In the second half of the 20th century, Europe transformed itself from a divided and war-torn region into a peaceful, unified community, with an open market and a majority of states sharing a single currency. This trend towards European integration ranks among the most significant developments in global politics and economics during recent decades. Today, the European Union is comprised of 27 democratic member countries and nearly a half-billion citizens, giving the EU the third biggest population behind China and India. The EU economy is the largest in the world in terms of GDP, according to the IMF. The EU is also the largest trading bloc in the world, with over €1 trillion each in annual exports and imports accounting for about one-fifth of all global commerce (Eurostat Yearbook 2010). Meanwhile, the EU is increasingly a significant player in global strategic relations through its efforts to promote democracy and manage inter-state and civil conflict in Europe and abroad. The EU’s success in various sectors has fostered a paradigm shift in global governance, manifested in the growth of regional organizations as other parts of the world look to the EU as a model for fostering peace and expanding their influence.
Yet, the European Union is far from an unqualified success story. Fissures are frequently evident within the EU, whether one speaks of the sovereign debt crisis, foreign policy decision-making (most recently with respect to the intervention in Libya), or integration of Muslim immigrants into European society. Clearly, the EU is an extremely complex set of institutions that continue to undergo dynamic political and economic transformations and cultural negotiations. Furthermore, despite its prominence on the global stage and corresponding significance to US interests, the European Union enjoys only limited recognition in the public consciousness of US citizens, and arguably receives relatively modest attention from US academics.
New research in a variety of disciplines can help to shape how scholars, policymakers, and the general public in the US, Europe, and elsewhere in the world understand both the EU as a global actor, and its relationship with the US. The EU—in partnership (and sometimes rivalry) with the US and other states and supra-national organizations—is playing a leading role in confronting global development, security, and environmental challenges. Hence, a comprehensive and sophisticated understanding of the EU will be critical for many scholars in a variety of disciplines in the foreseeable future.
As part of its core mission to foster research, teaching, and public engagement on the European Union, the European Union Center (EUC) at the University of Illinois is committed to providing opportunities for graduate students to pursue studies of the EU within an interdisciplinary context. We are carrying out this graduate student training through our Master of Arts in EU Studies degree program and graduate minor in EU studies, and now through an exciting new project entitled, “Engaging the European: Institutions, Networks, and Policies in Transatlantic Relations.” This is a student-led initiative with supervision and instructional contributions by the EUC’s affiliated faculty. Funding support for the project comes from the University of Illinois Graduate College’s Focal Point program.
We invite you to browse the project pages to learn more about the project, participating student and faculty members, and specific activities such as our interdisciplinary graduate seminar and conference.