In Memoriam Mathieu Segers
It is with great sadness and deep gratitude that we mark the life and legacy of Mathieu Segers, a leading scholar and public thinker on European integration. Mathieu was an influential voice in the debate on Europe in the Netherlands, bridging the gap between past and present. He left an indelible impression on academia and in the hearts of many who knew and admired him.
Prof Dr Mathieu Segers was Professor of Contemporary European History and European Integration at Maastricht University’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and holder of the EuropaChair at Studio Europa Maastricht. His work focused on the history and prehistory of European integration, transatlantic relations and current European affairs.
At a young age, Mathieu came across the subjects he would later study. He grew up in Maastricht in a loving family where political and social issues were discussed at the kitchen table. At that time, a turning point in history took place when the Berlin Wall fell - an event that made a big impression on young Mathieu. The fall of the Wall heralded in a new chapter in European integration, one that would be sealed with the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. The preparatory Euro Summit in 1991 took place a stone's throw from his house; global politics landed literally on his doorstep. The schoolboy temporarily traded the football pitch for the barricades and, despite heavy security, managed to get close to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his entourage. Perhaps this is when his fascination with the Franco-German axis was born. Even as a young man, Mathieu realised that this was a historic moment, a moment when the world was being rearranged. It was the power behind this 'Order of Maastricht' that intrigued him, and which he would research for the rest of his life.
Mathieu studied political science at Radboud University in Nijmegen. After working as a policy advisor at the ministries of Finance and Social Affairs and Employment, he chose a career in academia. In 2006, he obtained his doctorate as a historian with a dissertation on French-German relations at the time of European integration in the 1950s. As a young scholar, he remained at his alma mater as an assistant professor. After two years, he moved to Utrecht University where, between 2008 and 2016, he worked as an associate professor in European integration and international relations. During this period, he supervised several PhD students and steadily built his academic reputation. For instance, Mathieu worked on editing the diaries of Max Kohnstamm, one of the founding fathers of post-war Europe. His ability to tell stories in an inspiring way made Mathieu a favourite among students. He also worked abroad as a visiting researcher. In 2010, he taught as a Fulbright-Schuman Fellow at Harvard University; and in 2013, he joined Oxford University as a Senior Research Fellow.
A gifted writer, he managed to combine his expressive style with imposing knowledge. Several of his books on the history of European integration and the position of the Netherlands were published, and in 2013, his book Reis naar het continent was awarded with the Prinsjesboekenprijs for the best political book. Mathieu became a much sought-after commentator in the media and wrote columns for Het Financieele Dagblad and De Groene Amsterdammer.
In 2016, Mathieu moved back to the city of his childhood with his great love and wife Marèl, daughters Sofia and Gloria, and son Orfeo. Mathieu took on the position of dean of the University College Maastricht. And from Maastricht, he grew into one of the most influential voices in the Dutch debate on European integration. During his inauguration as professor at UM in 2018, he referred to one of his many literary loves, the compelling family epic The Eighth Life. He quoted the words of Georgian writer Nino Haratischvili and concluded that ‘contemporary European history begins with intertwined families and regions’. He would later explain that he could not have imagined that his own connection with Maastricht and the surrounding region would prove so strong. In 2019, in addition to his professorship, he was appointed to the UM EuropaChair. This made him scientific director of the newly founded Studio Europa Maastricht, a centre of expertise for research, public debate and European heritage in the context of the Maastricht Treaty. Mathieu's responsibilities included leading the university-wide and interdisciplinary research agenda on European integration. Within Studio Europa, Mathieu was a highly valued colleague and mentor, and the centre flourished under his supervision.
Then the world stood still for a moment. In late 2020, Mathieu received a bleak diagnosis with a short life expectancy. He chose not to give up and faced his treatments with optimism. His wife and children were his great source of strength, a fact he mentioned regularly. While his sense of time and thoughts about life did not change fundamentally, his political analyses became sharper in tone, and his ability to separate main and minor issues more pronounced. Running races and hiking in the Limburg Heuvelland were a welcome distraction.
Fuelling interest in history and the debate on Europe is undoubtedly Mathieu's greatest legacy as a scholar and public thinker. The examples of his efforts are countless. In 2019, he began Café Europa, the successful podcast in which he discussed the background to European news with his co-host and guests. In May 2022, he appeared as the protagonist of a special TV broadcast of VPRO Tegenlicht, in which he outlined his 'ideal Union'. He also wrote much-discussed essays in NRC and De Groene Amsterdammer and was interviewed for Radio 1's three-hour Marathoninterview.
On 1 January 2023, Mathieu took office as a council member of the Wetenschappelijke Raad voor Regeringsbeleid, a leading independent advisory body for the Dutch government and parliament. In the final months of his life, he once again showed us his undiminished dedication and keen intellect. The crowning achievement of his work, The Cambridge History of the European Union, has recently been published; an exceptional reference work of which he was co-editor-in-chief. He also completed another magnum opus, The Origins of European Integration, on the prewar history of European integration. In doing so, he has left a wealth of knowledge for current and future generations of students and anyone who, like Mathieu did, looks for what lies behind European power politics.
Mathieu's quest for healing was a test he endured for a long time. As colleagues, we sympathised immensely. He was a paragon of strength. Unfortunately, Mathieu lost the battle, and with his passing the Netherlands loses an important voice in the debate on Europe.
We remember Mathieu as a devoted husband and father, an inspired speaker and analyst with style. He was an erudite interpreter of complex subject matter and a master of analogies between his research and literature – a world where he felt so at home. A unique talent; he cared for those around him and was loyal and generous in sharing his success with others.
His loss leaves a big hole in our midst. Our world will now be rearranged. We will have to cope without him. Our thoughts are with Marèl, Sofia, Orfeo, Gloria, his mother and brothers and other loved ones.
Mathieu, we are going to miss you. Rest in peace.
Gonny Willems, Director Studio Europa Maastricht
Christine Neuhold, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Rianne Letschert, President of Maastricht University's Executive Board
Pamela Habibović, Rector of Maastricht University
Nick Bos, Vice-President of Maastricht University's Executive Board
Staff can write their personal thoughts in the online book of condolences in the central hall at Minderbroedersberg 4-6. It is also possible to extend your condolences online.