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By Saskia Neibig
The German Symposium 2017 last week was the 11th instalment of this annual event and is estimated to be its largest yet. The event brings together economists, business people, politicians, journalists and academics to discuss issues related to Germany, this year related to the theme of “Managing Risk”.
The Symposium has long been the most prestigious German event in the UK related to current affairs, drawing sponsorship and support from twelve different organisations as well as the Annual Fund, including PwC. The Symposium also drew appearances at the opening ceremony on Tuesday by Peter Ammon, German ambassador to the UK, who described the Symposium as “a highlight of the [diplomatic] mission” and an “innovative platform” for showcasing co-operation and strengthening ties between Germany and Britain. Julia Black does not appear at many student-run events, but she too spoke warmly at the opening ceremony of the Symposium.
The Symposium was held on the LSE campus, in Gray’s Inn, and in the Royal College of Surgeons. While most participants attended only some events, tickets were available for the entire week for 40 “Scholars of the Symposium” from universities in German-speaking countries. For £60, scholars received an additional welcome reception, networking dinner and access to exclusive workshops. Tickets for individual lectures were mostly free or low-cost and were open to all, with many events completely full.
Many lectures had a simultaneous translator with headsets available to non-German speakers. This was a beneficial and popular tool, albeit with the side effect of being somewhat distracting for audience members sitting close to the translator. In budget, scale and influence, the German Symposium is unusually professional when compared to other student-run events. The LSE and LSESU appear to play a smaller role than for other comparable events, given that the German Society make use of non-LSE venues and the LSESU is not involved in promotion.
Events spanned the political spectrum, with Julia Klöckner discussing anti-establishment politics with Hans-Christian Ströbele of The Greens. Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmerman of the classic liberal Free Democratic Party discussed civil rights and security with Ferdinand Kirchhof, vice-president of the federal constitutional court. Yasmin Fahimi of the Social Democrats and Federal Minister for Social Affairs spoke about the future of labour in a digitising age.
Dietmar Barsch of The Left spoke on right wing populism, and the Tuesday night event with Gregor Gysi, President of the Party of the European Left was a particular highlight. Gysi, an engaging speaker, frequently had the audience laughing as he cracked jokes about the fact that he would have found the Symposium incredibly uncool as a student. His advice to young members of the audience was to be more rebellious and to challenge the establishment more.
Europe was named in the titles of five events but was clearly front and centre in many more topics, and speakers commented and were frequently asked about European issues. Sabine Lautenschläger, an executive member of the board of the European Central Bank, spoke on the future of European banking, while an illustrious panel featuring the chairman of the British Council spoke about the relationship between the UK and the EU.
The week’s subjects were not limited to Germany and its role in Europe, with discussions about Indian growth, featuring the CEO of Tata Motors and a keynote address from Walter Thurnherr, the Federal Chancellor of Switzerland. Second wave feminist Alice Schwarzer discussed Islam and feminism, while other subjects of digitisation of work, the changing landscape of banking, and warfare have global significance.
The theme of the symposium is a broad one, and the Symposium did not have a focus as such, but the event was dominated by issues of European disintegration and populism, with diverse discussions of wide-ranging implications.