The Berlin Wall was still standing. Internet as such did not exist yet and fewer than 100,000 computers were connected to its forerunner. Publishing companies had huge stocks in immense warehouses. The European Union was yet to be born. The European Economic Community, Euratom and the ECSC consisted of twelve member states. It was considered perfectly reasonable for a university professor to spend two thousand hours a year writing a book. But the European Consortium for Church-State Research had already held its first conference. This was twenty-five years ago.
It is difficult to determine at what point something becomes an institution. That is to say, the moment in which it acquires sufficient solidity to guarantee its survival over time, but the simple passing of time is proof of this. This year, the Consortium celebrates its Silver Jubilee. That is no mean feat.
Elsewhere (The European Consortium for Church-State Research. Notes for a Future History, “European Journal for Church and State Research”, 6, 1999, pp. 321-352), I attempted to tell the story of the remote origins of the Consortium, as well as that of its early years. It is not my aim here to continue that story, rather, just to give a personal response to two questions. Has its existence served any purpose? And, does it have the possibility of surviving?
Nobody could have imagined in 1989 what would happen in the years to follow. That five Italians, three Spaniards and two Germans should set up the Consortium was a risky, but plausible idea. In a world that was infinitely less internationalized than today’s we at least knew that there was, in those countries, a significant presence of chairs in diritto ecclesiastico, Derecho Eclesiástico, Staatskirchenrecht. At that time we knew little or nothing of the situation in other countries. It was realistic for the scope of the association to be that of the European Communities, given that, at that time, it seemed absurd to try to create associations on a world-wide scale. Contact with academics even in other EEC countries was minimal, not to say non-existent. For that reason, it could be considered a great success that in the first meeting, held in 1989, there were representatives of, apart from the three promoting countries, two of the great European powers, France and the United Kingdom, as well as Greece, Portugal and the Netherlands.
The aim was to integrate into the association, which was set up on a small scale in terms of the number of members, representatives of all of the twelve member states. It seemed difficult (did anybody know of any specialist in the subject in Luxembourg or Ireland?), but possible. Even with the foreseeable expansion (to include Austria and some of the Nordic countries), it seemed manageable, although not without difficulties.
Things seem to have worked reasonably well. Please allow me to provide some data regarding the conferences that have been held thus far. I should point out that the annual conferences are not the only activity that the Consortium engages in but, in my view, as they have been the only constant activity – one has been held every year, practically on the same dates – they have been the main “institutionalizing” element, if I may say that. Well then, if we take the list of the European Union member states prior to the expansion to twenty-five we can see that, with the exception of Ireland, a conference has been held in every one of them and that all of them have been represented by at least one member in the Consortium. Indeed, even the importance of the field of Church-State Studies in the universities is reflected if we look closely at the list of conferences: Germany has hosted four, Spain three, and is to hold a fourth in 2015, and Italy three. The great powers have also held more than one: France has organized three and the United Kingdom two. But all of old Western Europe has been represented. The big university names appear: Leuven, Oxford, Tübingen, etc. The North (Järvenpää), the South (Reggio di Calabria), the East (Thessaloniki) and the West (Lisbon) have all been represented, as have the great capitals, (Paris) and tiny towns (Höör), as well as the names most absolutely linked to the Community: Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg.
That is to say, throughout these twenty-five years the Consortium has managed to hold a conference every year, one in which the most varied themes within the subject area of the legal treatment of the religious phenomenon in European countries, and the legal framework of Community Law, have been analyzed. The minutes of all of these meetings have been published; to have an idea of the volume of information contained, let us just say that they total more than seven thousand five hundred pages. A network of contacts between European university teachers has been set up, something that was scarcely imaginable just a few years ago, and this has itself served as a starting point for numerous other activities, too many to review here. That is to say, it is my firm belief that the Consortium has played a highly important role in the expansion of the scientific knowledge concerning the legal realities in Church and State matter in Europe.
But now, twenty-five years later, the Berlin wall is now just a line that zigzags along the pavement through the city, and its significance is probably lost on some young Berliners. Some of the facts that I have quoted in this article have been gleaned from Internet; the Consortium itself has a website (www.churchstate.eu). Books, although I doubt that anyone who appreciates a book as an object would admit that these products could be classed as such, are generated on demand, they do not exist physically until there is a request for them, so warehouses are no longer necessary, and it is not impossible to imagine a future without libraries. The European Union now consists of twenty-eight member states. It is considered perfectly reasonable for a university professor to spend two thousand hours a year travelling to attend a great variety of events organized by a great diversity of bodies in order to say the same thing all the time (in English, for sure). And the Consortium plans to celebrate its twenty-fifth conference in Vienna next November. But, does the Consortium have any sense in these times? To a certain extent, it is an infinitesimal part of a vital question: does a European Union of close to thirty member states and which apparently will continue to grow unstoppably, have any sense at all?
To aim to answer the second question would be unbelievably vain of me. Nonetheless, I would venture to say that the expansions that led to a Union of twenty-five member states, and the successive expansions were owing to, fundamentally, reasons of geostrategy. To put it briefly, they occurred to avoid cases such as that of Crimea. But, let us return to the Consortium.
The first impression we get is that the Consortium was able to take on board the Union’s expansion to twenty-five member states. Conferences have been held in Nicosia and in Budapest; another has been arranged for Riga. Members of the Consortium include the Baltic States, Slovenia, the Czech Republic etcetera. All the countries of the current Union, with the exception of Croatia, which joined last July, have, at some time, had a speaker at a conference, although it is curious and perhaps significant that there have only ever been two non-community speakers, one from the United States of America and the other from Turkey. The reasons for this could be, in the case of the USA, their need, almost genetic I would say, to be present at every venue while in the Turkish case it might be due to their calling to “be European” – even though Istanbul seems to me to be about as “European” as Marrakesh. That is to say, it seems like the model continues to function, that it is enough to continue applying the same rules and the vehicle will continue to circulate. I am not sure.
When, in February of 1989, a small group of Italian, German and Spanish scholars met in Geneva to set the Consortium in motion, all of us were teachers at the highest University level possible in our countries and our dedication to the study of the legal regulation of religions was preferential, where not exclusive. Can we continue to apply this rule? There are countries in the European Union with fewer inhabitants than there are university students in others; there are countries in the Union with fewer university students than there are university teachers in others. And, although it should be no surprise, there are countries in the Union in which the total number of inhabitants is smaller than that of the second, third or fourth cities of other countries. The United Nations Organization has resolved the contradiction of formal equality versus real diversity by means of the Security Council. In Europe there are no identical mechanisms, for which reason we can encounter a country that aims to control the Union, whose power is counterbalanced by a few others that have the vocation of being powers. Should we apply a similar solution to the Consortium?
I know where to detect the problem, but not the solution. I do not believe that the model can continue to be applied without alterations, carrying out the fiction that in all European countries there are numerous experts in Church-State relations at the highest university level and that it is just a question of seeking them and finding them. But it is no longer up to those of us who founded the Consortium and steered it through its early years to find the solutions; that task falls to the younger ones, those who never knew the world as it was before.
I will not give any advice concerning the adaptations that are necessary to guarantee the future. I will limit myself to making a few personal references and I will do so by citing the three members of the Consortium who have passed away, thus showing my respect for their memory. One of the founders of the Consortium was Joseph Listl, a first-rate scholar who was engaged in many activities, chair-holder in the country that was the centre of legal studies throughout the nineteenth century and part of the twentieth. Despite the difference in our ages we had a sincere and cordial relationship; on one occasion he told me, referring to the other colleagues, “we are all busy and have lots of activities, but, for me, the Consortium is the priority”. Greece at that time seemed to me to be a far-off place, with a glorious past but an irrelevant present. Naturally, my opinion was nothing more than an erroneous stereotype. In the first ever Congress, Charalambos Papastathis took part, showing in all of his interventions and actions an extraordinary intellectual and human stature. And I am honored to have been a friend of Babis Papastathis. It was almost like something out of science-fiction to imagine that in a country as small as Luxembourg there would be a person sufficiently capable of representing that country in our organization but, since the conference that I organized in Madrid in 1992, and until his death, even throughout periods of illness, Alexis Pauly carried out this role with total competence. By recalling, and honoring, the three deceased members of the Consortium, I would like to take a conclusion, one that could be of help to those who, for reasons of age, are precisely those who must guide our organization in the immediate future.
If there is anyone who, like Professor Listl, considers that his activity in the Consortium has priority over any other; if we are able to find any person or persons of the intellectual and personal stature of Professor Papastathis; if a country is not ruled out for the simple reason of its small size, and we seek out its Alexis Pauly, then the Consortium surely has a future.
But that is a task for the younger members of the Consortium and their peers. They have a special responsibility: that of making the changes necessary to allow the organization to survive without changing its essence: a forum for scientific discussion that is neither political nor religious, one that is independent of any authority and, a key exigency of all the aforementioned, one that is self-sufficient. That said, while any changes that should be made are not clear, it is better not to make them. We, the oldest members, should perhaps retire giving just one piece of advice: take no notice of our advice.
Iván C. Ibán
Family, Religion, and Law. Cultural Encounters in Europe