A History of the Federation of European Societies of Plant Physiology FESPP Since its Foundation in 1978

Hartmut Lichtenthaler (President of FESPP 1984 – 1986)
Botanical Institute, University of Karlsruhe, Kaiserstreet 12, D-76128 Karlsruhe, Germany

After several years of close contacts and extensive discussion between various plant physiologists of different European countries, the Federation of European Societies of Plant Physiology (FESPP) was established in 1978 in Edinburgh, UK. The aim of the FESPP was and remains to promote up-to-date plant physiology (now biology) research in all European countries and to stimulate scientific cooperation and the exchange of scientists between the different member societies by organizing congresses and workshops as well as editing four (recently five) Federation-affiliated journals. The short History of FESPP presented here covers the preparatory years of the 1970s that led to its actual foundation in 1978, and then its further development up to and following the Federation’s reconstitution in 2002 as the Federation of European Societies of Plant Biology (FESPB).

The Beginnings

In the first two decades after the Second World War, the discipline of Plant Physiology in Europe grew in strength due to the availability of new experimental methods and instrumentation. This development, initially slow, was enhanced in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s by many young European Plant Physiologists who spent one or two postdoc years in relatively well-equipped laboratories in USA. There they also became acquainted with stimulating scientific discussion at meetings of the American Society of Plant Physiologists (ASPP) and with the benefits of its journal Plant Physiology. After their return to Europe, these young researchers, who had become known to each other in USA, kept personal and scientific contacts, but felt somehow “lost” and alone in their national societies that often were incorporated within long-standing Botanical Societies of their country. These European plant physiologists, the former postdocs in the USA, dreamed of a European counterpart to ASPP and of a journal solely dedicated to plant physiology. These and various other younger plant physiologists, who on the occasion of international meetings or personal contacts had met colleagues of other European countries, were one essential driving force for the later formation of the Federation of European Societies of Plant Physiologists (FESPP). Another driving force was the personal commitment and activity of several well-known western European plant physiologists who used their influence and contacts and gave essential impulses. Two of these deserve particular mention: Hubert Ziegler, (Munich, Germany) and Anders Kylin, (Lund, Sweden), who are regarded today as the main founding fathers of the Federation. But, a third colleague who must be mentioned in this context is Paul-Emile Pilet (Lausanne, Switzerland), who lent much support to Messrs Ziegler and Kylin. Thus, the idea of creating a Federation of European Plant Physiologists arose from a general feeling, during the beginning 1970s, of the need for stronger co-operation between the scientific organisations of the nations of Western Europe (and of those of Eastern Europe too if possible). The actual idea of an FESPP came from Ziegler who also proposed an outline for its statutes. He had in mind the very successful FEBS (Federation of European Biochemical Societies), the statutes of which were taken as a model for those of FESPP. The close adherence to the FEBS statutes resulted from the hope that, in eastern european countries, one could refer to the FEBS as a precedent to assist in applications to join FESPP.

An additional impulse came from the West European Science Research Council (ESRC) that had begun to look at the question of rationalising plant physiology journals with the aim of forming a European Journal of Plant Physiology. Anders Kylin, then editor of Physiologia Plantarum, led these discussions with great vigour. Looking back now, it seems clear that Kylin’s vision was an important catalyst in pushing forward the later formation of FESPP.

The role of the IAPP

In the early 1970s, Hans Burstrom (Lund, Sweden) was the President of the International Association of Plant Physiologists (IAPP) and Pilet its Secretary General. The goal of the IAPP was to stimulate worldwide modern research in plant physiology and to enhance the scientific co-operation among plant physiologists by meetings and workshops. Pilet did his best to activate the European Plant Physiologists to move towards a European co-operation or association that would counterbalance the influence of our american colleagues. During the meeting of the “Deutsche Botanische Gesellschaft” in Wurzburg from 23-29 September 1974, Pilet, with the strong support of colleagues from Wurzburg and other german plant physiologists, organised a session of papers in the same building in parallel with the first european meeting of the IAPP. This European IAPP meeting can be regarded as an important precursor of the later FESPP Congresses. The participants and speakers came from 12 different European countries, including Israel.

The Meetings of the ESRC

After the successful IAPP meeting in Wurzburg in July 1974, an additional impulse for the constitution of a Federation came from the committee of West European Science Research Councils (ESRC). The idea of Kylin and Ziegler was to form a Federation of European Societies of Plant Physiology that derived its income from subscribers to a new journal in plant physiology sponsored by the Federation. The conclusion was reached that the best chance of winning acceptance of a federation together with a journal would be to arrange some sort of co-operation between existing society-owned or -influenced plant science journals of a reasonable standard. The Committee decided to set up, within the ESRC, an ad hoc group for the rationalization of scientific publication in Europe, and the Science Research Councils were invited to send representatives to a first meeting of the group in Copenhagen on October 7th, 1974. Participants in this meeting were Prof. A. Moyse of France (for the CNRS), Prof. A. Kylin (for the Swedish Research Council SNF), Prof. K. Egle, of Germany (for the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), Dr. P. Laur of Denmark (as host and acting for the Danish Research Council SNF), Dr. H. Rundqvist of Sweden (Secretary of the Swedish Publication Board), Mr. G. Friborg of Sweden (organizer and secretary of ESRC). After some further discussions in several European countries including Prof. Charles Wittingham (Imperial College, London, UK), the 2nd meeting of the ad hoc group took place in Munich that Ziegler had called for October 18th, 1974. Thus, the FESPP arose from efforts towards the Rationalization of Scientific Journals, in which Kylin particularly was engaged. Further progress came with the ESRC Conference at Ronneby Brunn (Spa), Sweden on 26-28 February 1975 where representatives of the major European Societies of Plant Physiology or Botany participated: Denmark, A. Kylin; Finland, L. Simola; France, A. Moyse; FRG, H. Ziegler; Netherlands, H. Veen and G. Staritzky; Norway, K. Faegri; Sweden, T. Ingestad, H. Virgin and H. Rundqvist; UK, B. Loughman; ESRC, G. Friborg. Ziegler presented a complete proposal for the statutes of the FESPP after a thorough discussion on a number of reformulations, the conference agreed to the draft statutes. The agreements of the Ronneby Conference were sent out to the national plant physiology groups for further discussion and approval. Another ERCS ad hoc group meeting was held in Paris on 20 May 1975 and gathered together roughly the same participants as at Ronneby Brunn, minus L. Simola, H. Veen, G. Staritsky and H. Virgin, but plus L. Neirinckx (Belgium), P. Champagnat, C. Lioret and J. Tempe (France). E. Vieitez (Spain) and Pilet sent letters giving their agreement to the proposed FESPP. An important decision was taken to inform eastern european societies of these plans during the International Botanical Congress in Leningrad in July 1975 and to invite them to join the FESPP. This was to be done through the IAPP and Pilet as its then Secretary General.

The Informal IAPP Meeting in Leningrad, 9 July 1975

During the International Botanical Congress in Leningrad, Pilet as IAPP Secretary General, arranged an informal meeting of all interested European Plant Physiologists, and many colleagues from east and west came and voted for a European Federation. Then, at the official IAPP meeting on July 9, 1975, at Leningrad, a resolution was passed by colleagues of several European countries or regions (Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Federal Republic of Germany, German Democratic Republic, The Netherlands, Scandinavia, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, Yugoslavia). The resolution read as follows:

“Fourteen persons – national representatives of European Societies of Plant Physiology and members of the IAPP – attended the IAPP council meeting at Leningrad and unanimously agreed that a Federation of European Societies of Plant Physiology (FESPP) should be created as soon as possible”

The Foundation of the Interim FESPP

In Copenhagen, on November 13-14, 1975, another ESRC meeting, took place with 17 participants, including the representatives of the national societies of 10 European countries (Belgium, Denmark, Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom). They established an Interim Federation of European Societies for Plant Physiology. Draft statutes for FESPP were worked out and the following officers of the Interim Federation were appointed: In Copenhagen, on November 13-14, 1975, another ESRC meeting, took place with 17 participants, including the representatives of the national societies of 10 European countries (Belgium, Denmark, Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom). They established an Interim Federation of European Societies for Plant Physiology. Draft statutes for FESPP were worked out and the following officers of the Interim Federation were appointed:

Chairman/President: Prof. C.P. Whittingham
Immediate past Chairman: Prof. T. Ingestad
Secretary-General: Prof. H. Ziegler
Treasurer: Dr. H. Veen
Chairman of the Publications Committee: Doc. S. Falk
Chairman of the Advances Courses Committee: Prof. M. Thellier

In January 1976, an invitation letter from the Chairman (C.P. Wittingham) and Secretary-General (H. Ziegler) of the Interim FESPP was sent to all European organizations concerned with Plant Physiology to join the Federation. It read:

On behalf of the Council of the Interim Foundation we invite your Society cordially to join the Federation of European Societies of Plant Physiology (FESPP). We would be grateful if you would ask the responsible institution of your Society to make such a decision and if you would inform us about this”. In this letter, additional information was given that 1) the Federation was open to all countries of the European area, 2) that “Plant Physiology” should be taken in a broad sense, 3) that the individual membership fee should be the equivalent of 10 DM (German Marks)

The Meeting of the Interim FESPP Council in Vienna

The first meeting of the Interim Council of FESPP was held on 4-5 February 1977 in Vienna, a city strategically positioned at the interface between Eastern Europe and Western Europe and thus readily accessible to participants from both. Delegates were officers and representatives of the Constituent Societies: Austria (H. Kinzel), Belgium (L. Neirinckx); France (R. Heller), FRG (H. Ziegler), Italy (F. Sala), Netherlands (H. Veen), Poland (W. Maciejewska-Potapcyk), Portugal (J. Contreiras), Scandinavia (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden) (O. Heide), Spain (E. Vieitez), Switzerland (P.-E. Pilet), UK (C.P. Whittingham), Yugoslavia (M.R. Saric), as also the contact persons of invited Societies: Bulgaria (T.G. Kudrev), Czechoslovakia (M. Kutacek), GDR (B. Parthier), Hungary (G.L. Farkas), Ireland (J.J. Moore), Israel (Y. Leshem), Romania (L. Anastasiu) and URSS (V. Kefeli). This meeting was devoted to organize the first inaugural FESPP Congress to be held in Edinburgh in July 1978 using the Society for Experimental Biology as the organisational base. The Executive Committee of the Interim FESPP met once more in Paris, on 27 November 1977 and decided the detailed outline of the Edinburgh meeting. It also resolved that arrangements for Advanced Courses or Workshops, to be held separately from the main FESPP Congress, were essential for the future of the Federation.

The Official Foundation of the FESPP in 1978 at Edinburgh

During the Inaugural FESPP Congress in Edinburgh from 10-14 July 1978, a meeting of the Interim FESPP Council (11 July 1978) and a Plenary Session (General Assembly on 13 July 1978) were held. The Interim FESPP gave way to the permanent FESPP by acceptance of the FESPP statutes, by the election of new officers etc. The new official FESPP Council met for the first time after the Plenary Session on 13 July 1978. Then, the Federation had become functional, and under the guidance of its Executive Board and FESPP Council, acquired the structure and prestige that it carries now. All national societies are represented in the FESPP Council by national delegates. Originally the FESPP Executive Committee (Board) consisted of the President, the Past-President, the Secretary-General and other Officers. By about 1990 the position of the Past-President was exchanged for the Incoming-President to give the latter a chance to better prepare and co-ordinate the future FESPP Congress. The now well-known FESPP label was created in 1986 by an initiative of the then FESPP General Secretary Peter Boger and first applied at the 5th FESPP Congress in Hamburg.At its birth in 1978, the Federation was limited to membership by west European countries plus Poland, Yugoslavia and (since 1980) Israel. Most countries from behind the iron curtain were only represented by a few contact persons because their governments did not allow full participation in FESPP. One other major problem was that the Plant Physiologists in these countries were not allowed to collect and transfer the annual membership dues of 10 DM (German Marks) to the FESPP account in The Netherlands. In some of these countries they were not even able to have an own bank account for their Plant Physiology society. Several years of active negotiations and contacts with the Hungarian, Czechoslovak, Russian and East German Plant Physiologists followed. To help overcome these major currency problems a proposal that east European colleagues should be allowed to collect and keep the annual membership fee (which could be less than 10 DM) was made in 1984 by the then acting President of FESPB Hartmut Lichtenthaler. The idea was that these countries would use these funds within their own countries to arrange FESPP workshops in Eastern or Central Europe in which West European scientists would participate as well. This proposal was officially approved by the FESPP Council at the FESPP Congress 1986 in Hamburg. This finally brought a breakthrough as Plant Physiologists of Hungary, Russia, East Germany and Czechoslovakia finally became officially full members of FESPP in 1988 at the FESPP Congress held in Split, Yugoslavia. As early as the 1984 Congress in Strasbourg, Miloje Saric (Belgrade), had been encouraged to arrange an FESPP Congress in Yugoslavia four years later. This was done with the hope that all interested eastern European colleagues would then have a much greater chance to participate in an FESPP Congress. Accordingly, at the 5th FESPB Congress held in Hamburg in 1986 Saric’s proposal to hold the 6th Congress in Split on the Adriatic coast was enthusiastically approved by the FESPP Council. And indeed, very many east European colleagues were then able to participate in an FESPP Congress for the first time as full members.

There was a setback in the affairs of FESPP when, in 1982, the 3rd FESPP Congress (with Roman Antoszewski as President) planned for Warsaw, with a well-advanced scientific programme, was cancelled due to Martial Law imposed in Poland after the events in the shipyards of Gdansk. However, this did not inhibit the further development of the Federation. All later FESPP Presidents (see Table 1) with their National Plant Physiology Societies made great efforts to continue the tradition of the biennial congresses that lie at the heart of a successful FESPP. In general, the registration fee was waived for the eastern European colleagues and the latter received travel grants e.g. at the Hamburg and Umea FESPP Congresses in order to be able to participate. Already, at the Edinburgh Congress in 1978 there were five hundred participants while in Hamburg in 1986, and in Florence in 1996, over one thousand participants were registered.

After the political changes of eastern and central Europe in 1989, many more Societies from these areas joined FESPP. In the years from 1978-2002 thirteen FESPP-Congresses were planned and organized in various European countries. The most recent one held at Hersonissos, Crete was organised by Professor Kalliopi A. Roubelakis-Angelakis our first lady FESPP President. There the Secretary General proposed that FESPP was re-named Federation of European Societies of Plant Biology (FESPB) to acknowledge the changing character of plant science, that increasingly included plant molecular biology, plant biochemistry and plant biophysics as well as physiology. This was approved by the FESPP Council after lengthy debate. The first Congress of FESPB will be held in August 2004 in Krakow, Poland.

As the geographical size and membership of the FESPP grew, the establishment of regular contact between the Federation and its widely dispersed membership became ever more important. Up to 1998, this was attempted by means of the ‘FESPP Newsletter’ that was printed and mailed at great expense to a growing membership that was soon to exceed 3000. The preparation, posting and the high cost of this were always problematic and, since 1998, the Federation increasingly turned to electronic means for keeping members in touch and for maintaining an up to date list of members and their contact details. This has culminated in three new developments brought-in by the then Secretary General (M.B. Jackson) to replace the FESPB Newsletter. These were the setting-up of a comprehensive and actively managed web site (http://www.fespb.org/), the establishment of an electronic distribution list (FESPBList) allowing all members with e-mail addresses to be contacted simultaneously, and by producing a regular electronic newsletter called FESPPalert. By these means the Federation now keeps in close touch with its members, informing them not only about the Federation’s affairs but about job meetings and also news items of current interest. Following the 1998 Congress in Varna, Bulgaria, a competitive travel award scheme was instigated to support approximately 30 students from eastern and central European countries to attend congresses with travel, registration and accommodation costs paid for by FESPP. From the year 2000, further financial support was also made available to help National Delegates from some of these countries attend the congresses. The tradition of bringing east and west closer together is thus continuing as is the presenting of a generously funded ‘FESPP Award’ to two outstanding young scientists at the General Assembly of each congress. However, the long-cherished wish to help meetings and workshops organized across Europe by grants to other organizations ceased in 1998. In a major shift of policy under a new Secretary General, it was decided that the aims of the Federation would be more effectively prosecuted if funds were concentrated instead on making FESPP Congresses into World-standard international meetings attracting delegates and speakers from both within Europe and beyond.

The Federation has been successfully managed over the years by several FESPP Secretary-Generals who have worked hard to promote co-operation between individual European plant physiologists and the national plant physiology societies of the different member countries. These were: from 1978 to 1984 John Dale (Edinburgh), Peter Boger (Konstanz) 1984 to 1988, Cees M. Karssen (Wageningen) 1988 to 1992, Hans Lambers (Utrecht) 1992 to 1998, and since 1998 by Michael B. Jackson (Bristol). Thanks are also due to the different officers e.g. of the Advanced Courses Committee, the Publications Committee, the Grants and Awards Committee, the Representative for Eastern Europe and the Treasurer who all co-ordinate communication and co-operation between the plant biologists from the 30 member countries. These are. Albania, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Moldavia, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia & Montenegro, Scandinavia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukrania, United Kingdom, with Argentina enjoying associate status.

The FESPP Journals

The original idea of A. Kylin and H. Ziegler to fuse three national society journals (Physiologie Vegetale, Physiologia Plantarum and Journal of Experimental Botany) to a FESPP Journal, upon which the Federation could live, did not work out since, except for Physiologia Plantarum, a idea of a fusion was not acceptable. Thus, the great efforts of Anders Kylin to create a European counterpart to the US-American Plant Physiology failed. At the meeting of the FESPP Council at the 2nd FESPP Congress held at Santiago de Compostela in 1980, there was broad agreement that the scandinavian journal could possibly re-start as an FESPP journal with the new name “Physiologia Plantarum, FESPP Series”, but again the british and french journals could not be won-over. Instead a co-operation between the three journals Plant Physiology and Biochemistry (formerly Physiologie Vegetale), Physiologia Plantarum and Journal of Experimental Botany was agreed upon including a common periodical Index. It was decided that all three FESPP journals were open for publication by all FESPP members and also for manuscripts of colleagues from Eastern Europe. At the FESPP Congress in Hamburg 1986, the proposal of Lichtenthaler was discussed that the three FESPP journals should pay a minimum amount each year to the FESPP and would display the Federation’s logo in each issue. Finally, at the FESPP Congress in Split in 1988, it was decided by the FESPP Council that FESPP journals should pay a set amount for each journal copy sold to libraries and other non-members of FESPP. This is still largely the practice up to now. At the millennium Congress, held in Budapest, Hungary, the Journal of Plant Physiology was accepted as a fourth FESPP journal, it is also the official journal of the Portuguese and Spanish societies of plant physiology. In 2004 a fifth journal, Functional Plant Biology, was added to the list. Unexpectedly perhaps, this journal is based not in Europe but Australia. However, the decision by the Executive Committee of FESPB to add Functional Plant Biology to the cluster of what have come to be known as FESPB-affiliated journals reflects the increasingly international character of plant biology and the wish of an increasing number of individuals and organizations outside Europe to take an active part in European plant science.


Lichtenthaler HK (2004) A History of the Federation of European Societies of Plant Physiology FESPP since its Foundation in 1978. J. Plant Physiol 161, 635- 639 (2004).
Further details on the birth of FESPP are found in:
Lichtenthaler HK (1986) The birth of the Federation of European Societies of Plant Physiology (FESPP). Karlsruhe Contrib. Plant Physiol. 14: 1-25 with 26 Appendices.


I am extremely grateful to various European friends and colleagues, especially other FESPP-founding members, former presidents and secretary generals, for providing information on the events leading to the birth of FESPP. Special thanks are extended to Professor Mike Jackson, our present FESPB Secretary General, for his initial invitation to write the history of FESPP/FESPB and for providing information on the recent developments in the Federation’s affairs.