04 Februar 2020

What a Journal Makes: As we say goodbye to the European Law Journal

On January 31st, the Editorial and Advisory Boards of the European Law Journal resigned en masse from their positions in protest after the publisher, Wiley, decided that it was not willing to ‘give away’ control and authority over editorial appointments and decisions to the academics on the journal’s Boards. We recount our small act of resistance here because we think there may be lessons for the wider academic community. We are not looking to portray ourselves as martyrs for academic freedom or principled radicals looking to overhaul the entire system of academic publishing. Indeed, the most significant aspect of our rupture with Wiley lies in the modesty of the demands they were unwilling to meet. 

In 2018, Wiley sought to appoint Editors-in-Chief without as much as consulting the Board of Editors and the Advisory Board, in a process both unfair to the prospective, excellent, new editors and in complete disregard of the integrity and autonomy of the academic community gathered in the Boards. The new editors withdrew, and the Boards resigned in protest. Wiley finally relented and agreed on an open competitive process administered by a committee of Board representatives leading to an appointment by mutual consent of the publisher and the committee. In the end, our recent negotiations with Wiley broke down on our one necessary if insufficient condition for agreeing to new terms: to simply have this process formalized in our new contract. It is a modest point, but one of vital importance: it clears the way to a model where Editors respond to the Board, not to the publisher, and where Editors work for the journal, not as remunerated contractors for the publisher. In other words, it is a fundamental condition for safeguarding academic autonomy.

To be sure, Wiley acted wholly within its rights. It ‘owns’ the European Law Journal. It has the rights to the title and associated proprietary paraphernalia, and it controls access to content. It operates the ELJ much as it and other commercial academic publishers operate other journals. It appoints and employs editors as ‘contractors’ who then organize and manage the free labor of authors and reviewers of submissions. It has articles copy-edited, type-set and produced in a low-wage country far far away. From a business perspective, academic publishing is a cool gig: labor costs are spectacularly low, the investment required is largely limited to building (or rather, buying) a proper software system for processing and storing papers, and demand has the elasticity of cast iron: journals are wrapped up and sold in packaged databases which university libraries have little choice but to gobble up. Scholarship and intellectual exchange are but ‘content’ on a ‘platform.’ Academics are but marvelously cheap service providers. 

Perhaps naively, we always thought it was the other way around. We saw Wiley as a prestigious publishing house that should be generously rewarded for services rendered to the intellectual project that is the European Law Journal. We saw sales and revenue and impact factors as slightly irritating but necessary means to the end of sharing that intellectual project with the wider academic community. And yes, we thought and still think that the intellectual project of the ELJ is ‘owned’ by the academic community of editors, authors, reviewers and readers whose efforts have made the ELJ into a leading journal of European law. Founded twenty-five years ago as a review of European ‘law in context’, the ELJ has offered a distinctive platform for avowedly theoretical and critical work, for a meaningful exchange between disciplines and approaches, and for methodological pluralism. We have given importance to empirical and historical analysis, played a vital role in introducing private law debates into general EU law, and laid bare the gravity of ‘crisis law’ as a matter not just of law and governance, but as matter of European legal scholarship. If the enduring importance of, say, Heller and Schmitt, Habermas and Luhmann, Foucault and Bourdieu, or Hayek and Polanyi has been seeping through in EU legal discourse, it is surely partly the merit of the ELJ.  

The European Law Journal is an intellectual project we are determined to continue. This will have to happen in a new journal which will not be called the European Law Journal, will not have a pink cover, and will not carry the subtitle of the ‘review of European law in context.’ God forbid we encroach on the publisher’s proprietary interests. 

Meanwhile, Wiley is looking to appoint new editors, refill its fully depleted masthead and continue something that is called the European Law Journal. New contractors, new service providers. Same name, same logo. Same paywall in front of the same thousands of pages of dedicated scholarship. Business as usual.  It is their right to do so. After all, they ‘own’ the European Law Journal. Or do they? 

Formerly the editors-in-chief: Joana Mendes and Harm Schepel

Formerly on the Board of Editors: Daniela Caruso, Edoardo Chiti, Michelle Everson, Agustín Menéndez, Alexander Somek, Daniel Thym, Renata Uitz, and Floris de Witte.

Formerly on the Advisory Board: Gráinne de Búrca, Carol Harlow, Imelda Maher, Miguel Poiares Maduro, Wojciech Sadurski, Silvana Sciarra, Francis Snyder, Neil Walker, Joseph Weiler, and Bruno de Witte.

SUGGESTED CITATION  Mendes, Joana; Schepel, Harm: What a Journal Makes: As we say goodbye to the European Law Journal, VerfBlog, 2020/2/04, https://verfassungsblog.de/what-a-journal-makes-as-we-say-goodbye-to-the-european-law-journal/, DOI: 10.17176/20200204-105826-0.


  1. Dr hab. Agnieszka Grzelak, prof. ALK, Kozminski University Warsaw, International and EU law Department Di 4 Feb 2020 at 10:32 - Reply

    Thank you for sharing this information. Words of support and understanding.

  2. Francisco Vasques Mi 5 Feb 2020 at 12:19 - Reply

    Thank you for your detailed explanations… I fully agree with all your statments, namely when you say „we thought and still think that the intellectual project of <> is ‘owned’ by the academic community of editors, authors, reviewers and readers whose efforts have made <> into a leading journal <>.

  3. EuConst editorial board Mi 5 Feb 2020 at 12:32 - Reply

    We, the editors of the European Constitutional Law Review, unequivocally support this decision by our colleagues. It is within the community of editors, peer reviewers, authors and readers that the soul, heart and intellect of an excellent journal like theirs reside. Joana Mendes, Harm Schepel and their fellow former board members are sending us a reminder of that fact, through their principled action and with eloquent explanation, as they set out to preserve the essence of their journal. They have our full support in going forward.

    Leonard F.M. Besselink
    Matteo Bonelli
    Monica Claes
    Jan Komárek
    Bastian Michel
    François-Xavier Millet
    Aida Torres Pérez
    Jan-Herman Reestman
    Gerhard van der Schyff
    Mattias Wendel

  4. ELRev Editorial Team Mi 5 Feb 2020 at 18:07 - Reply

    We, the editorial team of European Law Review, are shocked and dismayed at the cavalier treatment meted out to our European Law Journal colleagues. It is on people like them that the success of any academic journal worthy of its name depends. Integrity and independence, such as that shown by the European Law Journal, is essential to the quality of any academic journal and must be protected.

    Panos Koutrakos
    Alicia Hinarejos
    Anthony Arnull
    Thomas Horsley

  5. Ravindra Narayan Singh Do 6 Feb 2020 at 16:11 - Reply

    Thanks for the Rebels‘ rebel. Alas we don’t have the ReBels in India. Badly missing

  6. Editorial Team MJECL Fr 7 Feb 2020 at 08:01 - Reply

    The Editorial Committee and the Editorial Team of the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law unequivocally support our colleagues Joana Mendes, Harm Schepel and their fellow former board members of the European Law Journal in their decision. The quality and the integrity of academic publishing are inextricably linked to the expertise, autonomy and independence of an academic journal’s staff, its authors and its reviewers. Any compromise of such independence undermines the core values that drive the academic pursuit. We stand with our colleagues and appreciate their resolve to uphold these core principles.
    Michael Faure
    Caroline Cauffman
    Monica Claes
    Raymond Luja
    Elise Muir
    Phedon Nicolaides
    Andrea Ott
    Anne-Pieter van der Mei
    Gijs van Dijck
    Thomas Biermeyer
    Christopher Mondschein
    Betül Kas

  7. LIEI Editorial Board Mo 10 Feb 2020 at 08:13 - Reply

    We, the editors of Legal Issues of Economic Integration, whole-heartedly support the decision of our colleagues from the European Law Journal. Academic freedom and independence are the indispensable ingredients of any academic journal. Any intrusion on the academic freedom, no matter how modest, should be condemned. We thank the ELJ board members for sharing, explaining, and reminding us. They have our full support in carrying on their intellectual project.

    Laurens Ankersmit
    Kati Cseres
    Pieter Jan Kuijper (former editor)
    Jim Mathis
    Enrico Partiti
    Annette Schrauwen
    Geraldo Vidigal

  8. The editorial team of the German Law Journal fully supports the brave decision of our friends over at the European Law Journal. Abandoning an intellectual project that has enriched the field of EU law for over 25 years can never have been an easy decision, but in the current circumstances it is one that should be wholeheartedly supported by the whole community.

    As we know at the German Law Journal, things can be done differently. Academic freedom, respect for the role of academics in the ‚business‘ of publishing, and open access cannot but be central to any modern project of academic engagement.

    We remain at the disposal of our former colleagues at the ELJ to collaborate in any way that might be considered helpful.

    The Editors of the German Law Journal

Leave A Comment


1. We welcome your comments but you do so as our guest. Please note that we will exercise our property rights to make sure that Verfassungsblog remains a safe and attractive place for everyone. Your comment will not appear immediately but will be moderated by us. Just as with posts, we make a choice. That means not all submitted comments will be published.

2. We expect comments to be matter-of-fact, on-topic and free of sarcasm, innuendo and ad personam arguments.

3. Racist, sexist and otherwise discriminatory comments will not be published.

4. Comments under pseudonym are allowed but a valid email address is obligatory. The use of more than one pseudonym is not allowed.

Explore posts related to this:
Academic Freedom, EU Law, Rechtswissenschaft