The Geopolitics of EU Law: the legacy of empire in Europe’s legal geography (GEOLAW)

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Signe Rehling Larsen


Postdoctoral Fellow


University of Oxford


DKK 1,393,796




Reintegration Fellowships


GEOLAW investigates how unexplored legacies of empire and colonialism shape the European Union (EU) and EU law. In particular, GEOLAW investigates the continuing legacies of empire and colonialism in three areas of EU law and policy: EU internal market law, EU immigration law and policy, and EU trade and investment law. In each of these areas, GEOLAW explores how EU law has been used as a tool to constitute Europe as a legal space distinct from the non-European world. The project demonstrates how EU law affects the geopolitical power relations between Europe and its former colonies in Africa.


The end of empire and decolonisation are among the most significant legal and political developments of the twentieth century, yet lawyers, political scientists as well as historians who study EU law and European integration have paid them surprisingly little attention. GEOLAW starts from the observation that the project of European integration was founded in an era of decolonisation by three rapidly declining maritime empires – France, the Netherlands, and Belgium – and two failed fascist empires – Germany and Italy. It shows that concerns about imperial decline were central to the EU's founding and argues that it remains necessary to investigate how core areas in EU law and policy have been shaped by empire and colonialism. The objective of GEOLAW is to advance EU law scholarship on the legacy of empire and to create awareness and understanding among EU scholars and policymakers of how this legacy continues shape EU law and policy today.


GEOLAW studies the EU legal system and EU legal discourses employing the methods of legal geography. An interdisciplinary field, legal geography straddles law and human geography in the study of the relationship between law, power and space. GEOLAW relies on the methods of legal geography to study how EU law constructs space, and how space affects EU law. GEOLAW investigates how EU law is shaped by geographical assumptions that were originally imperial and which privilege Europe over non-European ‘Others’. The project focusses in particular on how Europe’s legal geography affects the geopolitical power relation between Europe and its former colonies in Africa. In doing so, GEOLAW demonstrates the legacy of empire in the EU from its founding in the 1950s to the present.

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