Nov 23, 2010
Since December 1, 2009, Freie Universität Berlin has been the first German university to operate an office in Brussels. The task of the local office is to initiate cooperative research programs, apply for EU funding, and make the expertise of scholars at Freie Universität Berlin available for political decision-making processes.
To achieve these aims, the head of the Brussels office, Charlotte Fiala, works closely with the coordinator for EU affairs at the Research Division of Freie Universität, Ulrich Rössler. Freie Universität has already been tremendously successful in raising third-stream funding from EU sources: It has been just two and a half years since the European Commission established the European Research Council, an institution that is responsible for making funding decisions for fundamental research projects, and four researchers at Freie Universität have already received approval for 7.4 million euros in funding. A number of additional projects also receive EU funding – 14 of them at present in the political and social sciences alone, with funding totaling about 3.5 million euros.
Office manager Charlotte Fiala is a living example of the European idea: She studied first at Freie Universität, earned a doctorate at Oxford, and has worked for various institutions in Brussels. She speaks both English and French fluently, and could also negotiate with representatives of the European Commission in Spanish. In the future, she will visit Berlin regularly to meet with scholars and scientists from Freie Universität who are looking for cooperation partners for research projects or wish to apply for EU funding. “I am looking forward to new impetus from the departments,” says Fiala. For her network-related mission, the office, which was supported by the Helmholtz Association (located in the same building) and the head of the Language Center at Freie Universität, Professor Wolfgang Mackiewicz, is in an ideal position: The building is home to the research and academic missions of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Denmark. That means that Fiala would not have far to go to find partners for alliance projects that require signatures from at least five EU member states. And just an elevator ride away, she can visit the European Liaison Office of the German Research Organisations which is responsible for informing all German universities and institutions about projects involved in the EU’s efforts to fund research. The European Parliament and the headquarters of the European Commission are just a few minutes’ walk away. “I see myself as networking between Freie Universität, its scientists and scholars, and the EU institutions,” Fiala says.
The tasks of the Brussels office – and those of the university’s other foreign offices – include integrating Freie Universität alumni into their work. “Many of the former students who work in Brussels are at the start of their careers right now,” says Dorothea Rüland, Director of the Center for International Cooperation (CIC) at Freie Universität. “They might be able to support us, because they will hold positions of leadership sooner or later.” Take Michael Cwik, for example, who graduated from the university in the 1960s and now looks back on a 40-year career in Brussels – and who doesn’t need to be asked twice: “Maybe I can help Freie Universität to open doors,” says the now 69-year-old Cwik with a smile, going on to tell of the door to which he owed the start of his career in Brussels, back in 1969. It was the door to the Office of the Director for International Currency Affairs of the European Economic Community – and it was open. Cwik took the director by surprise and convinced him to hold an interview. Cwik, who had just earned his degree with a thesis entitled “Kontroverse zur Einführung einer Einheitswährung in Europa” (Controversy Regarding Institution of a Common Currency in Europe) at Freie Universität Berlin, made a confident and capable impression and started a rapid climb from intern to paid expert and then to civil servant. And then, at the end of 2002 – just a few months before his retirement – he actually had the common currency he had hoped for right there in his wallet.
Some EU funding sources require partnerships with partners from non-European countries as well. In these cases, the Brussels office can work with the other liaison offices to offer support.
Written by Carsten Wette