by Paul Schreiber
SBJ Contributing Writer
The network of European Union Centers was inaugurated in fall 1998 to enhance and promote European Union-U.S. relations. Among a total of 10 centers nationwide is the European Union Center of the University of Missouri-Columbia.
The European Union Center at Mizzou has two main emphases: the first is to stimulate academic discourse on topics of mutual interest to the European Union and Missouri, and the second is to promote the European Union and heighten its visibility in the United States.
Dr. Harold Jeffcoat, vice chancellor of the University of Missouri-Columbia and director of the European Union Center, said one objective of the center is to increase people's awareness of "what's happening in Europe in this process of European integration" so "they'll be better informed and better prepared to do business with Europe."
Another goal is "to better connect institutions, particularly business institutions and government institutions in Missouri, to have more communication and more direct developmental opportunities with member states of the European Union," he added.
The European Union, previously known as the European Community, comprises 15 member states: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
According to MU's Web site on the European Union, it is estimated these nations possess a gross domestic product 10 percent larger than that of the United States, and the European Union now forms a "major international force" united "politically and economically, much like the federal government of the United States ties our states together with common goals, policies, laws and currency."
The site also defines the European Union as a "supranational government largely concerned with promoting both European unity and economic cooperation, with an elected parliament and other branches, and it's based primarily in Brussels, Belgium."
Nine European Union-sponsored conferences will be held in Missouri over the next three years and will be open to the public.
These conferences will address topics pertinent to the integration of the European community, including high technology in the delivery of health care, and a single, shared currency and fixed interest rate, Jeffcoat said.
The next conference is slated for April, when the topic will be the European Monetary Unit, the union's shared currency, he said.
In January 1999, the European Union will launch a single currency called the euro. This monetary unit will gradually replace national currencies entirely by July 1, 2002, through a 3 1/2-year "transitional period," according to Jeffcoat. This currency unification will radically transform fiscal practices for both European businesses and U.S. companies transacting business in Europe.
Several multinational companies, such as Sprint, Anheuser-Busch, Monsanto, Ralston-Purina and Trans World Airlines have headquarters in Missouri. These companies and others will be directly affected by events in the European Union. Europe is the No. 1 foreign investor in Missouri, according to a study by the European-American Council in Washington, D.C.
Other schools that share the distinction of offering European Union Centers include the University of Washington-Seattle, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard University.
Jeffcoat said the European Union Center at MU addresses concerns from a different vantage point than other centers. Citing its particular position on the map, he said, "we have a geographical area that's rather expansive, and the range of issues we're dealing with are much broader than most of the other centers that have more specific interests."
The European Union Center at MU is "funded by a grant from the European Union, the European Commission," Jeffcoat said.
This funding will support the center for its first three years of operation. Beyond that time, "we're looking to raise additional funds from interested parties that might want to help us do this work," Jeffcoat added.
Part of the center's purpose is to stimulate discourse on topics of interest to the European Union and Missouri.[[In-content Ad]]
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