Guenter Burghardt Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The European Union and Transatlantic Relations: Conversation with Ambassador Guenter Burghardt, Head of the European Commission's Delegation to the United States: 3/7/02 by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Background

Ambassador Burghardt, welcome to Berkeley.

I'm delighted to be here.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in what is now a part of Poland, and raised in Northern Germany, essentially. I'm part of the migration of European peoples which has always taken place over the centuries in Europe, my ancestors having come at the end of the eighteenth century from Western Rhineland into what was then Austrian Galicia, which is now Western Ukraine. My parents were the seventh generation to have lived there and been born there, and then under the effects of the Hitler-Stalin Agreement of 1939, having to move out, because that part, which was then Poland, became part of the Soviet Union. They were moved into what became the German part of Poland during the Second World War. And that's where I was born.

Does this family history that you just described point you in the direction of seeing all of Europe as one?

Absolutely. I had no problems after 1989 and 1990 to understand fully that Ukraine, for instance, is a part of Central Europe.

Was this a perception that your parents instilled in you also?

Yes, my parents lived in a community of people which was very multicultural, multinational. There were Polish people, Russian people, Rutanians, Ukrainians, Germans, Austrians, Jews. It's really one of those parts of Europe where a kind of melting pot had taken place of many populations coming from all kinds of destinations. And they lived in peace. The only reason why there was trouble was that there were other forces out there who changed frontiers and fought for the territory.

You are trained as a lawyer, right?

I'm trained as a lawyer, yes.

And your career, once you got your law degree, was to enter the European Commission.

That was my choice. I had many options as a fully trained lawyer. In Germany, you have many options. You can go into government, you can go into diplomacy, you can join business, you can join a university. In fact, I immediately joined the university; I was an assistant professor in Hamburg in European and Constitutional Law. From there, I took the decision to join the European Commission, because for me, that was the most challenging job available.

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