MCEL PhD projects

PhD Research at MCEL: EU Fundamental Rights

MCEL PhD researchers Elin, Stevi and Valentina talk about their projects dealing with EU fundamental rights. Elin Börjedal examines the constellation of actors involved in fundamental rights protection in the EU and the division of responsibilities between them. Stevi Kitsou aspires to devise EU-wide principles and standards for countering hate speech online. Zooming in on the challenge of protecting fundamental rights in the digital dimension, Valentina Golunova tackles the risks stemming from the use of AI in content moderation.

PhD Research at MCEL: EU Migration and Asylum Law

MCEL PhD researchers Andreina and Ruben introduce their projects in the field of migration and asylum law. Andreina De Leo analyses the financial aspects of shifting the EU’s migration and border management responsibilities to third countries and investigates potential accountability mechanisms. Ruben Tans focuses on the protection of refugees who already reside in the EU. He takes a close look at national policies on integration of refugees in several EU Member States and reflects on the ways to make them more inclusive.

Ongoing PhD projects

Alessandro Marcia, A Union of Equality: the protection of LGBTIQA+ rights in the EU
Supervisors: Monica Claes, Matteo Bonelli, Pauline Melin
Abstract: The European Union has evolved from a purely market-oriented project to a Union of Equality. While LGBTIQA+ rights have been gradually incorporated within different areas of EU law, their legal implications for the EU constitutional framework remain largely underexplored. The research investigates the potential of EU competences to deal with LGBTIQA+ rights, and the legal tools that have been mobilized in this respect. It will also focus on clashes between EU institutions and the Member States, often stemming from deep differences in national laws and approaches pertaining to the rights of individuals identifying as LGBTIQA+.

Guido Bellenghi, EU emergency law and the constitutional design of EU competence
Supervisors: Ellen Vos, Merijn Chamon, Matteo Bonelli
Abstract: While crucial developments of the EU constitutional structure are often associated with the interstitial change triggered by EU emergency management, the current EU emergency law framework remains largely understudied from a systemic perspective. The purpose of the research is to fill the definitional gaps in the current framework of EU emergency law and assess the legality and legitimacy of the EU’s emergency responses in light of its nature as an international organisation with limited competences. Framing EU emergency law within the existing taxonomy of States’ consitutional approaches to emergencies will allow to include in the project a normative appraisal of the potential need for Treaty change.

Nora Vissers, Safeguarding Democracy in the EU Member States
Supervisors: Joost Sillen, Monica Claes and Sascha Hardt 
Abstract: The constitutional foundations of various Member States are being undermined through incremental erosion of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights. The EU has intervened to protect the rule of law within MS, with the Court of Justice playing an important role through legal enforcement of this Art. 2 TEU value. This project focuses on the safeguarding of another fundamental value: democracy. The research seeks to determine whether the principles giving concrete expression to democracy are judicially enforceable at EU level. What are the relevant legally binding obligations that Member States must adhere to in order to comply with these democratic principles? The research focuses on the element without which there can be no democracy, namely the requirement of free elections. 

Luca Knuth, Legality Review of EU Decisions Based on Regulatory Expert Knowledge
Supervisors: Ellen Vos and Ino Augsberg
Abstract: The EU legal order has shown a particular interest in developing mechanisms that integrate complex, specialised, and extra-legal knowledge into EU regulatory procedures. This can be observed to a particular extent in EU risk regulation. Governing risks has become a leitmotif of the Union’s internal market legislation, influencing a variety of legislative branches from food law, chemicals, and environmental law to financial market regulation. In all these areas, extra-legal expertise, especially techno-scientific and economic expertise, is of paramount importance. Their utilisation in decision-making and regulatory procedures has not only had a lasting influence on the Union’s institutional system, not least in the form of agencification, but at the same time creates the necessity to deal with the limits of knowledge, with uncertainty, ambivalence, and ignorance. Is rationalization supposed to improve quality and legitimacy of regulation and decision-making comes with considerable challenges, not the least with efficiency of legality control. In particular, the Courts as decisively judicial forums seem hardly equipped to engage in a direct review of the epistemic substance underlying expertise-based decisions and it is questionable whether they should do so. The project, therefore, analyses the repercussions on legality review evoked by integration of regulatory expertise into EU law.

Martina Coli, The Founding Values of the European Union as Legal Rules: Disentangling the Justiciability of Article 2 TEU
Supervisors: Monica Claes and Nicole Lazzerini
Abstract: Faced with a rule of law crisis, the European Union has envisaged and deployed legal solutions and instruments to enforce its founding values under Article 2 TEU. However, a crucial step has been bypassed. The application of EU values calls for standards and legal parameters that allow identifying their violations, thus making enforcement instruments fully operative. In recent times, the EU pays more attention to the content of Article 2 TEU. This is especially the case for the rule of law, for which an autonomous EU notion is emerging. Yet, the ongoing process is highly heterogenous, and, in the absence of centralization and guidance, it results in a magmatic stratification of the practice lacking a solid conceptual framework. Against this background, the PhD research addresses the following research question: “How can the Union’s founding values entrenched in Article 2 TEU be transformed into justiciable rules?”. The focus is thus on the operationalization of the values listed in Article 2 TEU. In particular, the research builds on the practice on the value of the rule of law – which at present, is the most developed – as a case study for the operationalization of other values enshrined in Article 2 TEU.

Nozizwe Dube, Demarginalizing Intersectionality within Non-Discrimination Law: Critically Analysing the EU Non-Discrimination Framework
Supervisors: Andrea Broderick and Šejla Imamović
Abstract: In order to achieve substantive and inclusive equality within the EU, intersectional discrimination must be addressed. Intersectional discrimination occurs when multiple grounds of discrimination interact simultaneously, causing compounded disadvantage. While the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is confronted with cases of intersectional discrimination, it does not implement intersectionality in its case law. This is due to several reasons: the single-axis EU equality framework; the differing personal and material scopes of current EU equality directives; and the subsequent hierarchy with some grounds enjoying more protection from discrimination than others. The aforementioned problems contribute to the subordinate socio-economic status of marginalised communities and groups in areas such as housing, employment, healthcare, social protection and education. In an effort to advance the acknowledgment of intersectionality within the EU, this research will formulate recommendations for the CJEU, EU legislators and policy makers. To this end, the project compares the analytical frameworks used in the non-discrimination case law of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, the US Supreme Court and the Council of Europe (European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee of Social Rights). Additionally, interviews with NGO’s, strategic litigators and policy makers will be conducted.

Kena Zheng, The Use of Competition Soft Law in the Digital Economy: A Comparative Legal Analysis of the EU and China
Supervisors: Mariolina Eliantonio and Niels J. Philipsen
Abstract: A tide of technological developments, including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, big data, and big analytics, all contribute to the digitalization of the economy. These developments bring challenges and new questions to competition policy as well. This research focuses on the use of competition soft law to regulate the digital economy in the EU and China, and investigates specifically the use of soft law to support information sharing between competitors, in order to ultimately reflect on the role and potential of soft law as a regulatory tool. Thereby, this research will also fill the knowledge gap between competition policy and digital economy and provide prospects for future regulatory cooperation between the EU and China.

Danai Petropoulou Ionescu, Cracking the Black-Box of Green Policy: Transparency and Participation in the EU Soft Law Making Process in European Environmental Regulation
Supervisors: Mariolina Eliantonio and Elissaveta Radulova
Abstract: The body of EU environmental law is rapidly expanding. In the Community acquis alone, environmental law includes well over two-hundred pieces of legislation, a number that is expected to increase in the foreseeable future. In order to successfully fulfil its environmental objectives, the Union is faced with a considerable regulatory conundrum. Each policy issue must be rethought and repositioned in light of their environmental, social, and economic objectives and impacts, and can no longer be regulated by traditional governance instruments alone. Instead, the Union must also establish policy solutions that follow scientific expertise, are authoritative enough to ensure compliance, but also flexible enough to account for the cross-sector impacts. To respond to this challenge, the environmental field has witnessed a considerable upsurge of soft law instruments to aid with the application, transposition, and interpretation of EU environmental legislation. While able to provide quick and tailored solutions to complex problems, soft law measures also raise a number of questions in terms of authority, legitimacy, democracy, and organisation,  as they remain largely 'unchecked' and circumvent traditional legitimacy safeguards by bypassing policy- and decision-making avenues.  The aim of this research is to crack the black-box of EU soft law by exploring how these instruments are made. The overarching objective of this project is to evaluate how the process of soft law making in the Union fares in terms of procedural legitimacy, from the perspective of the transparency and participatory quality of its adoption process.

Ruben Della Pia, Towards a European Health Union? The role of EU agencies in fostering EU health law
Supervisors: Ellen Vos, Simone Marinai and Merijn Chamon
Abstract: The research critically examines the role of EU agencies in the implementation of EU health law, including the Commission’s recent European Health Union proposal. It will analyse the role of EU agencies as actors in-between EU institutions and the Member States, assessing the competence limitations in the area of health policies and the constitutional limits to agencification. The research offers a systematic analysis of their role in EU health law (including pandemic/COVID-19 response) and their impact on the Member State policies. It will clarify their constitutional place in the EU’s composite administration and develop suggestions to improve their accountability.

Liam Siry, The Paris Agreement and Domestic Climate Change Litigation: Shifting from Vague to Concrete Commitments 
Supervisors: Marjan Peeters and Marijn van der Sluis
Abstract: It is becoming increasingly apparent that in the current international climate change law regime, the combined efforts of State Parties will not be enough to meet the Paris Agreement’s “well-below 20C” aim. This study examines the Paris Agreement, with the aim of exploring how domestic and regional climate change litigation can promote compliance with the Agreement, push ambition of national measures, and solidify and concretize the often-vague provisions of the Agreement. It will compare how obligations of the Agreement are adjudicated upon in domestic courts, as well as study the role of the domestic court in the public international law arena. This research will allow for a better understanding of the interplay between international and national legal systems addressing climate change and the potential for mutual reinforcement, and thus clarify an understudied, yet important, field.

Alessandro Cuomo, What role for the ECB’s monetary policymaking in the EU green transition? The ECB’s institutional evolution between legal orthodoxy and economic contingencies
Supervisors: Phedon Nicolaides and Ellen Vos
Abstract: This project will provide a normative account of the function of the ECB’s monetary policymaking in the EU green transition based on systematic and teleological grounds. The role played by the ECB in the last decade has revealed the institution as a key piece in the puzzle of the EU economic governance, shifting the construction of its mandate from neutral to contextual. Yet, as the ECB pledged in its new monetary policy strategy to incorporate climate change considerations into its policymaking, the extent to which its mandate accommodates climate change mitigation remains an open question not foreseen by the drafters of the Treaties, which requires a reconceptualisation of the institution’s competence, of the limits and proportionality of its action and, ultimately, of its independence, accountability and legitimacy. 

Nikos Parthenopoulos, Cross-border access to social security in EU Member States: Securing social protection for families
Supervisors: Anne Pieter van der Mei, Saskia Montebovi and Nicolas Rennuy
Abstract: Mobile EU citizens and their family members can find themselves in a legally precarious position when accessing social security benefits in cross-border settings, given the disharmonious interaction between different welfare systems of more than a single EU Member State. The EU regulatory regime of social security coordination is not capable of eliminating all problems that may arise for EU citizens and their family members. In turn, the complexities, disharmonies and/or gaps in social security protection for the families of EU citizens are capable of impeding the full realisation of free movement of persons, a cornerstone principle of the EU internal market. This research focuses on the normative and regulatory complexity in coordinating social security benefits of importance to families. It aims in accurately mapping the sources of problems for families in cross-border settings (when accessing social security benefits) but also in examining and evaluating possible solutions.

Alex Soroiu, A Globalised European Standardisation System: Addressing the Challenges
Supervisors: Ellen Vos and Annalisa Volpato
Abstract: Since the middle of the 1980s, the EU has evolved toward a new governance architecture for the internal market, one that is headed by a public-private partnership. Driven by a need of efficiency and expertise in a constantly evolving global market, this partnership between public authorities and industry actors has especially manifested itself in the rising reference of global standards in EU secondary law. With this rising globalisation and privatisation of the regulation of the EU internal market, however, new issues emerge. As standards are more than technical specifications and have a normative component, outsourcing public rulemaking to global private actors enables third parties to influence EU policies and values, where no adequate institutional controls are in place. Thus, the objective of this research is to address the challenges posed by the interplay between global standards and EU product regulation.

Felix Peerboom, Targeting states and victimising non-state actors – A legal scrutiny of ‘weaponised’ migration to the EU and beyond
Supervisors: Andrea Ott and Evangelia (Lilian) Tsourdi
Abstract: This research project focuses on the increasingly common practice of the ‘weaponisation’ of migration., i.e. "cross-border population movements that are deliberately created or manipulated in order to induce political, military and/or economic concessions from a target state or states". While 'using migrants as a political tool' in this way is globally speaking not a novel occurrence, European interest in the phenomenon has only recently picked up now that the EU and its Member States are claiming to be increasingly targeted by it. Despite the contemporary saliency of migration-related issues in the EU and recent increased attention in the media and the political sciences for its claimed ‘weaponisation’, from a legal standpoint this phenomenon remains underexplored. This study will conduct an in-depth public international- and EU legal scrutiny of the ‘weaponisation’ of migration. Thereby the project explores the the existing lacuna in the legal literature and intends to provide clarity on the legality of the ‘weaponisation’ of migration – and that of potential responses adopted by its targets – from the perspectives of (i) Public international law; (ii) EU migration/asylum law, and; (iii) International and EU human rights law.

Eleonora Di Franco, Balancing Fundamental Rights in Fighting SLAPPs: An EU Response to Abusive Litigation Against Public Participation
Supervisors: Monica Claes and Matteo Bonelli
Abstract: Over the past decade, the EU has witnessed a rise in reported lawsuits filed against civil society - primarily journalists, NGOs, and academics - to silence critical public debate. These lawsuits, common referred to as SLAPPs, are a poorly understood phenomenon in the European legal sphere due to the lack of legislation regulating the scope of protection against abusive litigation. This project investigates legal measures to counter the impact of SLAPPs on public participation, particularly in the wider context of EU action to uphold the foundational values of the Union and the European Democracy Action Plan. It aims to contribute to the understanding of SLAPPs by reflecting on the balancing of conflicting fundamental rights involved, including for example freedom of expression, privacy, right to an effective remedy, and right to a fair trial. It further explores the overarching gaps in legal and judicial protection for SLAPP victims, in order to map existent vulnerabilities in the current system of protection and propose normative action.​

Stevi Kitsou, Social media platforms challenging EU fundamental rights protection: The need for an effective response to online hate speech
Supervisors: Monica Claes and Matteo Bonelli
Abstract: While social media has shaped novel forms of interaction, it has also served as the ideal platform for hate speech. This project will investigate the potential of a common EU approach to hate speech on social media, based on fundamental rights considerations at a time when the EU is beginning to shape its response to the matter. The research will also look into the role of the EU in a regulatory landscape framed by national laws, social media guidelines and an EU added framework in search of a governance model that could respond to the challenges of online hate speech.

Justine Richelle, Does the EU suffer from an “environmental democratic deficit”? Public participation in environmental decision-making in a comparative perspective
Supervisors: Mariolina Eliantonio, Marjan Peeters and Stijn Verbist
Abstract: Public participation in environmental matters is a right guaranteed by the UN Aarhus Convention, to which the EU and the Member States are parties. Obstacles to full implementation of this right have however been identified in the latest Aarhus Convention National Implementation Reports of EU Member States. In parallel, the case law of the CJEU on procedural environmental rights has been growing over the past few years. This research aims (i) to find out whether EU law provisions related to air, water and waste legislation and their implementation in a sample of three Member States (Belgium, France and Ireland) comply with the requirements of the Aarhus Convention and (ii) to provide recommendations as to how compliance with public participation provisions in environmental matters can be better secured in the EU.

Andreina de Leo, EU’s Shifting Borders – Scrutinizing externalization of migration management and international protection responsibilities
Supervisors: Mariolina Eliantonio, Andrea Ott, Lilian Tsourdi and Marie De Somer
Abstract: In the past years, and especially in the aftermath of the so-called “refugee crisis”, the European Union has increasingly outsourced the implementation of its migration and border management policy to third countries, despite their often questionable human rights record, with the ultimate aim of preventing migrants, including asylum seekers, to reach the territory of the EU to seek protection. The EU sustains its cooperation with third countries in this area mainly though funding mechanisms in the field of development cooperation policy. Against this backdrop, this project will examine the legality of the use of development assistance to pursue EU’s migration management objectives, in the light of permissible aims and its impact on the fundamental rights of those seeking protection, using selected EU-funded projects as case studies. It will further reflect on the role of institutional actors in managing and possibly contesting the use of EU funding in this area. To this aim, this research will take a multidisciplinary approach, combining desk-based research with semi-structured interviews with practitioners, NGOs operating in the field, and EU institutional actors.

Ruben Tans, Integration after the migration crisis: haben wir es geschafft? Comparing the effectiveness of the Belgian, Dutch, German and Swedish frameworks on the integration of migrants in employment and education
Supervisors: Hildegard Schneider and Petra Foubert
Abstract: Since the migration crisis, the EU and its Member States faced the challenging task of processing high numbers of applications for asylum. However, a new challenge soon arose: the integration of the recognised asylum seekers and other migrants. As the EU only has a supporting role to play in the management of migration and the integration procedure, the burden was put on the individual Member States.
By analysing and comparing the national frameworks on integration of Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, and thereby focusing on educational and labour market integration, this research identifies both best and worst practices, whilst also suggesting ways to improve the national frameworks. Additionally, this research focuses on the role played by the EU in managing the migration crisis.
Ultimately, the research aims to contribute to the formation of more inclusive and welcoming societies. Can we conclude with: “wir haben es geschafft”?

Aida Halilovic, EU integrated border management: shared competence, shared responsibility, and/or shared administration
Supervisors: Ellen Vos, Sevasti Chatzopoulou and Lilian Tsourdi
Abstract: The research discusses the legal, political, and administrative architecture that overlies the management and guarding of borders in the EU. The monograph will address the main issues and controversies arising from the complex, and at times fuzzy, institutional setting and governance model that emerged from the recent reforms in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ), focusing in particular on the special role of EU agencies in shaping the European border regime.

Anna de Jong, The efficacy of the EU’s regulatory measures against potential money laundering, terrorism financing, and illicit trade or destruction of cultural heritage through the art market
Supervisors: Hildegard Schneider and Donna Yates
Abstract: The art market has been accused of complicity in terrorism financing, cultural heritage destruction, looting, and money laundering. In response the EU adopted Regulation 2019/880 on the import of cultural goods, next to the 5th update of it's Anti-Money Laundering Framework. Both measures aim to i) combat illicit trade and destruction of cultural heritage, and ii) create a conclusive framework to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing. However, key figures in the art market, enforcement agencies, and academia raised doubt whether these instruments will fulfill their declared aims. This project therefore assesses the efficacy of both instruments. It provides an overview of the current European and international framework, examines their national implementation in leading member states, and analyses how they will affect both private and public stakeholders, through dogmatic, comparative, and empirical legal research. Finally, conclusions will be drawn whether the EU measures are likely to reach their goals of providing increased protection of cultural heritage and creating a more transparent and trustworthy art market.

Lucía Martínez Lorenzo, The impact of public procurement law in vertical and horizontal cooperation in construction projects. Reconciling the internal market
Supervisors: Mariolina Eliantonio, Steven van Garsse and Sarah Schoenmaekers
Abstract: The research aims to understand how the construction sector interacts with public procurement law, particularly, how and to what extent does public procurement law restricts the freedom to contract of economic operators. Contracting authorities in the EU spend around 2 trillion euros per year on public contracts. This represents 14% - 20 % of the EU’s GDP. In 2014, the Public Procurement package introduced some novelties regarding the rules applicable to groups subcontractors that have been later on implemented at a national level with different outcomes. This research thus aims at determining the impact of these rules understood as to what extent the current legislation constitutes a limitation for competition and the internal market. In order to do so, the characteristics of the construction sector are analysed to understand why the freedom to contract and organise the group is of particular relevance for the sector. Regarding the legal systems compared, the research focuses on EU public procurement legislation as well as implementing legislation from Belgium, The Netherlands and Spain.

Elin Börjedal, Positive obligations and the division of labour in EU fundamental rights protection
Supervisors: Monica Claes and Bruno De Witte
Abstract: In current times of serious fundamental rights issues in the EU, questions arise as to who is responsible to ensure that fundamental rights are protected throughout the Union. This project addresses the multilevel governance of fundamental rights in the EU. More specifically, it examines the division of responsibilities between the EU institutions and the Member States with a specific focus on the existence of positive obligations under the Charter and the division of labour between EU bodies and the Member States. Both the EU and the Member States are the addressees of the Charter and have legal obligations to ensure its application. If we recognise positive obligations under the Charter, what is the scope of such obligations, who are the duty bearers and what is the division of labour to carry out such obligations? Thus, the aim of this project is to provide clarity on questions related to the responsibilities in fundamental rights protection and the scope of the EU's and Member States' obligation to protect fundamental rights. 

Completed PhD projects

Valentina GolunovaSilenced by Default: Algorithmic Content Moderation and Freedom of Expression in the European Union
Supervisors: Bruno De Witte and Marta Pertegás Sender
Abstract: This thesis has examined how the use of algorithms for the detection of illegal or harmful content on online platforms affects freedom of expression of EU citizens. Algorithmic content moderation is often hailed as an innovative solution to the problem of violative activity in the digital environment. The EU actively encourages online platforms to develop and deploy automated tools for addressing illegal material uploaded by their users. However, the excessive reliance on these tools can undermine the quality and diversity of public discourse online, silencing traditionally marginalised voices. Although the EU has recently adopted ambitious pieces of legislation regulating the market of digital services and AI systems, none of them comprehensively addresses the threats to freedom of expression posed by algorithmic content moderation. This thesis outlines a potential future regulatory framework that would ensure the responsible use of automated tools in content moderation.

Eva van Ooij, Working in a de-territorialized labour market in the EU: An empirical and legal analysis of the conflict rules regarding EU social security law from the perspective of the highly mobile EU worker in the performing arts sector
Supervisors: Saskia Klosse and Anne Pieter van der Mei
Abstract: In a globalizing world national borders are crossed frequently, be it in person or virtually. Moreover, labour flexibility is a key competency in the knowledge economy in the 21st century. Both developments have their impact on the circumstances and conditions of the individual worker. However, mobility in sense of crossing borders and changing jobs results in new work patterns and employment engagement causing legal untransparent and uncertain situations regarding the social security position of the EU mobile worker. The aim of this research project is to examine the effect of geographic and job mobility within the current legal framework and exploring how changes occurring on the labour market are or could be integrated in the coordination instrument of social security systems in the European Union.

Mathias Müller, Transparent enforcement: Access to information related to the monitoring and enforcement of EU environmental law
Supervisors: Marjan Peeters and Michael Faure
Abstract: This study examines to what extent the right to access to environmental information, set out in the Aarhus Convention and Directive 2003/4/EC, can be used by the public to access information that makes it possible to check the compliance with EU environmental law. As a case study, the EU ETS compliance cycle is examined in detail. The study takes a doctrinal, comparative and empirical approach analysing how the right to access to information has been implemented at the EU level, in Germany and the United Kingdom and how it is applied in practice.

Paul Dermine, The new economic governance of the Eurozone – A rule of law analysis
Supervisors: Monica Claes and Elise Muir 
Abstract: Drawing on the most crucial reforms adopted in the aftermath of the Eurozone crisis to strengthen the economic pillar of the Economic and Monetary Union (Fiscal Compact, Six-Pack, Two-Pack,…), and relying on the subsequent practice of the EU institutions, this PhD project intends to carry out a rule of law assessment of the post-crisis budgetary and socio-economic governance framework of the Eurozone to determine if, and to what extent, that framework lives up to the EU’s constitutional commitment to the rule of law.

Zamira Xhaferri, Post-Lisbon non-legislative rule-making in European Union: what role for the European Commission?
Supervisors: Ellen Vos and Anne Pieter van der Mei
Abstract: This research project analyses the role of EU executive after the changes introduced in Articles 290 and 29I TFEU, looking at the role of the European Commission, European decentralized agencies and comitology committees, as integral parts of the non-legislative rule-making process for foodstuff and financial services. This research study will further look at the differentiation criteria between the newly introduced typologies of non-legislative acts and related inter-institutional implications.

Pauline Melin, The social security of third-country workers coming and moving in the European Union
Supervisors: Hildegard Schneider and Anne Pieter van der Mei
Abstract: This research project, part of the TRANSMIC project, concerns the social security of third-country workers coming to the European Union. The aim of this project is twofold. First, it is to map the different instruments of social security coordination at international, European and national levels. Second, the aim is to find what should be change in order to make the European Union more attractive for third-country workers. In order to achieve that, the first part of the PhD will examine the different international, European and national instruments of social security coordination already available. Concerning the national instruments, the research will pay a special attention to bilateral agreements that Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium have with India and Turkey by conducting a comparative legal analysis. The second part of the project will consist in conducting case studies in order to better understand the practical difficulties that third-country workers from India and Turkey experience when coming to the European Union. Finally, the end product of the research project will propose necessary changes in the legislations- either at international, European, or national level- in order to make it more attractive for third-country nationals to come to work in the European Union.

Zvezda Vankova, The Circular migration from the Eastern partnership countries to the EU – the rights of migrant workers in Bulgaria and Poland
Supervisors: Hildegard Schneider and Maarten Vink
Abstract: The PhD project aims to analyse the implementation of European Union’s approach to circular migration and its impact on the rights of the economically active low- and highly- skilled legal migrants from the Eastern partnership countries, ten years after the European Commission introduced this concept. Most of the literature on circular migration focuses on conceptualising the EU approach and not on its implementation on national level in the EU Member States. The research analyses the implementation of the circular migration approach in national legislation and policy of two new member states chosen for case studies: Bulgaria and Poland, transforming from sending through transit and receiving states for migrants mainly from Eastern partnership countries. This research project has an interdisciplinary character and employs legal and policy analysis, as well as qualitative research methods. This PhD study is part of Transnational Migration, Citizenship and the Circulation of Rights and Responsibilities (TRANSMIC), a project funded under the European Commission’s Marie Curie actions.

Matteo Bonelli, Enforcing the European Union’s fundamental values 
Supervisors: Monica Claes and Bruno De Witte
Abstract: This project will analyze the role of the EU in safeguarding the fundamental values on which the Union is founded, as recognized by the Treaty on the European Union: democracy, rule of law and human rights. Recent constitutional crises in several Member States of the Union have demonstrated the legal problems the EU faces to effectively intervene in what are considered internal affairs of a state. Adopting an innovative comprehensive approach, this research project will analyze and assess the enforcement mechanisms that are currently available, and discuss whether, and if so how, a more effective monitoring and enforcement system should be introduced.

Marcus Meyer, The position of Dutch works councils in multinational corporations
Supervisors: Ferdinand Grapperhaus and Saskia Klosse
Abstract: Due to increasing globalisation, a growing internationalisation of the Dutch economy takes place and more and more multinational corporations are present. This trend also affects the employee participation regime present in the organisations, notably the position of the works council. By means of an empirical legal research approach, a comparison between the company and labour law tools available to Dutch works councils and the application thereof in practice is made. By using quantitative and qualitative research methods, trends and best practices are identified and subsequently recommendations made in order to effectively improve the position of the Dutch works council in the globalising economy. 

Šejla Imamović, The place of national courts in the new European fundamental rights landscape
Supervisors: Monica Claes and Petra Foubert
Abstract: The growing complexity of fundamental rights protection in the European Union (EU) is very problematic for national courts. In the present system of fundamental rights protection EU Member States (MS) have to comply with two European sets of norms which largely coincide but may diverge, and which are ultimately guarded by a different court, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU). Additionally, each of the MS has its own national system of fundamental rights protection, often with its own ultimate guarantor (the constitutional court), and its own rules governing the relationship between the various sets of fundamental rights norms. This research aims at investigating the effects the changing relationship between the CJEU and the EctHR will have on national courts of the MS, and how they can rise to the challenges they will have to overcome.

Hoai-Thu Nguyen, The European Parliament and democratic legitimacy in a two-speed Europe
Supervisors: Aalt Willem Heringa and Wytze van der Woude
Abstract: The current crisis in the Eurozone is not only a financial and monetary one; it is also a democratic one. Besides the questions of parliamentary participation in the management of the crisis, the measures adopted as a response thereto also presented a big step towards a two-speed Europe by reinforcing integration within the Euro area, to the exclusion of all the non-Euro countries. This in turn has implications for a future participation of the European Parliament as the only directly elected institution in the European Union. Is the European Parliament, as a single institution, still apt to represent the interests of citizens organized in different groups of Member States? If so, what role should it assume in such a scenario to ensure democratic legitimacy and how should it be structured? This project seeks to answer these questions and to set out criteria for the participation of the European Parliament in a future EU with a deeply integrated Eurozone by referring to EU and constitutional law as well as political science theories.

Alexander Hoogenboom, Mobility of our best and brightest: Free movement of students from an EU and comparative law perspective
Supervisors: Bruno De Witte, Hildegard Schneider and Anne-Pieter van der Mei 
Abstract: The purpose of the research project is to explore the tension between the promotion of the mobility of students in, and towards, the European Union on the one hand and the financial sustainability of higher education systems of the Member States of the EU on the other. Whereas student mobility is normally considered to create advantages for the student, the host and home Member State and the EU as a whole in different but interconnected ways, mobility in and towards the EU remains at a relatively low level. Moreover, the burden in terms of financing the education of these mobile students is very unevenly distributed across the EU. As such, this project seeks to contribute to the formulation of a system by which the further promotion of student mobility can be made compatible with an equitable distribution of the financial consequences thereof.

Florin Coman-Kund, European Union agencies as global actors. A legal study of the European Aviation Safety Agency, Frontex and Europol
Supervisors: Ellen Vos and Andrea Ott
Abstract: The thesis investigates the international cooperation of EU agencies. It does not only describe the legal framework and practices of EU agencies’ international cooperation, but also advances a comprehensive legal-analytical blueprint, combining EU and international public law in order to assess EU agencies on the global arena. Case studies on three carefully selected EU agencies serve to ‘test’ on the ground the legal-analytical framework designed in this dissertation. The study proposes a structured model approach for the investigation of international cooperation by EU agencies and devises creative forward-looking solutions aimed at accommodating the existing reality within the EU legal-system.

Stelios Charitakis, The challenges and the consequences of the implementation of Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for the EU, with a focus on accessibility
Supervisors: Lisa Waddington and Bruno De Witte
Abstract: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) reaffirms the paradigm shift that has been in the works in the past two decades from the medical model of disability that sees disability as a deficit in the individual to the social model of disability that aims to identify and eliminate societal restrictions that prevent inclusion. The principle of accessibility in Article 9 UNCRPD plays an essential role in eliminating those barriers. In 2010 the UNCRPD became the first human rights treaty to be ratified by the EU.
This research project aims to define accessibility and identify the nature of the obligations of Article 9 UNCRPD with regard to this principle of the Convention. It also examines the consequences of the ratification of the UNCRPD by the EU with a focus on the implementation of this Convention and it attempts to identify the competence of the EU to take actions to implement the requirements of Article 9 UNCRPD. 
Sabrina Wirtz, EU risk regulation and its global standards
Supervisors: Ellen Vos and Andrea Ott
Abstract:  The European Union is increasingly relying on standards set by international entities in its risk regulation activities. Yet, global standard-setting in areas such as pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs and chemicals is problematic as it takes place in rather technocratic, obscure and closed setting by regulatory and industry which hides from public scrutiny. Global standard-setting by global standard –setting entities is therefore subject to severe legitimacy concerns regarding quality and independence of the standard-setting process. The proposal will examine international standard-setting for pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs and chemicals on the conceptual basis of in- and output legitimacy and compatibility. It offers a systematic analysis of these bodies and their standard-setting  as well as their impact on the EU so as to come to suggestions to improve the legitimacy of global standard-setting by international bodies.

Taotao Yue, Comparative study on regulation of the sustainability of biofuels
Supervisors: Marjan Peeters and Ellen Vos
Abstract: Biofuels have been promoted by government, including the EU, as a ‘silver bullet’ for mitigating the problems in energy security, GHG emission, and rural development. However, increasing evidence has shown that the assumed benefits of biofuels are not promised, and the question for policy-makers is how to regulate biofuels in order to avoid their unsustainable impacts in both environmental and socio-economic dimensions. This research aims to draw implications for this question from a comparative study on regulation of the sustainability of biofuels in EU, China, and in the international framework. 

Nina Büttgen, Towards an innovative legal framework of employment protection
Supervisors: Saskia Klosse and Ferdinand Grapperhaus
Abstract: Nina’s research has been structured over four years and carries the working title 'Towards an innovative legal framework for employment protection'. It deals with the question of how to improve labour law protection for workers with flexible employment contracts from a European perspective. Her analysis focuses, amongst other things, on the grey zone between law and policy on social and employment issues in the EU. The research is supervised by Prof. S. Klosse and Prof. F. B.J. Grapperhaus and financed by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Nina is associated with the Maastricht Center of European Law (MCEL), the Ius Commune research school and the national labour law network coordinated by the Levenbach Institute.

Anne Hardy, The EU's response to mixed migration movements policy making at a crossroad between human rights or migration management and border control
Supervisor: Hildegard Schneider
Abstract: The research focuses on the tension arising from the European Unions obligations to respect human rights in the field of asylum on the one hand and the unions explicit efforts to manage migration and control of external borders on the other. It studies from an interdisciplinary and comparative perspective the legislation, policies, programmes, and practices developed in response to mixed migration movements at the European and national level. Empirical research will scrutinize practices and interventions of national authorities and non-state actors, and point out whether the latter are able to fill protection gaps caused by national legislation and practice.

Thomas Biermeyer, Stakeholder protection in cross-border seat transfers in the EU; between freedom and boundaries
Supervisors: Hildegard Schneider and Mieke Olaerts
Abstract: The PhD deals with company law harmonization in the light of the Cartesio judgement and will specifically focus on company seat transfers in the EU. The research examines company law, insolvency law and tax law consequences and the protection availble for third parties.

Tanja Ehnert, Regulating the Invisible: Law, science and accountability concerns in the governance of nanotechnologies

Supervisor: Ellen Vos
Abstract: The PhD analyses the EU institutions' approach to the scientific uncertainties that accompany the emergence of nanotechnologies in food and chemicals, especially in terms of legitimacy concerns.  It studies  a retreat of the EU to its executive powers, whereby political decisions are increasingly shifted to a de-politicised administrative setting.

Kathrin Hamenstädt, The margin of appreciation in European expulsion decisions 
Supervisor: Hildegard Schneider
Abstract: The enforcement of expulsion decisions is to a certain extend harmonised by European law whereas the prior administrative process of decision making remains unregulated. This distinction forms the starting point for this assessment which scrutinises domestic expulsion decisions and their enforcement. It will focus on the margin of appreciation in expulsion decisions, the reasons of consideration, the principle of proportionality and on constitutional as well as human rights aspects that play a role in the process of balancing. The jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice regarding expulsion decisions and their influence on domestic decisions will be examined.The primary focus lies on third country nationals who are not covered by any special legal regime. Moreover, expulsion decisions directed against third country nationals covered by a special legal regime, such as third country family members of Union citizens and third country nationals covered by an Association Agreement will be assessed. It will be analysed whether the criteria applied to these groups have any influence on the criteria applied to third country nationals who are not covered by these special legal regimes.