UCL European Institute


Spotlight: Helen Xanthaki

Professor Helen Xanthaki discusses, in her own words, her experience as a European, her expertise, and her thoughts on Europe today.

Helen Xanthaki

Helen Xanthaki is Professor (Teaching) at the Faculty of Laws, UCL, and Senior Associate Research Fellow, IALS, and serves as the Dean of the Postgraduate Laws Programmes of the University of London (Worldwide). She is a member of the Committee for the Scrutiny of the Lawmaking Process at the Presidency of the Hellenic Government, and a Key Regulation Expert for Expertise France.

Tell us a bit about yourself

I am a dual Greek and British citizen who moved to the UK in 1993 shortly after the Maastricht Treaty.

I remember clearly, as a teenager, following the negotiations for the Greek accession to the EU. I remember the great expectations from a possible joining of the political club of the then "strong 10", and the friendship, stability, alliance, and democracy that this was expected to bring to Greece. I remember the joy and celebration that followed the Greek accession to the EU in 1984, and the great pride that all of us felt when we acquired the red EU passport. I remember the difference between having to travel abroad with very limited capital and restrictions for every border and every adventure before EU accession, as opposed to the freedom from capital restrictions and borders that accession to the EU offered us. I remember the opportunities that were offered to me as an EU citizen, both in my travels and, ultimately, my employment in the UK. I still remember feeling a sense of belonging to a wider family of nations where EU citizens flourished in togetherness and friendship. I was sold to the EU ideal and I still am.

What does Europe mean to you?

I am an example of the European dream. I live and work in a country different from the one of my origin, I work across Europe, I consult the European Parliament and the European Commission, I train legislative drafters at the EU, in the member states, and mostly in aspiring member on transposition legislation and legislative quality. One could say that I live and breathe the EU ideal.

However, now more than ever, I find a detachment between the European ideal and the operational reality of the EU as an organisation. I have now seen the challenges brought by the financial crisis to my country of origin, and I have experienced the journey of Brexit. But I also hear the louder European voice of the COVID times, and in foreign affairs. I see the EU engaging with its errors, acknowledging its successes, and seeking a way forward. 

I feel that the EU deserves the support and loyalty that my generation experienced in the 1980s and 1990s. I feel that it is time for an extrovert EU for the benefit and to the service of its citizens, whose place is as central to the ideal as that of economic stealth. The EU has changed, its goals are far beyond economic stability and political friendship within the club, but the organisation has remained more or less the same. It is time for bold reform, not necessarily via treaty reform, but certainly via the prioritisation of EU citizens and their direct relationship with the EU. 

I certainly feel that EU legislation must change. It must speak to EU citizens, it must reveal why the EU legislates and what it is trying to achieve, it must clearly state the rights awarded to EU citizens or the obligations imposed on them, and it must introduce criteria of effectiveness and ultimately accountability that can persuade EU citizens to opt in to EU regulation and EU legislation. I firmly believe that a citizen centred EU legislation can establish a direct dialogue between the EU and its citizens, can enhance loyalty and trust to the EU and its lawmakers, and ultimately can enhance sustainable integration.

What is your favourite UCL Europe Blog?

I have been reading the blog since it started, as the main anti-Brexit publication. But my more recent favourite is the series on EU values. I particularly enjoy reading the approach to EU values from different colleagues from different disciplines, different countries, different perspectives. I think that the series reflects the strengths of the blog, which are its openness, its inclusivity, its multi- and trans-disciplinarity, and its multiculturalism. It does make one proud to contribute to the blog, and proud to be at UCL.ism. It does make one proud to contribute to the blog, and proud to be at UCL.

Read Helen's latest blog post here