22 February 2019
Maastricht, Working on Europe

Studio Europa – a place to talk and shape Europe

Help make Europe better – go on then. If you don’t know where to start, you could do worse than come to Studio Europa. This workshop at the heart of Europe – and the heart of Maastricht – allows researchers, journalists, policy makers and citizens to come together to discuss, debate and shape Europe’s future.

Expertise centre on all things European

“We want to be a focal point of Europe,” explains Gonny Willems, the Managing Director of Maastricht, Working on Europe, which entails, among other things, an interdisciplinary research agenda. “With this overarching UM-wide research agenda we aim to further strengthen UM’s research on European integration, the EU and Europe. We will promote relevant, interdisciplinary research collaborations with a clear societal impact.” Studio Europa has already hosted a first “Cross-faculty Meet-and-Greet and Networking” in January and there are currently several strategic research calls as well as a UM Europe Chair.

Apart from building on Maastricht’s position as a centre of excellence by concentrating research, the aim is to be a place for encounter, dialogue and debate. “Studio Europa isn’t necessarily pro-EU; we want to facilitate a discussion that includes as many angles as possible, including the critical ones.” To facilitate this debate, Studio Europa will organise citizen dialogues, lectures, debates, workshops, youth gatherings and podium programmes on science, culture and society. Willems particularly stresses citizens’ perspectives. “We want to get a real idea of people’s opinions, their criticism and creative solutions. This input will set the agenda for a people’s summit, where everyone can come together to help shape the future of our common Europe.”

  While it has European significance historically and geographically, Maastricht, compared to Brussels for example, is just a regular, medium-sized city – that’s why it’s the perfect laboratory to test out the potential and limitations of European cooperation in daily life.  

Gonny Willems, Managing Director of Maastricht, Working on Europe.

Focus on connecting with citizens

During the Europe Calling! celebrations in 2017, marking the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, the city and province hosted more than 130 events, from neighbourhood gatherings to a citizen summit. Its sequel, Maastricht, Working on Europe, aims to help create an equally impressive agenda. For example, the Maastricht, Working on Europe partners, together with the European Journalism Centre and the European Youth Forum, jointly organise the Maastricht Debate at the end of April. During the Maastricht Debate, the Spitzenkanidaten for the presidency of the European Commission will debate Europe’s future.

Studio Europa is by no means restricted to researchers and journalists. Besides facilitating knowledge generation and outreach, the eventual aim is to have an impact at policy level and to make Europe tangible for everyone. “We’ll collaborate with partners from the artists, musicians, media partners, educators and cultural organisations like Studium Generale, Fashion Clash, de Balie Amsterdam and TEDxMaastricht. Anyone with a creative idea is welcome at Studio Europa!” They have also facilitated events by citizen initiatives such as Burger in Beweging and social start-ups like CUBE. “There’s a lot going on already.”

Studio Europa is already hosting events to connect people.
(Aron Nijs Fotografie)

A historic building for historic challenges

Studio Europa is on Onze Lieve Vrouwenplein, facing the Basilica of Our Lady, a site of worship that has seen Roman occupation, integration into the First French Republic, the signing of the Maastricht Treaty and a lot more European history. Setting up shop was also an illustration of the commitment of UM, the city and the province. “We have received support from all sides – not only the funding and the building itself but also all the people helping out and sharing their network and experience.”

“It’s a beautiful building!” says Willems, whose small team is understandably delighted with the historic inner city office space. But the idea is not to have forbidding hallowed halls propping up the weight of history. “We tried to turn it into the kind cozy place people would want to visit. This is a place for dialogue, for reducing distances.” Studio Europa opened late in 2018 and is already hosting events. “It’s a lot of work, but I really think it’s important work.”

Limburg's governor Theo Bovens and Maastricht's mayor Annemarie Penn-te Strake at the opening of Studio Europa.

Unaware of the everyday benefits

“It wasn’t until my research stint in Finland during my PhD that I became aware of what freedom of movement actually means. I had the chance to collaborate with and learn from people with whom I share some basic values but who see and do things quite differently.” She sees a great danger in taking all these advantages for granted – a tendency she also notices in herself: “It’s not like I think about EU food and health standards on a daily basis, but they do protect me from buying a chlorinated chicken in my local supermarket.”

Willems herself is a passionate but critical European. “There is a lot of things that could be improved on all levels, from bureaucracy and corporate tax laws all the way down to e.g. the lack of public transport connections here in the Euregio. That is exactly why we want to facilitate a debate. We want to challenge the polarisation of the discourse on Europe and make the European project tangible.”

 

Gonny Willems is the Managing Director of Maastricht, Working on Europe. She has previously served as head of the UM Student Desk and manager of the Department Data Science and Knowledge Engineering. She holds a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience from Maastricht University. Willems is also licensee and chairwomen of TEDxMaastricht.

The building faces Onze Lieve Vrouwebasiliek.

By: Florian Raith