In May 2004, ten states joined the European Union (EU). The addition of these nations, including Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, and the three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, was the single-biggest geographic and demographic enlargement of the EU since its foundation.
Two years after this historic expansion – called “a miracle” by some observers; potentially “destructive” by others – European expansion and integration remain important and divisive issues. And with discussions currently underway regarding EU expansion into Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and possibly Turkey, the relevance and controversy of these issues is not bound to subside.
Recognizing the widespread interest in European expansion, some law schools and institutions now offer specialized Master of Laws (LL.M.) programs about various aspects of European integration. After all, it is lawyers who will continue to play a very important role in the policymaking and economic arenas of Europe’s eastward and southward expansion.
“Since more and more areas of national law have their origins in the regulations and directives enacted by European institutions, the importance of European law is growing all the time,” says Claudia Bieber of the Europa Institut at the University of Saarland in western Germany.
“Lawyers working in all the different areas of European law help deepen and consolidate the European idea. This practical work contributes to the integration of Europe’s people and societies,” she adds.
With over fifty years in existence, the Europa-Institut is home to one of the flagship European integration LL.M. programs. Lawyers begin the one-year, multilingual program with general lectures about European law, followed by more specific courses (such as European tax, media, and foreign trade law). During the program’s final three months, lawyers research and write their thesis projects.
Other institutions offering programs devoted specifically to European integration law include the European Legal Integration Program at Georg-August-Universität in Göttingen, Germany, and the unique South East European Law & European Integration LL.M. program at the University of Graz in Austria. Since the program began in 2004, lawyers studying in Graz have been able to focus their attention on the legal components of economic and political integration in southeast European nations such as Romania, Bulgaria, and the states of the former Yugoslavia.
East Germany – still integrating itself into the political economy of unified Germany and united Europe after nearly 50 years as a socialist state – is also becoming an interesting location for LL.M. courses dealing with European integration issues.
The University of Leipzig and Dresden University of Technology, for example, have LL.M. programs that focus squarely on the subject. Dresden also has close institutional links with universities France and the UK, as well as in the Czech Republic and Poland, thereby strengthening the ties between legal institutions in the founding nations of the EU and new member states.
The European Studies Program at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) provides yet another example of integration- and international-oriented legal education in eastern Germany. Situated directly on the border with Poland, Viadrina offers law-centered Master’s programs dealing with European integration, along with LL.M. programs in German and Polish law and dual-degree programs with Polish universities.
Meanwhile other LL.M. programs – such as the International and European Union Law Program at the Riga Graduate School of Law (Latvia) and the Joint International LL.M. Program offered by the Ghent University (Belgium), Mykolas Romeris University (Lithuania), and Wroclaw University (Poland) – give lawyers the opportunity to get an LL.M. in “New Europe,” and witness the European integration process first-hand.
Graduates of specialized LL.M. programs in European law and integration have gotten jobs at some of the most powerful policymaking and legal institutions in Europe, such as the European Commission and the European Court of Justice. The specialized LL.M. degrees also prepare lawyers for careers with national governments and international law firms who are always interested in candidates with practical international experience and expertise.
As the European community expands to include more nations in the years to come, the significance and relevance of European law and integration law will also grow.
"This development will increase the need for specialists in the areas of European law,” believes Claudia Bieber of the Europa Institut. “The future market for (these) lawyers is constantly growing because their knowledge is essential, especially in business and economics.”
Image: The European Commission - Berlaymont Building by GlynLowe/ Flickr (cropped and rotated)