Sept. 5, 2010
This message comes to members of the Academy in the immediate aftermath of the World Congress of Comparative Law held in July in Washington, DC.
I think all who were there will agree that the three host institutions – American University (Washington College of Law), George Washington University School of Law and the Georgetown Law Center – cooperated magnificently to put on an intellectually rich and socially enjoyable week of programs, meticulously organized for all to enjoy. The American Society of Comparative Law (ASCL), as national committee, is also to be heartily thanked.
From the opening plenary of high national and international court judges on the topic of the use of foreign and comparative law in constitutional adjudication, which started off the academic program to the closing panel on the problems and prospects of the comparative law discipline with which the congress ended, the sessions were conducted thoughtfully and effectively. At the individual sessions that populated the program between these two plenaries, great strides were made in avoiding the successive readings by national reporters of their national reports that has commonly occurred in the past.
From the Academy Executive Committee’s point of view, the program was especially rich and innovative. There were highly novel topics; the organizers introduced an unprecedented number of plenary sessions and other events outside the traditional Academy topic framework; and the Academy and host schools made limited scholarship funds available to subsidize the travel and hotel costs of attendees who would not otherwise have afforded the trip. Representatives from 65 countries were present, which may well be a record. Magnificent luncheon and closing banquet speeches were delivered by Hon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the United States Supreme Court and Professor Jerome Cohen of New York University, respectively. Visits to government institutions, local law firms and the headquarters of the American Society of International Law (ASIL), not to mention a battery of sightseeing options and an alternative seminar on the sightseeing day, rounded out the program.
On behalf of the Executive Committee and the entire Academy, I wish to extend my thanks and congratulations to the excellent work done by the organizing committee, chaired and vice-chaired, respectively, by David Snyder and Susan Karamanian, of American University and George Washington University, respectively. Thanks, too, to all the other individual members of the organizing committee, the members of the host school staffs, the General Reporters, the Presidents of sessions, the participants in plenaries and other panel presentations, and the ASCL, and its president Symeon Symeonides. The Academy’s own Secretary-General Jürgen Basedow and Deputy Secretary-General Katrin Deckert played an especially important role in helping to ensure that the congress program met Academy standards, which it assuredly did.
The World Congress is also the occasion for the election of officers and members of the executive committee of the Academy. At its plenary meeting on the closing day of the congress, the members of the Academy elected the following individuals to the posts indicated:
President : George A. Bermann (USA)
Secretary-General : Jürgen Basedow (Germany)
Vice-Presidents : Bénédicte Fauvarque-Cosson (France), Marek Safjan (Poland), Toshiyuki Kono (Japan), Jorge A. Sánchez Cordero (Mexico)
Treasurer : Xavier Blanc-Jouvan (France).
The term of these individuals will run from the closing of the congress until the next quadrennial congress, scheduled for Vienna, Austria, in July 2014. This is an appropriate moment also to record my thanks, and that of the Academy, to the two Executive Committee members – Allan Brewer-Carias (Venezuela and the United States) and Attila Harmathy (Hungary) – who lent their valuable energies and ideas to the work of the Committee over the past four years but did not stand for re-election. Their contribution and collegiality on the Committee will be missed.
However, the meeting of Academy members was especially notable for its consideration and approval of a series of significant changes to the Statutes of the Academy. The Statutes, while narrowly amended from time to time, have never in its history been the subject of a comprehensive review by the Executive Committee. That review was an extended one, initiated shortly after the 2006 Utrecht Congress. All members of the Executive Committee considered the issues thoughtfully and deliberately, revisiting them on successive committee meetings at the Academy headquarters in Paris.
Once the Executive Committee had settled upon a set of recommendations, they were communicated to the membership and a lively but uncontentious debate occurred. In the end, all the proposed changes were adopted, virtually unanimously, with only the slightest technical amendments.
For those who were not in attendance and were otherwise unfamiliar with the changes, let me mention the highlights: The numerus clausus on the number of titular members as such is no more, but rather replaced by a simple fixed ratio between titular and associate members; the majority of votes required for election of new associate and titular members is better defined and defined in a way as to enable election of a wider range of persons; all members – titular and associate alike – now have a right of vote on all matters (with the sole exception of the election of new titular members which continues to be reserved to existing titular members); and the geographic “groups” as such are eliminated, chiefly due to the artificiality of the groupings and their lack of function as compared to the national committees. Finally, the Statutes were amended to create a new Academy membership category of corporate members, albeit without voting rights.
I would add only that we took this opportunity also to make purely stylistic and clerical changes in the statutes, entailing no change of meaning, but producing grammatically improved French and English renditions.
I am personally delighted with the changes that have been introduced. As my initial President’s Message indicated, reviewing the Statutes with a view to enhancing the democratic and representative character of the Academy was my top priority as president. I am convinced that the Academy will be a more vibrant and healthy organization as a result. I am gratified that, while the members of the Executive Committee were not initially all of the same mind as to the scope of change, agreement could be reached within the committee on the elements of such a step forward for the Academy, and that the membership at Washington embraced the recommended change so heartily.
We do have to bear in mind the technical fact that the statutory amendments must be duly recorded with the appropriate authorities in the Netherlands, where the Academy is officially seated. As a result, while all of the changes mentioned have definitively been made, they do not and can not become effective until the formalities in the Netherlands have been completed. That should not require more than a few months, at the outside.
This message would be incomplete if I did not, once again, look forward. With statutory reform behind us, the executive committee will bring to the top of its agenda an item that has already been on its agenda and on which some, but not enough, progress has been made.
I regard it as indispensable to the future of the Academy that new national committees be created in jurisdictions that up to now have not had one, and that existing national committees that have become inactive or otherwise cannot properly serve the Academy be replaced. This will not be an easy task. The Academy cannot impose a national committee on a jurisdiction; it can only encourage the creation of a viable committee and take care that it remains so. Establishing altogether new national committees will require research and resourcefulness, particularly in the very regions of the world that have thus far been so inadequately represented in the Academy or engaged in the work of the Academy; replacing ineffective ones will require diplomacy and encouragement of good will.
But I am convinced that increasing the number and diversity of national committees, and ensuring that those that exist perform their functions, is the next top Academy priority. To the extent that this goal is achieved, the world congresses and intermediate congresses to come (including the upcoming 2012 intermediate congress in Taiwan), and other special Academy-sponsored events will be enriched – if only due to the critical role of the national committees in determining the quality of those programs.
This is a far different task from reviewing and proposing revisions to the Statutes, but it is no less important. I can assure you that the new Executive Committee will pursue this initiative with the same care and energy it brought to the statutory review.
Our success will only be aided if we can count on all of you to assist us in identifying persons in jurisdictions thus far unrepresented or poorly represented by national committees who can lead and contribute to the work of national committees in those jurisdictions.
In much the same vein, it would serve the Academy’s purposes and aid its growth if outside funding could be found to help support travel and accommodation subsidies for persons who cannot otherwise afford to attend our gatherings in person. On this front, too, we earnestly seek your assistance in identifying and possibly approaching outside funding sources. Anything that any Academy member can do to help us on this front would be deeply appreciated. Please consider that. More specifically, I anticipate setting up a committee of Academy members who will pursue this goal with energy. I invite any and all members willing to participate in such a committee’s work to come forward.
Let me conclude by thanking you – and, again, for the other officers and members of the Executive Committee – for the confidence you have shown in us by electing or re-electing us, as the case may be, to our offices in the Academy
With kind regards,
George A. Bermann
President of the Academy