Interview met Niels Wittenberg

[Dit interview is in het Engels gehouden]

‘Who’ and ‘what’ are you?

My name is Niels Wittenberg and I am a PhD-researcher in public procurement Law at the Utrecht University Centre for Public Procurement and the Utrecht Centre for Regulation and Enforcement in Europe. The legal scholars working at UUCePP are part of the RENFORCE research program of the UU School of Law. I have been at Utrecht University for a while now, as after having completed my bachelor’s in law, I also completed the master European Governance at the School of Governance and the master European Law at the School of Law, all at Utrecht University. After graduating I started my profession as Junior Lecturer at UU and developed a great passion for academic teaching. I have been a lecturer in a number of bachelor courses at the Utrecht University School of Law: Foundations of Law, Introduction to EU law, Public International Law and European Law. Next to this I have been involved in the coordination of the EU Law master course ‘EU Constitutional Law’.

I immensely enjoy studying and researching EU law as a discipline because of its multidimensionality and its international nature. Moreover, the field is closely connected to other fields such as economics, governance and history, necessitating an interdisciplinary approach. This is also evident in the area of law that I am currently researching, public procurement law, where the law and the market heavily influence each other. Hence, this field of law is usually considered part of ‘economic regulation’. This interconnectedness never ceases to fascinate me and is one of the reasons why I enjoy legal research so much. 

What are you working on, and why?

On the first of April, I started working as a PhD-researcher at UUCePP under the supervision of Professor Elisabetta Manunza and Professor Linda Senden. The Dutch PhD-system differs from PhD-positions in other EU Member States since it involves both research and education. The aim at UUCePP is to educate PhD’s into ‘new leaders of change’. The rationale behind this is to contribute to resolving global challenges we have to face such as climate change, security threats and social concerns. ‘New’ knowledge is needed and developing it requires a new type of scientist willing to become leaders of change “in science” as well.

The main research question that I will examine during my PhD-research in the next four years is “how to safeguard national security in public procurement procedures”. The research is funded by the National Police, the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy and the Ministry of Justice and Security. 

Usually, EU public procurement law is perceived to be a facilitator of fair competition and preventing discrimination of foreign economic operators. However, this is only partly true. According to UUCePP research results (see E.R. Manunza & N. A. Meershoek & .L.A.J. Senden), the EU Treaties should be viewed as a coherent system. The various components of the EU Treaties – such as internal market law, public procurement law, etc.  – are coherent parts of a single common system and must be perceived in the light of the overarching objective set out in Article 3(1) of the TEU that reads ‘the Union’s aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples’. Hence, EU public procurement law must contribute to these goals as well.

Furthermore, the implementation of EU public procurement law is one of the steps that aimed for the realization of the European single market. However, in some situations full market access of foreign contractors could negatively impact national security. To illustrate, the selection of a particular contractor may endanger the continuation of vital infrastructure. Additionally, national security could be at risk since the nature of a public contract could necessitate sharing classified information with a contractor or the contractor could be dependent or influenced by third countries with diverging geopolitical interests. Hence, a well-designed public procurement policy and effective application of the public procurement legal system is of the utmost importance to prevent public procurement negatively impacting national security.

With an eye on the latter, it is important for Member States to fully utilize the discretionary authority granted by the EU public procurement framework to prevent negative impacts on national security. One of the goals of my PhD is to map the different possibilities, within the European and domestic legal framework, for Dutch contracting authorities to screen the economic operator participating in a tender that could impact national security. Even though my research will focus on the Dutch legal system and the context of the Netherlands, the line of reasoning is certainly not specific to the Netherlands and is therefore relevant for the entire EU jurisdiction. The research objective is to develop a holistic screening process, in line with EU law, particularly EU and national public procurement law, that will aid public authorities to safeguard and enhance national security interests when selecting contractors. 

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?

The war in Ukraine has caused a major transition in the way we view the EU. The war has brought political realism back to the table and hence has brought about a conversion in the field of international relations. The war in Ukraine is showing us the challenges of the slow shift to a multipolar power system. States are forced to reassess all issues regarding national security. This entails a careful selection of on the one hand states that are likely trustworthy allies and on the other hand states and companies that might form a potential threat to the national security.

Within the field of public procurement, it has become paramount to ensure that states do not outsource to contractors that form a threat to their strategic autonomy. All in all, the war has emphasized the need for the development of a reliable screening method in public procurement law to ensure national security.

What do you get out of bed for every morning?

I am very eager to learn new things and to hear different points of view. At the UU I am surrounded by colleagues with great experience in a large variety of fields. It always amazes me how often I have to reassess my own perspective on a matter as a result of a conversation with a colleague. Working at the UU entails for me an everlasting process of learning that greatly inspires me. Hence, I happily get out of my bed each morning with the prospect of being challenged and the opportunity to broaden my horizon.

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

‘East West Street’ by Phillipe Sands has left a profound impression on me. The book is an account of two Jewish legal scholars, Hersch Lauterpacht and Raphael Lemkin, from Lviv who, shaped by their war experiences, independently of each other coin two legal concepts: respectively ‘Crimes against Humanity’ and ‘Genocide’. Today, it is almost impossible to imagine the international human rights system without these two concepts.

Phillipe Sands, the author of the book and Professor of International Law at University College London, has managed to explain the delicate difference between the two legal concepts. This has resulted in a book that provides an indispensable view on the interplay between law, governance, politics and history. The fact that the book contains a modern history of Europe perceived from the perspective of Lviv and its inhabitants enables the reader to see Europe from an unusual angle. In my eyes a must-read.

Name your greatest ambition or your best dream (or both)?

It is my greatest ambition to become a member of parliament. It would be an honor to be elected to represent the citizens of the Netherlands in the Dutch House of Representatives and to work for the institution that has helped shape our country for the past centuries. Before I become a member of parliament it is my goal to gain as much experience as possible to be able to make a difference once I am elected. I wish to develop a broader view on law and public policy. For the coming years, academia is a wonderful environment to gain such experience. In the future, it might be beneficial to work for a cooperation or public authority to develop an even broader perspective on law and public policy. 

Next to the ambition to become a parliamentarian, it has been my childhood dream to contribute to the success of my favorite football club Feyenoord. Like a lot of my classmates, I dreamed of becoming a professional football player. However, since I am currently playing football at an amateur level, I have to be pragmatic and forget about playing football for Feyenoord. However, I have not given up on my long-held aspiration. Perhaps an executive function like Director of Sports within the organization of Feyenoord would also fulfil my childhood dream.