An interview with Giuliano Amato

Editorial Staff
November 29, 2007

Giuliano Amato is one of Italy’s best-known politicians. He was prime minister of Italy twice—first from 1992 to 1993 and then from 2000 to 2001. In 2006, he was named minister of the Interior in Romano Prodi’s government. He studied law at the University of Pisa and received a master’s degree in comparative law at the School of Law of Columbia University in New York. Mr. Amato has taught at universities both throughout Italy and in America, and he has continued to teach even while serving in office. He has been full professor at the universities of Modena, Perugia and Florence. He is currently a part-time professor in the law department at the European University Institute (EUI). Daniel Peterson, intern at The Florentine (and student of Mr. Amato) recently sat down with him in his office in San Domenico.



As prime minister you dealt with many economic issues; as the current minister of the Interior, what are the biggest challenges you face?



The European landscape has completely changed, not only regarding the financial world but also, because of new events, involving terrorism and immigration. These two phenomena have nothing to do with each other, and it is very dangerous for public opinion to put them together. These issues are my primary responsibility, which makes the job very fascinating, but very difficult.



Can you tell us about the security package you recently passed, and its implications for Florence and other local governments?



Many more things are said than are done. This idea that our mayors will become sheriffs is nonsense, just nonsense. The mayors are now empowered to adopt urgent measures for the protection of public safety. ‘Public safety’ has had a limited meaning. If a house or a bridge falls down, traffic around it must be stopped in order to prevent accidents. This notion of ‘safety’ is quite restrictive. We extended power of the mayors to adopt urgent measures to ensure urban security, which is a wider notion. It implies safeguarding against risks to the citizens, not only from falling buildings or falling bridges, but from other, different kinds of situations. While extending this power, we also improved the connection between the municipal authority and the province, and between neighboring municipalities—that is all.



In a recent interview you talked about the ‘Giuliani philosophy’.



I said that it is not a philosophy. When I was asked about it, I answered, ‘leave philosophy to philosophers’. I simply said that Giuliani was one of those who adopted the ‘broken window doctrine’. I call this a ‘doctrine’ because it was formulated by academics. Accepting this doctrine, he took care of minor crimes. This is all I meant. Suppose you are walking your dog and all of a sudden I appear with a knife and say ‘Give me 20 euro or I will kill your dog’. You are entitled to protection from me whether I am a petty crook or a great and famous Mafioso.



You mentioned academics. You have stayed connected to university life and have been a professor at the European University Institute for some time now. How important is the interaction you have with students?



I was born to be a professor, not a politician. I have always considered teaching my main activity. Perhaps it is the best thing I can do in my life, explaining things to others, understanding things and transferring what I’ve gotten to others. I consider this the mission of teaching. Opening minds is a wonderful experience. When I am teaching and I look in the eyes of the students and see a certain light go on, it means something in their minds has changed. This is much better than having a statute passed in parliament.



You say you were born to be a professor, yet you became a politician. What happened?



I entered politics in my 40s. I had always been a teacher and a scholar of government. It was tempting to look at it from inside. This was the main reason I decided to seek election, but without abandoning my teaching. When I was prime minister, I continued teaching at the University of Rome. After awhile I retired, and now I teach part-time at the EUI even while I am a minister.



Do you encourage your students to get involved in politics?



Yes. It is something beautiful, it can teach many things, and, of course, it is also a form of public service. I encourage them to do it after they have settled in life somehow.  I tell them, ‘First, finish your studies, then find a job, a profession, and then enter politics’. I say this because I believe you should not depend upon your political destiny.  You will not be able to act independently. You should always be in a position to leave, to say, ‘Okay, I can’t do it freely, so I will go back to my job’.



What are the main differences that you see between law education in Italy and the United States?



The teaching in US law schools is much more interactive between teacher and student; however, the cruel and unusual punishment of American law education is that it goes fact after fact, precedent after precedent, without giving the poor students a key. When I taught there, I always tried to combine our approach, our use of deductive reasoning, with the American practice of piling up precedents before explaining the common thread. But of course, the intense interaction makes students much more prepared. Second, law education in the United States is much more global in terms of the seminars given and opportunities for students. And students from many different countries are in the classes.



Recently there has been talk of Italy’s ‘brain-drain’: Italian students go abroad to study and never return to Italy. What do you make of that?



The share of Italians going to the United States or elsewhere to become medical doctors, for example, is not much greater than it is in other countries. Our problem is that there is no parallel influx of foreign students and foreign researchers coming here.



You have been an educator and a leader for many years. What problems do you see in the future for Italy? For the world?



We are not equipped, at the moment, to solve the main conflicts that are arising from globalization. First, the enormous and increasing inequality alone generates conflicts: the closer we live to each other, the less acceptable inequality looks; then, as we become more sensitive to inequality and difference, traditional conflicts become much more difficult. Second, cultural and religious differences do not simply divide the parts of the world, as in the past, but have entered each of our societies. There is the West and the East, so to speak, in each of our towns. We have to demonstrate that we can live with these diversities.

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