Professor Fernanda Nicola - "Europe from the Ground Up"

Faculty Scholarship Highlight, August 2012


Associate Dean for Scholarship Stephen Vladeck sits down with Associate Professor Fernanda Nicola to discuss her recent scholarship.


Among those who research and write about the law of the European Union, there is a tendency to focus on current and future legal issues from the top down, whether through the lens of international law, the tensions raised by competing national sovereignties (as evidenced by, inter alia, the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis), or a very U.S.-centric understanding of federalism as applied to the relationship between the EU and its member states. But for Associate Professor Fernanda Nicola, who joined American University Washington College of Law's faculty in 2006, the more interesting questions come from the bottom up—from how the smallest and most local governmental institutions in turn effect (and help to shape) myriad policy debates and other conversations at the national, European and international level.

For example, her most recent article, titled "Invisible Cities in Europe" (and published in the June 2012 issue of the Fordham International Law Journal), pivots off the work of Italian novelist Italo Calvino to argue that European jurists and policymakers alike have systematically neglected the distinct interests of local governments when considering arguments for and against the redistribution of resources and power between the states and the Union affecting local welfare. Instead, she notes, these institutions have systematically engaged instead in an effort to balance the more obviously identifiable national (and European) governmental interests and those of the relevant private stakeholders. As Professor Nicola concludes, it is imperative to "openly acknowledge the costs and consequences of maintaining, displacing, and creating welfare policies" incurred at the local level "rather than relying on the assumption that city interests can be identified within state and EU interests or that they fully resemble those of private market actors." Only through a proper accounting of otherwise "invisible" cities can the law of the European internal market begin to account for the bottom-up pressures that so often generate meaningful political change.

In this regard, Professor Nicola's scholarship meshes together—and builds off of—her numerous areas of expertise, from EU law to comparative law; from local government law to family and tort law. And the more that globalization exerts increasing pressure on countries around the world—including the United States—to pursue increasing multilateralism, the more important it will become to not lose sight of the very distinct concerns that confront diverse modern cities. Indeed, although the Athenian politician Pericles famously suggested that all good things flow into the city, Professor Nicola's scholarship suggests, following Calvino's insights, that one of the keys to understanding the future of the EU (and perhaps of the global community more generally) is to appreciate the extent to which good things flow out of the city as well—out, and upwards.