our research to others.
So, as I remember yet another useful idea that occurred to me while I was in Lille, I will wish a good start to the academic year.
Simon Usherwood, UACES Chair