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European Union Center in Puerto Rico proposed

By John Collins (1)

The European Union (EU) has expressed interest in establishing a EU Center in Puerto Rico and, if approved, the venture would be eligible for an annual grant of $1 million for its operation, Dr. Ulrich Koenig, a former German official and lawyer spearheading the idea, told a preliminary planning meeting.

Koenig, who lived in Miami until recently, proposed the center in Puerto Rico after experience with a similar one in Miami which operates in conjunction with the University of Miami and Florida International University (FIU).

Formerly with Sara Lee Corp., Koenig was familiar with the important manufacturing sector in Puerto Rico. “Puerto Rico is safe and that is why a number of European firms have established bases here,” he said “It was in that connection that the idea to establish an EU center in Puerto Rico started.

Koenig was encouraged by the positive reception the idea got in business and academic circles in Puerto Rico. So he took it to Dr. Guenther Burghardt, the EU ambassador to the U.S. in Washington, who “enthusiastically” embraced it, he said. Koenig said that in later meetings at EU headquarters in Brussels he was “very encouraged” by how well the proposal was received and how knowledgeable many of the officials there were about Puerto Rico.

“The EU has launched an ambitious program to establish a network of centers in the U.S. to provide information and education about the EU,”  Koenig told a group of 20 representatives of the government, private sector and the consular corps at the meeting hosted by Jorge Gonzalez of McConnell Valdez.

In all 69 leading U.S. universities applied to be sites for such centers and from them 15 were chosen. Until now all of them are in universities including such outstanding institutions as the universities of California, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Oklahoma, Washington as Wisconsin. A number are hosted by more than one university like Miami, New York (New York University and City U. of New York) and Washington, D.C. (American U., George Mason U., George Washington U., Georgetown U. and Johns Hopkins U.)

Business and Caribbean components would make it different

In exploring the idea for an EU center in Puerto Rico, Koenig said “it came up over and over that there are two unique features about Puerto Rico  indicating  the approach here should be different. Because of the island’s massive economic base and its extensive trade and investment ties to European countries it was felt the participation of the private sector as well as academia were pivotal to the project’s success. In addition, the proximity of Puerto Rico to its neighbors in the Caribbean and its extensive trade, transportation  relations with the region were recognized.” Out of these discussions came a proposal of a “Puerto Rico Caribbean-EU Center” in San Juan.

Koenig has more than a passing acquaintance with Puerto Rico because he is married to Attorney Claribel Toro Hernandez of San Juan and they have five children. The couple have followed events in Puerto Rico together for more than 20 years.  

The Government of Spain is hosting the European-Latin American-Caribbean Summit in Madrid May 17/18, Koenig said. At it will be discussed the budget for the EU under which funding for the EU centers abroad is to be provided for the next three-year cycle beginning in 2004.

Koenig said the EU provides grants of $1 million each on an annual basis for the operating budgets of the centers. Required in advance from the local host committee is “seed money” estimated at $150,000 to $200,000, he explained.

To promote the proposal a Europe seminar has been scheduled in San Juan at the Marriott May 8 in connection with the celebration of Europe Day May 9, said Koenig. Invited to participate are EU Amb. Burghardt, EU Commissioner Pedro Salbes, European Central Bank vice president Christian Noyer, Banco Santander president Juan Arenedo, PRIDCO President William Riefkohl, Gonzalez of McConnell Valdez, Prof. Joaquin Roy (U. of Miami) and Dr. Jose F. Mendez (Ana G. Mendez System).

“The establishment of the EU Center in San Juan could be made at the May seminar,” said Koenig who also envisions a trade show in San Juan later in the year to promote the expansion of the Europe-Puerto Rico-Caribbean connection.

The proposal was generally received with cautious optimism by most of those in attendance at the preliminary meeting. “I would support this idea but I think it has to initially be started among a consortium of educational institutions like The U. of Puerto Rico, Inter-American U., Sacred Heart U., the Ana G. Mendez System and others,” said Dr. Jose F. Mendez. A number of participants expressed some concern over the short amount of time involved in reaching a decision on the matter. A subsequent meeting has been  scheduled to review various proposals to accelerate action on the proposal. 

April 1, 2002

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1) Other articles by the well known Caribbean author John collins can be read at:
www.pymesdominicanas.com

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