The Concordia Europe Summit in Athens this week was one of the best events that I have participated in for a long time. Concordia is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that helps build partnerships between the private and public sectors. Joe Biden, the former vice president of the United States, joined Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, José Manuel Barroso, the non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International and a former president of the European Commission, and more than 400 business leaders, diplomats and politicians.
The emphasis was very much on creative dialogue. Meaningful discussions took place on the refugee crisis, the future of the European Union and even the state of Brexit as Britain went to the polls – ultimately rejecting Theresa May’s bid for an increased mandate.
In a great session on the refugee crisis we heard how some chief executives, including Unilever’s, have put together mini MBAs for refugees. It was also stressed that the key is not to allow people to linger in such camps, but to get them integrated into the community as quickly as possible.
“Building meaningful partnerships at the intersection of business and government in and around Europe is key to ensuring that the global community at large remains on a steady path to achieving sustainable solutions for refugees, and opportunities for investment,” said Matthew Swift, one of the co-founders of Concordia.
A theme that emerged in many sessions was a deep fear of the impact of a unilateral US withdrawal from global affairs under the Trump administration. Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos expressed the hope that the US would not move to disengage globally on critical issues, but made it clear that the European Union was prepared go it alone on climate change, even if the US remained absent.
I particularly enjoyed the fireside chat with José Manuel Barroso. He said that people would like to see a greater commitment from the US to Europe and rather less friendship with Russia. He said that he thought Brexit was a mistake, but it will not derail closer European integration. He applauded French President Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France as a triumph over populism, and said that Europeans must stop blaming the European Commission for everything that goes wrong.
Turkey is “the elephant outside of the room.” Neither Ankara nor Brussels are ready for another round of accession talks, and there are serious questions now about the future of pluralism in Turkey. However, the Turkey-EU deal on refugees is working.
Concordia is rapidly emerging as a new gathering of philanthropists, business people and global leaders. I was particularly struck by the power of public private partnerships (PPP) to galvanise action, something that will become increasingly relevant in the citizenship industry. We want to bring the PPP model to the governments that we work with in the Caribbean and Europe, as well as featuring global citizenship programs for foreign direct investment and our proposed refugee global citizen tax at other at Concordia gatherings.
Altogether, two fabulous days of debate and dialogue.