The World Affairs Council’s Europe Day luncheon on May 12 began with a focus on Germany but its scope inevitably widened to consider the state of the European Union generally and then even the EU’s relations with the rest of the world.
The panelists at the luncheon held at the Commerce Club downtown including Detlev Ruenger, Germany’s consul general based in Atlanta; Martin Richenhagen, chairman, president and CEO of AGCO Corp. and Nico Lange, director of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation’s Washington office. Cyril Vanier, an anchor for CNN International, was the moderator.
Mr. Vanier started off the discussion with questions about Germany’s “power” over the rest of Europe. The question was quickly fended off by the consul general who stated that there is no “master plan”.
Mr. Ruenger did categorize the success of the German economy to a variety of factors that helped it become so dominant including geography and size of its 89 million population. “Germany had no natural resources. Germans realized that if they wanted to be successful, they had to work and be industrious.”
Mr. Lange quickly picked up the discourse on the reasons for Germany’s success because of its values. “There is no secret recipe,” he said. “It can be done by anybody if you are competitive and open to the world.”
He added, however, that Germany benefited from its ability “to manage social change” and had developed ways of “working through structural change.”
With a slightly veiled dig at the Trump administration, he asked, “Do you want to artificially protect business models not working any more, or do you organize the transition?”
Mr. Lange credited Germany with being able to transform itself from being “the sick man of Europe” after World War II by managing social change “fairly smoothly.” “Germans love political stability,” he added. “The key to our success is that we have a stable government.”
Extolling Germans’ openness to compromise, he said its political system had even developed a recipe for coalition building with political stability the ensuing result. “We love conversation,” he added.
Mr. Richenhagen couldn’t resist putting in a good word for stability. “What is important for business is stability,” he said. “Everything that is predictable is good for business.”
From the focus on Germany’s economic success, Mr. Vanier steered the conversation to Germany’s responsibilities today as a military power.
Mr. Ruenger recalled the meeting held by leaders from the 28 member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Newport, Wales, for a summit to discuss the conflicts in Afghanistan and the Ukraine and the ravages of ISIS in the Middle East.
He said that while most Germans are not interested in engaging militarily around the world, Chancellor Angela Merkel is in favor of Germany raising its contribution to NATO from its 1.3 percent of gross domestic product to 2 percent.
Mr. Vanier ended the discussion with perhaps the most interesting of all the questions encountered by the panel: How would a discussion in five years concerning Europe be different from the current one?
Mr. Ruenger quickly responded with two issues that Europe as a whole must face now or suffer dire consequences in the future: 1) a euro crisis and 2) the migration (not just refugee) crisis.
Mr. Richenhagen immediately jumped in to provide his opinion that the main cause of the migration crisis is the lack of agricultural production, especially on the African continent.
Citing population trends with the world’s population today at 7.5 billion to double in 20 years, and that of Africa to double by 2050, he said in his opinion this is the greatest threat because of its consequences. “We need to double food production to stay at the same level that we are today,” he added, saying that 1 billion people now are living on the verge of starvation.
Before the well-fed attendees adjourned other issues were raised with Mr. Lange encouraging European companies to increase their competitiveness against Chinese and Indian companies, and Mr. Richenhagen encouraging German companies to invest less in the United States and more in Europe.
Before the panelists left, Charles Shapiro, the council’s president, presented each one with a World Affairs Council tie and thanked them for their spirited discussion.
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