Guest Editorial: Ten Years of ESIL – Reflections

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From time to time, we are asked about the relationship between EJIL and the European Society of International Law (ESIL). That relationship is simple: the Journal and the Society are two separate, but mutually supportive and complementary entities. Indeed, past and present EJIL Editors can boast, with parental pride, of having been present at the conception, as well as the birth, of the Society! From its inception, membership in ESIL has included automatic online and print subscriptions to EJIL – including very soon a tablet version. The relationship has only strengthened in recent years, with ESIL Presidents and Presidents-elect serving ex officio on the EJIL Board. It is in the spirit of that growing bond that we wholeheartedly share in ESIL’s 10-year celebrations, and have invited the following Guest Editorial from its leadership.

Ten years ago, the European Society of International Law (ESIL) organized its Inaugural Conference in Florence. Some papers were later published in the Baltic Yearbook of International Law but, other than that, most presentations at the event have long been forgotten. Yet that event was one of those moments where the participants still proudly recall that they were there: yes, I was there in Florence when ESIL started, I was there when the seed was planted.

Ten years later, although ESIL has matured rapidly with the development of a wide array of activities, the Society is still in its formative stage. There is a real sense that ESIL is beginning to realize its enormous potential for understanding and influencing international law in Europe and throughout the world. But this is not a self-propelling process. On a day-to-day basis, critical choices have to be made on the directions in which the Society can and should evolve.

As the Society continues to develop, it is important to remain mindful of the origins of ESIL. Looking back on what motivated the founders of ESIL, there is one theme that dominated: ESIL was established out of the perceived need to create a European forum for European-wide discussions, against a background of a rich European tradition, of international legal issues of concern to Europe. Until ESIL was founded, there had been no forum in which to pursue those goals on a Europe-wide basis and to meet the need for the exchange of ideas and, where possible, the cultivation of shared positions within Europe. There was a sense that European international lawyers should have their own identity and should position themselves as Europeans in global debates. The rapidly developing powers of the EU, the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall and, at a scholarly level, an increasing self-awareness of the tradition and potential of European international legal scholarship were drivers to this end.

Much has been done to fulfil the promise of 2004. ESIL has become a European forum in the widest sense: whereas there were participants from 29 states at that inaugural meeting in Florence, ESIL now has members from more than 60 states. It hosts events in many countries and its conferences, which are held each year in a different location, provide a forum for discussion throughout Europe, most recently with the 10th anniversary conference in Vienna, and with future conferences to be held in Oslo, Riga and Naples.

However, there is still a lot to be done. The mission of ESIL remains as urgent as in 2004. The Society can become more relevant by increasing membership and by enlarging the participation of practitioners in the Society. While the need to create a European forum induced the establishment of the Society, the global nature of many problems requires that the Society moves beyond its European focus. Also for this reason, we are further developing the fruitful relationships with societies of international law in other regions.

The relationship between the Society and the European Journal of International Law is critical for strengthening the quality and impact of international law scholarship in Europe. Leading up to the 2004 inaugural conference in Florence, EJIL editors played a key role in setting up the Society. While it may appear that EJIL and ESIL have mostly led separate lives since Florence, the relationship between the two is in fact a close one and the mutual links have recently come into sharper focus. This is a very positive development as the Society and the Journal are largely complementary. In terms of substance, both are part of and build on the European tradition, explore European perspectives on grand challenges, and provide fundamental perspectives on European problems. Between them, ESIL and EJIL provide a rich palette of materials for international lawyers: the Journal, ESIL conference publications, ESIL Reflections, EJIL: Talk!, the ESIL Lectures Series, and EJIL: Live!. Some members of the ESIL Board are also members of the EJIL Editorial Board and Scientific Advisory Board, and vice versa, further strengthening the relationship and exchanges between the two. Moreover, both are based in Florence at the European University Institute, a symbolic independent base in Europe. This proximity is to be further developed through partnership initiatives for the benefit of both members of ESIL and readers of EJIL.

As the Society enters its second decade, ESIL needs to move beyond planting seeds. As in 2004, there is a critical need to reflect on and contribute to the respect for the rule of international law in Europe and throughout the world. With the support of its increasing membership, ESIL has the potential to further contribute to this ongoing debate and become a key actor on the European and international scene.

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