Sunday, July 19, 2009

Reflections..

I promised an up-date on how the British-German forum went, so here goes.

I should probably start with some background in order to explain how I, a Welsh nationalist who defines myself as Welsh and European but not British, ended up attending a British-German forum. Plaid Cymru were offered the opportunity to nominate someone, and very kindly, they nominated me. The purpose of the week was to bring together 25 people from Britain and 25 people from Germany all between the ages of 25 and 35, and who'd be considered future opinion formers and leaders in business, economics or politics to discuss the very topical subject: 'Can we shape Capitalism to suit our future?'. The forum is held annually at Wilton Park, a beautiful setting in West Sussex. It was a fantastic opportunity, and one I'm grateful for.


Given that its twenty years this coming November since the Berlin Wall came down, there was a real sense of occasion to the week with many speakers reflecting on the events that occurred two decades ago. Some of the speakers had been attending the British-German forum in Wilton Park on the day the wall came down and it was interesting to hear their reflections. They said that just before the news broke, someone had said in the session that the wall could well come down in the next decade. They definitely didn't expect to hear that it had come down ten minutes later!

However, the economy of both Britain and Germany was the main focus of the week. We had an impressive array of speakers addressing us, and we were really forced to think through our ideas, arguments and thoughts. Chatham House rules applied to all discussions which meant that people spoke frankly and honestly - something which is rare these days and therefore was extremely welcome. Even so, I did feel quite frustrated. The vast majority of those addressing us and the vast majority of those attending were Centre-right without a doubt. Though we did talk of responsible capitalism and so on, we didn't really delve into the public sector and government responsibility in terms of public services. As I mentioned before, there was very little understanding of devolution either which surprised me in some of the speakers given how knowledgeable they were in other areas, particularly 'British' i.e English politics. In that sense, I felt closer in a lot of ways to the Germans who understood the idea of devolution better because of their own federal system. They were also on the whole very pro Europe compared to many of the other delegates, so we were bound to get on better!

On the last day, we did have a very interesting discussion about entrepreneurs and what it takes to be one. It was quite telling that most delegates when speaking about their particular favourite entrepreneur on the whole selected one whose also given back in some way to society, through charitable donations or setting up charities or community programmes themselves. It was good to at least leave with the impression that the other delegates thought that maybe capitalism isn't just about making money after all!

I did learn a lot, and I know I will be reflecting on the discussions had and reading the articles and books referred to over the coming weeks. Some of my arguments regarding the public sector definitely sounded a bit weak, and it made me realise that I really need to think them through and strengthen them rather than rely on rhetoric and a few facrs. It's always good to realise your weaknesses and address them rather than continue to make weak arguments, and I'm glad that this conference took me out of my usual comfort zone and forced me to reflect. If I read anything interesting, I'll be sure to let you know on this blog.

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