On the 23rd of November, the Brussels Diplomatic Academy (BDA) hosted a conference described as ‘incredible’, by Professor Steven Glickman, former economic advisor to President Barack Obama, who gave the keynote speech at De Warande club in Brussels.
Glickman was speaking at the event on Securing our Economic Prosperity, organised by the BDA which is part of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Speakers from the public and private sectors, trades unions and academia shared their expertise across plenaries and panel discussions attended by ambassadors, business leaders, civil servants and students.
In his wide-ranging keynote, Glickman stated that “Western Economies are facing a crisis of epic proportions. These divides among winners and losers along geographic lines have the capacity to rip apart our institutions, destroy the legitimacy of democratic politics and can, and already are, leading to social unrest”. For Glickman, who worked for President Obama for the entirety of his first term, the primary issue is securing ‘more broadly shared’ economic prosperity, including in Belgium, where geography-based economic disparities continue to exist.
Notwithstanding such disparities, Anick Van Calster, Director General for Bilateral Affairs at Belgian Foreign Affairs, who opened the conference, explained that “Belgium is amongst one of the most prosperous countries in the world…however that should not be taken for granted; it is the result of continuous efforts of generations. For us also, maintaining and developing this prosperity has to remain at the centre of our priorities.”
The importance of keeping that focus on maintaining and developing prosperity became clearer throughout the day. Whilst Belgium may be prosperous, it is not performing as well as it could. In the words of Prof. Dr. Kim Van der Borght, summarising his panel’s conclusions on the attractiveness of Belgium, the country was “not doing so badly but not doing so well either”. However, he highlighted the lack of pessimism from experts and their recognition of Belgium’s strengths, which include a highly educated and bilingual workforce, as well as a good location – which cannot be jeopardised by government action.
That realism, tinged with optimism, was shared by Gunter Gaublomme, Director of the BDA, who concluded, “I have a good feeling, because I see a way forward. A strategy that is aimed at protecting our future starts with the base. We need to listen to our companies’ needs and the policy of Flanders Investment and Trade is to do just that.”
Mr Gaublomme’s words illustrated the symbiotic relationship between economic diplomacy and international business which is essential to any country’s prosperity, and reflected the general feeling of the conference that ‘little’ Belgium can maintain its economic prosperity if the relevant players co-operate in these unsettling times of international trade. As the relevant players were present at the conference, Professor Glickman’s refrain that “It starts here”, could not fall on deaf ears.
Cailin Mackenzie, firstname.lastname@example.org, 0473 458 069 or Gunter Gaublomme, email@example.com.