The Centre of Excellence in Law, Identity and the European Narratives is funded by the Research Council of Finland and is hosted by the University of Helsinki. It is located at the Centre of European Studies at the Faculty of Social Sciences. Administratively it is divided between the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Arts.

The dilemma on the current European crises is that popular support for the ideals behind the EU, such as human rights, equality and shared prosperity, has dropped inside the union, while migrants making their way into the union are seeking precisely that: security, rule of law and economic opportunity. European integration rests on a narrative of teleology, of an ever closer union between European nations being vital to prevent totalitarianism, conflict and war.

Much of the earlier scholarship on European integration and the law has been constitutional, examining the issues of European constitutionalism within its framework. In contrast, this CoE seeks to critically investigate the foundations of the European narrative about a shared heritage of law, values and ideals.

The purpose is to examine the crisis through the development of conflicting narratives of Europe in 20th century thinking and its impact in contemporary policies and popular perceptions. The historical narrative of totalitarianism and, ultimately, the Holocaust, pervades European historical consciousness, but equally it serves to legitimate the idea of shared European legal roots in democracy, rule of law and legality.

The aim is to study the emergence of these ideas as a response to the 20th century crises such as the Second World War as historical constructs and the rise of nationalistic counternarratives as challenges to the legitimacy of the project and the legal ideals it incorporates. Through a critical examination of the roots of the teleological narrative and its implications to law, society and culture, of rationality, legality, tolerance and pluralism, it argues that historical consciousness and identity are crucial to the formation of not only European identities but also its legitimacy.

Subproject 1: Law and the Uses of the Past

Director Dr Kaius Tuori. Team leader Dr. Ville Erkkilä.

The subproject Law and the Uses of the Past will study the emergence of the idea of a shared legal past in Europe as a key to future integration. In recent years, scholars like Zimmermann have argued for law as a product of a shared European culture extending to ancient Greece and Rome. But how does this narrative relate to the long tradition of nationalistic ideals of the ethnic and cultural basis of law as exclusive to a nation, utilized by Nazism and xenophobic critics of migration?

The idea of a shared European legal past first emerged as a reaction to totalitarianism in the 1930s partly in the works by exiled Jewish scholars in the US and UK and gained traction during the Cold war as a liberal anticommunist narrative. The narrative of human rights was equally propelled by the internationalist reaction against the horrors of the Second World War and transatlantic influences, but traced its lineage to the Enlightenment, and even further back. In this regard, we can think of Hannah Arendt’s “right to have rights” and the relation between human rights, international law, and “crimes against humanity” in the works of Hersch Lauterpacht, both of which are to a large degree conceptualized within real or invented historical frameworks.

Subproject 2: Discovering the Limits of Reason - Europe and the Crisis of Universalism

Director Dr Pamela Slotte. Team leader Dr. Marco Piasentier.

The subproject Discovering the Limits of Reason - Europe and the Crisis of Universalism argues that the idea of European universalism – the all-encompassing applicability of its values, practices and institutions – lies at the core of the modern project. This idea has legitimized not only the political development of European societies but also the propagation of European norms to other cultures. The subproject focuses on the crisis of European universalism in the aftermath of the WWI. It investigates into the unique relativisation of European rationality in the philosophical, legal, scientific, theological and anthropological discourses of the inter-war period and the subsequent attempts to rethink the idea of universalism in the works of Continental philosophers. According to the central hypothesis, the competing political responses of the mid-war period can be understood in regard to different narratives of universalism.

Subproject 3: Migration and the narratives of Europe as an “Area of freedom, security and justice”

Director Dr Reetta Toivanen. Team leader Dr Miika Tervonen.

The subproject Migration and the narratives of Europe as an “Area of freedom, security and justice traces narratives of Europe, traversing through both historical and current experiences of exile. It focuses on the impact of exile on shaping the European legal, social and religious/cultural narratives. The sub-project breaks up with the perception of exile as one-sided and static transfer of knowledge and approaches it as dynamic and generative process. It traces the role of exile and refugee experience in constructing the European legal and theological thought, in particular, the European identity grounded in the idea of rule of law and human rights.

The subproject tackles such questions as:

  1. What is the role of broadly understood forced displacement (exile, refuge, statelessness, internment and detention) in the production of the idea of Europe and, on more abstract level, in generating scientific knowledge and cultural and political ideas?
  2. What is the idea of Europe and European democracy, human rights and the rule of law, that emerges from the experience of historical and contemporary exiles, refugees and asylum seekers?
  3. How the idea of Europe developed under the conditions of forced displacement relates to the official narratives of the policy papers produced under the auspices of the Council of Europe and the European Union?