Europe Delivers Leaders Forum - Xynteo CEO, Osvald Bjelland's opening remarks, Hamburg 2019

24 Jun 2019

Good afternoon friends, Thank you so much for joining us today on what is a very special day for Europe Delivers. We are meeting today in a very special place: Hamburg is a hub of world-leading scientific research; the birthplace of the world's first merchant bank; and the home of the Elbphiharmonie and Laeiszhalle – two of the world's most iconic concert halls. It is a true pleasure to be here with all of you. It is places like Hamburg that make me deeply proud to be European. Europe is a fantastic place.

  • It is the world's second largest economy
  • It is home to a quarter of the world's largest companies – as measured by market capitalisation
  • And, throughout history, it has been a hotbed of remarkable innovation, giving the world democracy, the renaissance, the automobile and much, much more

We are all truly blessed to live and work here.

The imperative for action: reflections on the state of Europe

But, friends, we come together, as you know, at a pivotal moment for Europe. We, as European citizens, businesspeople and leaders, are currently navigating unprecedented uncertainty in our political, economic and natural environment. The recent European parliamentary elections point to growing divisions over Europe's future.

  • The biggest far-right group ever now sits in the European Parliament
  • At the same time, pro-European forces mobilised, environmental issues rose to the fore and green parties across Europe have become potential kingmakers
  • But, with great losses in the centre, Europe's political fragmentation has been laid bare

One country where these divisions are particularly stark, of course, is the UK, where the Brexit saga rumbles on. And, while our politicians struggle to break the impasse, Europe's people are taking matters into their own hands. Just look at the Gilet Jaunes protests, the Extinction Rebellion movement and the school climate strikes: people know that our common future is truly in danger and that we have no time to waste.

Insights from CEO conversations

This year, as you all know, I have been travelling all across Europe, holding open and honest conversations with top CEOs about the future of business growth as part of the Europe Delivers team. We are speaking with Europe's 25-30 top business leaders. Together, their businesses represent a combined market cap equivalent to the GDP of Canada, the 10th largest economy in the world. I want to share with you three insights from those conversations. Firstly, we have heard time and time again about how businesses are increasingly stepping up to the plate in these difficult times. We have heard about many, many inspiring stories of business action along the way.

  • In France, for example, a coalition of 40 businesses has come together to take concrete action in response to the Gilet Jaunes protests
  • And, in the UK, many business leaders, including our very own Jeremy Leggett, came out very strongly in support of the Extinction Rebellion protests

And, at the same time, we are seeing many businesses undertaking long-term, strategic shifts in the way they make profit and grow, placing people and planet at the centre of their business strategies.

  • Just look at Ikea, for example, which has put people and planet alongside profift at the heart of their business strategy!
  • And look at Ørsted, and the way that it has transformed from black to green in only a decade!

Second, top business leaders still regard the European market as crucial to their commercial success. Winning in Europe continues to give business a platform to win in the world. But, thirdly, there are increasing worries about Europe's ability to keep pace in an ever-more competitive world. Do we have the strategic vision, ambition and expertise to keep pace with China and others? We must act now to make sure that we are not left behind.

Value of honest and open conversations for unlocking change in Europe

The experience of having these open, honest conversations has been a truly enlightening and humbling experience that has filled me with so much hope. As Antonio Mexia, the CEO of EDP in Portugal, said to me when we spoke to him: "We must build on our proud heritage and not depress ourselves into the future as Europeans so often can". It has led me to the following conclusion: critical debate and thought-provoking conversations are of enormous value, and the world is a poorer and more dangerous place without them. Throughout Europe's long and glorious history, powerful conversation has unlocked enormous progress for humanity, both within Europe and at a global scale:

  1. For example, in 1918, European leaders' participation in peace talks led to the Treaty of Versailles and helped bring the first world war to an end
  2. And it was in Paris that, in 2015, conversations between world leaders led to a global climate agreement of unprecedented ambition

Like I said, I am incredibly proud to be European, but we must now adapt to the times. There have been few occasions where such conversations have mattered as much as they do now. We at Xynteo are working very hard to make sure that Europe Delivers can be a vehicle for these conversations and drive practical action as a result. We have heard about the new narrative that we as the Europe Delivers community are beginning to inspire. And we have heard about the exciting project to unleash Europe's bioeconomy that we have begun with Scania. The conversations that Europe Delivers has kick-started are now beginning to bear fruit. But now, friends, we must go farther and faster together. And I am so eager to hear all of your ideas about how we can:

  1. Continue to inspire a new narrative
  2. Find emerging leaders to carry it to the world
  3. And drive projects that translate our words into practical action

It is a true privilege that you have chosen to join us on our journey. Thank you!