The Institute was founded in 1964 by Professor Dr. Dr. h. c. Boris Meissner. Under his direction, at first, the Institute for East European Law was devoted to “comparative systems research”, i.e. on the scientific research of the law in East European states, which formed an independent field of research due to its close link with the political system of these states. The integration of questions from political science into the field of activity of a law institute was determined by the marxist-leninist concept/idea of the state and of the law, which considered the law as an instrument of politics. A special research focus constituted the international public law in its connection with foreign policy. During the 60s of the last century, numerous papers of the Institute’s staff/collaborators dealt with the relationship between East and West against the background of the socialist concept of International Public Law.
In the 70s, the time of policy of détente and the CSCE process, these analyses should turn out to be a valuable preparatory work. Aside, the work of the Institute now concentrated on the study of the correlations between the constitutional law and the political system under the terms of a totalitarian one-party state as well as on questions of economic law. Even though the official idea of fundamental rights in Eastern Europe only changed gradually until the turnaround of 1989/90, in many states civil rights movements could develop/emerge in the wake of the “Helsinki Process”, which – for instance in Czechoslovakia – should make a significant contribution to the overthrow of the socialist regimes. Eventually, the CSCE Final Act of 1975 also entailed that the objection of human rights violations in East European states could not be rejected systematically (im dt. Text: stereotyp) as an “unlawful intervention in internal affairs”. The significance/implication for foreign-policy of the human rights issue was reflected in the work of the Institute for East European Law: In 1987, under the guidance of the new Director of the Institute, Professor Dr. Dr. h. c. Georg Brunner, who had assumed this position three years ago, an extensive report on the subject “Human Rights Violations in the States of the Warsaw Pact” was prepared on behalf of the German Federal Minister of Justice. In 1989, a comparable research followed on the issue of human rights in the GDR, as well with the collaboration of Professor Brunner and other Institute members.
The policy of détente of the 70s also led to fundamental changes in the German-German relationship. Since already in 1968 a GDR-department had been affiliated to the Institute, in the field of the law of the GDR, too, documental and analytical work could be done. Until the reunification of Germany on 3rd of October 1990, a library comprehending/comprising about 10.000 volumes on legislation, jurisprudence and legal practice of the GDR has been built up, which particularly after the turnaround of 1989 stood the courts, the authorities and the lawyers in good stead. Above all for the law of unresolved property issues, the legal rules of the GDR and of the soviet occupying power were of importance. The same has been true for the “legal coming to terms with the past”; in this connection, it should be directed to Professor Georg Brunner’s expertises for the Committee of Enquiry of the German Federal Parliament, which deal with the one-party rule (im dt. Text: Parteiherrschaft) and the state apparatus as well as with the development of the concept of law in the GDR.
The fall of the GDR highlights in the most impressive/striking way the consequences/reach of the political and economic changes in the former Eastern bloc. The former “comparative systems research” was superseded by the scientific/academic monitoring/attendance of the transformation process, which was increasingly determined by questions on the approximation of laws in course of the eastern enlargement of the EU. Thus, the tasks of the eastern law research have rather increased than declined; the available means, though, have not kept up with that development. The nine member states of the Warsaw Pact were superseded by 28 independent states that had to reform their legal orders in a fundamental way. Both the common political system and a common legal theory were lacking thereby, so that the legal transformation process naturally took course in a differentiated manner and brought up manifold outcomes and in part still today is not yet completed.
In the analysis of the legal development the Institute for Eastern European Law, since 2002 under the direction of Ms Professor Dr. Angelika Nußberger M.A., is focused - from the regional point of view - on the states of Central and Eastern Europe and - with regard to contents - on constitutional law, state law and international public law and other areas of public law. To the fore is the analysis of the new constitutions, in particular with a view to their rules on the protection of human and civil rights including the rights of national minorities as well as to the development of the law.
A further focus of the Institute’s work is on the research of the direct and indirect influence of European law on the development of the law in the East European states as well as – vice versa – of the influence of the states of Central and Eastern Europe on the constitutionalisation process in the European Union. In this field, the Institute collaborates with other institutions of the university, since the already realised and the upcoming analyses and working results shall become part of the planned interdisciplinary research network of the special research area “Constitutionalisation Processes in the European Union”.
In addition to the courses given in the field of German public law (constitutional law, state law, administrative law, constitutional procedure law and administrative procedure law, social law), lectures and seminars are offered on the applicable law as well as on the legal traditions and legal terminology in Central and Eastern Europe. In the framework of the certificate programme “East European Law”, in which five more German universities and one Austrian university participate, students can prove their deepened knowledge acquired in these special courses by a course-related degree. At the same time, the Institute especially aims to keep direct contacts with academic institutions in Central and Eastern Europe and to support not only the student exchange in the framework of the Erasmus programmes but also a regular student exchange through common block seminars with students from Cologne and students from Eastern Europe.
Finally, the Competence Centre East of the Faculty of Law at the University of Cologne, which is organized and supervised by the Institute for East European Law, offers an extensive information platform, which provides information about all institutions at the University of Cologne that deal with the legal order of the states of Central and Eastern Europe, of the CIS and of the states of Eastern Asia.
Since the foundation of the Institute an extensive scientific/academic library has been built up, that – as of summer 2004 – comprehends about 90 periodicals and 40.000 volumes on the subjects law, politics and economy of the East European states. Furthermore, the editorial office of the journal “Osteuropa-Recht” is based since 1967 in the Institute for East European law.