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AEB 15th Anniversary

The Association of European Businesses has seen Russia change enormously since 1995, and has itself been one of the major agents of that transformation. This was the clear message broadcast across the new Lotte Hotel for the AEB’s huge birthday bash. Social networking opportunities were plentiful, while guests chatted in the long, snaking queues for registration, name badge and cloakroom. Then a tricky choice. Into the cavernous hall for the speeches, or to the buffet. There wasn’t enough space, oxygen or food for both.

Your correspondent missed the fillup and dutifully joined the listening throngs. The AEB warm-up speeches reviewed progress, bestowed awards to long serving colleagues and basked in the glow of hopeful tidings from the recent EU-Russia summit. “WTO: here we go!”, in summary. The Russian trade and industry minister Victor Khristenko welcomed us and thanked AEB for their best efforts. There were diplomats there by the dozen, and the Belgian Ambassador rounded the formal proceedings off with commendable brevity. Between these, tall, urbane former French Prime Minister, Pierre de Villepin, gave the keynote speech. This was a veritable tour de force, as he ranged far and wide on the world’s problems and opportunities. He certainly got everyone’s attention early on when he declared that the West had a lot to learn from Russia’s sense of purpose, optimism and dynamism.

A succession of gripping and contestable declarations followed sequentially. It was pure Gaullism, with a ringing endorsement of greater state involvement to promote growth and stability. That will have sounded interesting in Russian. From such an experienced statesman, one must assume that his persistent treatment of “Europe”, “the Euro Zone” and “France and Germany” as synonyms was deliberate. Aside from one Lord Cardigan- like arc of the arm to encompass the Mediterranean littoral and another to bless “Eastern Europe”, none of the other 25 EU members showed up on his radar. All in impeccable English, the lingua franca of the age. A fascinating glimpse of the view from the top.

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