British soft power at its best

22 August, 2011


Jan Techau, Director, Carnegie Europe, writes:

To describe Wilton Park in one sentence? It is British soft power at its best.

Wilton Park is how Britain likes to see itself and how others like to see Britain: a country house surrounded by a carefully crafted pastoral landscape. A wide horizon, a good westerly wind, and, well, the occasional splash of rain. Host to the world – and to the open, intense, and fair debate about it. Classy, not glitzy. Eminent not only because of its history but because of its contribution to todays problem-solving. Provincial and cosmopolitan at the same time. Old-fashioned yet informal, traditional yet deeply concerned about the future.

For anybody with an interest in how a nation can demonstrate its confidence and impress its guests, while simultaneously serving others and the greater good, Wilton Park is the benchmark. This is how it should be done. And with a breakfast like this, what can go wrong?  Germany, my own country, has no equivalent (neither place nor breakfast). It could not even imagine having one. We must envy Britain for the spirit of Wilton Park and the genius loci of Wiston House. But it is a generous, merry envy, as the place and its people inspire us, and let us participate in a lighter, happier celebration of self we find so difficult to grant ourselves. Well, some Whisky helps.

I have been to Wilton Park twice, first in 2005, participating in the annual British-German forum, then again in 2011, as a speaker at the same event.  I fell in love with the place immediately, and when I returned later, I found everything unchanged, just like one wishes to find an old love after a few years away. A few wrinkles more, maybe, but essentially the same great lovely lady. Most importantly, the chemistry was still the same. A light-hearted mix of intense discussion, late-night lounging and Stilton after dinner.

Nations and people across Europe are increasingly engaged in exercises of soul search and introspection. If, in such an age, Brits and Germans dont lose sight of each other, it will not least be because of Wilton Parks unique convening power, and its magical way of making people listen to each other. Thanks a million to all of you over there who make this possible. And yes, this includes the sheep. And if you dont invite me back, I shall be rather miffed!


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