Having taken up my work at the European Parliament, I am closing this Fellowship Blog.
At this occasion, I express my gratitude to those running the EU Fellowship Programme at the European Commission and the European Parliament for granting me this inspiring academic year at the European Studies Centre in St Antony’s College, University of Oxford.
This European Union Fellowship gave me a great opportunity for pursuing a wide range of activities: studying, reading, doing research, conducting interviews, meeting experts from diverse backgrounds and origins, giving lectures, informally guiding some PhD students, and writing a paper as well as a book proposal. Above all. I got the chance to attend many interesting events and meet academics and other visiting fellows active in a wide variety of disciplines, thus enlarging my network for my work at EPRS. In particular, I expect the links with the Oxford Martin School, the Saïd Business School, and the Reuters’ Institute for Journalism to be beneficial for STOA and the European Parliamentary Research Service.
The last highlight at the European Studies centre was my seminar on bias-awareness in scientific advice and policymaking on the 8th of June, where we had the honour of the presence of Julie Girling, MEP, as the discussant. Professor Kalypso Nicolaïdis, of the European Studies Centre at St Antony’s, chaired this event. Earlier that week, I presented part of my Oxford research outcomes in Brussels at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) ‘FTA2018 conference – Future in the making’, in the form of the discussion on the paper ‘Towards unbiased foresight processes for policy thinking – a framework for responsible scientific advice’. Both events were occasions to get feedback and the follow-up discussions, during and after the events, helped me to connect the last dots.
It may be interesting to mention that my research on the bias of evidence led to conclusions that were quite different from my original expectations: I intended to investigate ways to stimulate politicians to take the time to reflect critically about policy options and about thinkable consequences of policy choices. But what I found was that ‘slow thinking’ is not synonymous with ‘critical thinking’. When people take time for reflection, they might try to find convincing arguments to justify their opinions and actions to others, rather than reflect about alternative options. However, being aware of our usual unconscious biases makes us more open-minded for arguments and evidence which is not in line with our original views. This is an interesting outcome, especially since in policy advice and scientific advice, avoiding unconscious bias is a key issue.
Further, I inevitably saw Brexit having a great impact on the university, Oxford and the UK citizens. What I learned from the many Brexit seminars, reflecting on the future of the United Kingdom and of Europe, is that there are no winners. As our director, Dr Hartmut Mayer, aptly summarized it in the very last seminar of the European Studies Centre for the term, ‘we will have to adjust to the new Europe’. I sincerely hope that for the next Research Framework Programme adequate arrangements can be made for the UK partners.
On the whole, this academic break gave me the opportunity to observe, in these challenging times, how European policy is reflected on by academics from diverse backgrounds, and to recognise that our mutual terminologies are to be considered carefully: we often speak other languages and being aware of this helps get insight into diverse reflections.
As you can see in the compilation of pictures, Oxford also offered other experiences, such as singing in the University Choir and the hard labour of ‘punting’. While being in Oxford, I missed Belgian food, now I am back in my home place, Leuven, I miss the Choral Evensongs in the charming colleges and the evening walks through the meadows. Though, I am staying in touch with my Oxford colleagues.