On 1 February 1973 the first "European Conference of Presidents of Lawyers' Organizations – Vienna Advocates' Deliberations" took place on the premises of the Vienna Bar. This started the proud tradition of the European Presidents' Conferences (EPC), which have been organized in Vienna ever since. In the course of his many trips to the former Eastern Bloc countries as a member of the Austrian Lawyers' Commission, President Walter Schuppich established first contacts to lawyers' organizations behind the Iron Curtain. At the same time, the Austrian Bar was able to follow up on the many decades of traditional ties with law societies and bar associations in countries of Western Europe.
Against this background, President Schuppich systematically expanded the European Presidents' Conference in Vienna to become an institution that enjoys European and international recognition and popularity. Initially, the objective was to involve contact persons from the legal profession in East and West. A printed register of European law societies and bar associations, compiled by Secretary General Soukup, which was presented in 1975, served this goal. Introductory statements by Austrian speakers led to an increasingly better level of information on the situation of lawyers in the participating countries. Guidelines for lawyers on rendering deputizing services were a first step towards the CCBE rules.
In 1978 President Armin Dietrich presented a form sheet for an international power of attorney, and a collection of the printed conference conclusions ("Die Advokatur in Europa" – Advocates in Europe) was published on the occasion of the 10th European Presidents' Conference. It contained a catalogue of the principles for conducting court proceedings and for receiving reimbursements for costs and expenses in the countries of Europe (Harald Foglar-Deinhardstein, Wrabetz), information about professional partnerships among lawyers in Europe (Viktor Cerha), as well as a considerably more voluminous register of European law societies and bar associations in Europe (status: 1982). In the beginning, the conferences were held in the conference room of the Vienna Bar. However, as the number of participants steadily grew, the Conference moved to different places (e.g. Palais Auersperg, Federal Ministry of Finance) until the refurbished main hall (Festsaal) of the Palais Ferstel proved to be the best-suited location, which has been the venue since the 16th Conference (1988) to this very day. An ecumenical service at the Schottenkirche Church, at which delegates appeared in their robes and gowns, provided a particularly solemn and festive background for the 25th European Presidents' Conference. The history of the previous conferences was published as documentation on that occasion.
When the Iron Curtain came down, it became apparent what a sound tradition the Vienna Advocates’ Deliberations had become. Although this finally put an end to restrictions on travelling, to which representatives of the legal professions in the former Eastern Bloc countries had been exposed, allowing them henceforth to participate regularly in many different international events – previously it was often possible to travel only to Vienna – the conference in Vienna remained without competition. The meetings of heads of CCBE delegations, held before the European Presidents' Conference, actually gave it additional significance. The tradition that international organizations such as IBA, UIA and AIJA are also represented at the Conference was further enhanced by the participation of AEA (Association Européene des Avocats – European Association of Lawyers), UAE (Union des Avocats Européene – European Lawyer’s Union), AIGLE (Organization of Italian-speaking lawyers), ESSEBA (Organization of English-speaking secretaries of European lawyers' organizations), DACH (European advocates' association), the World Peace through Law Center, as well as guests from the American Bar Association and the Israel Bar Association. Last but not least, the Permanent Senate, comprising former presidents who are particularly attached to the European Presidents' Conference, offers a good opportunity for continuing contacts and bonds of friendship beyond one' s term of office as well as to contribute own experience.
In 1993, Klaus Hoffmann, President of the Austrian Bar, became the successor to Walter Schuppich, Honorary President and founder of the European Presidents' Conference. He readily continued the tradition, while putting the emphasis on specific professional issues. Up to 1990, Secretary General Soukup was in charge of organizing the increasingly larger event. Secretary General Wrabetz was his successor, who was responsible for the organization of the Conference from 1990 to 1999. Monika Peschke, Alexander Christian and Silvia Tsorlinis followed in his footsteps.
In addition to the international dimension of the European Presidents' Conference, it became increasingly an aspect of the Conference to demonstrate the international position of Austrian lawyers to the Austrian public. The receptions held by the Presidents of the Republic of Austria provided this opportunity. It was Rudolf Kirchschläger who began the tradition of extending an invitation to delegates, which was continued by his successors Kurt Waldheim, Thomas Klestil and Heinz Fischer. Federal Chancellor Bruno Kreisky did not miss the opportunity to personally host receptions for conference participants. However, his successors found it increasingly difficult, for lack of time, to follow his example. The contacts to the different Austrian ministers of justice were especially intensive - Broda, Ofner, Foregger, Michalek, Böhmdorfer, Gastinger, Berger, Bandion-Ortner and Karl, who all addressed participants at the gala dinners. They also welcomed delegates to receptions at the Federal Ministry of Justice. The senior staff members of the Federal Ministry of Justice regularly attend the working sessions. In recent years, it has also been possible to welcome as guests the presidents of the supreme courts and the higher regional courts.
The Mayors of the City of Vienna hosted the welcome evening receptions, and the President of the National Council invited participants to a reception at the Parliament. Conference participants therefore have many opportunities to meet the leading persons in politics, the justice administration and from the judiciary. At the same time, the working sessions and contacts with guests afforded the Austrian hosts an opportunity to gain some insights into the work of lawyers throughout Europe.
By way of conclusion, one should mention that the European Presidents' Conference in Vienna contributed considerably to international cooperation among European lawyers in international organizations: First, to prepare the foundation of the CCBE; later to the increasingly important work of the CCBE, especially when it also included the pre-accession countries, whose representatives had already belonged to the big family of the European Presidents' Conference for a long time.
With the permission of the author, Dr. Peter Wrabetz, taken from "Östereichs Rechtsanwälte in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart" (Austrian Lawyers - the Past and Today).