With 18 religious sects in Lebanon and a need for cooperation between all factions for peaceful coexistence, it is easy to draw parallels between Lebanon and the European Union (EU).
That parallel, and the event’s timeliness given that the EU has taken center stage in world media, are likely why so many came out for the “Europe at Sixty. A State of the Union.” event held on March 29. From students, faculty, and staff to ambassadors, diplomats, and politicians, the room was packed for the discussion that focused on the EU’s history, achievements, and recent challenges such as Brexit, immigration, and geopolitics and what it means for the future of the union.
“Through this event we hoped to show the successful experience of countries who are different -- maybe in language or cultures -- and yet manage really to create a union,” said Marwan Rowayheb, Associate Professor of Political Science and Chair of International Affairs at LAU. “Indeed, this is a valuable learning experience to different states worldwide, the Arab world, and here in Lebanon where our students come from different backgrounds and communities, and who at the end of the day come together and create a union,” Rowayheb added.
Visiting from Italy in order to attend the special event, keynote speaker Secretary General of the European Union Institute of Florence, HE Vincenzo Grassi, shared with the audience his pride for the EU. “[The anniversary] is a reminder of why we decided to have the EU in the first place and why countries have decided to join this cooperation,” said Grassi.
The discussion hit home for many students in attendance who recognized the powerful takeaways from learning about the EU’s experience. “The Arab world is in deep need for efficiency and the EU experience can certainly help us to better collaborate, unite, and rebuild a better future for our countries and the region as a whole,” said Sabah Haidar Khalil, an International Affairs graduate student who participated in the event.
After the discussion, students, many of whom plan to follow a diplomatic career track, had a chance to speak one-on-one with the more than 25 ambassadors in attendance. “What was remarkable is that students and faculty had a unique opportunity to interact with the speakers and diplomats, and this certainly gave them an advantage to better understand collaboration of international relations between countries,” explained Suha Abou Rialy, Associate Director of Development, who spearheaded the event.
The event was made possible by the Delegation of the European Union and the Italian Embassy in Lebanon who have recently partnered with LAU to encourage enrichening cultural activities on campus.
“The embassy’s goal was to celebrate a key event in European history, which took place in our capital, Rome, 60 years ago,” commented Edoardo Crisafulli, Director of the Italian Cultural Institute, an organization affiliated with the Italian Embassy in Lebanon.
“We look forward to many more events like this, especially since this not only benefits our students but because it is a strategic effort that will enhance LAU’s international and regional partnerships going forward to best benefit our community,” added Abou Rialy.