Professor Ulf Bernitz (1936-2022)
The Institute of European and Comparative Law and its members mourn the passing of Professor Ulf Bernitz in July 2022, a longstanding member of the Institute and founding father as well as dedicated co-ordinator of the Oxford-Stockholm collaboration.
Ulf was a specialist in both European Union law and private law, with a particular interest in consumer law, competition law and intellectual property law. He was a leading legal figure not merely in Sweden, his home jurisdiction, but over many decades engaged with other systems and colleagues from all over the world. Having read law at Stockholm University, Ulf showed an early fascination with the common law, obtaining a Master of Comparative Jurisprudence at New York University in 1963. There followed a glittering academic career. Based in Stockholm, Ulf soon established himself as the Swedish doyen of European Community (later: Union) law. Always keen to enhance and promote the reputation of Sweden as a powerhouse in EU law scholarship, Ulf’s contributions to both academia and legal practice are far too numerous to be listed here in full. Suffice it to say that besides publishing widely in his fields of expertise, he served as a highly respected legal expert in various commissions, headed a range of specialist bodies, held visiting positions in Oxford, Paris, London, Riga and Örebro, and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Copenhagen University.
The Institute’s connection with Ulf goes back over twenty years. In 2001, he was instrumental in setting up the successful collaboration between the Universities of Oxford and Stockholm, spearheaded on the Oxford side by the Institute of European and Comparative Law and on the Stockholm side by the Stockholm Centre for Commercial Law. As Director for the Wallenberg Foundation Oxford/Stockholm Association in European Law, Ulf initiated or supported countless seminars, conferences and publications which have since sprung – and continue to spring – from this collaboration. Long into his retirement and until May 2022, Ulf regularly visited the Institute and contributed enthusiastically to its activities. No less than three books in the Institute’s own series (“Studies of the Oxford Institute of European and Comparative Law”) were co-edited by him over the years.
Ulf was a much-loved member of the IECL community. When news of his death broke, tributes came flooding in. Steve Weatherill, emeritus Jacques Delors Professor of EU Law, writes: “It is over twenty years since I first got to know Ulf, first as a colleague and then quickly as a friend. He has, for more than twenty years, been a staunch supporter of European law in Oxford and of links between Oxford and Sweden. We owe him an incalculable debt, though he would never have wanted it calculated. Ulf was not a man who worried about details or transactions or obligations, he was concerned only to help. And help he did – a lot. Conferences, lectures, seminars, examination of postgraduate students – you could rely on Ulf. He was always supportive, energetic, enthusiastic, full of ideas and ambition, and unfailingly cheerful. The only time I saw him shaken from his normal good humour was in 2016, on learning of the outcome of the referendum. Brexit shocked him. He could not understand how or why so many British people had fallen for the tall tales spun by a carnival of mountebanks. He was not alone in that of course, but his concern was real and deep, and it was, I am sure, provoked by his affection for this country.” Steve concludes: “Ulf was the kindest of men. He will be remembered with great fondness in Oxford in general and in the Institute in particular.”
Ariel Ezrachi, Slaughter and May Professor of Competition Law, remembers that “Ulf’s positive attitude and excitement were always a driving force. He would provide a calming steady contribution in the organisation of events, a creative mind in the explorations of new frontiers, and would go to every length in support of new initiatives. He retained a deep curiosity, and a wonderful enthusiasm to explore new areas of law.” And John Noble, Director of the British Brands Group and co-organiser – together with Ulf Bernitz and Ariel Ezrachi – of the Annual Symposium on “Trends in Retail Competition”, recalls that Ulf at their last meeting in May “gave no inkling [of his illness] and contributed to the programme and dinner afterwards as he usually did, with huge charm, knowledge and style. It has been entirely thanks to him that the Symposium series ever happened and each year I have hugely enjoyed my interaction with him. He was true gentleman with a lovely sense of humour and a fine touch.”
The Institute is tremendously grateful to have benefited so much from Ulf’s kindness, wisdom and engagement. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
A Personal Memoir of Ulf Bernitz
I first met Ulf Bernitz in Brussels in 2008. At the time, I was a graduate student in Bruges, and had been invited, along with other fellow Swedes at the College of Europe, to the launch of a new edition of Europaperspektiv – a yearbook series exploring central challenges to the EU from interdisciplinary and Swedish perspectives. We were thrilled to be included on the guest list but I never figured out who exactly had thought of putting our names down. I wouldn’t be surprised if the invitation was extended by Ulf, who chaired the event. As would become clear in the following decades when I met him at similar events, Ulf took particular interest in supporting young colleagues from Sweden in the field of EU law.
In the next couple of years, we would meet at Oxford, where he was a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of European and Comparative Law, and I a DPhil student. He was a permanent fixture of the EU Law Discussion Group, which met on Wednesdays at lunchtime, and one of the key enablers of the Oxford-Stockholm Collaboration, which invites Swedish law scholars to academic exchanges at Oxford.
When I moved to Lund University to take up my first full-time academic post, I frequently crossed paths with Ulf. In Sweden, Ulf has long been synonymous with EU law. His many textbooks on EU law, including Europarättens grunder (with Anders Kjellgren), was a staple for any Swedish law student. Beyond the classroom, he was a keen promoter of EU Law in Sweden, and further afield in the Nordic countries by helping set up, and actively participating in the Swedish EU-Law Journal, Europarättslig tidskrift, the Nordic Network for European Law Studies, and the Swedish Network for European Legal Studies. We overlapped as board members of the latter, which organised and helped fund public and academic events on topics related to EU Law.
In short, Ulf was a champion of EU law in Sweden. But he understood the relationship between EU- and national law as a two-way street, and thus saw a clear role for Sweden and Swedish academics to play in Europe. The long list of CJEU case law involving Sweden, such as Viking, Laval, Unibet, Mickelsson and Roos, Åkerberg Fransson, show that he was right.
Ulf was a warm, supporting, and engaged colleague – and I believe that anyone who knew him would agree that he was always smiling. In fact, the only time I saw Ulf disappointed was when I failed to hold the tune in belting out “snapsvisor” (drinking songs) during one of the annual “kräftskivor” (“crayfish parties”) organised by Europarättslig tidskrift. As one of the Swedish voices on EU law, I agreed, I had to do better.