90th Anniversary of the DAAD: Shaping Europe through Exchange and Mobility

© DAAD/De Wilde

The importance of international mobility and exchange was central part of the DAAD’s 90th anniversary event in Brussels. 34 DAAD scholarship holders representing 10 different nationalities had the opportunity to discuss current themes with high-level representatives of European institutions.

These included two DAAD alumni: Dr Angelika Niebler, Member of the European Parliament and DAAD alumna, and Gunnar Wiegand, director at the European External Action Service and DAAD alumnus.  Also present were Siôn Simon, Member of the European Parliament, and Peter Bosch from the General Directorate for Migration and Home Affairs at the European Commission. Young participants were given the opportunity to speak with the various EU representatives at small round tables about the European Neighbourhood Policy, migration politics, the democratic role of the European Parliament and the British referendum in 2016.

The role of academic mobility and scientific cooperation as a mediator when political cooperation is not possible between two countries was highlighted during a public evening event. As Dorothea Rüland, Secretary General of the DAAD, underlined: “The big challenges of our time can only be mastered together. Appreciating different cultures and cooperating internationally is the basis of mutual understanding in today’s world!”

“Staying in is so overwhelmingly in the national interest!” said Siôn Simon, Member of the European Parliament and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (Labour Party). DAAD scholarship holders were given the opportunity to discuss with him about the future of the European Union- with the UK. For already a long time, Euroscepticism has been a big problem in the UK. This is due to emotional reasons like the profound sense of uncertainty and insecurity within globalization processes. Therefore, one major driver can be seen in the media, creating such feelings and aiming on influence rather than economic profits. In 2016 Britain will vote whether to opt-out of the European Union. In consequence, also the role of Scotland and its position within Great Britain can be of great importance as it will be inevitably part of the decision. Exactly this fact could be the next step of the problem, so Simon. Thinking of David Cameron’s reform ideas, he presented in a letter to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, on November 10th his moderate and soft language were highlighted. The Problem in Great Britain lies in the opposite tendencies within political parties, fostering different ideas. As voter participation has been low in the UK, Simon nevertheless underlines the willingness of British people to vote when it comes to referendums. Especially young people are in favour with the EU. Nobody can foresee what the British population will decide in 2016, but Simon claims: “We will vote to stay in!”

This round-table dedicated the discussion on the mission of the European Parliament (EP) and its closeness to citizend. MEP Dr. Angelika Niebler (EPP; Christian Democrats) discussed with DAAD scholarship holders the particularity of a decision-making process in a multinational legislative body, the special culture of debate and the task of defending and explaining Europe as well as EP’s work to voters at home. In that respect she pointed out that it would be helpful if politicians from all fields included the European perspective into their discussions with the public as to raise awareness that Europe is very present in our everyday life and not a an abstract matter dealt with by “Brussels”.  She gave a very interesting and informative insight into her work both in Parliament and in her constituency, asserting that she tried to be as accessible as possible to the public and to her constituency. Detailing her agenda and her work-load provoked the spontaneous exclamation “But whenever do you find time to sleep?” by one of the participants. In wrapping up the discussion, she encouraged the young people present to make the most out of their DAAD scholarship and to actively engage in continuing to build a democratic and united European Union and to defend its achievements and values against anti-democratic, nationalistic and xenophobic tendencies.

“The interesting thing about policies are where they come from and where they go to”, says Gunnar Wiegand, Director at the European External Action Service, and expert in the EU’s relations with Russia and Central Asia, when opening the discussion round on European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). Having started his career in the European Commission in 1990 as desk officer for the GDR and the external aspects of the German unification, he knows very well the rationale of the ENP. With the fall of the Iron Curtain and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, “a lot has changed, in a very short time”. However, compared to the 90s where the neighbouring countries were ready for democratic values and eager to adapt to the European fundamental rights, the challenges now for creating a circle of friends around Europe are cumbersome. The EU is now sharing borders with Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and Russia and even with the South Caucasus (via the Black Sea). In those countries, however, too many oligarchs have taken their state machinery under control and to them the European values are rather a threat than an incentive for change, remarks Wiegand. But even though the circle of friends is lately often called a “circle of fire”, the EU diplomat is still convinced that the ENP is a good tool for fostering partnerships with our neighbours. It is a matter of better communication, in order to convince the citizens inside and outside the EU about the positive factors of a good relationship.

„We are faced with a very unexpected situation“, said Peter Bosch, representing the Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs of the European Commission.  Discussing about the current situation in Europe and the high influx of refugees, DAAD scholarship holders and Peter Bosch discussed about the question whether the current situation can be seen as a threat, a challenge or an opportunity.  Participants were highly interested in the present situation in European countries. Peter Bosch emphasized that strengthening integration policy is needed in the Member States as well as cooperation and teaming up between the states.  Managing to work together is not easy; nevertheless European values like tolerance and solidarity should be defended together. Not only in providing housing, integrating people into the labour market but also in allocating education systems for children: the chances for a society, its labour and economy should be used. Therefore one should stay away from the word ‘crisis’.  However, future challenges are seen in the collaboration between Member States, the development of fast solutions and difficult international cooperation. Bosch concludes: “The world is changing so rapidly, we cannot afford the time to reflect, we need to act!”

Dr. Hanns Sylvester, Director of the National Agency for EU-Higher Education Cooperation, discussed during a public Panel Discussion with Dorothea Rüland, Secretary General of DAAD, Gunnar Wiegand, Director at EEAS, as well as Neena Gill, MEP on the issue of “Shaping Europe through Exchange and Mobility”. The importance of educational exchanges for certain study periods, practical experiences or scientific stays was highlighted. It is through the acknowledgement of other cultures and lives, that one learn a lot of himself and his roots, underlines Gunnar Wiegand. The Internationalization of Universities has become extremely important in the last years, as Neena Gill emphasized:  “Internationalization leads very good universities to excellence”.


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