Past Projects

Projects undertaken and completed by the RENFORCE research team, prior to the 2019 re-drafting of the research agenda, have included:

Private Actors

In this key project the focus was on the role of private actions in regulation and enforcement of European law, view from the perspective of a diverse range of stakeholders and interested parties. In this light, questions such as the following were asked.

  • What are the underlying reasons for a preference for self-/co-regulation over legislation?
  • What should self/co-regulation look like?
  • How can the sector in question be involved with the regulation?
  • What is seen as the optimal mix of private and public regulation and enforcement in the sectors in questions, from a point of view of effectiveness and certain key values?

The key project Private Actors was led by Madeleine de Cock Buning, Linda Senden and Dina Siegel.

Limits of Mutual Recognition

The principle of mutual recognition and mutual trust is a general principle of European Law. First applied as a judicial principle within the context of the Single Market, it did not take long before the principle also became a fixture in the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice (AFSJ). Whereas mutual recognition is an optional basis for the legislator in the field of the Single Market, the Treaty of Lisbon has elevated the principle’s status to the mandatory basis for new legislation in several areas of the AFSJ. Thus, the principle has obtained constitutional status in this field. Criminal law, family law and general European private law have been shaped by it.

Mutual recognition can be seen as a middle ground between harmonization on the one hand, and full legislative freedom for Member States on the other. However, mutual recognition has been presupposed to require certain forms or certain minimum levels of harmonization. This raises the question what the normative and practical limits of Mutual Recognition are.

This research project seeks to reach conclusions about mutual recognition as a general principle of law in Union law. Its perspective is to research the horizontal and vertical dimension of regulation and enforcement. The research is ‘bottom-up’: it seeks to answer general questions by looking at specific several topics in the area of the internal market and the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice.

Related to this project is ‘Transfer of Prisoners in Europe‘, which aims to assess whether current Union legal instruments based on mutual recognition in criminal matters adequately protect fundamental rights.

The project Limits of mutual recognition was led by and Tony Marguery.

External Effects of European Union Law

The European integration project has developed into a powerful entity capable of influencing its environment beyond EU territorial borders. Coupled with its status as an economic heavyweight, the European Union can utilize its substantial powers in areas such as internal market law, competition and its developing foreign policy to alter the conduct of states, international actors and individuals. These powers may generate effects both in third country legal orders and in international law. This research project will focus on the processes with which the EU governs or affects actors and legal orders outside European borders and why it may choose to do so. Examples of specific research inquiries include the influence of European courts beyond EU borders, the impact of the European markets on the regulation and behavior of actors outside the EU, in what ways the EU is capable to export standards on matters such as human rights or environmental protection, the extraterritorial enforcement of EU standards, etc. All project contributions will make use of the same conceptual framework, which will allow for a comparative end report incorporating the insights from the various articles and papers. Through this structure the project aims to answer the following research questions:

Which combinations of processes exist by which the EU exports and /or externally enforces its values, policy and law with regard to third states, private actors and international actors?

Which effects do these processes generate for the aforementioned actors?

To which extent do these processes contribute to the goals of the EU, and how legitimate are they from a European Law or International law perspective?

More information on the structure of the project can be found in the project proposal.

Shortly after the projects’ start the group decided to collaborate with the CLEER network, part of the T.M.C. Asser Institute. Thus, the project became a joint RENFORCE/CLEER initiative, with both organizations providing relevant expertise and their network to make the project a success. This joint approach to the study of EU external effects has as its main benefit that the project group will be able to research this expansive research area more thoroughly.

Risks, Fears, Opportunities and Security in Europe

The project aims to provide a better understanding of migration in Europe by conducting an independent  authoritative research on root causes of migration, management of immigration, immigrant integration, and asylum systems in relevant sending, transit and receiving communities in order to encourage effective policy-making and wide public debate.

The researchers will initiate and participate in international research projects, participate in high-level world policy fora as well as analyse European policy developments, bringing to the European debate relevant experiences and best practices from different regions. The project partners will be working with European officials, civil-society organizations and other stakeholders to put forward options for more constructive migration management, based on empirical data, in-depth analysis and evaluation of  trends and developments in migration to the EU and migration and refugee policies at local, national, and international levels. The centre aims to focus on the challenges and opportunities that large-scale migration, whether voluntary or forced, presents to the EU and the local communities and institutions in terms of equality, inclusiveness, social mobility and social cohesion in the EU.


The present refugee crisis and its impact on EU institutions, national policies and civil society in Europe constitute a challenge for researchers from various disciplines and countries. They usually do not conduct empirical studies as the events evolve. They normally look retrospectively at the phenomena after some years have passed (Solivetti, 2010; Melossi, 2012; Bowling & Sheptycki, 2012; Bovenkerk, 2014). But this real or imagined massive flux of unwanted ‘others’ (Young, 2007; Aas, 2007) constitutes a unique opportunity to start following the whole process of migration (and later integration and/or rejection) in EU countries from the very beginning. This was the initial idea of a group of international researchers (see the list below), who very soon came to conclusion that comparative analysis and in-depth research was highly needed in the EU as a result of a so-called ‘refugee crisis’. After the first meeting in Utrecht in  January 2016, the researchers realized that all countries they represented had to deal with the ‘traditional’ questions connected to mass migration, but also with very specific socio-political and economic dynamics, which each of the receiving and transit countries was facing in that period.

Mass migration of ‘unwanted’ people always causes fears, such as epidemic diseases, population growth because of their large number of children, criminality, cultural clashes, etc. Such fears emerge again at societal and political levels, as it happened throughout history in Europe (Furedi, 1997; Althiede, 2002; Ericson et al., 2003):

Fears that the existing security measures will not be able to control and regulate the large numbers of refugees. Fears on security issues:

Fears on organized crime expanding with the migration wave (human smuggling networks, etc.).

Fears on criminals arriving among the refugees, including war criminals, jihadists, etc.).

Fears on the political and social conflicts in their countries of origin, which they might fight in Europe.

Fears that the existing security measures will not be able to control and regulate the large numbers of refugees.

Fears on social-cultural issues, including identity:

Fears on people from different cultures, supposedly causing a clash with receiving cultures and with liberal Western democratic systems based on the rule of law (pointing for example at inequality between men and women, child abuse, forced marriages/child brides, etc.).

Fears on economic issues:

Fears and growing dissatisfaction among the local population to receive unlimited quantities of migrants who will costs loads of money on housing, social security etc.

Fears that immigrants might take over jobs.

These fears became a focus of public debate in the late 2015 and early 2016. The positions, based on and exploited by different political ideologies, are manifested at different levels (from ‘we have to show hospitality to people escaping the war’ to ‘we are flooded by a tsunami of immigrants’), but nobody can predict how these fears will turn out and shape the social and political landscape in Europe. These fears shape both the social reactions (rejection, criminalization, acceptance, philanthropy, financial support, etc.) and the social and economic behavior of the very actors directly involved (migrants, their families behind, policy makers, street bureaucrats, private actors, etc.).

One of the most important issues to research is the governance of these risks and fears. What is the role of various public institutions in controlling and regulating the large influx of migrants? At local level, we should focus on the policies of municipalities and civil society, at national and EU levels, on the positions and policies of political actors. The differences at EU level are obvious: from the Merkel’s ‘Wir schaffen es’to Orban’s policy of building fences despite Hungary’s EU membership. As a result of the inadequate coordination and monitoring of European external borders and the growing influx of refugees, the protection of European internal borders has become a serious issue. Even though the internal borders within the Schengen area are officially lifted, more and more European countries try to redeploy some form of border controls (Spencer, 1995; Anderson, 2013).

Next to the increasing risks, fears and security issues, the opportunities play an important role in the refugee crisis. Until now this ‘opportunity’ side of the refugee crisis has received minimal attention: both a lack of opportunities as a root cause of migration and the ensuing risks (including high levels of unemployment and low investment levels in the country of origin), and the role of entrepreneurial opportunities as a way to integrate refugees into host societies (with either citizens pursuing social entrepreneurship as a means to better integrate refugees, or refugees undertaking productive entrepreneurship themselves).


The Center serves a cross-disciplinary international research  community formed by researchers working in the field of Law, Social Sciences, Policy Studies, Conflict Studies, Criminology, Anthropology and Human Geography.  The aim of the Center is to bring together a diverse range of academics from different disciplines interested in migration research to create a forum in which to share ideas and foster future research. In order to accomplish this goal, the project is looking to:

Create opportunities for research and dissemination of knowledge with a critically engaged audience.

Provide support in the development of our research projects by encouraging critical thinking and innovative approaches

Increase the depth and range of migration research projects and opportunities within different

Create links and dialogue with academics and policy-making institutions around the world working in migration field.

The key aims of the research are::


The dynamic of the present migration  from the countries of origin to Europe

Social reaction in terms of conflict and security perspectives

Regulation and policies regarding the refugee crisis

The researchers of the centre recognise that well-designed empirical research is necessary, but may be insufficient if the results are not followed by committed implementation and consistent monitoring of the recommendations. As a result, the centre will seek to actively disseminate knowledge and cooperate with the policy-making and consulting institutions, both by organizing seminars, workshops and training courses on specific topicsof  migration and integration issues, and organizing and participating in academic and policy fora, which  address the economic, social, and security challenges of the 21st century.

First steps:

Following two meetings of the participants, (the first one was organized after the public seminar in January, the second one focused on consortium forming and Horizon 2020 discussion in August 2016, both in Utrecht), it was decided on the next steps in 2016/2017

Preparing research proposal for Horizon 2020

A detailed research application will be elaborated to submit in H2020 (Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2016-2017 – 13. Europe in a changing world – inclusive, innovative and reflective societies; ENG-GLOBALLY-03-2017: The European Union and the global challenge of migration). Utrecht is a leader of the project.

–      Applying for other possible financial support (COST, NORFACE, etc.)

Editing a book on the first findings on the migration crisis (‘The good, the bad and the migrant. Was there a ‘crisis’?’. Interested publishers: Routledge and Springer, in preparation, to be published in 2017)

Co-organizing a public seminar by the Municipality of Barcelona and Utrecht University on  social, political and security issues on the recent refugee crisis and its consequences at local level in Barcelona. The seminar will take place on 28-29 of November and will be followed by the meeting of the network members.