Two aspects attracted her to the professorship at the University of Erfurt, says Jelena von Achenbach: Firstly, that it is a professorship not only dedicated to public law, but also to the foundations of law. "My research on law, theory and practice of democracy, constitution and open statehood is basic research on public law, with many interdisciplinary references. So I can fully identify with the professorship." In addition, there is the environment: "The Faculty of Economics, Law and Social Sciences is an ideal interdisciplinary forum for research and teaching, allowing me to contribute my research approach, broaden my perspectives and collaborate across disciplines. Especially in the field of democracy and constitutional studies, the faculty is really outstanding with different, complementary research approaches."
Born in Hagen, she had previously only known Erfurt from a flying visit as an expert in the Thuringian State Parliament. But even during this first short visit she really liked "the fact that the Gera meanders through the city and that there are nice little squares with cafés and ice cream parlors." Now Jelena von Achenbach is looking forward to discovering even more of the city and also the surrounding area. The new professor comes to Erfurt from Gießen. There she held an assistant professorship for public law at the Justus Liebig University. And she also habilitated there in 2022 – with a thesis on legal issues of EU defence policy. After studying in Passau and Leipzig, she received her doctorate from the University of Heidelberg in 2011, after writing her doctoral dissertation on the European Parliament at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law. In 2014, she earned a Master of Laws at New York University.
Jelena von Achenbach is passionate about her subject: "Public law organises and structures our constitutional democracy. Constitutional and administrative law shape the democratic institutions – this is a politically-practically relevant and dynamic field of research that opens up references to political theory, sociology, political science and history. I am particularly interested in questions of civic equality, such as in electoral law, in the area of prohibitions of discrimination and equal rights, but also in questions of democratic decision-making and the separation of powers, as well as administrative law. Topics I am currently working on include, for example, the right of enquiry of the "Bundestag", the reform of federal electoral law, the development of the European Parliament, administrative organisation, discretion, constitutional issues of defence, global vaccine distribution in the COVID pandemic and the protection of democratic institutions against authoritarian populist forces."
Whether there is one person who has particularly influenced or inspired her in her academic career, we ask the new colleague. It was not that one person, she answers, but "a dense, indispensable network of colleagues with whom I have been exchanging ideas for many years and from whom I learn, especially through contradiction and criticism." A particularly important academic partner for many years has been Jürgen Bast from Gießen, who also supervised her habilitation. "And of course academic works are also formative and inspiring for my own work, e.g. Hans Kelsen's 'Vom Wesen und Wert der Demokratie' and Jürgen Habermas' 'Faktizität und Geltung'."
Erfurt students can now look forward to courses that also cover Jelena von Achenbach's research topics. From the winter semester 23/24 onwards, these will probably be courses on the topic of "democracy under pressure" and "defensible democracy", on the historical foundations of law, on the human right to health in and after the pandemic or on the political system of the European Union. "And of course I also look at what the students are particularly interested in and try to include that in the courses." Because the exchange with the students is very important to her.
Sounds like a very busy woman. Is there still time for private things? "Yes, of course," says von Achenbach and laughs: "I play in sandboxes, climb on climbing frames, hop on the trampoline and go out for ice cream or cake: My free time is mainly at the command of my little son."
We are happy to know that she is now with us and say: Welcome to the University of Erfurt!