This website is drenched in the water colours of the British Isles. I work in rainy Wales, and live in equally rainy South-West England. On my commute between the two I cross the Bristol Channel and the Severn river, which has the third largest tidal range in the world. I thought some pictures I took along this water stretch may contextualise my academic work, and give a taste of the beauty of this wet land. In fact, rivers (... as well as language diversity) seem often to have played a central role in the places I have lived.
I grew up on the banks of the river Schelde in Baasrode (Dendermonde), a sleepy town north of Brussels, slightly reminiscent of its more glorious but also harder past as a major shipping yard. For eighteen years I lived there in entire peace, with the only threat that one day the Schelde might once again cause floods. But as it didn’t, I was able to go and study law at the Catholic University of Leuven, and later just across the Belgian borders, at the University of Strasbourg. I soon found out I particularly like the legal discipline when it is invaded by other disciplines or when it has an international dimension, and thus I paid particular attention to sociology of law, comparative constitutional law, collective labour law, European and international law.
I also found out that I liked the life south of the Belgian border (although Alsace can hardly be called an example of Latin life), so I decided to do an interdisciplinary Master in European studies and international relations at the Institut Européen des Hautes Etudes Internationales in Nice. I then went back to Belgium to be a tutor in international law at the Catholic University of Leuven.
Yet, since my stay in Nice both the appeal of European integration studies and of ‘the southern way of life’ appeared hard to resist to. No better solution to combine the two than by doing a PhD at the European University Institute in Florence . Moreover, it was the perfect place to do the kind of interdisciplinary research I intended to embark on. I entered the EUI with the idea to write a thesis on territorial politics and cross-border co-operation but the intellectual input was so enriching and diverse that I ended up defending a thesis entitled ‘Functional participation in European occupational health and safety policy: democratic nightmare or additional source of legitimacy?’. To support the empirical part of the thesis I did a traineeship at the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels , and became subsequently involved in the reform of that committee by way of several expert studies.
Having enjoyed living in provincial and regional capitals as Leuven, Strasbourg, Nice and Florence, and having tasted the international life in Europe’s capital, I thought it was now a good idea to try Paris as a place to do post-doctoral research. So I joined the Institut d’Etudes Politiques as a Marie Curie Fellow for the period of two years, working on the topic of civil society participation in the open method of co-ordination.
There are many obvious reasons why one could imagine himself living a life in Paris or Brussels, but for some reason or another I felt my job and life in Florence and Italy hadn’t been finalised yet. So I returned to the EUI; this time as a Jean Monnet Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre , to contribute to the European Forum dealing with “Constitutionalism in Europe”. After this additional year in Florence I went for a full immersion in Italian life and academia by taking up a (’Rientro dei Cervelli’) position at the Sociology Department of the University of Trento where I taught for three years EU law and industrial relations.
It proved difficult not to get addicted to the fantastic clear and blue sky of this beautiful mountain place, but maybe opting to become a (Northern) Italian would have been too easy an option for me (in the end, Belgians are the most nordic of the Southern Europeans). For some strange reason of destiny it did not go that way. During a short Visiting Fellowship at the Department of Politics of the University of Bristol, I realised that the real challenge would be to go and teach EU law in the UK and take my southern luggage and attitudes back north…and over the Channel. How else could I claim to be European ‘par excellence’? Moreover, how else could I claim to be interdisciplinary ‘par excellence’ than by returning to a law school? After years of travelling around with a legal background in faculties of sociology and politics, I could bring back the travel experience to the legal discipline. The Law School of Cardiff University provided an excellent opportunity for that given its long tradition in socio-legal studies. Moreover, its Centre for European Law and Governance, I am co-ordinating, provides an excellent environment to foster interdisciplinary debate and research on the EU.
So the story seems (for the moment) to end where it has started: in a law school and with the feet in the wet ground (not due to the Schelde this time). Deep down in my DNA I have always been more a sea than a mountain person….and - who knows? - more a lawyer than a political scientist or sociologist?…or not?….