Thursday, 15 June 2017

Being a part of the LLM's Honours Programme


The LLM's Honours Programme (the Honours Programme) is one of the Utrecht University projects, aimed at quality students, which gathered participants from different study fields of law into one classroom, throughout all the academic year. I have had the pleasure to be a part of it and will be sharing with our blog readers the most interesting and valuable features, which helped me to further develop my skills not only as a student, but also aiming further, as a law practitioner.  
   
In such regard, various skills training meetings were aimed towards building the professional conduct as a lawyer, regardless of possible intentions of pursuing (or not) this path in the future. They were very practical and informative, with guest lectures that brought an additional insight into the topics discussed. For example, the workshop ‘Writing for your Client’ introduced the students to a whole other type of writing than the usual academic one, by emphasizing the need of being concise and to the point with the piece that they might be working on. Additionally, the ‘Client Interviewing and Counselling’ workshop enriched our skills with many practical examples that our tutors had lived themselves in real life, in order to create a full picture of what is to be expected from a lawyer’s daily practice. Particularly interesting was the discussion on the ethical conduct and behaviour of not only lawyers, but of every professional who might also be working in the academia. Moreover, the training that aimed the development of additional skills in legal and non-legal research, to me personally it showed how a student can conduct an effective hunt for relevant books or articles by using the library tools, a vital information to possess, especially for a law student. Overall, the skills’ training was an effective contribution to the personal development of the participants in the Honours Programme.

One feature of the program which greatly contributed towards our critical thinking and teamwork was definitely the individual organisation of the content meetings. In small groups not more than six students, we had  to conceptualise and create a few of the excellence masters track meetings, with interesting topics which could be easily correlated with almost all of the study fields of the participants. It happened that the group I was working in was the very first responsible for organizing such a meeting and our feelings were somehow perplexed between trying to find a relevant and interesting topic and imagining what could an ideal content meeting look like. The topics on the table varied between the newly adopted EU data protection regulation and the strategic litigation, also known as public litigation. Ultimately the latter triumphed and the first content meeting organised by students of the Honours Programme focused on strategic litigation, which in other words is the use of legal procedure in a strategic way to bring about certain social, political or legal changes. This can give a voice to individuals, protect vulnerable minorities, and provide access to justice for those whose rights are at stake.

Another highlight of the program was the project ‘Law and Literature’ which envisaged creating parallels between the two fields. The very interesting topic was introduced by Judge Jeanne Gakeer and then carried out by other mixed groups of students. What we had to do seemed simple at the beginning: choose a fictional book/novel and write a legal analysis over it. The first problems though emerged at choosing what book should we all read and write upon. However, this is also one of the skills that I got from the Honours Programme, namely conducting the negotiating process between the team and trying to persuade the fellow students about a specific choice. In the end, our group decided to read The Sellout by Paul Beatty, a novel which depicted the modern segregation practiced in the United Stated and the implicit racial bias when it comes to judicial processes against people with colour. One could not say that the writing process and the presentation at the end went smoothly, but we learned from our mistakes and made sure to improve on a later stage.

This experience was also further enriched by a specific sub-programme that was carried out by the European Law master coordinator, prof. Linda Senden and the students. In the beginning of the year we had a series of collective meetings, where we discussed interesting topics starting from possible amendments of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to organising a small moot court with the aim of introducing the human rights perspective to our studies, to discussing on a round table the conceptual and practical problems of the European Monetary Union and trying to enhance its legitimacy by strengthening the national parliaments representation and finally, to define and debate the meaning of the well-known term ‘rule of law’.  The specific EU law programme was very insightful and taught us, the students participants, how to better use our critical thinking and our public speaking skills. In addition to this, each student then was assigned an individual project to work on, mainly as a research assistant to a professor that was preparing an academic article for publication. I had the pleasure to assist dr. van den Brink for his research on the impact of the European Monetary Union economic performance policies, which was also focused on discussing the role of national parliaments on EMU policy-making. This experience worked as a real boost to my academic research skills, so important for an LLM student nowadays. It has been a long road of writing and researching, but before the end of the program, the article is already sent for publication and I feel that this was an enriching experience in terms of gaining new skills and reinforcing the existing ones.


As a participant of the Honours Programme 2016-2017, I strongly believe that this experience, also in part created by the students and for the students, is a valuable extra-curricular addition, in which everyone should be encouraged to take part. The amount of skills enhanced, the interaction and creativity that we took especially from each-other are the features that show the importance of such initiatives. I greatly enjoyed being part of the Honours Programme and would absolutely recommend it to any fellow/future UU student!

Saturday, 13 May 2017

The Utrecht University Library


Hello everyone! After a little pause I’m glad to be back and share Utrecht experiences with you. Let’s say that my absence is justified because of the start of the fourth period of study here in UU, which for LLM students equals to writing their thesis. Therefore, not only me, but every other LLM student in any other discipline is now dedicating almost all of their time to such an important writing, with which one is expected to contribute to the academia and make a significant step forward in the debate that is discussed within the thesis itself. At first it might sound a huge entrepreneurship and maybe a little scary, but when you start your LLM studies you will definitely be surprised on how much you can learn and advance your skills in a small amount of time.

This brings me to the core message of this blog post. “Every top university has its own top library” and this is definitely what the Utrecht University Library is. I could not imagine writing, not only my thesis, but any paper that was required during my studies without the library’s resources and help. With two big and beautiful buildings, one located in the city centre and the other at the Uithof, the Utrecht University Library is always close to the students for any material that they might need.

I remember that one of the main pieces of advice that our professors used to give before the start of the thesis period was: use the collection of the library; it is indeed quite big, rich and it is going to be indispensable for finding the right materials to complete your research. And I cannot stress that enough. As of my own experience, I needed quite some amount of different books to buid up my research and almost all of them were available on the shelves. But don’t worry, if you cannot find a book in the shelf, check twice on the online catalogue and see if somebody else is using it. In this case, you can simply put an online request within the system, and the library staff will inform you when the book will be available for pick-up (you can also choose a favourable date!).

For sure that books are an important part of the University’s library, but its collection, especially for law students, becomes even more accessible when it includes a list of the most prominent journals (online or not), where you can find sometimes “life-saving” articles for your research. In that regard, also the “UBU-link” helps quite a lot. For the ones that aren’t familiar with the term, this is simply a tool that helps the students to find the full text of their online material, provided that the library is a subscriber to that website/journal that you are looking into (and trust me, most of the time it is).

However, the collection of such a vast number of materials is not the sole feature of the Utrecht University Library. Say, if you have troubles at concentrating at home, or if your roommates are being louder than usual, the library has plenty of study spots reserved for students. Circled by books, in a quiet environment and with a great lightning system, the library is definitely my favourite place to study. It is true that the building in the city centre can be quite busy sometimes, especially when its exam week, but you can always try going to the Uithof: the building is much bigger and it’s practically guaranteed that you will find a similar quiet and nice place to study.



To conclude, as a UU student, academically you will always have the support you need. The library offers a ton of choices and you simply need to be aware of them. Check as well with the service desks, the staff is super nice!  

Thursday, 13 April 2017

More and more study trips


One good thing about studying in Utrecht is that you will never be alone in the long and arduous process of learning. When I first came here and faced the student life, I was amazed by the number of study associations and about their endless opportunities to get involved. There is loads of extra-curricular work and activities to do for every type of committed student. Hence, since the beginning of the year I became part of Urios Study Association, which is specifically aimed at international and European law students. Apart from the hard work that members of the study association put into publishing Curious, the member’s magazine (which is of course open to anyone interested) and into the prestigious Utrecht Journal of International andEuropean Law, the committees also organize study trips.


One of these was carried out few days earlier in The Hague, where Urios and Ad Informandum, together with representatives from the University’s Career Services visited the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Tribunal for ex Yugoslavia.

The journey began at the Peace Palace, a stunning building whose construction was quite an ambitious project. Through the very informative tour in the visitor’s centre, the participants had the opportunity to delve into the history behind its design and the aspirations of that generation to foster peace between the countries. The first stone of the Palace was cast in the spring of 1907 during the second Peace Conference and every country contributed with precious materials in its construction. Vases were sent from China and Hungary, Turkey and Persia donated carpets, wood and stone came from Scandinavia and Brazil, whereas marble from Italy. It is undoubtedly a breathtaking architecture and definitely one of the places to visit while in The Hague. The Peace Palace is the host building of the ICJ and its sessions take place in the Great Hall of Justice, on the right side of the building. During the visit, we had the opportunity to speak to one representative from the Court’s information department, who alongside explaining the main reasons of the existence of the Court and practical matters related to specific cases, also gave some tips and tricks for those interested for an internship. Naturally, if you browse their website online, you’ll also find the relevant information in a blink.


The visit to ICTY was equally fascinating and informative. From the horrors of the First World War embedded in the history of the Peace Palace, we jumped into the fight for freedom of the ex Yugoslavian republics and the crimes that were committed not so long ago. The welcoming staff of ICTY had prepared a very interesting documentary for us, of the notorious Prijedor massacre, known as the ethnic cleansing campaign committed by the Serb political and military leadership mostly againstBosniak civilians. ICTY was established in 1993 by the United Nations in response to reports of such mass atrocities taking place in the former Yugoslavia and it has been quite successful in its mission, with 161 individuals indicted by the court. Although rumours that ICTY is going to close down soon are up and running, we got trusted information from the internal staff that internships are still possible.


And what would be the best end for a day filled with useful information and history? Surely some “gezellige” networking drinks afterwards in Millers bar, enjoying bitterballen and of course, beers. Therefore, my other advice if you ever happen to study in Utrecht is: join a study association! You get to enrich your experiences, expand the network and make cool study trips! 

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Benefits of blogging

Students in the final lecture 
When you take a law course at Utrecht University, you are also required to take the so-called “capita selecta” during the third period of studies. In a nutshell, the capitas are short but intensive courses which last normally up to three weeks and are focused on a very specific area of the study field.  My classmates and I had the chance and pleasure to follow a very interesting and well-built capita, called enforcing EU law by EU agencies. For three weeks we were taught and mentored by Dr. Miroslava Scholten in order to enrich our understanding on one of the most important developments of EU law and governance, namely agencification. I’m not going to explain in details what this very complex term means, but for all of you interested in the subject, you can follow Mira’s blog here.

This, by the way, is also going to be a blog about blogs and you’re going to find out more in a blink. So, during our time in the capita we were divided into groups and asked to choose one of the EU’s agencies in order to complete a research about its structure, powers, accountability and problems that might (or not) arise in such spectrum. Besides building great teamwork skills, the course also taught us not to be afraid of presentations, which is an important ability to have in today’s times. Thus, after having lectures and guest lectures (by Michele Simonato, Marloes van Rijsbergen and Laura Wissink), the floor was for us, the students, to present each week a little bit of our findings.

The course was finalised with a research paper of each group and the creation of a blog on the main topic, including results of our team investigations. The idea of creating a blog might even sound out of the place in a law course, but believe me, it is one of the best ways to quickly and massively spread the message of your research. In the modern times it is hard to find someone that reads lengthy and complicated papers, unless it is indeed required for work or study. Most of the people instead prefer easy and absorbable news, thus the blogging becomes a practical solution. Moreover, the number of people you reach out is unimaginable. Therefore, I would strongly suggest to everyone: create a blog on the topic that you’re researching. It is a good idea to put into test your findings and the process of simplifying your research even helps you as a writer to really understand what’s going on there.

To conclude, our capita was quite successful and the student teams created five blogs. Nerea and Senta worked on EPPO, Juliette and Michael on EASA, Eline, Laura and Babette on ECN, Anka, Agustine, Hans and Hidde on Frontex+ and finally, the cherry on top of the pie, Janneke, Elissavet and myself on ESMA.


Hint: the ESMA team will definitely keep up with the blog, since our master thesis topic are as well on this agency, so see you there!  

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Do’s and don’ts in Paris (while you’re on a moot court)

Utrecht University team in Paris
Being a European law student is not always easy, but it sure knows how to be rewarding. Among all the activities offered by the master programme, I would say that there is no other who comes close to the nerve-wrecking, race-against-the-time, enriching, fun, cool, travelling and network creating experience offered by the European Law Moot Court. I have felt honoured (and very challenged) to be a part of the team that represented Utrecht University in the Paris regional rounds. 

For all the freshers on moot courts, this one is the most prestigious in the field of European Law. The experience has started since last year in September, where we went through rigorous selection processes carried out by tutors and mentors, who of course did a wonderful job in hand picking what would be the greatest and funniest team in Paris. After that, we went through the written phase pleadings, which took us a greater number of preparation hours than any other imaginable course and various consultations with professors and experts on the field (including a trip to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs). The case was extremely complicated and everyone that we asked simply stood up with a thinking countenance in their faces slowly saying... “but this makes no sense”... We can call it whatever we want, but luck wasn’t on our side this year. Nevertheless I should say that my teammates Nicole, Daphnie and Hans were the perfect mates who made easy the process of crying on each other shoulders. And there it was, after submitting our written pleadings, the announcement of the winning teams was coming closer. We couldn’t believe we got through and as you can imagine, the preparations intensified immensely so that we could be shining in Paris!

The journey was equally interesting, beginning from the moment when Hans missed his train, to our feelings when we entered the hotel lobby and saw the nerdy faces of our opponents. Tomorrow was our pleading session and we had to be there since 8 in the morning. As you imagine, life in Paris while you’re doing such an important thing gets pretty hectic, although we would have loved a slow breakfast with hot chocolate and macarons. The European Law Moot Court is very competitive and only one team from 12 would go to the big final in Luxembourg. Even though we did our best and content wise we were close to perfect, we didn’t go through the second round. The bad news is that it was really disappointing, but the good news is that we were now allowed to drink our sorrows away and to finally have some fun.

One of the best parts was our culinary experience with the French cuisine. Starting from the little finger food, in rich banquets, where nobody understood what in the world they were eating (but only that it was delicious), coming to Quiche Lorraine, the beef tartars, les terrines du lapin, the delicious omelettes and the incomparable hot melted chocolate, everything was perfect and bubbly like the champagne.

First pleading round over!
Looking back, I really miss the days when we used to meet and discuss about the case and I feel that the same happened as well to my teammates. Call it post-moot temporary depression stage. In moot court competitions, you either make friends for life or enemies for life and I am glad that we belong at the first category. That is also thanks to the support of our coaches, Tony and Diane, who always made time for our delayed draft submissions and always gave the best practical advice.


If somebody is also considering joining the moot court competition, I’d say go for it and best of luck!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Luxembourg and Brussels, a guide to enjoying study trips

Utrecht University students at the Court of Justice of the European Union

When it comes to study trips, everyone is keen on forgetting the long and studious days or nights before the exams. Along with my classmates of the European Law masters programme we had a very fruitful, professional and also fun study trip to Luxembourg and Brussels. A number of EU institutions welcomed us in their headquarters, providing numerous workshops, presentations, guided tours and even challenging quizzes. After leaving Utrecht at the first hours of the day (in a very comfortable bus) we headed towards Luxembourg, where upon arrival, the Court of Auditors (ECA) was waiting for us, the eager students, to show aspects of the daily functioning of the institution. I must say that this visit was quite interesting, since for a large number of students, it was probably the first contact with such an EU institution. Established to audit the EU’s finances, the results of the ECA’s work are used by the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council and the Member States to oversee the management of the EU budget and, where necessary, make improvements.

However, the day after was overly exciting due to the visit to the Court of Justice of the European Union. Our enthusiasm could be easily perceived. Finally we were stepping to that institution which is one of the main actors in the shaping of European law as we know until present days. It was extremely valuable to come in touch with the real place and people that develop EU’s case law, as much as it was inspiring. More than half of the Court’s human resources are made of translators and interpreters, and it was charming to see the swiftness with which they contributed to make the communication between all official languages of the Union possible. During our visit at the CJEU, we had the great chance to attend a court hearing concerning a Dutch tax law case, quite technical in nature as it entailed the explication of the “regulated market” concept, but nevertheless very interesting to attend. Equally nice and enriching, was the meeting with Judge Sacha Prechal, who welcomed us in a private informal lunch. The stay in Luxembourg was quite hectic, as immediately after we paid a visit to the European Investment Bank (EIB), again a “new” institution as regards our knowledge which actually is the world’s largest multilateral borrower and lender. It was interesting to understand that they provide finance and expertise for sustainable investment projects that contribute to EU policy objectives. With this, our Luxembourg visits came to an end and we were fully prepared to spend another fruitful day, this time in Brussels.

What else could be the main attraction for an EU law student in Brussels, either than the European Commission? And of course, this was our next step. The DG for Communication had prepared a list of interesting meetings and workshop for us, starting with the presentation given by Mr. Ludo Tegenbosch on the role of the European Commission as the political executive of the European Union, continuing with the informal meeting with Mrs Simona Constantin, member of the Jourova cabinet, responsible for justice, consumers and gender equality and finishing with Mr Harrie Temminik and his commitment to the digital single market. Our Brussels adventure came to an end with the visit to the Dutch permanent representation to the EU, where very committed Dutch members explained what was it like to work every day with the EU institutions trying to maintain your national country’s interests at the best level. Undoubtedly, it was a true lecture of negotiation.

The Luxembourg and Brussels trip was one of the best memories that students will cherish forever and I want to heartily thank our professor Diane Fromage for her commitment, organisation and of course, patience.


Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Exams, stress and redefining the meaning of life

Hello everyone! I am Klea, an Albanian girl studying at the vibrant University of Utrecht. In addition, I am going to be the blogger for my masters programme, European law, until the end of the academic year so thank you for joining and hope you enjoy my posts! As an introduction, let me guide you to the starter pack of dealing with exams and paperwork in UU. Off we go!
It’s almost the end of January and by this time the exam period is freshly over, at least for the European Law master programme. Making a quick throwback, I can say without hesitating that it was one of the most stressful parts of my student life, and let me tell you that no matter what you do, at least some little stress and excitement will accompany every each of us during this period and that it doesn’t have to be something inherently bad.
Let me describe what a normal student faces in Utrecht. In a period you are expected to take two courses, with intense studying, tutoring, lectures, seminars, papers, presentations and nice little extra work included. Sometimes you will also have very close deadlines. Such, I had a paper deadline on Friday 13th (!!) 6pm and another the same day, but midnight. So you get the picture. I have the great ability to somehow stay organised and put my writing and my thoughts together always some time before the deadline, but my classmates were coming at the library and quietly saying that “Oh, I have 0 words”. Believe me, that is not a position you would want to be in, especially when your professors are strict! In addition to that, the exams were approaching. For my course on competition law, to somehow ease us from the time pressure of the written exam, the professors thought it was a good idea to propose a take home question. Quick explanation for the ones that maybe are not familiar with the concept: in such a thing, the professors publish a question on Blackboard and expect your answers back by the end of the day. Hence, you are free to do it at home, consult books, friends and everything that crosses your mind. Sounds easy, doesn’t it. Well, it was rather the opposite.
The case we had to deal with was obviously long and complicated, but I believe that the more time you are given to resolve something, the more you tend to be insecure and in the end your mind wanders around the most remote and unexplored places. “What if” questions arise one after the other and in the end of the day, you are rushing to meet the deadline. Mostly everyone in my class was experiencing the same thing and when finally it was over, we could only think about food and sleep. The worst thing was that the day after, we had another final exam. And again, after the weekend, the (finally) last one.
Therefore, studying in such a pace is not for the faint hearted, but in the end, everything falls into place. The feelings after exam period are mixed. I always smile when I encounter in daily life very simple products, such as bananas or salt, that were put in market by those companies, the story of which us EU competition law students know by heart. But also, that makes me hate bananas or salt for quite a period of time. Nevertheless, when you come home from the last exam, there is this strange unknown feeling that you’re suddenly free and don’t have to study anymore. So what to do now? Time to find a new meaning in life!


P.S: things are not as sombre as they might look. Soon you’ll get updates about the European young lawyers on their trip to Luxembourg and Brussels! (Trump voice) It’s gonna be a great trip. It’s gonna be absolutely fantastic.