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Roads to Europe

Few people know that the European Court of Auditors (ECA) was founded by a member of the Bavarian CSU. But that is set to change, now that the ECA itself has published Laura Ulrich’s Master’s thesis in an English translation.


Laura Ulrich is now an excellent auditor – in theory – but “certainly not in practice,” she cheerfully admits. For Laura learned all she knows about the subject of auditing in the course of her research for her Master’s thesis at LMU’s Institute of Bavarian History! The rather unusual theme of her thesis forced her to become acquainted with a range of fields that were initially unfamiliar to her, such as auditing, budgetary controls and the history of European integration. “To be honest, in the beginning, I didn’t find the topic all that exciting. But one of the joys of studying history is that one picks up so much along the way,” she says

Book presentation in Luxembourg
Laura is just back from Luxembourg, where she took part in the conference that accompanied the presentation of the English version of her Master’s thesis, “Roads to Europe: Heinrich Aigner and the Genesis of the European Court of Auditors” at the seat of the ECA itself. For the ECA was so impressed by the study that the agency arranged to have the original text translated into English and published by the Publications Office of the European Union. The genesis of the thesis deserves a chapter to itself. When Laura returned from a semester at Cambridge University, she began to look for a suitable subject for her Master’s thesis, in consultation with her supervisor Professor Ferdinand Kramer. Kramer’s attention had been drawn to the personal archive of Heinrich Aigner, who was “reputedly” responsible for the foundation of the ECA. The very word ‘reputedly’ implied that there were questions to be asked, and Laura had found the problem she wanted to solve: “In modern times, can a single individual really be accredited with the foundation of an institution?”

“Aigner was a very conservative politician, which made it easy for me to maintain the necessary professional distance from my protagonist. Nevertheless, I came to regard him as an interesting personality. Aigner was a man with very strong convictions, for which he was willing to fight, even when his views made him unpopular with the leadership of his party or were unlikely to further his political career,” Laura explains. Her study focuses on three issues. Why did Aigner – a native of Amberg – decide to devote himself, as a young member of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), to what was at the time such a novel and wide-ranging issue as European integration? What sort of role did he play as member of the European Parliament? How did he become a leading advocate for the delegation of greater powers of budgetary control to the European Parliament and – ultimately – the prime mover in the foundation of the ECA? Aigner was convinced of the necessity for careful management of public finances, and realized that this was indispensable if public acceptance of, and support for the European project was to be maintained and extended – a task which was not always easy back home in Bavaria, as Laura points out. “My research demonstrates that, at the very least, Aigner can be regarded as the initiator of the ECA. He was involved in all stages of the process that led to its realization, but, in the end, not all of his ideas were implemented.”

Mining the archives in Florence
In the course of her research into Heinrich Aigner’s biography, Laura interviewed people who knew him and, in addition to his own papers, she consulted archival material held in Munich, Amberg and in the Archive of the European Union in Florence. Going to Florence and then sitting indoors all day may sound more like punishment, “but the Archives close every day at 4 in the afternoon – so I did have some time to enjoy what Florence has to offer,” Laura retorts!

Luckily, working in the archives is one aspect of the historian’s job that Laura particularly enjoys. “I think it’s great that you can search for information on your own if there are no published sources relating to the subject of interest. She does, however, admit that she could have spent more time in the archives when she was at Trinity College, Cambridge. “Studying at Cambridge was like immersing myself in a different world. At an English college, students are embedded in an established system of tuition and supervision. When not at work, one can participate in the activities of the many student societies, which range from debating to playing polo. And the evening meal is served in the venerable Dining Hall – a bit like in Hogwarts. On the other hand, one learns to appreciate the advantages offered by the German university system – greater autonomy, and lots more practical work in the archives.” For Laura, who comes from Upper Bavaria, Munich was an ideal base. After all, the city is home to the Bavarian State Archive, the Municipal Archive and the Bavarian Archive for Business and Economics.

In the end, Laura distilled the results of her trawls through the archives into a 120-page manuscript, supplemented by an appendix. Professor Kramer was so impressed by the work that he advised her to publish it. And after the manuscript had gone through two rounds of peer review, Laura had her first book on the market, in both German (“Wege nach Europa”) and English. She now has her eyes on her next goal – her doctoral thesis, which is devoted to the social consequences of the regulations governing the recognition of marriages in 19th-century Bavaria. In those days, people who wanted to marry required a residence qualification – which many poor people could not afford to obtain. “I’m not interested in the role of the authorities or in the legal formalities, but in their social repercussions, in their impact on the lives of individuals,” Laura explains. Keep an eye out for her next publication!


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