In this series, we introduce the researchers of the Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives.

Paolo Amorosa is a post-doctoral researcher in EuroStorie’s subproject 1, Law and the Uses of the Past that explores the emergence of the idea of a shared legal past in Europe as a key to future integration. His background lies in law. Paolo’s research focuses primarily on the relationship between law and religion, legal theory, human rights and the history of international law in the 20th century.

Originally, Paolo comes from Southern Italy, but at the age of eleven his family moved to Tuscany, in search of a quieter and simpler life. He graduated as a Master of Laws from the University of Siena – not too far away, from Montepulciano, where he grew up as a teenager. Coming from a family, where nearly everyone has studied jurisprudence, Paolo never seriously considered other options than to study law. He could have worked as a lawyer, but it was relatively early on that he discovered it wasn’t for him. Instead, he became interested in legal history and international law. After graduation, he did another Master of Laws at the University of Leiden, in the Netherlands, with a special focus on international law.

Before deciding that he wanted to work in the Academia, Paolo worked in many different places, including the European Law Students’ Association in Brussels and the Italian Embassy to the Holy See in Rome. For one year, he also taught international law and human rights at the law school of Tallinn University of Technology. While still in Tallinn, Paolo noticed a new research group funded by the Academy of Finland and led by Martti Koskenniemi – “the most recognized initiator of critical legal studies in international law” and his intellectual model in many ways. Having read some writings of Koskenniemi for the first time years before, he found himself fascinated by them, as they were something very different from the traditional study of international law. “The research of Koskenniemi was on a meta-level compared to the black-letter international law works I was used to then.” According to Paolo, he established a new way to approach international legal theory and spoke very openly about the politics and philosophy of international law.

Paolo applied and was accepted to do his doctoral thesis in Koskenniemi’s project, called History of International Law, Religion and Empire. Besides law, he had always been extremely interested in history and had already examined the relationship between law and religion in his bachelor and master’s theses. He sought to bring all these aspects together in his dissertation, titled, The American Project and the Politics of History, James Brown Scott and the Origins of International Law. With it, Paolo wanted to investigate the history of international law in the USA, and how legal thinking contributed to the self-understanding of the country as a superpower. He examined how international law scholarship developed together with the rising power of the United States from the beginning of the 20th century till the beginning of the World War II. Together with his research group, he also edited a collective book called International Law and Religion: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, published by Oxford University Press.

Paolo defended his dissertation in April and relatively soon afterwards began working in EuroStorie. His idea is to look at certain European political and legal thinkers and try to understand their work by surveying the historical narrative that they used in order to justify their legal proposals. His research will focus especially on the ideas of Altiero Spinelli, who is considered to be one of the founding fathers of the European Union as the author of The Ventotene Manifesto (1941), a key political document envisioning a European federation while World War II was still raging.

Spinelli wrote the manifesto together with Ernesto Rossi, while they were on a forced exile on the small island of Ventotene, where the Italian fascist government had placed them as political prisoners. In it, they sketched the principles and procedures in order to create a free and united Europe in the post-war world. Their claim was that European federalism (as well as world federalism) would work as a way to prevent future wars. “The Spirit of Ventotene” formula is still often used in speeches and in the media, when it comes to reclaiming and relaunching the European project and the project of European integration. As an example of this, Paolo mentions that just after the Brexit vote in 2016, the leaders of Italy, France and Germany decided to meet symbolically on Ventotene to reaffirm their commitment to the European integration.

According to Paolo, Ventotene has become something of a vague watchword, which does not always reflect knowledge of the actual ideas the Manifesto consisted of. “It is quite a left-wing, almost a Leninist type of document that speaks of European integration as the outcome of a revolution. “ It called for a new political system through restructuring of politics and extensive social reforms. As anti-fascists and liberal socialists, Spinelli and Rossi wished that the post-war Europe would mean more social justice and more freedom – and not just either or. They wanted to find a third way instead of the two extremes occurring in the Cold War that they saw coming.

Paolo aims to reconstruct and recapture the Ventotene Manifesto as it really was, in its historical context instead of looking at it as some mythical document. He shall also look at the ideas of Piero Calamandrei, a lawyer and supporter of European integration, with whom Spinelli was working in order to create a constitution for Europe. Calamandrei tried to translate his and Spinelli’s political ideas into legal documents. However, their constitutional endeavor failed and instead of the strong political union they aimed at, the European integration took more of a functionalist path that emphasized administrative and economic functions.

By looking at the early European constitutionalism and the debates around it, Paolo would like to relaunch the European project today. “We no longer have strong European narratives and the European project is in crisis.” As nationalism and even fascism are rising again, he would like to strengthen the European identity and unity through his research. Like Spinelli and Calamandrei, Paolo too believes that Europe would work better, if it would not be just about free market and administrative functions, but rather first and foremost a political community beyond nationalism. Even though he is critical of some of the directions that the EU has taken lately, he believes in Europe and hopes that the European project would succeed.

What Paolo sees as one of the biggest problems that the EU is facing today, is the polarization of the political discourse, where people are either with something or against it. If someone dares to criticize the EU, he or she is immediately labeled as a populist. For example, the Brexit vote proved that especially those Europeans, who are at the weakest position in a society, tend to see the EU and its integration aims merely as a machinery of the wealthy and powerful elites that show no interest in their sentiments or sorrows.

“I think that part of the problem is that we don’t try hard enough to understand the discomfort and the real problems of people that are on the bad ends of growing inequality. We tend to demonize them instead, sidestepping the legitimate political issues that found their protests and grievances. Of course, we should oppose divisive and dangerous positions or the politicians that foster them for political capital, but without forgetting the real injustices that lead to distrust towards our institutions. That’s why I don’t really like the indiscriminate use of the word populism common nowadays: it invites polarization and simplified political thinking rather than defusing them. It’s also turning the concept of people, which should be the very basis of our democracies, into something negative and to be afraid of.”