Monday, February 18, 2013

Harvard's Kennedy School of Government; Annual German Conference

Report submitted Febr. 18 by J. Douglas Guy, President, MA-AATG


German Conference at Harvard 2013

I really wanted to report on the German Conference held at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard this weekend and this is the perfect avenue to do it. I managed to score a ticket at the last minute and went to this conference, arranged annually by German students attending the Kennedy School.  In this instance, the invited speakers included 

  • German Ambassador Peter Ammon

  • Ministerin für Arbeit und Soziales Ursula van der Leyen

  • SPD- Parteivorsitzender and ex-Außenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

  • retired Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou

  • editor of Die Zeit Theo Sommer

  • FDP vice- chair Alexander Graf Lammsdorff, 

  • former U.S. ambassador to NATO and Greece and State Dept. spokesman R. Nicholas Burns, and 

  • the long-term Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Gen. Wesley Clark.  

  •  -- Cem Özdemir from die Grünen and Joschka Fischer were scheduled to speak on Saturday, but called in sick

It was decidedly a group of heavy hitters and this was a unique opportunity to hear them share opinions at close quarters.

Friday started out with a policy position paper from Van der Leyen
: Who Pays the Bill for Demographic Change?, followed by a blow-to-blow discussion with Papandreou on the horrific situation in Greece.  Papandreou announced that unemployment in Greece is currently 63%, and the country's chronic inability to collect taxes undercuts its ability to provide social services everyone expects.   Under these circumstances, with relatively lower unemployment in Germany, the two leaders agreed it would be to everyone's benefit to create more training programs in Germany for foreigners and get young Greeks, Spaniards, Portuguese etc. to jobs available in the North, but that the key element was indeed language training.  While everyone agreed English is the lingua franca of the EU, that's not going to help unemployed kids find and keep work in Germany. There was agreement between the two that advancement of language training was a key issue in preparing the next generation for the coming workforce. [The Goethe-Institut confirms that, reporting their courses in Spain and Greece are maxed out.]

The actual topic of this year’s German Conference 2013 was: The End of the West as We Know It?--Germany, the U.S. and the Future of the Transatlantic World.  In general there was a lot of agreement that the much-heralded decline of the West is so much journalistic hooey.  Yes, China, India, Brazil etc. are ascendent and taking their rightful place in the world economic order, 

But China in particular lacks more than one major ability: the democracy that forces dialogue and consensus. 

China is working hard to position itself as a superior industrial power but China is
  • not building relationships, 
  • not doing research and development, 
  • not encouraging the creative thought and collaboration  
-- that are essential for a truly dynamic society and economy, but an anathema to a centrally planned economy. 

Yeah, the U.S. is going to have a smaller piece of the pie, but as long as the Transatlantic alliance stays healthy and the U.S. and EU continue their collaboration, the West will remain decades ahead of China and other ascending economies.  Wesley Clark spoke very forcefully that NATO was far less important as a defense alliance than as an agent of international collaboration, that its new mission is more economic in nature and more essential than ever.  The many young adult Germans in attendance were not exactly convinced listening to this figurehead of NATO, but they were certainly challenged, both by Clark and Steinmeier stating it's time to accept the idea of a Germany more ready to lead Europe and the EU than it has so far in the 21st century.   

All in all, an incredible conference---if I can get in again next year, I'm going!   
MfG, J. Douglas Guy

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