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Europe tops agenda at St Gallen symposium

Even tomorrow's leaders need a break occasionally Keystone

The future role of Europe and its place in the world will dominate discussions at this year's three-day conference organised by students at St Gallen University.

This content was published on May 18, 2006 - 07:46

While the global economy has been posting above-average growth of late, Europe has shown sluggish business activity and unemployment remains alarmingly high.

"We'll be examining to what extent innovation and new approaches from Asia can bring this continent back to life and raise motivation," Davina Geiser, one of the members of the International Students' Committee (ISC) that organises the event, told swissinfo.

"On the other hand we'll be looking at what impulses from Europe can maybe lead to new political or economic developments in other world regions."

European Union enlargement will also figure on the agenda with discussion on competition coming from the East to West and how people react.

One issue is whether people in the West will be shocked and scared or see it as a chance and "wake up", Geiser said.

Freedom and free market

In the opening address on Thursday, Swiss Justice and Police Minister Christoph Blocher will talk on the theme "Neosocialism versus Neoliberalism?" in which he will defend freedom, democracy and the free market.

Other speakers among 600 decision makers are expected to include Fiat chief executive Sergio Marcchione who will speak on breaking with the past, Logitech chairman Daniel Borel and Zurich Financial Services CEO James Schiro.

With the theme of "Inspiring Europe", this year's symposium is the 36th held at the university.

The St Gallen initiative was founded in 1969 when there was student unrest in Europe.

"The idea when we were founded was to solve problems by dialogue, talking to each other, and not by throwing stones," Geiser said.

"Burning issues"

The ISC has for more than 35 years been promoting discussion about "burning issues" and takes an entrepreneurial, liberal and optimistic position.

St Gallen provides a stimulating but relaxed atmosphere, which has won it international recognition over the years.

"I think this atmosphere comes from the fact that students are involved in every way in the symposium," Geiser explained.

Another facet of the symposium that brings it to life are the 200 talented students from all over the world who come to the event after being chosen in an essay competition "The Wings of Excellence".

St Gallen gives them the opportunity to actively take part in the discussion and challenge speakers.

"As we like to call it, the leaders of today meet the leaders of tomorrow. It's a challenging discussion between generations that also brings out new aspects to topics that have not been discussed that way before... It's very important to us," Geiser said.

swissinfo, Robert Brookes

In brief

The International Students' Committee is an independent student initiative of the universities of St Gallen and Harvard.

Every year a team of 26 students organises the St Gallen symposium.

Apart from planning the symposium, the team is involved with the conceptual framework and content of what are affectionately known as the "3 Days in May".

The "Wings of Excellence" essay contest, which carries €20,000 (SFr31,000) in awards, is the world's largest student competition of its kind.

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