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Discovering your own voice

Discovering your own voice

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/Simone Golob

Anniek de Ruijter inspired by Deirdre Curtin

She was the first lawyer to win the Spinoza Prize, the most prestigious scientific award in the Netherlands, in 2009. Professor Deirdre Curtin has spunk, has always gone her own way, off the beaten track. That is what makes her an example for Anniek de Ruijter, assistant professor of European Law.

De Ruijter (33) works at the Faculty of Law, on a project focussing on the ‘Europeanization’ of national judging practice. She did a PhD on EU Health Law, in a field that is also off the beaten track. It does not come under national law, and there is not much to study on a European level, say the critics. After all, the EU has limited jurisdiction in the field of health and too little budget. Yet by now there is an international community of experts, who show that the EU constantly interferes with health law and policies. This even has implications for fundamental human rights.

De Ruijter gives an example. Imagine, the doctor states that you have the Zika virus, or some other international disease. He then doesn’t just collect information about you and your disease, but also about people with whom you have been in physical contact recently, and the people with whom they have been in contact. Your GP then supplies that information to national institutions, who in turn may send it on to European organisations. “Many people don’t know that there is a direct line between EU politics and their own bodies. I tried to expose this in my PhD research using several cases.”

Professor Deirdre Curtin, who recently switched from the University of Amsterdam to the famous European University Institute, was De Ruijter’s supervisor. “Curtin has high expectations. She wants you to write your own book, to make your own contribution to science and not imitate what the professor thinks. She encourages you to go and find your own voice. You have to discover that yourself, which is the reason why she sometimes lets you flounder. But if you find yourself on the wrong road, she will let you know in no uncertain terms. At the same time she is very involved.”

Curtin is first and foremost a scientist, says De Ruijter, who is also active on a social level. “It is quite common for lawyers in the US to devote time to social issues, for a criminal justice professor to be involved in, for example, an ‘innocence project’. I am the chairperson of the board of the Clara Wichman Proefprocessenfonds (test case fund), the aim of which is to improve the legal position of women. The fund was a party in the SGP case (about women being able to put themselves up for election in the Christian political party SGP, ed.), but also works for the rights of self-employed pregnant women or student mothers.”

She is also involved with the action group Women on Waves. “For a while now, we have had the rule in Europe that drugs prescribed in one member state must be available in every other member state. In this case, medication that can bring on a miscarriage is available in the Netherlands, but cannot be prescribed in Ireland. This is not in line with European law, but it is with Irish law. What does that mean exactly? This is the kind of research in which I see direct social relevance.”

Until recently, De Ruijter worked at the University of Amsterdam, but she now lives in Maastricht and in Heiloo. “It takes three hours by train and you don’t need to change. Besides I can work well in the train. I came to Maastricht especially because this faculty is a leader in the field of European Law. Really, by far the best faculty for European Law in the Netherlands.”

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