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Mercator's project manager Cor van der Meer retires

His position as project manager of the Mercator European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning took Cor van der Meer all over the world. For twenty years, he dedicated himself to regional and minority languages, happily using the Frisian situation as a laboratory of multilingualism. He did his best to bring Europe to Fryslân and Fryslân to Europe. Now the time has also come for him to say goodbye to his working life. "It takes getting used to, you only retire once."

Cor van der Meer

"The work I did here was right up my street," Cor van der Meer says in his office in the Coulon House in Leeuwarden. "I've been to Siberia, Australia, South America. Then you come to realise that Frisian is not alone. There are similar situations everywhere and together you can look for answers."

He keeps fond memories of trips with the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe). "I loved that. With delegations to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Montenegro, Kosovo, Ukraine. All hotbeds of potential problems, because minorities are not given enough space there. With the OSCE, we then tried to increase respect between the groups with silent democracy."



Two decades ago, Van der Meer switched from NIWI, the Dutch institute for scientific information services in Amsterdam, to the Fryske Akademy. First on a secondment basis, later in permanent employment. "And I never left," says the project leader.

"When I came here, we had a small team with part-time staff. We also received very little subsidy from Europe. It even looked like the subsidy for Mercator would disappear, but I saw opportunities for survival. Colleague Durk Gorter, who was my actual boss then and is now a professor at the University of the Basque Country, inspired me to persevere. In 2005 and 2006, I sought many financial pots and made presentations to keep Mercator afloat. And I am proud that I succeeded. After that, we were also able to grow."

As project manager of the research centre, Van der Meer was always looking for external funding. "I like to have the numbers in order. Making the connection between finances and the projects, I think that's great work to do." Yet he was always more the manager than content expert, in his own words. "When I came here, I did intend to have enough time to do my PhD. Durk Gorter would then be my supervisor. But it was too busy. Mercator's funding had to be secured and all my time went into management. Durk left for the Basque Country in 2007 and after that it just didn't happen."

Cor van der Meer en Itesh Sachdev


Van der Meer is happy that in the current Mercator team, PhD colleagues are guiding novice researchers in writing blogs and articles for scientific journals and websites. "The latest new contributors are well versed in the subject matter. The scientific content has really become more important over the years." In this context, he also mentions the important cooperation with the province and the role Mercator takes as an intermediary and connector of research and daily practice. "That there is a demand in society, that we can give a young researcher the chance to carry out the project and that he or she then also publishes or obtains a PhD. Great, I really think that is a wonderful process."

Van der Meer sees a positive future for Mercator. Mercator has a good reputation in Europe and is part of networks such as NPLD, FUEN and ELEN. "Our studies are value for money," Van der Meer explains. "We are a reliable project partner and are often asked by other parties to participate in European project applications." He stresses that it is not his merit, but that of the entire Mercator team. "Everywhere I go, people read our monthly Mercator Network Newsletter and researchers derive status from their cooperation in our Regional Dossiers."



Still, it was hard work to be taken seriously in the Netherlands too. "Within academia, Mercator was often seen as 'just a little project'. It was thought that we only cost money, but we actually brought in a lot of money." This only really became apparent when the European Union's Erasmus+ programme started in 2014. "Since then, we have brought in a lot of big projects and project money. Our goal for the coming years is also to apply for at least one Erasmus project every year."

But now that Van der Meer's tally is also close to 67, he will no longer be pulling the cart when writing the new applications. "I may still spend a few hours a week advising and handling and transferring cases until spring," he says. 23 December 2023 was his first state pension day. "It takes getting used to. You only retire once. I have already been sent three book ideas and I have also been asked to join various networks. But I did agree with myself to take it easy for the first few months."



He will miss Mercator, though. "I met people all over Europe. Some have become friends who have been to my house. I'm going to miss it all though, the excitement, working with the team." Van der Meer praises the atmosphere among the staff. "The group feeling was important to me. We have a young team and I feel I have stayed young myself by working with young researchers." Van der Meer bids farewell to the Fryske Akademy as a satisfied man. "I never had any regrets. It had to be this way."