A laudatio for Wim Wijnen

A laudatio for Wim Wijnen
Wolfgang Oepen, Wim Wijnen, Silvia Kotanidis and me - Amsterdam, 17.01.2024

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, colleagues, and friends,

I must confess that when Johanna invited me to come to Amsterdam to celebrate Wim's retirement, and to give a eulogy, a retirement speech, I thought it was a kind of a joke ... and for two reasons.

The first is that I am not the most appropriate person, I don't deserve the honor, the privilege to illustrate Wim's outstanding achievements to you all, his successes in a lifetime career are known to everyone in the Netherlands, in my country, in Europe ... All around the world: he has been a true globalist.


I thought is was a joke (this is the second reason) as Wim does not retire and will never do.

That is why I asked Johanna to repeat the invitation, send another email, which I checked both with Deepl and Google translate. She actually meant retirement, pension (pensione, in Italian).

So at the very end I gave up, accepted and I came here, thanks Joanna and thanks to the IBFD ... but deep down in myself I am still convinced that it's a set-up.

I am sure that as soon as I finish my eulogy, Wim shall stand up, and address the audience saying something like "Folks, I've changed my mind this eulogy was so poor and boring that I decided to go back to work just to have another chance to retire and possibly a different speaker at the moment of my real retirement".

If this is the case, I would consider my failure a success. So, I'll do my best, or my worst.

To be honest with you, I have never presented a eulogy.

I don't know how to do it. I am aware that in the Netherlands you like people being direct, transparent, and sincere. This is it.

So what did I do? I checked the other eulogies I attended back in time, when an academic retires or, as we are used to say, starts working somewhere else (Wim you know in my country we are used to say that a retired person is someone who works twice and is paid half, I don't know here ...), and tried to write down on paper something. Most of the eulogies in academia celebrate a person through his/her works "Professor John Doe has written X books, Y articles, Z Commentaries o treaties". This is not the case of Wim. Of course, he has been wiring on International tax law for decades and he has his own spaces in the libraries, in the bibliographies, in the shelves of the IBFD. Great writer, thinker, lawyer.

Bu this is not the Wim I like most.

I want to talk to you about another Wim.

When of the most prominent German philosophers of the twentieth century (perhaps one of the most important of the German tradition) collected his writings in a book series, the Gesamtausgabe, he wrote as a sort of motto, a preface "Wege, nich Werke" (Ways, not Works). He intended to mean that all his lifetime inquiry into the nature of Sein (and of Zeit) was just an attempt to discover a new path on an unchartered land.

Wim is a man of Wege, a pathfinder, an explorer of international tax law: an academic between Kees Van Raad and Indiana Jones. In my very personal view, the "first which ever burst into that silent sea" to quote a English poet of two centuries ago.

And here we come to the second part of the enigma. Why am I here. An Italian, to celebrate a Dutch lawyer, researcher, thinker, and a man of action.

A mistake? I believe this is not the case. Let me tell you why. Wim was born in the Netherlands out of the fire. He was mold and shaped in fire at the end of the war, we all know what that means.

But he knew the world, he lived the world, like the Dutchman have always done, and for centuries. Always bringing some part of his own country with him.

In my country, just like in many others, he unveiled the wonders and the intriguing and intricate aspects of international tax law to generations and generations of young (and not so young, look at me) students.

Bologna, Ferrara, Padua, Rome, Milan, I could continue for hours without crossing the Alps, we all leaned though Wim, we all learned from Wim, and we keep on doing that.

If you look at the pictures, taken after 10 and more years. He is always the same. Probably he is the Dutch version of Dorian Gray (a good and decent Dorian Gray). He has some picture of himself at his home in Leiden that ages while he always remains the same. No kidding, check yourself!

I am from a small countryside town, in the Northeast of my country, comparatively rich, but quite close. If I decided to study, familiarize and keep on learning on international tax law it was because of him, of his classes, of his presentation of his enthusiasms, of his unwavering belief that the world can be a better place if we talk to each other, discuss, negotiate, look each other in the eyes. Disagree maybe, but remaining on the same page.

You see now, you realize why the lessons I learned we all learned from Wim go far beyond taxation. He has always been a philosopher maybe without knowing that. Not though his writings, but through is actions.

We owe him so much. And we don't want to sop learning from you, for your stories, from the experience you had when you negotiated in Africa for your Government, when you came to Italy, and you met people from the Ministry.

When you told me that in tax treaties negotiation it is important to restrain from over-winning in the drafting of a clause as the counterpart might fell fooled and pushed to terminate the treaty earlier.

I'd really love to know what doe s Wim think about the Pillar I - II ... world we are now living it. It's so much different from the world we grew up in.

There's no face to look at, one-to-one, Wim, there is no hand to shake.

There's a clock that is ticking, though, and my ten minutes are coming to an end. I was supposed to share with you a funny memory, to wrap up my presentation with a laugh, just like in the real eulogies.

Sorry to disappoint you. I am going to tell you the first lesson Wim has taught me when we met first time, in the mid-nineties.

I was a boy of 23- 24 just graduated, never went more than 70 kilometers away from my home (believe me, in Italy is possible!). I was an assistant to the chair of tax law at the University of Bologna. For those who don't know, in that time being an assistant was someone between a receptionist, steward, concierge, waiter, etc.

I was tasked to assist Professor Wijnen who came to Bologna for a class, and bring him around the city, showing him the beauties and avoiding the shadows.

I did my best, but at the very end of the tour, I don't know how, we met a group of boys on the street, while we were waiting for a bus or something ... I don't remember.

With boys I mean, roadmen, naughty boys perhaps. hey started looking at us with curiosity at the beginning, and interest later.

I knew what that mean. I stated wondering that I had better to serve in the army ... and I looked around for a possible escape plan or route or a decent surrender (you see the Italian coming out of me). Wim realized the situation in a glimpse and star gesturing to these chaps, as if they were friends. "Hello! Oi!".

I thought: "Ok, we are dead, did I renovate my insurance plan ? Are 100.000 Liras enough for them?".

Believe or not, these guys looked at each other, reached to Wim's gesture, ad walked away.

I was puzzled.

Then Wim turned to me smiling and said something like "If you are in troubles, and you feel threat, sometimes is better to act first. "Show respect, but no fear. Be friendly, but firm" "Face, not flee".

This is the Dutch way he said.

This is Wim Wijinen's way, as I call it now.

Thanks for all the lessons you gave and thanks for all those you will give.