Go back

Finding certainty in uncertain times

31 August 2022

Emmanuelle Gardan, Coimbra Group Office Director

Rapidly after I joined the Coimbra Group in early 2020, the world as we knew it changed dramatically. I have then often been told that my first years in the office must have been unsettling in many ways. How do you foster transnational community-building, relationships and cooperation in times of social distancing and travel restrictions? The resurgence of war in Europe in 2022 only added to the growing uncertainty. In a totally different way, the swift development of the European Universities Initiative also created an imperative for the Coimbra Group (CG), an association founded in 1985, to adapt.

I discovered a truly sound and resilient organisation, successfully responsive to external disruptions amidst changing times. New working methods and communication modes easily expanded to keep up the dialogue among CG members. Networking and cooperation adjusted to the changing context. The office staff here in Brussels, the members of the Executive Board, but primarily all the volunteers dedicating time and efforts to the Coimbra Group across the continent, have been hard at work to honour the association’s motto “A tradition of innovation”.

Yet, in many other ways, the CG did not change. The association’s role as a community-builder and knowledge-broker has proved essential in many situations. The mission statement to create special academic and cultural ties among Europe’s oldest universities, and to influence European education and research policy while developing best practice through the mutual exchange of experience, continues to bring our community together. Our shared values, on top of which is the protection of academic freedom, remain unchanged.

More importantly, such uncertain environment is also shedding light on CG’s assets and making its common mission even more relevant. In fact, there has been appetite from CG members to connect even more. An increasing number of colleagues – academics and administrative staff – have integrated the Working Groups these past years. As an anchor in times of storm, the association’s longstanding nature has encouraged honest exchanges based on mutual trust. People meet colleagues who become friends and sources of support, shaping the future of their profession altogether.

And I could not agree more with the president of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), Christa Schweng, when promoting the role of civil society organisations as “guardians of the common good in the post-pandemic recovery and reconstruction of EU societies and economies”. As this EESC opinion (May 2022) rightly states, “the inclusion of civil society in the policy-making process is inseparable from the values of the EU”. This is yet another permanent nature of CG, to be identified for a long time as a reliable partner by the European institutions.

One of my main takeaways to date from being part of the CG staff is this sense of certainty in the uncertainty. This also results from an appropriate balance of activities, within the CG, between advocacy work and ground cooperation. My colleagues often hear me saying with unhidden enthusiasm that the “Coimbra Group is a goldmine”. I truly mean it. When one starts digging into the manifold Working Groups’ achievements, one will discover an exceptional variety and quality of seminars, conferences, summer schools, publications, scholarships, projects…. In two words: opportunities and knowledge. To me this tangible cooperation is what makes the CG genuinely efficient and unique.  

Looking ahead, the Coimbra Group is less than three years away from celebrating its fortieth anniversary, which will happen in 2025. This offers an opportune time for assessing CG’s great potential, reflecting on what has come before and thinking about what lies ahead. “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past”, Thomas Jefferson wrote. What better activity than dreaming, to ward off uncertainty?