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In a world characterised by ongoing crises such as migration, climate change, Brexit or the more recent COVID-19 pandemic, the role of Europe on the global stage is a key research theme at Maastricht University (UM) and Studio Europa Maastricht. UM has developed major interdisciplinary research programmes focusing on the role of the European Union (EU).
With the Maastricht, Working on Europe (MWoE) Strategic Research Agenda led by Studio Europa Maastricht, Maastricht University heeds the urgent need to renew and expand UMs research agenda on European integration, the EU and Europe more generally. The research agenda provides a framework for future interfaculty and multi-disciplinary Europe-related research at Maastricht University and functions as a fundamental academic pillar with a visible outreach and citizen science component.
On 1 July six research calls will open offering ‘seed funding’ opportunities to teams of UM researchers (call 2-6) and post-doctoral fellow positions for a period of two years to talented internal and external early career researchers (call 1). UM researchers from the five participating faculties can apply: Faculty of Law (FL), Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASoS), Faculty of Science and Engineering (FSE), School of Business and Economics (SBE) and Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences (FHML).
- innovative and of high academic quality;
- interdisciplinary and preferably interfaculty in nature;
- linked to at least one of the four main research themes defined;
- include acquisition of external funding (i.e., “a fly-wheel effect”);
- show a strong societal impact, outreach and/or citizen science component.
The MWoE research agenda is structured around four main themes:
Democracy, Politics, Security and Rule of Law
Sixty years after its inception, the European Union is still grappling with the key issues of national sovereignty and democratic legitimacy. Who calls the shots and at what level of government?
The EU has spawned several supranational institutions including a parliament and a court, but how should these interact with their national counterparts? And where do regional and local authorities come in? What kind of reforms are needed to safeguard democracy and ensure that citizens get more involved in the European project instead of falling prey to Euroscepticism? These are only a few of the questions that will need to be analysed and researched.
Equally high on the research agenda will be the internal and external threats facing the European project. How do we foster European integration and strengthen the rule of law? Do we need new forms of collaboration to tackle urgent global issues such as climate change, migration, cyber security and terrorism? And how do we reduce tensions on Europe’s periphery and make neighbouring regions more stable and secure?
Identity, Heritage and the Citizens’ Perspective
When six European nations embarked on the integration process in the wake of World War II, there was no blueprint. Of course, the founding fathers had a vision and shared ideals, but the real driving forces over time have eluded both scientists and the public. This calls for some thorough research, also on a fundamental level, into the role of ideas in shaping modern European history.
Meanwhile, European integration has left citizens afraid of losing their identity and cultural heritage. The influx of immigrants has fuelled these fears.
Our research will focus on what happens to history and heritage in multicultural societies. It will examine the role of politicians, governmental bodies and cultural institutions. Seeking to boost social and cultural participation, these actors have embraced new technologies, even though the legal and ethical frameworks are still under construction.
The Euregion can serve as a research laboratory. After all, the former mining region has had to cope with similar challenges and may help us understand the impact of major changes in society and what it means to be a European citizen.
Prosperity, Welfare and Inequality
Considerable differences in living standards, life expectancy and health within the EU persist, despite continued efforts to promote convergence and create a level playing field. Increasing integration, facilitated by harmonised legal and economic rules, has led to increased capital and labour flows, but also to more competition and a public sense of “winners” and ”losers”. Partly this may be due to the neglect of cultural and social cross-country heterogeneity, partly to the imbalance between the harmonization of the internal market and the continued national setting of tax systems, social security, health care and retirement schemes.
The great financial crisis of 2008, the euro crisis of 2010 and the recent Covid-19 crisis also have exposed the asymmetries across countries in shock sensitivity and resilience, the fragility of global value chains, and the consequences of a lack of cross-country risk sharing mechanisms. These stylized facts clearly identify a research agenda, corresponding to challenges with respect to welfare and inequality that the EU faces.
First, we will focus on the trade-off the EU faces between resilience and efficiency, taking into account the optimal degree of centralization, the role of regulation and supervision, and the desired amount of risk sharing.
A second broad theme concerns the dynamics of labour markets, which will need to cope with a combination of ageing populations, the opportunities of lifelong learning, and an increasing impact of technological innovation. Differences in national taxation and social security systems in combination with labour migration form an extra challenge in this respect.
Third, we will do research on optimal strategies to reduce health and social inequalities both within and across countries. Finally, the EU faces the challenge of sustainable development and a green transition which affects legal, economic, social, cultural and ethical dimensions of our society and required in-depth research.
Knowledge, Technology and Digitalisation
Supported by the European Commission, the business-enterprise sector is playing a major role in generating new knowledge and technologies. Research on the economic effects of these corporate investments is in high demand. The findings may help businesses exploit their innovation potential. This, in turn, will benefit the EU and its citizens. Innovations in automation and digitalisation are expected to boost the EU’s long-term competitiveness, help build a greener society and improve the overall quality of life of EU citizens.
The use of social media may help boost citizen engagement and participation in politics. It can produce knowledge in areas such as medicine, science and politics. However, the use of these tools is not without critics.
More research is needed into how knowledge is created and shared by digital platforms. The same applies to the increased use of data by European companies and organisations. How do they handle, analyse and interpret these rich datasets? Can they be used more efficiently for decision-making? And what are the ethical, legal and social implications?
All this research will benefit from a high-quality research infrastructure, offering new opportunities for sharing and connecting data and resources across the continent.