Student spotlight: Tania Lessenska (MPP 2022)

Check out an interview with our 2020 Future of Europe Scholarship recipient.

Tania Lessenska is currently enrolled in the Hertie School's Master of Public Policy programme. Originally from Bulgaria, Tania is the current recipient of the Future of Europe Scholarship, awarded to students who demonstrate exceptional academic or professional interest in European cooperation. She arrived in Berlin just in time to attend a few classes on campus before the latest lockdown. At the moment she is working on her first podcast that will interview policymakers and experts on their personal and professional path in the field. The podcast will launch in spring. Find out more about Tania's interests and experience in the interview below.

What were you doing before starting your studies in the fall?

I was a programme coordinator at the European Council on Foreign Relations for the last three years. My responsibility was to bring life to our projects related to the Western Balkans, Turkey, and the Sofia office. I managed events in different formats, coordinated our research, and supported the team with ideas and project reporting. My beginning there coincided with the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. As the ECFR Sofia office, we contributed to the Presidency's priorities related to the Western Balkans. We also organized the think tank event segment in the margins of the EU-Western Balkans Summit. Both events were crucial since they put the Western Balkans back on the EU agenda for the first time since the Summit in Thessaloniki in 2003. Towards the end, I also worked on two publications – on the green light of EU negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia and the effects of COVID-19 on politics in the Western Balkans.

Why did you choose the MPP programme?

During my Erasmus exchange in my bachelor's, I had a class on the Economics of the Public Sector. I delved in-depth into the impact of public service delivery systems – healthcare, public transport and spaces, pensions – on people's quality of life. It made me think of the opportunities to improve these systems in Bulgaria through better resource management. That would make the country more attractive for its own citizens and those that have emigrated. Some topics I would like to dedicate my time to include: optimizing public service delivery, bringing forward new approaches, tailoring delivery to different needs, and empowering public servants to work within a reliable system. I hope that I can contribute to a positive change in public service delivery one day.

Which MPP concentration will you choose and why?

During the application process, I was leaning towards the Management and Organization concentration. I kept an open mind and explored the other option in the first semester, but I chose to stay with my original choice. I want to build on my existing coordination and management skills, and I am interested in what makes different organizations tick. Whether private or public, there is always room for improvement.

What motivates you about European cooperation, and in what ways do you plan to pursue these interests during your master's – and afterward?

I find the complexity of European cooperation genuinely fascinating. It can be such a powerful tool, for example, in the purchase and delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, where a lot of smaller states would not have been able to negotiate the necessary doses in such a short period on their own. Yet it is also fragile – like the rift between member states when trying to agree on a common approach to the refugee crisis.

Without EU membership or perspective, smaller states that lack resources may find themselves drawn to greater powers' undue influence. Additionally, in the EU context, smaller states have the opportunity to create coalitions with other member states on common interests. I find this aspect in most topics I work on in my studies. Recently, while working on an assignment for my Employment and Welfare class at Hertie, I saw the significance of European cooperation in the deep integration of labour policy initiatives when working on youth unemployment in Sweden. Perhaps in the future, I will have the opportunity to highlight the importance of involving member states that are usually in the periphery of EU policymaking.

In your opinion, what is the most important issue the EU needs to solve?

The most urgent one right now is coming out of the COVID-19 crisis this year. The sooner we bring down the number of cases, the sooner we can start our economic recovery. In the last couple of years, there has been a lot of discussion on the EU's place in the world arena and its sovereignty and independence in different areas such as security. Yet, the EU can address such aspirations only once we are out of the crisis.

What has been the best part of Berlin so far, and do you have any favorite spots in the city already?

I enjoyed visiting Berlin's lakes in the summer and still make one-day trips even during winter. However, I was very impressed with the Botanic Garden, which I first saw on a Hertie-organized visit. I always try to visit the botanical gardens when I'm in a new city, but I had no idea Berlin had the fourth biggest one in the world! It was truly magical.


Are you a prospective MPP or MIA student passionate about European affairs? Apply to the Future of Europe Scholarship by 1 February.

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