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European University Institute - Department of Law

Loïc Azoulai appointed Chair in Law and Social Europe

Professor Loïc Azoulai begins his appointment as Chair in Law and Social Europe at the EUI Law Department as of January 2024.

18 January 2024 | Research

Loic Azoulai_news

Loïc Azoulai arrived to the EUI Law Department from Sciences Po Law School in September 2023 as Part-time Professor. He currently holds the Chair in Law and Social Europe as of January 2024. Professor Azoulai's work is devoted to the study of the laws of Europe. At the EUI, he is also a coordinator and principal investigator of the Environmental challenges and climate change governance interdisciplinary research cluster.

In an interview, Professor Azoulai discusses his background, expectations, and educational goals during his time at the EUI.

Please introduce yourself. What is your background and how did you become an expert on the topic?

I was born and educated in France. I studied law at Nice University, South of France, in the 90s, and I became interested in European law in the course of my studies. At the time, I perceived it as a way to escape a rather narrow and parochial intellectual, social, and political environment. In French law faculties, European law was often portrayed as a ‘legal body from nowhere’, without a past and without a proper territory, and this is exactly what drew me into it. It represented a road to intellectual and existential emancipation. It was not until later that I realised that it was actually from 'somewhere', that it was a specific construction situated in a broader socio-economic field fraught with institutional positions, power struggles, political battles, and strategic mobilisations, and not immune from professional, economic, or political interests.

But European law fulfilled yet another desire: the desire for theory. When I entered the field, as a student and then as a researcher, it was structured and supported by strong economic and political forces, but it was rather loose and poor conceptually. So, there was the notion that a proper intellectual and conceptual work was to be done. It was then that I decided to engage in a kind of theoretical-practical endeavour, striving to dissect as well as perfect the set of legal concepts and techniques on which the whole European construction could be based – driven, as it were, by the notion that European law was an element, even if limited and constantly thwarted, of emancipation from closed national frameworks and confined political and legal thinking.

I became an 'official expert' when I was appointed Professor of Law, first at the University of Rouen (Normandy), then at Paris 2 Panthéon-Assas University. I joined the European Court of Justice as a référendaire (law clerk) in 2003, in the cabinet of Advocate General Poiares Maduro. This was a very exciting period of my career, where there was still a sense that we were trying to provide constitutional or theoretical foundations to EU law. I joined Sciences Po Law School in 2015, and this corresponded to the awareness that we must give up on the project of providing foundations and instead, given the current state of polarisation of our societies, engage critically with EU law. I served at Sciences Po until I joined the EUI with this new Chair in Law and Social Europe.

Could you tell us about your current research projects?

My current research revolves around issues related to the interactions between European law and European societies. I feel that EU legal studies have suffered for too long from a disconnect with social reality. So, the programme for the years to come is twofold, both epistemological and substantive: first, to develop a method situating EU law within polarised European societies and, second, to explore, through the prism of law, social processes that are affected or threatened in Europe’s current critical situation. This concerns issues such as social suffering and destitution, state domination and coercion, migration, the attitude towards minorities and religious faith, as well as questions concerning the coexistence of human and non-human forms of life. These are all matters related to failed processes of socialisation, contested forms of identification, and damaged ways of inhabiting the earth. In relation to such issues, political and legal claims are usually presented as 'non-negotiable'. How to make home to these claims and how to make them negotiable again? This seems to me one of the most urgent challenges we are facing now. And European law may help, provided we are not too anxious to suppress this polarisation just because it is challenging our pre-existing normative views.

This programme is reflected in various projects for research and publication. Together with Armin von Bogdandy, Director at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg, we are setting up a research group to explore the potential of the concept of European society to understand, critique, and change the European situation and Europeans' condition. The group shall include members versed in law, political theory, sociology, history, and philosophy. We will meet in the coming days and months both in Florence and Heidelberg.

As Chair, what will your role entail? Which areas of work will you be focusing on?

I am not new at the EUI. I hold a PhD in Law from the EUI, completed in 2000. Then, I returned to the EUI, appointed as a Chair of European Law in 2010, where I stayed until 2015. So, this is my third time at the EUI. I feel very attached to this institution. As I see it, and as I experienced it, the EUI is a unique site of intelligence, collegiality, and openness towards ideas and towards the world. I would like this new Chair to be part of this vision and to dedicate itself to the things Europe needs most at the moment: engagement based on solid knowledge, reflexivity, and collaboration.

My role with this Chair is to create a collaborative platform where researchers can find support and resources. I would like it to cover many different European law issues, ranging from migration to climate change, from digital transformation to work and labour issues, from rule of law issues to surveillance and law and order.

My sense is that most of our students and young researchers are way ahead of us, people from my generation, in terms of anxiety about the state of the world, anxiety about their own place in society and on earth, but also in terms of eagerness to act and intervene 'on the ground'. However, this is hardly met with a conceptual and intellectual framework that would help make sense of this situation and reflect collectively about it. Ideally, the role of this Chair would be to contribute to providing elements of such a framework.

What are your goals/aims during your time at the EUI?

As always, with the positions I have had during my career, my goal is to get transformed - by researchers, colleagues, readings, knowledges - to enter unchartered intellectual territories, and to find my own way, that may speak to other people. 

Last update: 18 January 2024

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