2017 is a time for reflection and introspection for the European Union and the transatlantic relationship. It marks three notable anniversaries (in chronological order): the 100th anniversary of US entry into WWI (April 6, 1917); the 70th anniversary of George C. Marshall’s speech launching the Marshall Plan (June 5, 1947); and the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaties of Rome (March 25, 1957). In March the United Kingdom formally submitted its intention to leave the Union. There are also elections in a number of member states, in some of which populist winds are blowing strongly. The results of the presidential election in France, the second round of which will take place just after this conference ends, could have profound implications for the course of European integration. In addition, the new Trump Administration has injected an unprecedented level of uncertainty into the transatlantic relationship.
At the same time, the crises that have recently dogged the EU have not gone away. The Greek debt crisis threatens to reignite; jihadi terrorism still casts a shadow; desperate people continue to flow into the EU from the Middle East and North Africa; the conflict in Ukraine remains “warm”; and China and Russia continue to assert themselves on the world stage. These are undoubtedly testing times for the European project and for the transatlantic relationship. In this context of internal and external challenges, the European Commission has opened a conversation on “The Future of Europe.” Consequently, this is a particularly appropriate and important time for us to gather to discuss the EU’s development and the challenges confronting the transatlantic relationship. The conferences theme – “Uncertain Destinations: The European Union at 60’ – is, therefore, even more relevant now than it was when we announced it early last summer.
We have an exceptional program that addresses the challenges confronting the EU. With around 140 panels involving approximately 500 researchers and practitioners from roughly 300 institutions in about 40 countries, this is one of the largest EUSA conferences ever. In addition, we are doing some new things this year. With the support of a Getting-to-Know-Europe grant from the European Commission, we have organized two panels for sharing best practice among recipients of Jean Monnet funding and our plenary lecture on Thursday by Jonathan Faull on “The EU after Brexit” will be open to the public. The grant has also enabled us to increase our financial support for graduate students to attend the conference. With countries, most notably the United States, turning inward, it is critically important now that we are carrying on conversations across borders and engaging the general public.