Alumnus of the Month: Q and A with Koen Lenaerts

Koen Lenaerts As November 16-20, 2015 is international Education Week, we’d like to feature a Q&A with Fulbright Alumnus Koen Lenaerts. Mr. Lenaerts was elected President of the Court of Justice of the European Union! He was just elected on October 8, 2015. Previous to being elected President, Mr. Lenaerts was the Vice President of the Court of Justice of the European Union since October 2012, and he was also a judge at the Court since 2003. Mr. Lenaerts has also been a full professor of European Law at KU Leuven since 1983. After studying law at KU Leuven, Mr. Lenaerts was awarded a Fulbright Grant to study at Harvard University from 1977-1978. At Harvard, Mr. Lenaerts received a Masters of Law and a Master in Public Administration. Q: Your PhD dissertation was a comparative study of the case-law of the European Court of Justice and that of the American Supreme Court. Were you aided in your research by having studied abroad in the U.S. and, if so, in what ways? A: “Studying at Harvard Law School was my first in-depth contact with both the common law and federalism as a constitutional system. It enabled me to discover the comparative method of looking at the law giving impetus to the idea of writing my PhD dissertation on a comparative study between the case law of the ECJ and that of the US Supreme Court. What I learned at Harvard Law School was not only about acquiring substantive knowledge, but also about mastering a new legal methodology. The way in which scholars and students read the law on the other side of the Atlantic influenced the way I looked at the law of the European Communities, now the EU.” Q: Colleagues have lauded your “encyclopaedic knowledge of all areas of E.U. law”. Do you feel that your close study of the U.S. Constitution provided you with fresh, valuable insights and angles with which you could approach E.U. law? A: “The comparative law method is a valuable tool that allows one to see beyond his own legal system. As applied to the US and the EU, one realizes that sometimes the same legal issues are addressed in the same fashion, whilst at other times courts on both sides of the Atlantic can reach different conclusions because of differences in the legal frameworks within which they are operating. Looking at the US Constitution has enabled me to think outside the “European” box, sometimes providing inspiration as an example to be followed directly, but on other occasions, as a sounding board which has helped me to assess the reasons why we might do things differently in Europe.” Q: Earning a Fulbright grant or scholarship is of course more than just getting a ticket to study in the U.S. You were elected President of the European Court of Justice in October. How did your Fulbright scholarship influence your professional life? A: “The Fulbright scholarship is a prestigious award that gives a scholar the chance to develop his academic skills by facilitating access to the best legal education in the US. To me, the scholarship was both a recognition of the efforts made in the past and an encouragement to strive for excellence in the future. It gave me the confidence to believe in my own abilities and to aim for the top.” Q: You studied at Harvard in 1977-’78, when few Belgians ever even considered studying in the U.S. As space and time compress and the world continues to globalize, do you feel like it’s becoming increasingly necessary for students to pursue studies abroad? A: “Since 1978, the world has changed beyond recognition. It has become a smaller and more integrated place and it is often no longer enough, whether in academic or business life, to know about just one legal system in depth. Moving abroad to study not only increases your chances of getting the job of your dreams, but also, on a personal level, broadens your horizons. It opens your mind to different ways of thinking, making you more rounded, both as a lawyer and as a person.” Q: If you could give potential Fulbright scholars one word of advice, what would it be? A:” You should make the most of the fantastic opportunity that has been given to you. Never forget what a privilege it is to study in the US in optimal conditions. Remain humble and grateful, but, above all, do not forget to enjoy it because you only live once.”]]>