This post was written by Giesela Rühl.
The European Association of Private International Law mourns the loss of Jürgen Basedow, director emeritus of the Max Planck Institute of Comparative and International Private Law in Hamburg and one of the most influential private international law scholars of our times. He unexpectedly passed away on 6 April 2023 at the age of 73. His untimely and much too early death leaves a painful gap that cannot be filled.
Jürgen Basedow was a giant – physically (he was almost 2 meters tall) and academically. For more than 40 years he shaped discussions in private international law across the board. In numerous contributions, including his groundbreaking 2012 Hague general course on The Law of the Open Society, he provided brilliant legal analyses on a whole range of issues and redefined the frontiers of our discipline. He was also among the first to support the creation of a European association for the systematic study and development of (European) private international law. In particular, he supported the organization of the Berlin conference of 2018, where the idea to establish a European Association of Private International Law gained momentum. He was later among our first members.
Jürgen Basedow’s interest in private international law was born early in his career when he studied law in his hometown Hamburg. It led him to complement his studies through stays in Geneva (Switzerland), Pavia (Italy) and Harvard (USA). And it made him write his PhD on the recognition of divorces obtained abroad. Private International Law was also the focus of his first two professorships at the University of Augsburg and the Free University of Berlin. He was, therefore, a natural – and as it turned out brilliant – choice when the Max Planck Society had to fill the position of a director at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law in Hamburg in 1997. During the 20 years of his tenure, he shaped the profile of the Institute, contributed to its reputation around the world and used its enormous resources to further the study of private international law. Among others he initiated and led two working groups that commented on the European Commission’s proposals for the Rome I and Rome II Regulations. These comments substantially influenced the outcome of the negotiations and the way the two Regulations were eventually adopted.
Private international law, however, was not the only field that was shaped and influenced by Jürgen Basedow. In fact, his scholarship also covered (European) private and economic law, notably competition law, transport law, insurance law and contract law. In all these fields he left an enduring mark through his clear, matter-of-fact, yet visionary approach to law – and his always original ideas. Through the participation in various advisory committees, he also induced actual change in practice. As a member – and as a chairman – of the German Federal Monopoly Commission, for example, he (co-) authored a number of highly important opinions that dealt, among others, with the (de-) regulation of the German railroad market as well as the German energy market.
Those who knew Jürgen Basedow will remember him for many things: his brilliant mind, his originality, his enormous ability to lead and summarize complex discussions, – but also for his kindness and his humor, his work-ethic and his enormous productivity. In fact, when he retired from his position at the Max Planck Institute in 2017, he did not retire from academia. On the contrary: relieved from all administrative burden he became more active than ever, travelled the world and published, among others, a monograph on EU Private Law. At the time of his death, he was working on another monograph on uniform law – a monograph that will now remain unfinished.
With Jürgen Basedow, the Private International Law community – and legal academia as such – loses an intellectual mastermind and a great person who will be dearly missed. His legacy, however, lives on in his writings and in his numerous PhD students of whom many are teaching in Germany and elsewhere. I consider myself lucky to be one of them and will always cherish the many precious moments that I had the privilege to share with him – from our first meeting some 24 years ago in Hamburg to our last encounter in Oxford two weeks before his death.
Our thoughts are with his wife, Gesche, and his sons.