Some very personal views on the College of Europe
Every time we meet for the first time a reader of this blog, we get the question of how Nicolas and I met. Most people guess we studied together at the College of Europe, but that’s not the case. In fact, next weekend Nicolas will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of his promotion, whereas last weekend I celebrated the 5th anniversary of mine (I´m not used to telling the truth here; people often assume that I was there much longer ago –which doesn’t say much about my juvenile looks..- and I always fail to tell them wrong).
With all these current commemorations it seems like an appropriate moment to share some of our views on the College, an institution which elicits all kinds of reactions from different people [an illustration of those reactions: a recent book titled “Intimate Brussels” characterizes alumni of the College of Europe as the evil characters in Brussels and profiles them/us as a much hated secret society (!)]
This post is not entirely competition law-related and we don´t want to bore you, so click here if you’re interested on this long story:
Door opening The College is a potentially life-changing experience; whether you like the Institution or not, there’s no question about this. Like other high-level educational institutions, it opens unique academic and work opportunities, particularly if you want to work on EU-related stuff. In my particular case, the Harvard LL.M may sound better (especially when my father wants to show off) but the College definitely opened me more doors. I know a good bunch of people whose lives would be incredibly different hadn’t had the chance to attend the College. On the other hand, I tend to think that none of these places transforms anyone: when people leave they’re not more intelligent than when they come in (Quod naturan non dat, Salamanca non praestat is a wise latinism). Also, the fact that you’re admitted doesn´t per se mean that you’re so good; as in most other aspects of life, fortune plays a huge role.
The academics. I often say that you (at least me) learn by reading and not by attending courses, and at the CoE you read a lot, mainly because (i) you have very few hours of class; (ii) the level of demand is high; and (iii) there’s not much else to do in Bruges
The difficulty. Over time I’ve confirmed the thesis that the hardest it is to get into an institution, the easier it is to pass and do fairly well. There was certainly some pressure, and the two language rule does add some extra difficulty (especially if your French stinks, like mine did when I arrived), but it was about EU law, which can be fascinating but is no rocket science.
The social part. A place that annually gathers about 300 people from 30 different constitutes a permanent social lab. You get all sorts of people from all sorts of places. There’s the stressed, the relaxed, the cool, the not cool, the funny, the drunk, the nerd, the “normal”, and most of the species that you can find in the human zoo. The social experience is intense: imagine a bunch of people on their 20’s locked for a year in Bruges… Interaction tends to take place within a very narrow group of people. That has some obvious downsides, but it also enables you to get to know some people very (too?) well. In addition to my girlfriend I met some of my very good friends at the College.
A secret society? The HHI of the market for the “supply” of people working on EU stuff is higher than that for the supply of, for instance, tax lawyers. But the College is far from enjoying a monopoly here (think of Nicolas’ excellent program in Liège, among a few others), but it is true –and inevitable- that any of us will come across many alumni in our professional lives- Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that alumni from the College will be given priority over other better qualified people just because they attended it. I don’t know a single example where this may have happened. Also, this factor is double-edged. For instance, had I done anything stupid at our promotion’s party the news would have immediately spread not only among those present but also in DG Comp, and most other institutions and firms…
Competition law. The CoE has some of the finest professors in Europe for competition law: Philip Marsden (who replaced R. Whish some years after I left and is a reader of this blog); D. Waelbroeck (of whom I have seen magnificent impersonations); Mario Siragusa (who we should interview some day on the Friday slot); Luis Ortiz Blanco (who replaced Ivo Van Bael; actually, have we ever told you about Luis? ; Jean Yves Art (who was an excellent professor of merger control; perhaps he would not have taught me that well had he known I would contribute to appealing Microsoft/Skype); Damien Geradin (who’s to blame for Nicolas working in competition law as well as for his taste for legal blogs); Massimo Merola (who deserves credit for actually teaching State aids to an awful looking hung-over audience on Friday mornings after the College’s bar night) and Bill Bishop (who was my very generous LL.M thesis supervisor). Most people in my promotion would tell you that the teaching assistants were responsible for much of what people learnt about competition law (in my year Pablo Ibañez Colomo, Francisco Costa Cabral and Orla Lynskey were in charge of the competition-related courses and they were all superb).
I would tell you more, but I’ve something to finish before Spain’s in the EuroCup begins… Cheers!