Oxford Times: European understanding on agenda at symposium
Now the Europaeum, a group of ten leading European universities, with its headquarters in Oxford, is to stage a major conference at the Said Business School to discuss not only how companies are regulated across national borders but also, in the light of such scandals as Enron, how companies are run in different countries, attitudes to corruption, etc.
The symposium on Friday, March 4, called Restructuring Corporate Governance: the New European Agenda, comes as Oxford University is about to welcome its first batch of joint Europaeum MA students studying European History and Civilisation – a course which involves spending a term each at Leiden, Paris and Oxford.
Other courses being considered for joint MAs are European Political Cultures and Institutions and European Economics and Integration Studies. As with the academic pursuit of knowledge, the symposium next week will recognise that big business is not by nature a respecter of national boundaries.
If laws in one country do not suit it, it will simply switch to another. But of course attitudes to business, based on national histories and cultures, vary from country to country and, not least, between Europe and the USA.
Fellow of Mansfield College and secretary-general of Europaeum, Dr Paul Flather, said: 'Totally different business cultures exist in different countries. 'But obviously nations need to cooperate ever more closely in matters of corporate governance, regardless of, say, which way people vote in EU referenda.'
Professor Colin Mayer, Peter Moores Professor of Finance at the Said Business School said: 'With corporate governance so nigh on the political agenda around the world and so many unresolved issues, this is a perfect moment at which to bring top practitioners, policymakers and academics together in Oxford to debate how policy should move forwards.
'The conference will address key questions about the role of financial institutions and governments in promoting good corporate governance and whether there are lessons that we should be learning from elsewhere in the world.'
American academic Samuel Eliot Morison observed how closely governments of early American colonies such as Massachusetts resembled the managements of modern American corporations. For instance the state would tolerate you as a citizen but you had no say in government unless your beliefs had been properly vetted first by the governors.
By contrast, European history, with no so-called 'frontier mentality', has spawned different attitudes to corporate management. Significantly, a session at next week’s conference will be entitled Which Model Works Better? Contrasting Anglo-American and European Models.Speakers will include Antonio Borges, vice-president of Goldman Sachs and Guy Jubb, head of corporate governance at Standard Life Investments.
The Europaeum reflects an inevitable growth of internationalism in a number of fields. It was founded in a low key way in the early 1990s by two prominent businessmen, whom Dr Flather describes as “European' Britishers. They are publisher Lord Weidenfeld and former head of electrical giant GEC, Sir Ronnie Grierson.
With the help of Lord Jenkins, then university chancellor, Sir Richard Southwood, then vice-chancellor, and Lord Dahrendorf, then warden of St Antony’s College, they set out, in Dr Flather’s words, 'to build a consortium of leading European universities to promote thinking across Europe – which recognised both that ideas do not have frontiers and that tomorrow’s leaders needed to understand the new Europe of today.'
Universities originally joining Oxford in the network in 1992 were: the Universiteit Leiden (The Netherlands), the Universitá degli Studi di Bologna (Italy), and the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn (Germany). Between 1996 and 2000 it expanded to include the Institut Universitaire de Hautes Etudes Internationales Geneva-HEI (Switzerland), Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne (France), and the Univerzita Karlova V Praze (Czech Republic). The latest members to join the association are the Universidad Complutense Madrid (Spain) in 2003, Helsingin Yliopisto Helsinki (Finland) in 2004 and Jageillonian University, Krakow (Poland) in 2005.
Dr Flather, a former deputy editor of the New Statesman, has been secretary-general of the Europaeum since 2000 when the organisation was reconstituted on a more formal basis. He worked with dissident movements in central Europe in the 1980s, and later as chief executive and secretary-general of the Central European University in Budapest, founded by George Soros.
Each member university contributes £10,000 a year towards expenses, including the office at 99 Banbury Road, Oxford. After that the Europaeum is on its own to raise funds for its various activities. The upcoming symposium, for example will charge delegates £100 each though there are reductions for local businesses and (at the time of writing) places are still available.
Dr Flather said: “We are aiming to attract, among others, young successful managers to the symposium. People who see the debate about corporate governance as important for their career. We want to foster a sense of Europe.'
To further that aim a major new scholarship scheme has been set up to honour the late Roy Jenkins. It supports Oxford graduates wanting to study at European universities, and Europaeum graduates wanting to study at Oxford.
On the question of whether tougher rules are required to govern multinationals, Sir Ronnie Grierson will argue that they are already too strong. The pros and cons are the stuff of academic and business discussion and increasingly relevant to us all – wherever we live.