Daniel Pecina-Lopez: a man with a mission to bring EU dialogue to SIPA

Maria Martinez Romero | SIPA Class of 2018

World leaders identify problems, find solutions and exert their will to make the world a better place. Daniel Pecina-Lopez came to SIPA to learn how to find the correct solutions to the current economic and political issues of his country, Spain, and the European Union. He is a strong proponent of the EU, and is convinced by the opportunities of peace, development and prosperity that come with multilateralism.

When Daniel started his studies at SIPA, he noticed that his enthusiasm for the European project was not shared by the student community. It was for this reason that he decided to create the Columbia European Union Student Association (CEUSA). After just one semester, the association counts more than 150 members in Orgsync, more than organizations with many years of history in SIPA, and has become one of the most active platforms in our School. SIPA is now gripped by an enthusiasm for the European Union.

Daniel hails from Briones, a village of less than 800 people in La Rioja, the most important wine region in Spain. Naturally, he comes from a long line of grape farmers involved in the wine industry. His family is proud of its son, as he is the first of his lineage to study at university; and he didn’t just study. He excelled. Daniel received an award for the First National Prize for the best academic performance in Spain for his Bachelor degree in Information Sciences at Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Spain).  Following this, he got a full scholarship to attend the University of Oxford Brookes (U.K) to complete a Master of Science.

When the economic crisis of 2008 hit Spain, Daniel decided that he wanted to dedicate his career to the public sector in order to make a positive direct impact in people’s lives. In doing so, he worked in the Economic Development Agency of La Rioja in the international trade promotion and facilitation department. Following this, Daniel also worked in the Consulate of Spain in Hong Kong, in the Embassy of Spain in Mexico and in the Embassy of South Korea in Spain, focusing mainly on trade and investments between those countries and Spain. After these experiences, he was equipped to further his career and was accepted into the prestigious Diplomatic School of Spain in order to pursue a Diploma in European Union Studies.

Daniel wants to improve European public policies to further the prosperity of Europe. In order to make this possible, he needed the highest quality training in economic development and international cooperation. In 2015 he started his MIA at SIPA bringing with him this passion for the EU. Unfortunately, he found a sad surprise. People did not share his enthusiasm. “Every time the EU was mentioned, it was to highlight negative things,” says Daniel. “The EU was associated with bureaucracy, over-regulation and the Euro crisis.”

This motivated Daniel to diversify the views of the EU at SIPA. “I wanted to listen to a more realistic and complete discourse about the EU, something less biased, more positive and fresh,” says Daniel. He was convinced about the need to create a platform of political discussion for people who believed in the values of the European project in the way that he does. He took the lead and started working hard to create CEUSA. “Someone has to take the first step, to do something new that generates change,” Daniel tells The Morningside Post.

Columbia University had no forum which focused its discussion mainly on the European Union, which Daniel believes to be the most sophisticated form of multilateralism. He started working in April 2016 to create what he wanted to be a platform to discuss European Union policies. “CEUSA has a political essence, it is more than a regional association,” says Daniel. Coming from Spain, he gives great value to all the opportunities that the EU brought to his country. In times of crisis, people tend to forget these advances. For Daniel, now more than ever, it is high time to remember the potential for development that the EU offers.

With the help of some deans and some of his closest friends, the initial creation of the association was easy. The first challenge for Daniel was finding people willing to participate when the association was launched in September 2016. “There were many European but poor interest in the EU,” recognizes Daniel. He is certain that people who attend SIPA do not usually want to pursue a career in the European institutions. These students prefer to pursue Master’s degrees in European universities in order to create a network in the area and get a highly specialized training. However, eventually, Daniel attracted many people to the project and after just 4 months the group already has 130 members in Orgsync.

But this was not enough for him. Daniel wanted to create an environment of discussion beyond SIPA. He reached out to the other European associations in Columbia, in the Law School and the Business School and also the Columbia European Institute (CES). Then the project became even bigger when CEUSA joined European Horizons, a network of European student association of 35 US and European Universities, including all Ivy League Schools.

Daniel also wanted to see more courses about the European Union in SIPA, which could be useful for people who want to pursue a career in diplomacy or even to prepare for the EPSO examination (the civil service entrance exam at the EU). With the help of SIPA´s European Specialization, the European Institute and the International Organizations Specialization, now SIPA students have a wider variety of courses about the EU. This semester SIPA is offering a new course, EU and diplomacy, taught by Pierre Vermont.

CEUSA held elections in November to choose a new board, as many members finished their master’s degrees in December. Now CEUSA has a board of 10 new members. “They are all very active and I am very proud of them,” says Daniel. He wants CEUSA to continue growing in order to be one more asset of SIPA and Columbia University. “It could be great if SIPA could become a reference for future European leaders, interested not only in transatlantic relationships but also in European public policies.” Daniel eventually has to leave SIPA after finishing his Master’s degree; yet, he can be proud to know that he leaves behind a legacy of CEUSA.

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