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1963-1993: Common Market Law Review and the maturation of EU Law Academia

As part of her doctoral studies at the University of Copenhagen, Dr Rebekka Byberg explored the history of the Common Market Law Review from 1963 to 1993 in an engaging article which illustrates the evolution of European law as an academic discipline.

Rebekka’s work not only sheds light on the development of the CML Rev. during its first three decades of existence, but it also illustrates the evolution of European law as an academic discipline. Drawing on the physical archives of the Review as well as interviews with key figures in CML Rev.’s history, Rebekka demonstrated, among others, how European law scholars contributed to the strengthening of the powers of the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) in the 1960s and 1970s, while providing constructive criticism from the 1980s onwards as the ECJ consolidated its position, and how the journal’s ties with the European Commission were gradually loosened in the early 1990s when European law academia reached a stage of professional maturity. We talked to Rebekka on the occasion of the Review’s 60th anniversary.

Q: How did you get involved in this project?

Rebekka: As a graduate student in Copenhagen, I took an interest in the history of European integration. A teacher of mine, Morten Rasmussen, Associate Professor at the SAXO Institute, University of Copenhagen, had just begun researching the history of European law from 1950 onwards, and although it took some time to understand the legal aspects, I quickly understood the importance of the subject to the general history of European integration. It was land untouched by historians and ripe for investigation, somewhat a dream for a young historian. When I had the chance to do a PhD in a research group on the history of European law led by Morten Rasmussen and the English historian Bill Davies, I was very excited.

Q: What awakened your interest in the history of the Common Market Law Review?

Rebekka: In my research group, we studied the history of European law from different perspectives. My topic was the transnational academic discipline of European law that emerged in the 1960s. Based on the hypothesis that the transnational academic discipline had a prominent role in legitimising a constitutional practice of the European Court of Justice, I wanted to pinpoint the cornerstones of the emerging discipline and quickly found out that CML Rev. was arguably one such cornerstone as a truly transnational journal and with strong ties to the community institutions. When granted access to the archives of the CML Rev., I was able to research the social and organisational history of the journal alongside an analysis of the debate on the nature of European law in the journal from 1963-1993.  

Q: What methodology did you follow when going through the physical archives of the Review, containing 30 years of correspondence with authors and Editorial Board meeting minutes?

Rebekka: As a historian, the access to files that have been left untouched for decades is spectacular. Dusty binders may provide new insights and support some of your expectations or force you to turn them upside down. At the same time, it is indeed hard work, and when I visited Leiden, I focused on photographing as many files as possible, making relatively fast choices on whether or not they could be a source to my research questions on the social and organisational history of the journal and the debate on the nature of European law. Back in Copenhagen, I coded the material in order to get an overview and be able to put the different types of information in the sources to full use in my analysis and the historical narrative that emerged from that analysis.  

Q: What were the main takeaways of this project for you?

Rebekka: To me, it was very interesting to document how the journal was established and how a small circle of central Community actors and the academic editors shaped the journal with a fervent ideological dedication to their cause in the first years of the journal. Cautious notions were used in the early articles and editorials on the nature of European law, but the doctrines of direct effect, primacy, and European law as a new, special kind of law in line with a constitutional vision were nevertheless academically endorsed. In addition, it was special to be able to trace the development of the CML Rev. while Claus-Dieter Ehlermann, former head of the Legal Service of the Commission, was an editor of the journal. For instance, to see how the journal functioned as a bulwark against criticism from the national courts or national academics which contested the Court of Justice’s developing constitutional practice. In addition, the development in the 1990s of a level of independence from the Community institutions, when the editors began to take more care in encouraging representatives from the Commission to write for the CML Rev., was a main takeaway.

To learn more about the history of European law and the role of the CML Rev. in it, read Rebekka’s article here.

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