Vicki Birchfield (left) and Diane Alleva Cáceres at the opening of Georgia Tech's European Union center.

The Georgia Institute of Technology hosted members of Atlanta’s diplomatic, business and educational communities at a reception opening its European Union Center of Excellence Sept. 19.

The center will be a part of the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs and is to work with local consulates and organizations to conduct speaker series, arrange faculty and student exchanges, improve European curriculum and hold conferences on topics concerning the EU-U.S. relationship.

The EU’s representatives in Washington chose Georgia Tech as one of 11 U.S. universities to host a center.

The center’s organizers Vicki Birchfield, an associate professor in the Sam Nunn school, and Diane Alleva Cáceres, managing director of trade consulting firm Market Access International Inc., promoted the university’s strengths in science and technology to attract the center.

Because it is located in a technical school, the center is to examine how science and technology can be leveraged to solve issues like energy supply, particularly the viability of biofuels; economic competitiveness, especially small business development, and transportation issues.

The two main organizers and two graduate assistants wrote the nearly 200-page proposal that won Georgia Tech a center.  Dr. Birchfield will serve as the center’s director and Ms. Alleva Cáceres as associate director.

The distinction comes with a 300,000 euros, or $443,000, grant from the EU and another 100,000 euros, or $147,000, from the school.  The EU requires potential host institutions to agree to contribute one quarter of the center’s budget when submitting a proposal.

 Georgia Tech had a center from 1998-2004 run by the University System of Georgia, but the new one will be kept entirely in-house.

Anthony Smallwood, head of press and public diplomacy for the EU delegation in Washington, attended the opening.  He said Americans talk a lot about dealing with different European countries, but not much about dealing with the EU as a body.

“There is an enormous gap in general knowledge of how much Europe has changed in the last two decades,” he said.  “There is perhaps an unwillingness to recognize how important a robust trans-Atlantic relationship will be for both of us in confronting the challenges of a rapidly evolving post-Cold War world.”

 A number of Atlanta’s European honorary consuls and consuls general attended the opening at Georgia Tech’s College of Management.

 Many of the reception attendees had written letters of support for establishing a center at Georgia Tech when the center’s organizers submitted an application in July.  Former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn sent a letter of congratulations and Chris Young, the state’s chief of protocol, attended on behalf of Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Mr. Young spoke at the opening, conveying Mr. Perdue’s congratulations and emphasizing Georgia’s strong business ties to Europe.  The region is Georgia’s largest source of foreign direct investment, valued at $12.25 billion in 2007.

Mr. Young expressed confidence that the EU center will help create understanding between the state and its largest trading partner.

He recalled a trip to Northern Ireland in 2007 when the Georgia governor met with longtime political rivals Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin and Ian Paisley of the Democratic Unionist Party.

The two had formed a government only weeks before Mr. Perdue’s arrival, ending decades of violence between their Irish nationalist and British loyalist constituencies. 

Mr. Young said that the ability of those leaders to find common ground shows that accommodations can always be found through greater mutual understanding, and Georgia Tech’s new center will help build that between the U.S. and EU.

He also said that the state is continuing to build its European ties, as Mr. Perdue is traveling to Italy and Spain this week.