Domestic politics in both Britain and Greece is not for the faint-hearted. It won’t have escaped the notice of Kathimerini’s readers that the United Kingdom is going through one of the most politically contested periods (certainly that I can remember). In Greece too the electoral clock is ticking ever louder and that brings political conflict ever sharper into focus. The stakes are high in both countries: in Greece now free of the third European Stability Mechanism program with greater flexibility to chart its own economic course, and in the UK, as we face the epoch-making challenge of Brexit.
So it’s natural that voters, the media, politicians and all actors engaged in the political process are focused on the domestic political battleground. But for those of us involved in planning the Greek-British Symposium this year, it struck us that the solutions to these challenges lie not only at home but by looking outside.
That is why for this year’s Symposium – the second of what is becoming an annual institution – we have chosen the themes of “exostrefeia” (extraversion) and “openness.” Those qualities and mind-sets are, happily, in both our countries’ and peoples’ DNA. At critical and difficult moments in our history, both Britain and Greece have turned inward. But we have been at our best and most successful when we have looked out at the world, and brought the world in, for development and inspiration.
On his visit to Greece earlier this year, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales captured this sense perfectly in his speech at the Presidential Mansion.
“We are both, of course, seafaring peoples; nations which have long looked beyond our borders for opportunity and discovery. We are both “exostrefeias” – facing outward, not inward; looking to the world around us not just for strength and prosperity, but to understand our place within it. We share a spirit of openness with which, through history, we have welcomed new ideas and new people,” he said.
Throughout Symposium 2018 we will take the concepts of “exostrefeia” and “openness” and debate how policy makers, business, educators and social entrepreneurs in both countries currently apply them to their work, and how they can make use of these approaches even more effectively to improve outcomes and citizens’ lives – in terms of security and prosperity, and socially and culturally.
Together with leading representatives of these sectors from each country, and moderated by a stellar lineup of Greek and British academics, commentators and journalists (including of course, the editor and leading columnist of Kathimerini) we will examine how both countries can export more successfully and attract inward investment, make more effective use of our strong regional relationships in the Balkans and Eastern Mediterranean, and address growing multifaceted security threats while maintaining open and tolerant societies.
We will take a deep dive into global technology as a driver for growth and enterprise, leveraging one of the great products of Greek “exostrefeia” – young Greek entrepreneurs who have excelled in a range of different business sectors in the UK, and in partnership with British companies. Linked to that is another essential pillar of the bilateral relationship, education, and one of our sessions will be devoted to opening up and linking the pure research done in universities to innovation and business development. And we will conclude with a look at an aspect of “exostrefeia” which has always played a role international relations and commerce, but is now a recognized business and government activity in its own right: country branding. How do nations present themselves effectively and positively to the outside world?
We chose the name “Symposium” for this forum because our aim, above all, is to forge personal contacts and networks and encourage debate in an informal, relaxed and creative environment. I am confident that as last year, under the wise chairmanship of Costas Mitropoulos of PricewaterhouseCoopers and Francis Maude of the House of Lords, that is exactly what the 70 of us who gather next week near Oxford will experience. And when we go our separate ways after two days of intense and convivial exchange, we will do so with more open minds, more “exostrefeias” and with Greek-British relations just a little bit stronger.
Kate Smith is the British ambassador to Greece.