Institut d'etudes Européennes
De l'Université libre de Bruxelles


History of the Institute for European Studies of the Université libre de Bruxelles

Officially inaugurated on 27 February 1964, the IEE-ULB was founded by high profile personalities such as Ganshof van der Meersch and Paul-Henri Spaak. It quickly achieved a level of disciplinary excellence in European law. During the 50 years of its existence, nearly 7,500 students have graduated from the Institut d’Etudes Européennes.


A history closely linked to European integration

The Institut d’Etudes Européennes was born out of a precocious piece of intuition by the academic authorities of the Université libre de Bruxelles. Since the early 1960s, just a few years after the entry into force of the Treaties of Rome, they intended to set up an institute whose mission was to “go in depth, in the area of moral and political sciences and economics, into the problems posed by the achievement of an ever more united Europe” with the aim, in particular, of allowing the ULB to take into account its geographic location in the capital of Europe, whose ambition was to play an important role in European and international life. The Institute was conceived as a centre of both education and research.

It aimed, through its education, to train specialists in European issues but it also intended to contribute to the progress of European integration and to participate, as an academic institution, in European thinking and European debate. Right from the first years of its existence, it confirmed itself as a centre of excellence, mainly but not exclusively in the area of European law, with major personalities such as Walter Ganshof Van der Meersch, its first president, Michael Waelbroeck, and Jean Victor Louis. It also very quickly opened itself up to the outside world, both in education, by hosting foreign teachers and students, as well as in research, by developing interuniversity cooperation.

At the end of the 1980s, the Single European Act and the aim of completing the Single Market by 1992 were the opportunity for a new bout of awareness of the academic authorities of Europe’s importance for the University. Whilst at the outset the IEE focused mainly on the study of the law of the ‘little community of the Six’ in its law department, its economic and political departments were injected with new life, as from 1989, thanks to Ms Françoise Thys - Clément, then Vice-Chancellor of the ULB, in cooperation with the Faculty of Economics, Political and Social Sciences and with the arrival of new research directors in the form of André Sapir and Mario Telo. The academic authorities thus set about listening to messages from the scientific community, taking into account the transition to the European Union and to Monetary Union, the insertion of the two intergovernmental pillars (CSDP and JHA) and the creation of European citizenship. In the aftermath of this, the research structures were boosted, the teaching department renewed and more spacious premises were made available to the Institute.

Whilst the economics department inaugurated the European Centre for Advanced Research in Economics (ECARE which later became ECARES) on 20 November 1991, the politics department focused on the issues of legitimacy and democracy, on institutional changes and on the external relations of an EU that was experiencing both the challenges of enlargement and globalization. Once the EU became a political system, it also became a subject of political science.

In 2003 the Bologna reform introduced a mini revolution in the Institute’s teaching. Whilst at the outset it only offered PhD level teaching with special ‘licences’ [first degree qualifications] redubbed ‘diplômes d’études spécialisées’ [certificates of specialised studies], in 1995 it offered Master courses as part of programme of the Université libre de Bruxelles, whilst offering Advanced Masters and injecting new life into its PhD school in European studies. The IEE and the University even grabbed this opportunity to create a fourth teaching and research department, the History and Cultures of Europe department in close cooperation with the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, further strengthening the interdisciplinary approach that is dear to the IEE-ULB.

Reconciling this interdisciplinarity and disciplinary excellence constitutes a real challenge on cultural and epistemological levels. But the fact that the Institute has continued to confirm itself, at the European and even international level, as a multidisciplinary centre of ‘high European studies’ has allowed it to deepen knowledge on a broad array of issues that affect societies not only at the national level but also at the European level and the international level (migration, inequalities, security, governance etc.). Moreover, this approach is encouraged by the European institutions and, in particular, by the Commission. That explains the number of projects won by teams from the Institute, in particular as part of various programmes of European research. An example of this is the Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate Programme ‘Globalisation, the EU, and Multilateralism’ (GEM), which it has coordinated since 2009, and which brings together nine universities from Europe, Asia, the US and Latin America.

See below an interactive timeline that retraces the major milestones in European integration, which the Institute has reflected over the years:



Three strategic orientations that aim for excellence

The success of the Institute has been facilitated by three strategic choices that are still topical today:

1) Internationalisation

At the IEE-ULB, teaching and research has a truly European and international dimension. The internationalization of the academic and scientific staff as well as that of the student population speaks volumes about that. Thus, currently, the teaching staff of European studies come from around ten countries and teaches students from 25 nationalities.

The Institute has played and is still playing a key role in the establishment and coordination of European and/or international research networks. The postgraduate school GEM, which is made up of ten universities, including Chinese and American ones, has for example made it possible to take on fifty postgraduate students from 40 countries. The Horizon 2020 ENLIGHTEN project on the legitimacy of the EU at a time of crisis brings together four European universities, four major European networks and combines with it a number of big names from the world of research. The ODYSSEUS network brings together experts in asylum and immigration law from the 28 EU member states plus Switzerland. As for ECLAN (European Criminal Law Academic Network), it is made up of over 150 members representing 32 European countries.

2) Interaction with the EU institutions

Since its existence, the IEE-ULB has known how to benefit from its location in Brussels, at the heart of Europe, just around the corner from most of the European institutions around which a multitude of government actors and representatives of civil society gravitate.

The draw that the Institute has for top European officials and experts had already been stressed by Paul-Henri Spaak himself since 1964 during the inauguration of the IEE. He said then and not without some humour: “Even for those who are in the habit of meeting the Queen of England, the German Chancellor or Nobel Prize winners, nothing can equal the pleasure of teaching at the IEE-ULB and working with its teams”.

The Institute has thus been able to combine European political decision-makers and practitioners with teaching, research and public debate. Reciprocal interest has been cultivated which has led to mutual enrichment.

3) The teaching-research relationship

The IEE-ULB has sought and seeks to ensure coherence between its research agenda and its teaching offer.

The main areas of research have of course been constantly adapted based on the perpetually evolving European and international context. In this spirit, the programmes of courses have also been regularly revised.

Among the research priorities and the themes of numerous publications in French and English, it is worth mentioning in particular: the evolution of the institutional system and its growing complexity during reforms of the treaties, the implications of enlargement, the role of European actors, citizens’ participation, the comparative analysis of euroscepticisms, the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice as well as the protection of fundamental rights and regulatory policies.

Faced with globalization and the emergence of a multipolar world, the research done into the external dimension of the EU has expanded considerably. The research covers, among other things, the role of the EU as an international actor and the comparison with other regional integration movements, mainly in Asia and Latin America (ASEAN, MERCOSUR etc.). The EU does not present itself as a model for the world but intends to defend its values and undoubtedly represents a point of reference for other continents. Our passion for peace and international cooperation can be translated into a formula: one EU, a civil power and an engine of a new multilateralism. ‘La paix mondiale par les pacifications régionales’ [World peace through regional peace-building] or ‘peace by pieces’.

Entirely in line with the dynamic and evolving approach that is a feature of the IEE-ULB, its lively minds have set up a new IEE in close cooperation with the partner faculties and with the support of the academic authorities. The aim of this reform, which was completed in 2015, is to strengthen the interdisciplinary nature of research, the international visibility of the Institute and its capacity for action at the European and global levels. Among other things, it aims to promote critical dialogue with the EU’s institutions, to constitute a place for debate on the future of European integration without being a think tank and to work in a network with European and global partners.

The 2015-2016 academic year attests to the success of the refoundation of the ULB’s IEE: innovation building on continuity.

The presidents of the IEE

Big names have followed big names as president of the Institut d’Etudes Européennes

  • Walter Ganshof van der Meersch (1963-1970)

  • Paul de  Groote (1970-1972)

  • Henri Janne (1972-1975)

  • Henri Simonet (1975-1978)

  • Paul Foriers (1978-1980)

  • Jean-Victor Louis ( 1980-1992)

  • André Sapir (1992-1998)

  • Régine Kurgan (1998- 2003)

  • Françoise Thys (2003-2005)

  • Mario Telo (2005-2009)

  • Marianne Dony (2009- 2014)

  • Anne Weyembergh (2014 - ...)



The headquarters of the IEE: a building designed by Blomme

In 1964, the IEE established its headquarters in a house located at 39 Avenue F. D. Roosevelt and designed by Adrien Blomme in 1926-1928. Adrien Blomme (1878-1940) is among the major architects in Brussels. His work, commissioned largely by and industrial and wealthy clientèle, is varied. Some of his designs are well-known and valued. Adrien Blomme has infused his work with different styles of architecture from the beginning of the 20th century. After his first designs imbued with historical references (illustrated in particular by the Château du Vert Chasseur [the Castle of the Green Hunter], currently occupied by the European School in Uccle), 39 Avenue F. D. Roosevelt is a typical example of the classical modernist style he later adopted. This style is also found in several other renowned designs such as the Villa Gosset in Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, the Wielemans-Ceuppens brewery in Forest, which today houses the WIELS museum, the Villa Vandevelde located very close to the Uccle Observatory and the chancellor’s office of the ULB, also on Avenue Roosevelt, which was his personal house. The Institute has remained faithful to Adrien Blomme: in 1990, the neighbouring house, number 41, also designed by him, was acquired by the ULB and made available to the IEE.

The brochure entitled ‘L'Institut d'Etudes Européennes: 50 ans de recherche et d'enseignement en quête d'ouverture’ [Institute of European Studies: 50 years of research and teaching in search of openness] is available for free by downloading it from the bottom of the page!

Film produced with the support of the Université libre de Bruxelles, the Bernheim Fondation, the Wiener-Anspach Foundation and the Roi Baudoin Foundation.