The first proposals for a European Mathematical Society were made at the 1978 International Congress of Mathematicians at Helsinki. The main idea at that time was the creation of a Federation of European Mathematical Societies, although a Society with individual members was also suggested. The organisational problems of a Society with individual members was thought to be too great to be tackled at the time, and the majority were in favour of a Federation. The main purpose was seen to be improving the cooperation between European Mathematical societies and to improve the communication and exchange of information.
Despite the positive feeling towards setting up a Federation, all that was achieved in concrete terms was the setting up of the European Mathematical Council. This was an informal body, with Atiyah as its chairman. The Council, containing about 20 representatives of European mathematical societies, met in 1980, 1982, 1983 and 1984. It set up EUROMATH, an ambitious project to create a huge database of all European mathematical knowledge. Of course such a database would only be useful if storage problems could be addressed, searching tools created etc. The European Mathematical Trust was set up to direct the EUROMATH project.
At a meeting of the Council in 1986 the original two ideas of a Federation of European Mathematical Societies and a European Mathematical Society with individual members was again discussed. A committee was appointed to consider the two suggestions. The Committee reported in May 1988 with the unanimous proposal that a Federation of European Mathematical Societies be formed. It was recognised that problems existed; for example some European countries had several mathematical societies, while other countries did not have any. At a full meeting of the Council in Oberwolfach in October 1988 the French mathematicians were strongly against a Federation, wanting instead a Society with individual members. A compromise between the two was reached, the name 'European Mathematical Society' was accepted, and a proposal by the Finnish delegate to host the Society in Finland was accepted. As Bourguignon writes in :-
The central mission of the European Mathematical Society is to help the emergence of an identity among European mathematicians.
There then followed the difficult process of drafting the statutes. This took two years, the details of which are described in . In October 1990 the final meeting of the European Mathematical Council took place in Madralin near Warsaw. The meeting struggled to finalise the statutes before the European Mathematical Society was formally accepted with its headquarters in Helsinki. Atiyah, who had chaired the European Mathematical Council meeting, became the first individual member of the European Mathematical Society which officially came into existence. Lahtinen writes in :-
The official charter for the foundation ... was signed, a toast was raised, and we had the European Mathematical Society.
Thirty-one European mathematical societies were in the list of original member societies. Others joined later. By June 1993 the Society had 1620 individual members, and the Society currently has around 2000 members.
The Society began to produce a Newsletter in 1991. It sponsored the First European Congress of Mathematics held at the Sorbonne in Paris in July 1992. At that meeting an invitation from the János Bolyai Mathematical Society to hold the Second European Congress of Mathematics in Budapest in 1996 was accepted. A European Mathematical Society lectureship was established in 1993 and at a Council meeting of the Society in Zurich in August 1994 discussions took place on the publication of a mathematical journal. The first European Mathematical Society Lecturer was Hendrik Lenstra who lectured on Topics in algorithmic algebraic number theory in Besançon, France, in June 1995.
The Society also set up the Diderot Mathematical Forum with the first conference 'Mathematics and Finance' taking place in 1996. This conference was a two day event taking place in three cities (London, Moscow and Zurich) simultaneously (with connecting electronic communication). The second Diderot Mathematical Forum was 'Mathematics and the Environment' held in Amsterdam, Madrid and Venice in December 1997, the third was 'Mathematics as a Cultural Force of Evolution' held in Berlin, Florence and Krakow in June 1998, and the fourth was 'Mathematics and Music' held in Lisbon, Paris and Vienna in December 1999. Work on producing the journal was underway in 1995, the title having been chosen to be the Journal of the European Mathematical Society and a publisher having been found by December 1994. The first issue of the Journal appeared in 1999.
The European Mathematical Information Service went on line in June 1995, the decision having been taken at an Executive Committee meeting in Cortona, Italy, in October 1994. More recently the Society has been involved in the EULER project (European Libraries and Electronic Resources in Mathematical Sciences) which allows access to a wide variety of web resources like databases, preprints, and e-journals. The Society is currently involved with a wide range of mathematical activities.
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