STUDY TRIP TO THE EUROPEAN INSTITUTIONS, 2023
Report of the Study Trip to the European Institutions
(Study trip of MEI students was organized with support from the German Foundation for International Judicial Cooperation (IRZ) which was made possible by a project funding of the German Foreign Office)
This report encapsulates the enriching encounters and profound learnings from the study visit to the European institutions, during the week-long trip from December 10th to 16th, 2023, organized by the Master of European Integration, with immense support from the German Foundation for International Judicial Cooperation (IRZ) which was made possible by a project funding of the German Foreign Office. Spanning four cities across four different countries, our study trip comprehensively covered the most significant European institutions, including those with exclusive EU competences.
In embarking upon this comprehensive study trip, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to the IRZ for their invaluable support and facilitation. This journey through the corridors of European legal practice and discourse has been made possible through their unwavering commitment and assistance.
Monday, 11 December 2023 - Strasbourg and Karlsruhe
Council of Europe – Agora
The initial stop on our study trip involved a visit to the Agora Building at the Council of Europe (CoE), where Ms. Eva Avaravantinou, a CoE Project Coordinator, warmly welcomed us. Eva graciously acquainted us with the workings of the CoE, provided invaluable assistance throughout our visit, and courteously addressed all our additional inquiries. We are truly grateful for her seamless support. In the inaugural learning session, led by Ms. Marta Becerra, presentation was regarding the 2011 Istanbul Convention—as a comprehensive tool to protect women against all forms of violence, which included all the legal frameworks that work seamlessly to protect women against domestic violence.
Following that, the second session featured lectures by Volodymyr Boriak and Olga Kostenko. Mr. Boriak introduced us to an e-learning platform, the Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (HELP), covering diverse educational tracks addressing child-friendly justice, transitional justice, human rights, and issues related to asylum, migration, and displacement. He also provided insights into essential legal research skills. On the other hand, Ms. Kostenko discussed the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), tackling jurisdictional matters for both applicants and Member States, including those no longer affiliated with the CoE, although the legal issues that occurred while belonging to the CoE still persist.
The third session, facilitated by Lecturer Tatiana Termacic, focused on the CoE's Serbian Delegation and its current composition, with an acknowledgment that upcoming December 17th elections could potentially alter its configuration. Additionally, the ECtHR Serbian Judge Branko Lubarda, who briefly joined us, shared updates on his recent academic endeavours and informed us where to access his scholarly works. In summary, this inaugural institutional visit proved both productive and educational.
German Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe
Following the visit of Council of Europe, students had the unique opportunity to visit the German Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, courtesy of the IRZ. The visit aimed to provide the students with insights into the functioning of the German Federal Constitutional Court, history of the Court, and its role in upholding fundamental rights.
Upon arrival, the students were warmly welcomed to the Court by an official translator within the International Matters Department. Established in 1951, the Federal Constitutional Court enforces fundamental rights and declares statutes void. The workload is substantial, with over 6,000 constitutional complaints received annually. The students were also provided with insights into the Basic Law, which came into force in 1949, shaping the constitutional framework of Germany.
The students were guided through the main courtroom, discussing one of the court's latest decisions concerning the federal budget, which topic was very current. In addition, the students were shown portraits of all Justices in the lobby and the conference room, which was followed by a brief overview of landmark cases decided by the justices of the Court.
In conclusion, the visit to the German Federal Constitutional Court was both educational and enriching for the students of the Master in European Integration program. The opportunity to witness the inner workings of a vital constitutional organ and gain insights into its history and functions was invaluable for their academic and professional development. We extend our gratitude to IRZ for facilitating this enlightening experience.
Tuesday, 12 December 2023, Strasbourg
European Court of Human Rights
On our second day we made a visit to the European Court of Human Rights (EctHR). First the students attended a group movie session which presented general information about the functioning of the Court and the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). We then attended learning session in the Grand Chamber, presented by an Austrian Lawyer working in the Court’s Registry. The topics raised were protection against discrimination in which we also examined the right to life and the abolition of the death penalty in all Member States. We analysed the Russian departure from the ECHR and their pending ECtHR issues and their outcome. Finally, we learned about the formal requirements of the application procedure to the ECtHR and we were able to examine the application form for a claim in the ECHR.
Following this distinguished presentation, we had an opportunity to meet a Serbian lawyer in the EctHR - Andjela Banić. She presented the most important landmark cases against Serbia and provided an update regarding the Serbian pending issues and their outcomes. She explained in detail the administrative procedure of registering the case in ECHR, as well as her career path, which lead to obtaining her current position within the Court.
On the evening of December 12th, we were honoured with the opportunity to tour the European Parliament located in Strasbourg. Commencing our visit, we took part in a comprehensive presentation that explained the functioning and structure of the Parliament. Subsequently, our privilege extended to participating in a plenary session of paramount significance, focusing on the catastrophic situation prevailing in Gaza.
The session delved into the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip, with Members of the European Parliament critically evaluating the latest developments. The gravity of the situation was evident as the parliament engaged in a fierce debate, with a notable presence including EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell. The discussion shed light on the conflict's various aspects, emphasising the urgency and complexities of dealing with the crisis.
Our participation in this important plenary session not only provided us with firsthand knowledge of the European Parliament's dedication to global issues but also highlighted the institution's role as a forum for strong debate on urgent international issues. The visit was beneficial in extending our perspectives on geopolitical concerns and the diplomatic efforts of powerful institutions such as the European Parliament.
Wednesday, 13 December 2023, Luxembourg – Court of Justice of the European Union
On the third day of our study trip, we spent the day in the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg, an important part of our itinerary. Our visit commenced with a concise briefing on a case, followed by observation of the proceedings at the Court’s Grand Chamber, in the procedure for a preliminary ruling from the Bundesverwaltungsgericht (Germany) – Bayerische Ärzteversorgung, Bayerische Architektenversorgung, Bayerische Apothekerversorgung, Bayerische Rechtsanwalts- und Steuerberaterversorgung, Bayerische Ingenieurversorgung-Bau mit Psychotherapeutenversorgung v Deutsche Bundesbank, case C 758/22 and C 759/22.
Specifically, the case C 758/22 and C 759/22 are initiated by the Bundesverwaltungsgericht of Germany, and it involves private pension schemes and Deutsche Bundesbank as opposing parties, and European Commission and European Central Bank as interveners. The matter of the case was the interpretation of the ECB Regulation and whether the provisions regulating data sharing obligations were applicable to private pension schemes in this case. The outcome of the preliminary ruling, having in mind that publishing data is a significant cost and burden for the entity conducting it, could be significant for the interpretation of many similar cases.
Post-hearing, we had the honour of engaging with Croatian Judge Mr. Siniša Rodin and Slovenian Judge Mr. Marko Ilešić, discussing the intricacies of the aforementioned case and current developments within the Court's practices, which mainly concerned the scopes of judgments and specialization of the Judges.
Later in the afternoon, our group had an informative session with Advocate General Mrs. Tamara Ćapeta, where she elucidated the pivotal role of an Advocate General, followed by a discussion about the authority and position inherent to this role. Subsequently, we conversed with Judges Mrs. Vesna Tomljenovic and Mrs. Tamara Perišin from the General Court of the European Union, comparing and exploring their practices and experiences in relation to those observed in Supreme Administrative Courts, with the analysis of some of the more interesting cases they encountered.
Thursday, 14 December 2023, Brussels European Commission
At the beginning of our visit to the European Commission, after the initial welcome greetings, we had a lecture from Ms. Pia Lindholm from the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers of the European Commission regarding judicial cooperation in civil and commercial matters in the EU. During this lecture we learned about the key principles of civil justice, what it is and what it provides to EU citizens; What the term “civil and commercial matters” means in practice, as well as concrete examples of current civil justice rules (cross-border recognition and enforcement of judgments and judicial cooperation in civil matters such as, for example, family law disputes etc.), what are the borders between national and cross-border competence between the EU and Member States and the complexities that occur in determining the relevant judicial competence, as well as concrete steps which are taken in order to improve enforcement of Judicial cooperation (such as the European Judicial Network which supports the implementation of EU civil justice instruments).
The second part was dedicated to the EU enlargement policy, presented by Ms Maja Smrkolj, from Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations. Especially important was the overview of Serbia’s current status in regards to EU accession, the challenges, and the necessary steps that need to be addressed and taken in order for the country to become a member of the EU. The final part of the presentation was devoted to the new growth plan for the Western Balkans, which is built on four pillars as well as a merit-based process through conditionality which would enable Western Balkans countries to align with the EU acquis on a step-by-step basis.
The final part of our visit was a lecture from Mr Ardiel Cabrera Ruiz, from the Legal Service of the European Commission. This lecture covered the function and role of the legal service of the European Commission and the application of EU law, namely what are the characteristics and mission of the legal service, how the legal service is organised internally, and what involves its jurisdiction (providing legal advice, infringement procedures, and ensuring the quality of legislation), as well as how the legal representation of the Commission functions before the ECJ and the General Court (including preliminary rulings or WTO litigation).
Embassy of Montenegro to the EU
In a very warm and welcoming atmosphere, the current situation of Montenegrin path to the EU was presented to us by the current Ambassador of Montenegro to the EU, Dr Petar Marković, also alumni student of our master’s study program Master in European Integration (MEI). He explained the zero-problem policy with the neighbouring countries that the Republic of Montenegro is implementing at the moment and the catchy idea the country has of filling the place of the 28th EU country by the year 2028. This led us to the conversation about the moving targets for accession, which were also explained to us, different steps of the accession process and deadlines for completing them, obstacles and challenges in fulfilling EU pre-accession requests, the EU budgeting phases and development of the relations between Montenegro and Serbia. The EU – Western Balkans Summit, held the day before in Brussels with the participation of our interlocutor was also one of the topics covered and its importance for the future advance of the accession process was clarified to us, too.
Because of the inviting atmosphere and the personnel’s competence to answer all our questions, this meeting will remain impressed in our memories as one of the most fruitful ones during the trip.
Friday, 15 December 2023, Brussels - Visit of the Serbian Embassy to the EU
On Friday, the 15th of December, the MEI study group visited the Mission of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union in Brussels, where we were warmly welcomed by the diplomatic staff headed by charge d’affairs of the Mission, Mr Daniel Apostolović, who provided us with a comprehensive overview of the Mission's role and functions. The Mission serves as a crucial link between Serbia and the EU institutions, facilitating communication and cooperation on various fronts, including political, economic, and cultural matters.
During the briefing and later Q & A session, students gained insights into Serbia's accession process and the ongoing negotiations with the EU. Diplomats of the Mission shared their perspectives on the challenges and milestones in this journey towards integration and accession with special focus on the chapters 23, 24 and 35 of the negotiation process. Discussions also touched upon the significance of regional cooperation, emphasizing the interconnectedness of the Balkan states and the shared responsibility for fostering stability and development in the region especially in the light of Western Balkan Summit that was held in Brussels couple days earlier. In light of this Summit, students were briefed about latest trends of the EU’s enlargement polices. We were also delighted to connect with another alumna from our Master's study program in European Integration, Isidora Mitic, currently serving as the First Secretary of the Embassy. It is worth mentioning that Isidora Mitić, the member of the Mission of the Republic of Serbia to the European Union, is also an alumni student of our master’s study program Master in European Integration (MEI).
One highlight of the visit was a discussion with representatives from different departments within the Mission. We had the opportunity to delve into specific policy areas that are causing difficulties on Serbia’s accession to the EU, such as judiciary reforms, media freedoms and the stabilization process regarding the situation in Kosovo and Metohija, thus gaining a deeper understanding of the multifaceted nature of Serbia's engagement with the EU.
The visit underscored the complexity of the European integration process and the importance of diplomatic missions in facilitating dialogue and collaboration. It provided a unique platform for networking with professionals engaged in the field of international relations and European affairs on deeper level and providing students with the first-hand experience.
From Strasbourg's Council of Europe, through Luxembourg's Court of Justice of the European Union, to the European Parliament and to the European Commission in Brussels, each visit provided valuable insights. We engaged with legal experts, delved into pertinent cases, and gained a profound understanding of the intricacies within these institutions. Highlights included discussions with esteemed Judges, Advocate General, lawyers, politicians, and diplomats, unravelling the roles and practices within the European legal landscape.
Moreover, our encounters with ambassadors and diplomats, such as the current Ambassador of Montenegro to the EU, offered invaluable perspectives on the pathways to European integration and the ongoing efforts in pursuit of EU accession.
The students received important information about the possibility of internships and employment in these institutions, therefore this study trip may be a turning point in their careers.
This report serves as a testament to the depth of knowledge and experiences acquired during our expedition. Enriching the theoretical knowledge gained through MEI master’s program with getting concrete insights about functioning of the main institutions of the EU, as well as about the role and functioning of the German Federal Constitutional Court, has been of an utmost importance for all attendants of this valuable study trip.
Once again, we extend our deepest gratitude to the IRZ for their extraordinarily useful and generous support, which has been fostering this incredible learning opportunity and contributing to our individual and collective understanding of European legal frameworks and institutions. Our MEI generation, as many previous MEI generations, has been honoured and privileged with the mentioned opportunity to attend this distinguished study trip.
of Law University of Belgrade