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When the European Commission (EC) announced six years ago that it would support the creation of academic centres across North America with the goal of promoting and encouraging European studies, Montreal's academic community answered the call. McGill and l'Université de Montréal saw an opportunity to work together and in 2000 jointly established the Institute for European Studies (IES). Europe was impressed, and that support was significantly underscored recently with a second grant of $100,000 Euros ($141,324 Cdn) by the EC.
For Armand de Mestral, professor of law at McGill and co-director of the institute, the advantages of a joint operation were clear from the outset. "We thought, why not do something jointly, which would allow us to operate in a bilingual and bicultural format, and to be more attuned to the cultural complexity of Europe by bringing to bear the cultural diversity of McGill and the Université de Montréal in one institution."
The IES's success so far is certainly not lost on the EC, which recently designated it a European Union Center for Excellence. De Mestral notes that with the renewed funding through 2009, the emphasis will shift from simply promoting European studies to a greater role in funding research in areas such as the harmonization of European laws, transatlantic cooperation and the development of social policy in Europe.
As part of this effort, an interdisciplinary masters program should be up and running in time for the next school year. Students will be able to add a concentration in European studies to their degree, and their studies could cover a broad range of disciplines in both law and arts.
Chris Manfredi, Dean of Arts, says his faculty is thrilled at the opportunity. "We've got a number of people whose research and teaching interests involve Europe, and we plan to be very actively involved in the new centre of excellence."
For McGill's law faculty, the renewed mandate of the IES reflects the faculty's strategic priorities concerning the internationalization of law and the trans-systemic approach to legal education, or the comparative study of both the common law and the civil law systems. This puts McGill in a unique position to offer insight into the emerging European situation. The harmonization of its laws is an issue that the EU is increasingly forced to grapple with; and for de Mestral, "It fits very much into our concern for the coexistence of common law and civil law."
These themes will be addressed at an event the IES is helping fund and organize on September 8: a roundtable discussiontitled "Reinventing Legal Education? The Harmonization of European Law and the Trans-systemic Approach" at McGill. For law professor and organizer Daniel Jutras, it represents a useful bilateral exchange between Europe and Canada. "There are all sorts of advantages on both sides in engaging in this type of dialogue," he says. McGill can share its concepts and ideas, and in turn "make sure we are always at the cutting edge of legal development."
For more information on the IES and these events, visit www.iee.umontreal.ca.