Interview with Emilie Wojcieszynski

'Who' and 'what' are you? 

"My name is Emilie and I am a Ph.D. Candidate in Economics at the Utrecht University School of Economics (U.S.E). I am originally from France, I was born and raised in Burgundy. I am currently working on a dissertation about the Impact of Political Influence and Lobbying on Governmental Decision-Making in Europe, including Public Procurement, with a focalization on digitalization and transparency. Originally, I have a development economics background, and I have always been interested in political economics specifically. Before joining academia, I worked as a consultant for different organizations (Economic Research Forum, the platform INCLUDE in the Netherlands, OECD), I have witnessed recurrent situations in studies where the core issue was generally linked to misallocations of resources within a broader defined “game” with winners and losers, the rules being defined by the same restrained set of winners. This is why I chose to write a Ph.D. thesis on this theme. Completing a Ph.D. in the Netherlands also presents a great opportunity to receive research training, paving the way for a fulfilling academic career."

What are you working on, and why? 

"I am currently working on the influence of lobbies on governmental decision-making in EU institutions. Extensive empirical work has been done on this topic in the United States, however, assessing the influence of lobbies academically speaking has been quite scarce in the literature due to the nature of the data on this topic. I will also study how political influences can affect public procurement’s outcomes in EU institutions. This work takes place within a project called DemoTrans, funded by the European Research Council, aimed at assessing the interaction between globalization and democracy. This project is led by researchers from KU Leuven (Belgium), Charles University (Czechia), Bergen University (Norway), Utrecht University (The Netherlands), and also the Tax Justice Network.

Political influences can have different forms and stem from political parties, decentralized government bodies of representatives, and lobbies, among other things. Specifically, lobbies can take place within a range of interests, from big companies trying to influence the law in their advantage to NGOs lobbying for accountability and transparency. Political influences can therefore undertake different forms, and they do occur behind closed doors. One of the main challenges is to find ways to capture this information using various methods in order to make a story on these non-transparent activities. One of the main takeaways of this work is to unveil evidence of political influences, underlining the necessity to make the above-mentioned winners more accountable for their actions, reinforcing therefore the democratic process."

What do you get out of bed for every morning? And is that different now that we have started working hybrid? 

"Challenging my beliefs and the sentiment of accomplishment and contribution are relevant drivers for me to tackle each day. For a simpler answer, I would say that since I moved recently to the Netherlands, grabbing my bike is an invigorating way to start the day.

The occurrence of the pandemic gave me the opportunity to share more quality time with my family. Although I loved to live in Paris, I have found more fulfillment in quiet places, like my hometown in Burgundy, France."

Our world seems to be in a continuous state of various crises (environment, COVID19, Ukraine): Can you indicate for one (or possibly several) of these crises how this affects your field? 

"My first job was actually to support the analysis of the pandemic on the socio-economic consequences of Covid-19 in developing countries. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to re-think our approach to work. In the case of lobbying, I would say that crisis and instability are environments that favor the occurrence of corruptive behaviors and unfair voting of legal instruments in parliaments."

Which person inspires you and what would you like to ask her/him?

"My family is an undeniable source of inspiration, but also the people I encounter during my journey with an (un)common path of life."

Name the book/movie/thinker that impressed you the most, shaped you, would like to read or see you 100 more times and why?

"There is a plethora of resources that have marked my mind. Biographies of prominent historical figures that have accomplished extraordinary achievements are a relevant share of my reading. I am mostly thinking about explorers that crossed seas despite the high uncertainty regarding returning home safely, Ibn Battuta and Richard Francis Burton are notable examples. Philosophers such as Ibn Kaldhun, a Tunisian philosopher that was tremendously in advance in his time, the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas on faith and rationality are among my favorites as well. For a more economic approach, I like the approach of Nassim Nicholas Taleb to uncertainty.

"If I had to mention one person among them, I would like to emphasize the incredible journey of Richard Francis Burton, who was an explorer from the 19th century who traveled across the continents and lived several lives: the ones of a writer, a soldier, a diplomat, and an orientalist, among other things. The plurality aspect of his life gave me the inspiration, at my level, to go beyond the status quo and to always search for unknown knowledge and perspectives.

To put this idea in perspective, I would like to share the following piece of history. I have always had an interest in the work of cartographers as they attest of the perception of the world – what is known and what has to be known – by the time of their realization. Take the example of the Fra Maura map (circa 1448-1453, see below) that has been realized by a monk called Fra Maura, in Venice. The particularity of this map is that it should be looked at upside down. It is one of the maps that depicts with precision parts of the world such as Asia and the Mediterranean sea, as a result of the knowledge shared between explorers and traders that navigated on seas. I have always been fascinated to see how cartographers represented the unknown and the uncertain, notably through the appearance of sea monsters on maps. On this particular one, the cartographer wrote “Here begins the dark sea”, as a reference to the unknown. At this time, only the bravest sailor took the risk to go further into the dark sea. This map, therefore, illustrates well to which extent how our perception of the (un)known frames our actions.

Last but not least, I would say that I often rely on classical thinkers of our civilization. Even though their writings date from centuries ago, they are still of relevance today. Relying on timelessness in times of uncertainty is an exercise that we should undertake. Systems of production and technologies have changed but our nature, as humankind, has always stayed the same."

Source: Piero Falchetta – “The Fra Mauro map” in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana