Dear Members of the SFDI,
“So little done, so much to do…” This strong thought is attributed to Sir Cecil Rhodes (not a very recommendable patronage in these times!) on his deathbed. I am not at this end but I very sincerely feel this feeling as I leave the presidency of our Society, whose reins you entrusted to me eight years ago now.
It has been a great honour and often a pleasure. The fact remains that, as I take stock of this very long mandate, I am aware of all that should have been done and that has not been achieved, for lack of time, for lack of means too (our Society is poor…), for lack of having been able to make the most of your support. I am well aware that there have been some positive things – two especially in my opinion: the website and better international visibility.
There is no doubt that the Strasbourg and The Hague meetings of the sister Societies were successful (https://rencontremondiale-worldmeeting.org/fr/) and I have had the enthusiastic help of a tremendously dedicated team to set them up. I sincerely hope that the Network of Societies, led by Clémentine Bories, will continue this experience and that the torch will be taken up by the Peruvian Society which has offered to organise the third Meeting.
The Internet site also seems to me to be a great success thanks to the dedication of Xavier Aurey, Franck Latty – who launched the very useful “Galerie des Internationalistes” with very convenient links to their writings -, Thibaut Fleury-Graff, who succeeded him, who were assisted by Alexandre Hermet and then, at present, Arnaud Lobry. One regret all the same: if the “News” section is adequately nourished on the whole, the announcement of support seems to me to be very insufficient. No doubt we didn’t insist enough on the research directors to pass on the information.
One section that has disappeared from the site is the valuable Table of university courses in international law drawn up by Anne-Thida Norodom, which is currently being updated and will serve as an element of reflection for the future Assises de l’enseignement du droit international. This is a project that is particularly close to my heart and which is already well under way thanks to Anne-Thida – already mentioned – and Caroline Kleiner. Given Covid-19, the conference will initially take place in successive webinars, but we remain hopeful that it will culminate “in person” and lead to a White Paper rich in reflections and proposals.
Last but not least on the positive side of the balance: the Network of Young Researchers led by its board which has shown and continues to show a dynamism that I sincerely admire. The Network publishes with exemplary regularity a very informative and “modern” newsletter and the Bureau brilliantly organises the two annual half-days as a prelude to the Society’s colloquium. In addition, a member of the Bureau participates in each Council meeting, which is an opportunity for useful exchanges on the activities and expectations of young researchers. I have always been keen to encourage them without interfering in their activities and I must say that they seem to be doing more than fine without outside interference.
As you can see, these successes owe me little but testify to a cheerful group dynamic. All is not perfect, however, and I bear the main responsibility for the liabilities – even if I have sometimes weighed in against unfulfilled commitments here and there.
One of my greatest regrets is that I have not kept one of my main “campaign promises”: to carry out a prospective survey among our members, but especially among internationalists who do not, or no longer, belong to our Society, to find out what their expectations are and to gather their criticisms and wishes. In my view, this survey should be addressed not only to academics, but also to practitioners of international law, a very insufficient number of whom have joined us. While the gender balance within the Council is satisfactory, this is far from being the case with regard to the professional origins of the members. I think that we should manage to break the academic self in which we tend to indulge a little, and such a survey would also be an opportunity to “canvass” lawyers, judges (international and national), diplomats, international civil servants, etc., and try to meet their needs. It would certainly take some time and I am sorry that I did not find it.
In the same spirit, I regret insufficient collaboration with “learned societies” in other areas of law. Here, too, the splendid isolation is not healthy.
Another regret: during several of its meetings, the Council discussed a project, which always seemed very promising to me: the publication of an annual volume of “French Perspectives in International Law”, in which would be reproduced in English translation a sample of the best or most significant articles published in public and private international law during the year. Although it would have received the support (and a promise of funding) of the Fondation pour le droit continental, the project did not flourish for lack of follow-up, yet it is a good and useful idea. I don’t know if it is catchable? More broadly, I still think that we are not sufficiently receptive to English and that, as a result, we are cutting ourselves off from the international scientific community in our discipline (in which, moreover, we are insufficiently involved, but it is a very broad debate).
Of course, there have been other failures, but it is on something a little different that I would like to stop before finishing. I am deeply convinced that we are insufficiently “activist”. And this from two points of view.
We do not defend the place of international law sufficiently, either in teaching or in practice, and I must say, at the risk of upsetting some people, that I am very worried about the lack of consideration that international law enjoys in France’s foreign policy. The heroic Legal Affairs Division of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs is not in question, on the contrary (and I take this opportunity to salute the unfailing support of François Alabrune from whom we benefit) – the resources allocated to it are. The same remark with regard e.g. to the training of the judges or the entrance examination to the ENA: international law is the fifth wheel of the coach.
But I would go further – and this is my second point: we are the Society for International Law and it is international law that we must defend. I know that some of my posts have sometimes shocked some readers because I took a position (legal position) on topical issues. I do not care. I think it is important for internationalists to take sides when the application of international law is in question and try to influence the debate. The American Society has no qualms about criticising Trump’s legally insane policy. We might as well debate our own country’s policy (even if only to approve it!). I deeply believe that this too is part of our role as citizens, but also as lawyers and members of the French Society for International Law.
These reflections are in line with a concern. I have already said it: we are poor. We live exclusively on the contributions of our members. I find it unbelievable that, unlike many sister societies, we do not receive any subsidies from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – but in view of the above, I fear that it is futile to hope for change in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, I think it is important – and more realistic – to make a vigorous effort in a twofold direction: on the one hand, there should be a systematic campaign to convince many more members to become a life member or benefactor, stressing the relatively modest cost of this generosity (because of the tax relief it generates); we also need to make progress in fund-raising. I am convinced that, if we better meet their expectations, law firms would be able and willing to contribute financially to our activities. Having said that, here again, I plead guilty: I have been aware of all this for several years and I have not taken the financial bull by the horns as I should have.
This all being said this, I would not want to end this balance sheet without expressing my deep gratitude to all those who have given of their person for the life of our Society and without whom not much would have happened during this eight year mandate. My thanks go first of all to the members of the Board and first of all to the General Secretary, Anne-Thida Norodom, who has been the linchpin of all our accomplishments (as well as to her predecessor Sébastien Touzé). My heartfelt thanks also go out to the Treasurers, Caroline Kleiner and Patrick Jacob, whom I did not sufficiently support, the Deputy Secretary General, Guillaume Le Floch, not forgetting, of course, the two Vice-Presidents, Gilbert Guillaume, for the years in which his presence and very active participation contributed enormously to the work of the Board, and to Geneviève Bastid-Burdeau, who is also a precious “pillar” of our Society. To all of you, a very big and very sincere thank you!
Elections to the Council were held during the week of 13-20 September. I congratulate the new members of the Council on their election and wish them the greatest possible involvement in the work of the Council and the Society. This election has resulted in a considerable renewal which will, I am sure, contribute to giving new impetus to our company under the leadership of a new President. I wish her or him in advance much success in this position, which is sometimes demanding, but where I have had the pleasure of serving, as I have been able to, our international law.
Thank you and good luck!
The (outgoing) President,