Calamandrei's Rainbow - The idea of European Federalism

This chapter paints a picture of Piero Calamandrei, an Italian lawyer, anti-fascist and one of the pioneers behind the idea of European integration. We interviewed Dr. Paolo Amorosa who has been researching Calamandrei’s works and ideas and who even shares a personal connection with him. But what is Calamandrei’s legacy for Europe and what would he think of its current state?

When thinking of the fathers of the European Union and the visionaries of European integration, one figure has tended to remain in the shadows, behind the likes of Robert Schuman and Altiero Spinelli, namely the Italian lawyer Piero Calamandrei (1889-1956).  

Never heard of him? Neither had we, before interviewing legal historian Dr. Paolo Amorosa on his favourite historical figure and fellow Tuscan lawyer, whose work has had a huge influence on him. Calamandrei was many things: a volunteer in the First World War, one of the drafters of the Italian constitution, a law professor, an anti-fascist and “a Tuscan cynic”, but he was also one of the pioneering thinkers of European integration of the mid-20th century.


Amorosa’s connection to Calamandrei is more than just intellectual admiration: Amorosa is from Montepulciano, Italy, and even before he enrolled in university to study law, he had literally grown up surrounded by local memories of Calamandrei, who owned a country house there and whose name appears all over the town on street signs and public buildings. Fleeing arrest from fascist police in Nazi-occupied Florence in 1943, Calamandrei would temporarily set up camp in Montepulciano, in a building owned by a friend of his, the Count Lucangelo Bracci. Amorosa’s childhood home is part of the building where Calamandrei was hiding.

“The little door in the backyard that Calamandrei described using when entering the building stealthily at night-time, I could see it growing up, from my balcony”, Amorosa says. 


Resistance through cooperation

Before the Second World War and before having to flee, Calamandrei taught law in the universities of Modena, Reggio Emilia and Siena. In 1931, The Italian fascist regime required all university teachers to swear loyalty to the regime – and many antifascist academics opted to cooperate in order to stay in their classrooms and to give their students even some instruments for critical thinking in an oppressive political, intellectual and cultural environment. Calamandrei, despite never joining the Fascist party, was one of those who opted to stay. 

According to Amorosa, the controversial choice can be explained by looking at Calamandrei’s commitment to teaching and spreading ideas that would promote individual freedom and social justice. In a way, he chose to work against the system from the inside - Calamandrei turned to theoretical topics in his research and continued teaching. He also kept in touch with famous exiled antifascists such as the Italian-Jewish Carlo Rosselli, who is known for founding the anti-fascist militant Giustizia e Libertà-movement and developing the ideas of liberal socialism (and European integration already in 1930s).


Rainbow over Europe

Despite having had to make controversial choices during the war, Calamandrei’s optimism and vision of the future of Europe sprang to the surface even before the aftermath of the war in Italy was over.

According to Amorosa, it is in these moments that Calamandrei’s signature “Tuscan cynicism” shows: “It means a positive and humoristic attitude to life mixed with dark humor”, Amorosa explains. “A sort of acceptance of the chaos of life that leads to a deeper, more reasoned positivity.” 

The liberation of Florence was very violent, but Calamandrei and a few fellow Italian federalists started to organize a movement for European federalism. Amorosa quotes Calamandrei’s famous “Federalism is not a utopia”-speech given after the battle, in which the Tuscan lawyer claimed:

“The function of utopias, of the ideals towards which we aim as if towards the rainbow there at the end of clouds, is exactly this one: helping us walk in this hard journey through life, while knowing that, when we will get where we believed the rainbow was, we will find just a little fog; but the rainbow will be just somewhat further, and we will keep chasing it without quitting.”

Calamandrei’s “rainbow” meant a new kind of federalist system for Europe, which would guarantee liberty at each different level of society: local, regional, national and supranational. Calamandrei’s central idea was that autonomy and democracy were needed in the communities that comprised states. So for instance regional governments were needed alongside centralized states as well as a European federation that would prevent nationalism and war. For Calamandrei, the political union of Europe always came first, which sets him aside from other visionaries of European integration of the time, who prioritized economic and functional matters.


Still too far in the horizon?

Despite the fact that Calamandrei’s rainbow still loomed very far during his lifetime, he managed to see the first steps of European integration before his death in 1956.

Since we cannot ask Calamandrei himself, we invited Amorosa to speculate on his behalf for a moment: What would Piero Calamandrei think of Europe and the EU today? 

“I think he would be incredibly happy and surprised that there is a European Parliament and that we vote for it. At the same time, the fact that we still vote for it by nation, is something that he might have trouble with”, Amorosa chuckles. 

“He was a lawyer after all, so he thought that the European Federation should be established in accordance with the constitutions of member countries, but he thought that Europeans should be represented in it as peoples, not through national governments”, Amorosa explains.

Despite remaining relatively obscure outside his home country, in Italy Calamandrei’s legacy is still present today. He was a member of the Constituent Assembly of Italy (1946-1948) that drafted the new Constitution of the Italian Republic (1948), and he had a considerable influence on one article in particular. In Article 11, amongst other things, war is rejected as a means for settling international disputes and a door is opened for Italy to join international organizations that promote peace and justice1.

Meeting your heroes

Most historians agree that diving into someone’s personal archives for months on end is usually prone to cause disappointment and even downright resentment of the object of study, but sometimes historical figures have a way of surprising us. “Piero Calamandrei is definitely one of the heroes I could meet and have no trouble with”, Amorosa says.  

“There are some really tough choices that he took and I don’t know whether I would have done the same”, Amorosa reflects, referring to Calamandrei’s choice to work with the Minister of Justice in the Fascist government, “But I do understand why he did it.” 

For example, Calamandrei never admitted the authoritarian elements of the Italian Code of Civil procedure that he helped to draft during the Fascist era. He claimed having made clear to the minister of the time, Dino Grandi, that he was there as a technical participant and always maintained that the code that came out was not a fascist one. According to Amorosa, this is overall true, even if there were some authoritarian elements in the code, which is still in force today.  

What Amorosa still reflects most on, is Calamandrei’s Europeanism and his commitment to the future of Europe despite having seen and experienced two World Wars. 

Amorosa says that he has learned immensely from Calamandrei as a legal scholar and political thinker, yet what he most appreciates about Calamandrei’s Europeanism is how his thought links to his personality: He was a cynic and realist who still had strong ideals and believed that humanity and justice have a chance.

“Calamandrei is one of the few authors that manage to convince me of the positive potential of our collective political future. Without the cynicism, I wouldn’t believe in his utopia”, Amorosa concludes.  



1 Italy rejects war as an instrument of aggression against the freedom of other peoples and as a means for the settlement of international disputes. Italy agrees, on conditions of equality with other States, to the limitations of sovereignty that may be necessary to a world order ensuring peace and justice among the Nations. Italy promotes and encourages international organisations furthering such ends. 


Dr. Paolo Amorosa is a post-doctoral researcher in subproject 1, Law and the Uses of the Past. He has a background in international law, law and religion, and legal theory. His research deals primarily with the history of international law and human rights in the twentieth century. Find Paolo Amorosa on The University of Helsinki Research Portal.


Text: Iida Karjalainen & Bea Bergholm