Maria PICHOU's testimonial
Maria PICHOU, postdoc
University of Luxembourg, Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance, Greek, married
1. What was your main reason for coming to Luxembourg?
I received an AFR-Marie Curie Cofund grant to conduct postdoctoral research at the University of Luxembourg, at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance. It is unfortunate that this FNR – AFR postdoc program has been terminated now.
2. Since when are you living in Luxembourg?
I have been living in Luxembourg for 4 years, since September 2012.
3. What kind of research are you doing in Luxembourg? Tell me please a bit about your work.
My Marie-Curie FNR postdoctoral research at the University of Luxembourg relates to a project on the role that national courts play in the development of international criminal law rules. This project has provided me with the opportunity to investigate the interpretative work and impact of domestic case-law of various national jurisdictions in order to determine the ways that national courts can enhance the application of international criminal law norms.
Since the end of my Marie-Curie project, I work at the University as an institutional postdoctoral researcher on human rights law, refugee law and continue my projects in international criminal law. As I was already investigating the interaction between national and international legal orders, I have had an excellent opportunity to expand my research scope not only in the field of international criminal law but also to human rights law. I also collaborated with professors at the University of Luxembourg on projects such as publishing on the protection and guarantees of human dignity in Luxembourg and co-organizing an international conference on the protection of Syrian refugees, funded by the UNHCR and FNR.
During the course of my projects, I was particularly interested in the interaction between the national, European and international legal frameworks and the ways to overcome any normative conflicts between them.
I taught ‘Use of Force and Law of Armed Conflict’ for the Masters program at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance, I assisted in coaching the Jessup and the Rene Cassin Moot Courts’ students teams and co-taught Public International Law when necessary.
Currently, I am a visiting professional at the International Criminal Court, at the Appeals Chamber. Finally, I am the legal adviser of Luxembourg Red Cross, working there on a voluntary basis and I represent the national society at the European Legal Support Group of ICRC, Federation and national societies each year.
4. What obstacles you had to face before your arrival in Luxembourg?
The main obstacle was finding an apartment. The housing situation in Luxembourg for people who have a ‘Contrat à durée determinée’ (a fixed-term contract) are far from being ideal. The law in Luxembourg favors excessively and unjustifiably the house owners. There is a shortage of affordable accommodation and the perspectives of buying a property are very slim, unless you work for the EU institutions or have a CDI (a permanent contract), and even then the prices are prohibitive. Moreover, the terms in the rental agreements are sometimes ridiculously biased in favor of the owner, since they contain no provisions on any obligations on the part of the owner.
Furthermore, the real estate agencies are indifferent to assisting the tenants and their fees are extremely high, compared to countries like Netherlands for example.
I was fortunate enough to find a good apartment through a friend who was leaving and the house owner turned out to be very good. But I hear and witness ‘horror stories’ from colleagues and friends.
The security deposit, required for rental, amounting sometimes up to three rents, is also very peculiar and only exists in Luxembourg.
5. What were the biggest challenges you had to deal with after your arrival?
Apart from the housing, which I described above, the tax system is very unclear, slow (18 months to receive a confirmation of receipt of tax declaration along with an additional bill), and very unfair for postdoctoral researchers. The University withholds taxes at the source but then the tax authorities require a submission of tax declaration every year, which results in huge tax bills (10.000 euros for one year for two postdocs living in the same household) with a huge delay in processing the return. Such a tax system ends up reducing the researchers’ salary dramatically. It is also extremely difficult for a researcher to reduce the taxable income through deductions, because what they allow is extremely limited and does not make sense.
Additionally, the Luxembourg labor law, allowing CDD (fixed-term contracts) for a maximum of five years at the same institution, promotes job insecurity for young researchers and high turnover. Looking for the next position constantly inhibits researchers from dedicating themselves completely to their research.The Research Institution loses also important human capital, by investing in employees who then go to other institutions.
6. What role did Euraxess play in this whole process (in the process of your settlement in Luxembourg)? Describe your experience with Euraxess Luxembourg.
I am extremely satisfied from my experience with Euraxess. First, I found the grant on the Euraxess webpage and I applied afterwards. Second, the guide on Luxembourg I was provided with was very helpful. The people working for Euraxess Luxembourg have always been very close to the researchers. Euraxess Luxembourg is doing a fine job assisting people like me and they are always available for consultation to deal with any problems that may arise.
7. What is the best thing about living / working in Luxembourg and why?
The working conditions are very good. The opportunities provided by my current position are excellent. For example, I had the opportunity to work for the International Criminal Court as a visiting professional and as a Researcher from Luxembourg, promoting the University and career perspectives. Additional benefits are the freedom to conduct research, the administrative and financial support to conduct research, the people with whom I have had the opportunity to collaborate. The multinational character of the University is also a huge advantage. Luxembourg is in a very good location geographically, making it easy to travel wherever is necessary. The safety and the security that living in Luxembourg provides are equally appealing.
8. What was surprising for you when you moved to Luxembourg?
The size of the country and of the population, being very small, still surprises me. The language issues arising for example when reading local legislation and ministerial decrees (being sometimes in two languages) were unexpected.
9. What is the main difference between Luxembourg and your country of origin?
The weather is completely different. Some summers in Luxembourg are practically inexistent and it seems that from spring we go to autumn. The openness and the hospitality of the local society are different. How early all the stores and cafes, restaurants close is completely unexpected.
10. What do you miss from your home country?
My family, my friends. Being close to the Mediterranean Sea, having the sun on my face, the magical light that bathes everything around in my home country, the way of living, the cuisine.
11. What has Luxembourg given you professionally and personally?
Professionally, Luxembourg has provided me with great opportunities. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from all over the world and increase my employability. Personally, Luxembourg has provided me with the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends.
12. What about your future plans in Luxembourg or abroad?
My plan is to continue in academics and obtain tenure-track position at the University here or abroad.