Nathan Meershoek on the imperfection of law, military security and Dostoevski

What kind of mind-set is needed to carry out ground-breaking research as we do at UUCePP?

UUCePP researchers introduce themselves in brief interviews conducted by Elisabetta Manunza and Fredo Schotanus. Today: PhD candidate Nathan Meershoek.

Nathan Meershoek
Nathan Meershoek

‘Who’ and ‘what’ are you?

My name is Nathan Meershoek and as a PhD-candidate and lecturer I am a member of Utrecht University Centre for Public Procurement (UUCePP). I studied law at the same university, where I specialized in EU-law. My passion for law is not a result of blind love for rules or rule-based systems. Instead, it is the imperfection of law when considered in relationship with other political-economic forces which triggers my interest. To overcome problems which come about because of this imperfection, an interdisciplinary approach to law is often needed. As interdisciplinarity is at the core of UUCePP research, the centre suits my research interests perfectly.

What do you work on, and why?

My PhD-research focuses on the complex relationship between EU public procurement law and military security. The European Commission has great ambitions to liberalize and integrate the military industries of the EU Member States by imposing on the national governments public procurement obligations. Concrete competences and responsibilities in the military domain are, however, still fully within the sphere of the national governments. This traces back to the failed attempt to initiate a European Defence Community in the 1950s. Military cooperation between EU Member States, therefore, still works on an intergovernmental basis, sometimes rather within NATO than within the EU frameworks. This means that the political control over military cooperation lies with the 27 national governments. Yet, the EU adopted legislation in 2009 which seems to oblige Member States to procure military equipment by means of public tenders in which all EU-based tenderers are treated equally. This legislation is based on the legal principles which are derived of the economic thought behind the EU internal market.

The tension between economic globalization and military security has been rising in recent years, for instance when considering the so-called trade war between the US and China. The possible public tender obligation for the procurement of military equipment is perhaps the most concrete example of this tension between economic integration and national security within the EU context. To genuinely appreciate this tension, it is necessary to consider the forces which shape the international relations between states. Only then it can be explained why even though all 27 EU Member States have an interest in a militarily strong and unified Union, national decision-making on military procurement is often still guided by national (security) interests.

In light of this tension, my research starts with questioning the fundamentals and legal basis in the EU-Treaties of the legislation. Is it possible to effectively regulate industries which are crucial for national security on the basis of economic integration rationales? Via answering this question, I will seek for legal solutions to the problems which arise from the tension between the economic though behind the rules and the military reality of procurement practice.

What makes you get out of bed in the morning? And is this different because of the COVID-19 crisis?

On working days, I get out of bed for new ideas. The beauty of working in academia, and at the UUCePP in particular, is the space and freedom you get for exploring new ideas. Within our group there is, moreover, always room for discussion which enables the shaping and concretization of these new thoughts. But on many days the search for new ideas indicates studying theories and existing reflections. This combination makes the work inspiring for me.

Because of COVID-19 we now work from home. Although there are still plenty of digital discussions, it is not the same. What I miss most is the spontaneous nature of discussion and talks with colleagues.

Schilderij Zebra
Nathan Meershoek: ''This painting of a zebra was made by my sister. The unique and beautiful stripes and untamability of Zebras fascinate me''.

Is there nevertheless something you appreciate in these changing circumstances?

I do appreciate the space which the changing circumstances have created for fundamental debates. In politics as well as in a social context, it has been necessary to rethink habits and a ‘new normal’. In the EU there have been fundamental debates about the meaning of solidarity between the member states and within national politics it had to be assessed which activities are most vital and which businesses need government support. Although I appreciate this personally, there are also dangers in the creation of this space. In many countries it has led to far-reaching serious restrictions on individual liberties. In such times, it is extra important that such policies are critically evaluated by (legal) scholars.  It needs to continuously be assessed what good policies in liberal democracies and an integrated Europe look like in these changing circumstances. Also in the context of public procurement it is necessary to constantly reflect on whether the current legal system provides for appropriate solutions.

Should we go back to our old way of life after the crisis, or not?

If it was up to me, we would go back to our old way of social life as much as possible. It is of course desirable that we learn something as a society and as individuals from this crisis about the importance of an effective health care system and its relations with other fundamental values and liberties.

Who or what inspires you?

Even though I do not necessarily always agree with his policies, I find Emmanuel Macron an inspiring political leader. In times in which liberal values and European integration are under pressure, and often criticized for a lack of idealism or vision, he succeeded in starting a political movement and winning elections with a powerful and liberal narrative. He also often succeeds in pursuing realistic policies in complex geopolitical circumstances, without compromising on his ideals. I believe this type of leadership is crucial for a successful future of the EU.

Which book has impressed you the most, has shaped you, and would you read 100 more times? And why?

In academia and legal science in particular, the emphasis is often on abstract ideas and observable examples. Life in a more general sense is, however, often much better to make sense of by reading fiction, in which the individual and the power of imagination are driving forces. One of the many books which made me realize this was Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevski. In contrast to many of the theoretical presumptions which underlie legal systems, in Dostoevski’s work emotions have absolute power, while his characters only act rationally within the boundaries of these emotions. At the same time, different views on life and ideas are constantly tested against each other in the form of dialogues. This stimulates me as a reader to question one’s own assumptions about life. Obviously, this does not always lead to a change of ideas. But such vivid storytelling also triggers my legal and academic mind to find arguments from a broader context and always question existing presumptions.