The Picture of a Journey to Florence

From the European Commission to the EUPS program

M.A. in Political Science, European Union Policy Studies
Dr. Christine Bakker


When writing a reflection of my career, I was unsure where to start or what perspective to share. Like many others, my career has not been a linear path. I wanted to provide something substantive and authentic – a snapshot of my experience. After much consideration, I knew what I would share with you: a self-portrait, or as it would be called in today’s digital world, a selfie. However, considering my dislike of taking pictures at arm-length, this would certainly not interest anybody. 

Rather than a selfie, perhaps a photograph from my apartment window in Piazza Santo Spirito, the most beautiful square in Florence – just around the corner from the JMU campus–  would be more suitable. I have come to adore the cafés and restaurants that speckle the square, the musicians playing Flamenco music on a Monday afternoon, and the stunning, yellow-painted façade of the Basilica di Santo Spirito. There is the stunningly beautiful wooden crucifix sculpted by Renaissance artist Michelangelo in the year 1493. It was his gift to the Santo Spirito priests for letting him secretly study human anatomy at night by dissecting the corpses of poor, family-less citizens before they were buried behind the church. This ancient piazza (square) is steeped in a rich history, but understanding how I arrived at Piazza Santo Spirito is quite the journey. 

With my profound love of art, perhaps I should have studied art history instead of international and European law with a focus on human rights at the University of Utrecht in The Netherlands. On the other hand, had I specialized in Florentine Renaissance art, I would not have had the chance to work at the European Commission, the main executive body of the European Union in Brussels. My first job after law school was in the Directorate-General for Development. There, I focused on coordinating EU development cooperation policies for African, Caribbean, and Pacific states with international organizations, such as the World Bank and IMF, and bilateral aid programs of EU member states. It was a fantastic experience to work with colleagues from many European countries and a boss from the South of France who preferred to use French as the department’s working language. In this stimulating environment, I learned to be highly efficient and defy the widespread criticism of the EU. I stayed working in several jobs for almost ten years. 

After getting through a lottery-type selection process with tens of thousands of candidates, I could have stayed in the Commission for a lifelong career. But somehow, the call for Italian Renaissance art proved irresistible. Reinforced by a desire to spend more time with my family and two young children, I enrolled in a PhD program at the European University Institute (EUI) in San Domenico, in the hills above Florence. 

My return to academia, combined with my passion for Michelangelo –especially his statues Dawn, Dusk, Night, and Day in the Cappelle Medicee– and the wish of my family to remain in Florence, led to the self-made end of my EU career. Yet, every end is the start to a new beginning. In Florence, I began a string of research, consultancy, and teaching assignments that took me to several countries in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East, but more often to London, Rome, and Pisa. Still, I always return to Florence. Teaching at JMU Florence is a tremendous and exciting new experience, just around the corner from the world's most charming and fascinating square, Piazza Santo Spirito.

Christine Bakker, PhD earned her doctorate degree specializing in international law from the European University Institute and her undergraduate degree in international law from Utrecht University. Dr. Bakker is a lawyer specializing in human rights, international environmental law, and children's rights. As JMU Florence's newest professor, she teaches the Institutions of the European Union course and assists in preparing students throughout the Model European Union simulation. 

Back to Top

Published: Thursday, November 30, 2023

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Related Articles