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The EU – A Community of Fate, at Last; Vital Statistics

Published on May 28, 2019        Author: 
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The EU – A Community of Fate, at Last

I have great sympathy for the outburst of Donald Tusk on special places in Hell. I believe I was just as harsh or even worse in writing about the Cameron folly. At the time of writing, the final act in the Brexit farce is still unfolding. I am one of those Europeans who genuinely regret the departure of the United Kingdom – and I am not thinking just of the material consequences, as most are prone to do. A Europe without the UK is diminished. But I also respect the sovereign decision of the British people and, equally, I will of course respect a sovereign decision to change course, should that happen. Responsibility for the current shambles rests primarily on the very issue which so taxed Tusk: going into the referendum without any serious governmental assessment of the hows and whats and whens.

Some responsibility also falls on the Union. I thought that the decision to postpone any discussion of future relations before the divorce terms were settled wasted a precious year of joint reflection, negotiations and preparations. I thought then and still think that there was no reason not to run both tracks in parallel so as to avoid the very crunch that we now face. In private, some European leaders have admitted such to me.

And finally, I continue to find it not credible that the combined public authorities of the Union, the UK and the Republic of Ireland cannot come up with a Frontstop solution on the lines proposed here, thus diffusing the most explosive stumbling block for some semblance of an orderly exit.

Be all that as it may, there is, in my view, one silver lining to this remarkable shambles: whatever the end result of Brexit, leave or stay, the idea of solving one’s problems with Europe by leaving the Union is dead. By happenstance or design (let the historians decide on that) whatever appetites Brexit originally may have created among would-be followers, has been extinguished. Probably forever.

Europe, like most states, may be ravaged by internal divisions of the most profound nature. Think of, say, Poland of today. Or for that matter, the United States. But everyone in Poland understands that Poland is their Community of Fate and that that fate has to be determined within that community. And this has become the European status quo. Whatever the divisions, the solution must be found within the framework of the Union.

This is not all apple pie and motherhood. A community of fate shaped in part by fear rather than conviction carries risks of undercurrent resentiment of the kind which can lead to some of the phenomena we now have come to label as ‘populism’. (When we do not like it we call it populism; when we like it, it is simply popular.) And essential progress of the Union might be difficult with some Member States who could have been more comfortable within a looser relationship – the gentler, kinder Brexit option and will now vindicate their reticence within the Union.

But still, when all is said and done, it is a fundamental ontological turning point in the life of the Union, a constitutional moment if ever there was one. From the perspective of European integration, a golden lining to the Brexit saga.

Vital Statistics

How vital are our statistics? We take them very seriously. Each year we gather the figures on the state of our submissions: from where and by whom we receive manuscripts, which are accepted, and which are published in EJIL. We do this to observe and understand changes that may be taking place in submission and publication patterns in our Journal, and we keep our authors and readers informed of those patterns and changes.

The gender breakdown of submissions we receive has remained quite constant over past years: the number of submissions received by male authors has consistently outnumbered those by women each year, with figures hovering between 61 and 65 per cent of submissions coming from male authors. However, the good news is that the percentage of manuscripts accepted by women authors this past year rose from 24 to 49 per cent, so we can expect to read more articles by women authors in 2020.

I should emphasize that in the screening and publication decisions we do not consciously practise any form of ‘affirmative action’ as regards gender or any other of the parameters tracked in our stats.

We somewhat arbitrarily divide the world into four regions for our statistical purposes: the European Union, the Council of Europe countries outside the EU (CoE), the US and Canada, and the rest of the world (RoW). We measure by country of submission rather than by nationality of author, simply because it is not possible to accurately obtain the latter information. However, we think the figures convey a fairly reliable picture of our authors and EJIL’s presence in the world. EJIL received submissions from 45 countries during 2018.

One observable change this past year may be seen in a considerably higher percentage of submissions from EU countries. Of the total number of manuscripts submitted in 2018, 50 per cent came from the EU (37 per cent in 2017), 11 per cent from CoE countries, 11 per cent from the US and Canada and 28 per cent from RoW countries. This higher percentage of submissions from EU countries was also reflected in the number of articles accepted and published: 68 and 70 per cent, respectively. The figures for accepted and published manuscripts for CoE countries and US and Canada were consistent with the number of submissions received, whereas the percentage of accepted and published articles dropped for the RoW submissons: 17 and 13 per cent, respectively. We will be monitoring this.

We encourage submissions from authors outside the English-speaking world, and we provide an excellent copy-editing service for all articles accepted for publication. The number of submissions from non-English-speaking countries continues to rise gradually: over the past five years the percentage has risen from 54 to 67 per cent. More articles were published in 2018 from non-English speaking than English speaking countries: 52 and 48 per cent respectively. The figure for accepted articles from non-English-speaking countries remains fairly stable at 46 per cent of the total.

I never tire of explaining that in selecting articles EJIL is not a referee service. Yes, everything we publish is refereed; we aim for high scholarly quality, ever more important in the digital age where so much is published and self-published with no quality controls. But obviously we receive many more publishable articles than we are able to publish and our final selection from the publishable crop is curatorial in nature – we try to make each issue of EJIL interesting to a wide variety of readers with different interests and scholarly orientations. Likewise, a large task of our Board is ‘agenda setting’ by commissioning debates and symposia on topics that we think merit attention by the IL community. In the earlier years of the Journal the ratio between solicited and unsolicited published articles was 2/3 to 1/3 in favour of the former. In more recent years, as the number and quality of submissions has risen, we have reversed this ratio and it now runs at 2/3 to 1/3 in favour of unsolicited manuscripts, both as regards number of articles and number of pages published.

We are also well on our way to honouring our promise of informing authors within six to eight weeks at the most whether or not their submission has passed initial screening and will be sent to peer review, so that they do not lose precious time in submitting to other journals. A very vital statistic. The new system is in place and I am confident that in 2019 it will be honoured fully.

The vital statistics are also one, only one, indicator by which we interrogate ourselves: How well are we doing? Taking the ‘EJIL family’ as a whole – EJIL, EJIL: Talk!, EJIL: Live! – we want to believe we are making a meaningful contribution to the world of IL scholarship, discourse and practice. Ultimately, in our conception it is a qualitative judgment, for which it is not easy to find reliable quantitative proxies. It seems as if many authors believe EJIL is a good journal in which to publish. Our mailbox continues to receive between 5-10 submissions per week (250-300 per annum).

What of impact? I can only repeat my annual Cato’s cry. I am not only sceptical but critical regarding the impact that various ‘impact factors’ have on our discipline, on journal publishing and on faculty appointment and promotion decisions. There are no sour grapes here: for example, EJIL’s H-Index, (an entirely problematic indicator) among international law journals as computed by Google Scholar, places it regularly in the top five as does the William & Mary ranking for impact factor among international law peer-reviewed journals. My scepticism is based on the bias in the journal database from which these indices are calculated (English-language journals with a strong North American bias), and more importantly because of the negative impact that the chase after a higher ‘impact factor’ produces on editorial policy. ‘Famous’ scholars will increase your impact factor to the detriment of the young and upcoming. ‘Sexy’ topics will have the same effect, to the detriment of the esoteric and unusual.

As a matter of policy we refuse to make our editorial decisions with an eye on impact factor. If you examine our Tables of Contents over the last 30 years you will see plenty of evidence for our commitment to young scholars and a broad range of topics with an eye to expanding the disciplinary and methodological boundaries of IL. We are, for example, at the forefront of empirical (including experimental IL) studies and at the same time we try to keep a healthy balance between theory and doctrinal scholarship.

We could within one year raise our impact factor by simply reducing the number of articles published and sticking with the topical subject and famous authors of which there is no shortage. Our policy goes in exactly the opposite direction.

The quantitative metric to which we pay most attention, and which we think is relevant to our authors too, is the number of PDF downloads of EJIL articles. Our open access policy (all EJIL articles are free and accessible after one year from the date of publication) means that they have become, for example, a major resource for classroom teaching. The numbers keep growing. For 2016 there were 500,000 annual downloads of EJIL articles. For 2017 OUP reported 650,000 downloads. For 2018 the figure rose to 800,000 downloads. I am somewhat sceptical as regards these numbers and twice, at my insistence, OUP provided us with a full audit and they stand behind these figures. I still remain sceptical. But whatever the methodology, we have seen a continuous growth in downloads from year to year and, using the same methodology, OUP reports that we are doing very well in relation to other journals they publish.

We hope that despite the unavoidable necessity to be selective in what we can publish, international legal scholars will continue to submit their work for consideration by EJIL and that our readers continue to use EJIL as one of their principal journals of reference in IL.

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