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Communicating Europe (CELTTUS)

JEAN MONNET CHAIR, 2016-2019 Prof Lee McGowan


In August 2016 I was awarded by the European CommissIon (as part of the ERASMUS+ programme) a prestigious Jean Monnet Chair in European Integration. This Chair award – and the first at Queen’s University Belfast since the early 2000’s -  followed a successful application on a proposal that sought to communicate Europe and is designed to develop, deliver and expand teaching and research on the European Union at Queen’s University Belfast as well as using the Jean Monnet chair to communicate Europe to wider civil society. I am honoured to hold this award as it illustrates my knowledge and expertise in the EU (built up from the early 1990s).

I had wanted to use the award to develop greater awareness of the European Union in Northern Ireland both within the university and outside it. The EU has played an instrumental role in Northern Ireland’s most recent history and peace agreement, but I was not convinced that people fully understood its actual role let alone the EU’s origins and purpose, its structures and credentials. This was the purpose behind the planned activities.

I wanted to assist the development of the EU in the university curriculum and take the subject area into the school curricula and explain who the EU is, what it does and consider how well it operates and a legitimate, transparent and democratic political entity. This trajectory of activities was all predicated on the assumption that the UK would vote on 23 June 2016 to remain in the EU.  

I received the award two months after the UK public voted to leave the European Union. This vote has turned out to be a real game changer. Suddenly (and for me unexpectedly) Brexit has become the dominant theme of my activities and is now expected to take up the teaching, research and communication activities of the three years of the Jean Monnet chair ahead. However, in a different way and manner than originally anticipated. All this work continues beyond 2019. The UK is still a part of Europe and there are still many more questions ahead. I will continue to keep teaching, researching and communicating Europe.

Major Research Publications, 2016-19

Lee McGowan – Preparing for Brexit: Actors Negotiations and Consequences, Palgrave Pivot, 2018

Lee McGowan and David Phinnemore. ‘The UK: Membership in Crisis’ in The European Union in Crisis, edited by Desmond Dinan, Neill Nugent and William, E. Paterson, Palgrave.

An EPC discussion paper (April 2017) ‘Northern Ireland and Brexit: The European Economic Area Option' by Brian Doherty, John Temple Lang, Christopher McCrudden, Lee McGowan, David Phinnemore and Dagmar Schiek has been widely cited.

For all the latest on EU personalities, developments and policies see the latest edition of the Dictionary of the European Union. 

A new book on the UK and the European Union will be published by Palgrave in 2021. Please keep looking at my more expansive profile which can be found here.

Jean Monnet Chair's Contribution

The information on this page is designed to highlight my activities and to show how even the road to Brexit has allowed me to develop, deliver and expand teaching on the European Union, conduct new research on Brexit and engage with wider civil society. It has been a very busy time.

INAUGURAL PROFESSORIAL LECTURE, 2019: In recognition of my teaching and research expertise on European Politics I have been promoted to a full professor (2017) in COMPARATIVE EUROPEAN POLITICS. My inaugural lecture was held on 5 February 2019. Further details below can be found here

Showcasing Queen's Belfast: Securing UACES Annual Conference, 2020

One of my intentions from the start of the award was to showcase Queen’s University, Belfast as a major centre for teaching and research on European Studies. One of the nest ways to do this was to hold a major conference. To this end I led a team of three and put together a successful bid in 2017/18 to bring the conference to Belfast in September 2020.  This will be the 50th annual conference.

Showcasing Queen's Expertise on European Studies through Jean Monnet Activities (Past and Present)

Queen’s University now possesses more expertise in European studies than arguably at any time in its history. To reflect this expertise and to bring colleagues together we have created a new Centre for European and Transnational Studies. Along with myself and two former Jean Monnet Chairs (Professors Dagmar Schiek and Professor David Phinnemore) this new centre (and a successor to a former Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence) started in late 2019.

Teaching, 2016-19

Teaching has always formed a core part of my activities, before and after the award.

Students need to understand the design, workings and purpose of the European Union. This will remain as true even after the UK leaves the EU. Indeed, there may be more need!

In the autumn of 2016, 2017 and 2018 I designed and taught a level 2 undergraduate course on the Politics and Policies of the European Union. Some 40 students take this 12 week module each year. Each week there are 4 one hour sessions. New innovations here included the creation of a ‘Policy Brief’ as the main form of assessment. I am continuing teaching this course in 2019 and it will run again even after the UK has left the European Union.

From 2016 onwards, and in a response to growing interest in euroscepticism, I designed and taught a new final year undergraduate module on Far Right and Populist Politics – the Far Right in Europe and North America. This very popular module is running again in 2020 and will do for the foreseeable future.

As part of wider activities I have contributed to sessions on the European Union – with special reference to Northern Ireland - as part teach on the George Mitchell Summer School on Conflict Transformation for international students mostly from the USA, Canada and Australia than runs for 4 weeks. It is amazing just how popular the Brexit theme and Peace is for these students – leading to numerous assignments.

I am also teaching at the postgraduate level. In 2016 I co-convened the module The Institutions and Polices of the EU. In 2018 a new module on the UK and Europe was created. I am teaching on this module again in 2019 and 2020.

Teaching Innovation

One of the major achievements has been the design of a new module that will take students to other regions in Europe experiencing ethnic conflict. This new module has been approved and will run for the first time in 2020. It is based on an extension of an initiative pursued in 2019 when links were established with Tartu University in Estonia. I co-led a group of 10 students to Tartu for a week long series of lectures that included fieldtrips (e.g. Museum of Occupation in Tallinn and to Narva on the Russia border). This was a trial run. We are now intending to run this event again but as a distinct module in its own right from 2020 – with the study trip moving to Latvia. The plan is to set up links with universities within regions of ethnic tension across Europe and establish Erasmus exchanges to facilitate staff exchanges as well. 

Supervising a New Generation

Doctoral Research Students: Brexit and Populism are certainly popular themes for research and I am currently supervising four PhD research students in this area

Please direct interest in both these themes for further discussion be it about actual proposals, applications and funding directly to me at l.mcgowan@qub.ac.uk

Establishing Student Exchanges

Situated on the North West corner of Europe, out students can often feel far removed from Continental European Politics.

One of my aims is to link students to other non UK based students, to encourage networks and even lead to a decision to study abroad (through Erasmus+ and other exchanges). Queen’s University already has a network of ERASMUS links.

To facilitate this interaction I have done three things. Firstly, constantly encourage students to undertake Erasmus exchanges. Secondly, led a group of students on a four day field study trip to the EU institutions in Brussels – while based at the Irish Institute for Europe in Leuven (March 2017). I had been doing this for some twelve years but wanted to establish closer links. Thirdly, co-designed a new undergraduate module enabling study in another member state (see above)   

Paper Presentations at Major Conferences, 2016-19

All these papers are in draft form but am happy to send to interested parties.

In September 2016 I presented a paper on Brexit and Northern Ireland at the UACES annual conference in London

In May 2017  I presented a paper on Brexit and Northern Ireland at the EUSA biennial conference in Denver. I also did a roundtable with Professors Simon Bulmer and Niall Nugent on Brexit

In September 2017 I presented a paper on Brexit AND Northern Ireland at the UACES annual conference in Krakow

In May 2018 2016 I presented a paper on Brexit and Populism at the 4th Conference on Populism in Prague 

In September 2018 I presented a paper on Populism in Germany and the UK at the UACES annual conference in Bath

In May 2019 I presented a paper on Brexit at the EUSA biennial conference in Denver 

In September 2016 I presented a paper on Brexit and the War of the Three Kingdoms at the UACES annual conference in Lisbon

Communicating Europe Activities

Since I was awarded the Jean Monnet Chair in 2016 the issue of Brexit has dominated the political scene across the UK. The university has established a group of Brexit experts.

From the outset of communicating Europe post the referendum result I was all too aware of just how politically sensitive the issue of Brexit has been in Northern Ireland. Being identified, for example, as having received any monies from the European Commission for some called academic objectivity into question.  This is something I have constantly refuted but for some Brexiteers the Jean Monnet label was an issue. Please refer to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee’s enquiry into Brexit in 2016 as reported in Hansard.

One of my first activities as Jean Monnet chair was co-authoring (with David Phinnemore) a policy brief entitled After the referendum: Establishing the Best Outcome for Northern Ireland.

One of the innovations as part of my communicating Europe activities was the creation with colleagues of our so-called ‘Brexit’ clinic. These ‘clinics’ are real innovations and have taken place since 2017 and run on a 4-6 week basis and are specifically designed to bring the latest developments to a wider non-academic audience. An example can be found here.

As communicating activities I have been asked to address audiences on the theme of Brexit and politics. Some examples are detailed below.

In March 2019 the Moldovan Institute for European Reforms asked me to present on the theme of Brexit – recorded here.

In October 2017 I was asked to address the European Green Foundation on the subject of Populism in Politics - recorded here.

I contributed pieces to the ESRC’s ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ site including comment on the snap 2017 election and one on ‘Avoiding the Abyss: Brexit and Northern Ireland'.

In October 2016 I took part in the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Knowledge Exchange seminar - recorded here

Communicating Europe through the Media

One of the largely unexpected activities arising from Brexit was the demand from the media for comment on latest developments on Brexit. The Jean Monnet Chair period co-incided with regular queries from the media,. For the national media I have done interviews on BBC Radio 4, BBC News, BBC Daily Politics. UTV News, Radio Ulster Talkback and Radio Ulster news. However more of the interest has come from the international arena and included the following outlets:

Kurier (in Vienna)

Romanian TV

Les Echos

15 Minutes - Swiss radio and print

Goteborgs Posten (Sweden)

China Global TV Network

Others include De Volkskrant, Dagens Nyheter, USA Today, le Monde, El Pais and many more.