Recent Publications

Luc Soete

Like so many other researchers sitting at home, watching the news about COVID-19, I have been impressed at how virologists, epidemiologists and other medical experts have caught the ears of national policymakers, business leaders and the general public. Suddenly, scientific facts and evidence bask in the trust of public opinion and fake news is once again ‘fake’ in the real sense of the word: unreliable, not to be trusted by anyone. Something climate experts have been dreaming of for decades, not to mention my own, down-to-earth economic pleas to public authorities to invest more in public research.

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Raul Rios

“Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. With their spoils we shall begin to be rich for this is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless”. The passage is from Miguel de Cervantes’ timeless masterpiece, Don Quixote de la Mancha. In this part of the novel, Don Quixote takes windmills to be towering giants and attacks them, after doing so he realizes that they were nothing more than windmills, but is unrelentingly stubborn, insisting they were turned back into windmills by his magician archnemesis Friston. Some 400 years later, some people have started tilting at giants again but this time the giants are in the form of 5G radio towers. 

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Peter Slominski
Florian Trauner


In the wake of the 2015/2016 migration crisis, EU policy-makers have urged returning more irregular migrants. In order to achieve this, the EU has adopted a series of non-binding documents for European administrations (such as the EU Return Handbook) and agreed on informal return deals with countries of migrants’ origin including Afghanistan. This article argues that the EU’s shift towards soft law has not altered the EU’s return policy in a profound way. Yet, it has managed to ‘convert’ EU return policy by emphasizing a particular interpretation of existing hard law (towards more restrictive practices and a stronger focus on ‘efficiency’). The soft law approach has also allowed policy-makers to signal action in times of crisis at lower legislative and sovereignty costs.

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Ilke Adam
Florian Trauner
Leonie Jegen
Christof Roos


Studies on EU–Africa migration cooperation often focus on the interests of the EU and its member states. But what do African states themselves seek to achieve with respect to migration policy? This article presents an in-depth look at Ghana and Senegal, two stable West African democracies, and assesses which types of migration policies they support, and why. We suggest that a distinction ought to be made between West African policymakers’ more domestically-driven migration policy goals (to cooperate more closely with the diaspora or creating legal migration channels, for example) and internationally-induced ones (such as the reinforcement of border control capacities). Each type of policy interest is defended by an increasingly diverse set of national actors whose interests often – but not always – converge. This distinction should be considered as a continuum, as most West African migration policy preferences are driven by domestic as well as international factors, albeit to diverging degrees. Our findings demonstrate that migration policy-making in countries targeted by international cooperation can only be studied as an ‘intermestic’ policy issue, reflecting the dynamic interplay of international and domestic interests.

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At least 120 countries have asked South Korea for COVID-19 test kits and other materials to fight against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. South Korean biotech firms are shipping the kits everywhere from Europe and the United States to the Middle East and Southeast Asia. The secret to South Korea’s test development and manufacturing success lies in Daejeon. This city is home to Daedeok Innopolis, South Korea’s main R&D cluster, including for biotech. Developed since the 1990s, South Korea’s biotech industry is a textbook case of the country’s industrial policy. It is based on two pillars: public-private cooperation and continuity across administrations. This is what Daedeok Innopolis and South Korea’s COVID-19 test success embody. 

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Gustav Meibauer, Linde Desmaele, Tudor Onea, Nicholas Kitchen, Michiel Foulon, Alexander Reichwein, Jennifer Sterling-Folker


This forum presents a snapshot of the current state of neoclassical realist theorizing. Its contributors are self-identified neoclassical realists who delineate their version of neoclassical realism (NCR), its scope, object of analysis, and theoretical contribution. From the standpoint of NCR, they contribute to and reflect on the “end of IR theory” debate. NCR has come under criticism for its supposed lack of theoretical structure and alleged disregard for paradigmatic boundaries. This raises questions as to the nature of this (theoretical) beast. Is NCR a midrange, progressive research program? Can it formulate a grand theory informed by metatheoretical assumptions? Is it a reformulation of neorealism or classical realism or an eclectic mix of different paradigms? The forum contributors argue that NCR, in different variants, holds considerable promise to investigate foreign policy, grand strategy and international politics. They interrogate the interaction of international and domestic politics and consider normative implications as well as the sources and cases of NCR beyond the West. In so doing, they speak to theorizing and the utility of the theoretical enterprise in IR more generally.


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April 2020
annual report

In 2019, the Institute for European Studies was honoured to bring four PhDs to fruition: Sara Silvestre (PhD in Political Science), Max Jansson (PhD in Law), Carla Mascia (PhD in Political Science) and Stephan Klose (PhD in Political Science). The IES organised 59 events and produced 104 publications. 

The Institute continued to expand and now counts 108 people or 52.4 full-time equivalents. In 2019, IES scholars took part in a total of 175 media appearances. Moreover, the Institute was successful in obtaining externally funded projects. At the end of the year, no less than 35 external projects were conducted by IES scholars, whereas an additional 14 projects were funded through our own budget. 

IES research output contributed significantly to a range of prominent policy developments, like the EU and Flemish policies to achieve CO2 neutrality in the coming decades.

The Institute’s leading advanced Master programmes deliberated 40 new graduates that have now obtained life membership to our 1250+ alumni group.

In 2019, the IES as well as the VUB strengthened its links with the University of Warwick and United Nations University – UNU-CRIS. Also, intra-VUB collaboration was further increased, in particular between the IES and Vesalius College.

Muzaffarjon Ahunov
Leo Van Hove


We examine to what extent (aspects of) national culture can explain cross-country variations in financial literacy. Our results, for a sample of 92 countries, show that Hofstede’s dimensions of power distance and individualism explain, respectively, over 40 and 60 per cent – which is substantially more than national cognitive scores and standard economic variables. In particular, we find that financial literacy is lower in countries where power distance is high, and that the opposite is true for individualism. Uncertainty avoidance would seem be negatively related with financial literacy, but the evidence is not so strong. For masculinity, indulgence, and long-term orientation we find no significant impact. Overall, our results highlight the need for additional (interdisciplinary) theories that can improve our understanding of the determinants of financial literacy and better guide policies in this area.

Ahunov, M. and L. Van Hove, National culture and financial literacy: international evidence, Applied Economics, Vol. 52, Nr. 21, April 2020, p. 2261-2279.

Jordan Becker

Only the Dead is the most comprehensive mixed-methods analysis to date of an old and important debate that Stephen Pinker’s (2012) Better Angels and learned – if colorful – responses to it (Cirillo and Taleb 2016) have brought to a popular audience in the last decade. While it is a work of outstanding social science by an eminent scholar of international security and war, Only the Dead is also accessible to this same popular audience, and makes a significant contribution to both researchers in his field and broader society. The foremost among those contributions is to identify, with clarity that previous scholars have not, the role of international orders in keeping peace among their members – and driving conflict externally (Braumoeller 2019, p. 5). While others (Freedman 2014, Hoffman 2016) have suggested this, Braumoeller is the first to test the proposition systematically, arguing convincingly that such orders, and not shifts in underlying human views of war or even human nature, shape the likelihood of extreme violence in particular places and times. Doing so is likely to stimulate future research that will increase our understanding of war, peace, conflict and cooperation.

Jordan Becker (2020) Only the Dead: the Persistence of War in the Modern Age, Defence Studies, 20:1, 101-103,DOI: 10.1080/14702436.2020.1717953

Ugo Armanini
Dr. Nicola Casarini
Linde Desmaele
Dr. Alice Ekman
Maximilian Ernst
Dr. Mario Esteban
Bruno Hellendorff
Remy Hermez
Dr. Bjorn Jerden
Dr. Oskar Pietrewicz
Dr. Ramon Pacheco Pardo

What is the perspective of key EU member states towards South Korea? While EU- South Korea relations have attracted growing attention in recent years, the relationship between key EU member states and the Asian country remains underexplored. This report addresses this omission by describing and analysing the recent evolution of the relationship between Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland and Sweden, on the one hand, and South Korea on the other. The report covers the areas of economic relations, security relations, bilateral relations and North Korea, and cultural relations.

The report shows that there is a clear trend towards greater cooperation between key EU member states and South Korea. This trend holds regardless of who is in power in South Korea, with the report covering the second half of the Lee Myung-bak government, the whole Park Geun-hye government, and the first half of the Moon Jae-in government. The trend also holds regardless of the type of government in the EU member states analysed.

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