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Paola Lo Bue Oddo, Legal Officer at the European Commission

25 Apr 2024 11:57 | Anonymous

Meet Paola Lo Bue Oddo, Legal Officer at the European Commission. In this interview, she sheds light on her current and previous roles within international organisations and offers valuable insights into the way they function and address complex global issues. Paola also talks about her voluntary engagement and research interests highlighting her positive contributions also beyond these organisations.

Interviewed by Anastasiia Hresko

Throughout your career, you have held positions related to international law. Despite your education in national law (Italy), what initially drew you to this focus on international law?

My pathway is indeed a bit unusual. I spent around 10 years in my country's university systems, obtaining degrees in political science and jurisprudence. However, I was always oriented towards wider regional and cultural coverage, especially because of my passions related to foreign languages and new cultures.

The international nature of my jobs has led me to step out of my comfort zone and learn about different legislative frameworks, especially due to the increasing influence of EU law on national laws. I always saw EU law as a bit of a wider type of puzzle and enjoy making connections between different legal frameworks.

I always saw EU law as a wider type of puzzle and enjoy making connections between different legal frameworks.

What do you think are the key differences in how international organisations you have been a part of like EU and NATO approach international legal issues? What are your experiences in these domains?

Both organisations vary greatly in the setup and purpose. While the EU's legal machinery mostly relies on creating and implementing laws to solve common problems across EU Member States, NATO focuses more on rapidly responding to crises and strengthening members’ cooperation.

In the EU, I have worked on legislations: assessing how old legislations are functioning and creating amendments, in order to solve problems that are common to most EU Member States. For instance, I have worked on cybercrime topics where an existing legislation was too old to respond adequately to the current challenges. I gathered extensive research work, case law and statistics for an analysis, known as an impact assessment in EU jargon, which would justify the proposed amendments. Afterwards, the impact assessment had to be approved by different departments at the European Commission and then the Commission moved forward with proposing the actual amendments to Parliament and Council. Once the full legislative proposal was negotiated and adopted, the new EU law became up to date, and the amendments had to be transposed at the national level by the EU Member States.

Meanwhile, at NATO, I focused on coordination work and public diplomacy. Their work culture was quite different, with a stronger focus on immediately finding solutions and increasing members’ cooperation. This is also related to the nature of the NATO setup.

I’m glad I experienced different work cultures and different ways of addressing international issues. In any case, both legislation and coordination activities complement each other very well and I believe that more staff exchanges between international organisations need to be promote­­­­d.

Apart from your professional career, you are also very active when it comes to voluntary engagement. How do you choose the projects to work on in this regard?

My objectives usually follow two main themes: supporting people affected by global crises and raising awareness about the EU.

As a first example, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck Italy in 2020, I had been working at NATO and I decided to join NATO's Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre after working hours, to ensure critical supplies and medicines were delivered on time.

As a second example, I coordinated local deliveries of supplies to Ukrainian refugees when the conflict started in 2022. That experience wasn’t fully rationalised: I volunteered immediately because I felt a strong responsibility to do so.

On a lighter note, concerning the EU, I frequently participate as a speaker on EU affairs for university students. I also welcome visiting student groups in Brussels at our European Commission's Visitor Centre.

My objectives usually follow two main themes: supporting people affected by global crises and raising awareness about the EU.

Let’s switch to another field you are passionate about: research. Do you follow a similar “selection process” when choosing topics to explore? For example, in the law book that you co-authored (Expériences juridiques sur les droits humains), what initially sparked your curiosity and led you to delve deeper into counter-terrorism? 

I don’t have a fixed selection process and my research interests are diverse, including both professional and personal ones.

Indeed, one notable work includes co-authoring a French law book, which is a collection of human rights analyses. My chapter is on violations of human rights law throughout the war on terror which is a sensitive topic that many colleagues didn’t want to explore. Yet, I was interested in finding out the intricacies of this domain, which included researching state secrets and intelligence services activities. I also interviewed lawyers who had participated in some of the international trials first-hand.

Concerning non-work-related research topics, it may be a particular event that sparks my interest. As a recent example, I frequently travel back to Milan, and I'm always surprised by the advertisements in the airport or train stations depicting women in seductive poses with little clothing on, not even being related to fashion. This led me to explore the topic of sexist advertisements: I researched national laws regulating it, how countries define the topic of sexism and whether sexist billboards can be regulated at a higher level. I ended up writing the full research paper on this and many of my colleagues reading were shocked at how widespread and unsolved this issue is.

You work at the European Commission as a legal officer in the Directorate General for Defence Industry and Space (DG DEFIS). Does your DG have any peculiarities? Can you explain the newfound attention to the defence sector?

DG DEFIS was created in January 2021 and has four directorates. I work in the Defence Directorate, where half of the middle managers are women. One peculiarity are many seconded national experts working within the DG. These colleagues have usually worked in national defence ministries or armed forces and are seconded by their country to the European Commission to work temporarily at the EU. This ensures that national expertise is well-integrated at the EU level.

Despite geopolitical and security challenges before 2022, there hadn’t been a high level of international attention to defence topics. Even after the Russian occupation of Crimea, there had been attempts to have working relationships with Russia.

In your opinion, how can international legal frameworks be strengthened in administrations, to better address complex global issues?

There is a complex tradeoff between addressing long-term issues and risking becoming too bureaucratic and focusing on short-term issues and risking producing one-off instruments which lack attention to detail, thus making it hard to make recommendations.

What is crucial for administrations is to encourage innovation and a healthy turnover. I’ve personally been involved in situations where there was a collective reluctance to adjust an approach despite clear evidence to do so. These so-called echo chambers can be overcome by encouraging more staff exchanges within national and international administrations and more discussions between the public and private sectors. More simplicity when explaining laws to the public is another improvement point since legislations normally have a very delicate balance of needs and priorities and involve various actors, thus making it hard for non-experts to conduct their comprehensive assessment. I think that the way forward on this is for EU staff to push themselves more out there and become more approachable to the wider public. This is also something I intend to do thanks to this international leadership programme.

The way forward is for EU staff to push themselves more out there and become more approachable to the wider public. This is also something I intend to do thanks to this international leadership programme.

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