Hanneke van Eijken first holder of the Alex Brenninkmeijer chair

Improving the relationship between citizens and government in the European and national legal order

Hanneke van Eijken
Photo: Lynne Greenaway

Hanneke van Eijken is the first researcher to hold the new Alex Brenninkmeijer chair in Rule of Law & Democracy at Utrecht University. The appointment is for three years. Van Eijken's assignment is to conduct research into the independent judge and ombudsman as defenders of the citizen against the government and to conduct research into strengthening democracy: themes that the beloved former National Ombudsman and legal scholar Alex Brenninkmeijer was passionate about. He died unexpectedly in 2022. Utrecht University wants to further develop Brenninkmeijer's legacy in this way. The chair is made possible in part by the Utrecht University Fund.

Hanneke van Eijken receives the honour because she addresses these two topics, democracy and the rule of law, in her research and education in high-quality and innovative ways and also naturally brings them to the attention of a broad audience easily and regularly. For example, with the European elections approaching, she is organizing Festival Europa, together with co-initiator Pauline Phoa and a project team from the university, on May 31 in Utrecht. The previous edition, on the occasion of the 2019 European elections, was a great success. With lectures, music, poetry, comedy and discussions, the festival makes visitors think about important themes in the elections and the course of the European Union in general.

The project Stad van Mens en Recht in which portraits and stories of ordinary Utrecht residents are linked to articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (marking its 75 years) is another recent example of a public event in which Van Eijken played an important role. 

The citizen's perspective is the guiding principle in my work. What does it mean to be a citizen? That question, lying at the intersection of European and national law has always been my compass in my scientific career.

Hanneke van Eijken
Professor of the Rule of Law and Democracy

Van Eijken: For me, the connection between research, education and impact is important: training critical and empathetic lawyers who work towards a just constitutional state. The citizen is always central to everything I do. What language does law and policy use and how inclusive is that language? How do we deal with citizenship and low literacy, with the green transition that affects citizens in very different ways, what does it mean to be a citizen of the Netherlands and the European Union, but also what does the government need to meaningfully involve citizens?

Language, stage, contact with students

In addition to her work as a legal scholar and teacher, Hanneke van Eijken is also a poet. Her poetry has been awarded several literary prizes. Her poems can also be found in the city of Utrecht. One of her poems, written in memory of resistance student Truus van Lier, is on a Utrecht city wall in the Walsteeg. Based on her expertise in language, she and a colleague from the Faculty of Humanities founded an interdisciplinary minor 'Language, Law and Culture' where both humanities and legal students have been taking classes together since September 2023. Hanneke attaches great importance to providing, setting up and coordinating education and personal contact with students. Hanneke enjoys lecturing and, as a board member of the Utrecht Law College, is committed to honors law education.

Deputy judge

The fact that Van Eijken is both connecting and dares to think out-of-the-box and enjoys collaboration, both within and outside his own legal field, supports the professional reasons why Van Eijken is now receiving the Alex Brenninkmeijer Exchange Chair. Her creativity and enterprising attitude are praised by many colleagues. Hanneke also has experience in practice, including at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as a deputy judge at the Gelderland District Court. Hanneke intends to continue to involve practice in her activities in her chair.

My wish is that the Alex Brenninkmeijer Chair can create a space for an ongoing dialogue between science, practice and education

Hanneke van Eijken
Professor of the Rule of Law and Democracy

Van Eijken “It is a huge honuor to hold the first Alex Brenninkmeijer Chair. His vision on citizens and government and his enormous impact in many areas are fundamental to the rule of law. His sharp observational skills in combination with his unifying power have an indispensable influence on how people think about the rule of law and democracy. It is urgent and of great importance to continue to pay attention to the citizen in the democratic constitutional state. Research into how citizens can be meaningfully involved in policy and legislation is therefore crucial. My wish is that the Alex Brenninkmeijer Exchange Chair can create a space for a continuous dialogue between science, practice and education. My specific perspective, EU law in interaction with national law, is an important perspective. In addition to the elections held in the Netherlands at the end of last year, a new European parliament will be elected in June 2024. Choosing means determining the future, including those of generations to come. We not only live in the Netherlands, but also in the European Union, which citizens have to deal with on a daily basis. Jean Monnet wrote at the time 'We are building union among people, not cooperation between States' and I want to work on a European Union where citizens can actually feel like citizens.”

Alex Brenninkmeijer passed away unexpectedly in April 2022. Since 2014, he has been a faculty professor of Institutional Aspects of the Rule of Law at the Faculty of Law, Economics, Governance & Organization at Utrecht University. As a professor and certainly also in his versatile career as a judge, National Ombudsman and member of the European Court of Auditors, he worked tirelessly for the rule of law, democracy, a better relationship between citizens and the government and better handling of conflicts.

To keep Alex Brenninkmeijer's ideas alive and to further develop them scientifically, the Faculty of Law, Economics, Governance and Organization has decided to establish a chair in his name. This was done in consultation with his partner, Sacha Prechal, judge at the Court of Justice and professor of European law at Utrecht University. It became the 'Alex Brenninkmeijer rotating chair', to be held by a researcher for three years each time. The first chair's teaching assignment was Rule of Law and Democracy. The chair is made possible in part by the Utrecht University Fund.

Hanneke van Eijken and Alex Brenninkmeijer have met regularly. For example, he was at the defense of her dissertation on European citizenship in 2014. In 2015, they had their photo taken together for the magazine Leren van..., for which Brenninkmeijer was then guest editor-in-chief. He then said, among other things: As a scientist and as a poet, Hanneke will be able to make an important contribution to a vision of the future of Europe. If anyone can find the language for that, it's Hanneke. Her dissertation European Citizenship and the Constitutionalization of the European Union is groundbreaking because she shows how we are increasingly becoming citizens - also of Europe. Despite the current call for nationalism and the aversion to Europe, we appear to be increasingly dependent on our position in the EU.

Page from "Leren van" Magazine, June 2015. Copyright: PFZW.