Legal analysis of European integration has largely been based on constitutional research focused on institutions. The Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives, established in the beginning of 2018, is employing a contrasting approach by studying European legal culture, values and ideals as narratives where themes such as common roots and national characteristics compete.
“Our aim is to investigate how the experience of the Holocaust and totalitarianism spurred European thinkers to construct the idea of a new Europe based on the rule of law and democracy, and how this thinking is still impacting EU operations,” says Associate Professor Kaius Tuori, Director of the Centre of Excellence.
The centre’s objective is to conduct research on the perception of Europe as narratives. From scholars’ viewpoint, people want to see stories as narratives, as the recent case of Brexit indicates.
“The centre of excellence's goal is to move away from the perspective that perceives the union as a political project to a wider viewpoint, focused on the reformation of various individual experiences into not only narratives, but also the building blocks of identity. Thus, individual experiences may be decisive in changing notions on such fundamental matters as legitimacy or rationality,” adds Tuori.
Weighing the unifying and divisive impact of Europe
The centre of excellence investigates long-term continua.
“One of the arguments we wish to explore relates to the concept of nation that was associated with 19th century nationalism. We want to find out the origins of this debate and how it came to include rationality and justice,” frames Tuori.
Another continuum under study is related to the examination of generations. According to Tuori, the first generation considered the reasons impelling Europe to unite. The next one contemplated the EU in a more critical manner, according to which the union is duplicating the same old nationalistic characteristics.
“We wish to start a new discussion, by the third generation, on why we need the EU – what keeps us apart and what unites us in Europe,” says Tuori.
In other words, the centre is addressing conflicts. According to Tuori, what is known as Europe's promise is being denied in its core regions.
The European narrative is in crisis within Europe but doing well elsewhere.
Operations of the centre of excellence have been divided into three subprojects. Under Tuori's leadership, the first project is focused on human rights thinking and its development.
“We are concentrating on what makes European unification the core of reasoning.”
The second project examines rationality and its crisis in the inter-war period, including how a new self-understanding emerged after the wars. This project is led by Pamela Slotte from the University of Helsinki.
The third subproject, led by Docent Reetta Toivanen from the University of Helsinki, is focused on migration and the refugee experience. The project includes fieldwork investigating the reasons that drive people to migrate to Europe to find whether they are purely economic.
“These interconnecting projects are not carried out in isolation. For example, human rights are linked with rationality,” Tuori points out.
The annual budget for the centre is approximately €1 million. Its operations will run until 2025, after which the intention is to merge it as part of the permanent operations of the University.
“The centre will become the only European studies unit operating in Finland,” says Tuori.