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“Multilateralism is a lesson the world needs to learn”

Text: Sharon Clifton

The Hanse is a functioning model of cross-border trade, culture, society and politics, says policy advisor Simon Anholt, an independent policy advisor who has worked to help develop and implement strategies for enhanced economic, political and cultural engagement with other countries.

Simon Anholt is the founder of „Good Country“ and the „Good Country Index“ which measures what each country on earth contributes to the common good of humanity, and what it takes away, relative to its size. Here, he speaks with Sharon Clifton, Communications Manager at the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk ahead of their Hanse Business Convention.

Tiding: Does the Hanse with its old traditional values still have a place in our fast-moving, modern world? Is it contemporary enough?
Simon Anholt: Well obviously if it is to become relevant again it needs to be made contemporary, but some things haven’t changed since the Middle Ages. People still gain strength and inspiration from being part of a named association with a good reputation – that hasn’t changed and never will change. People like to feel that they are part of a larger process and that they are connected with other people in other countries and other cultures – that hasn’t changed either. Not just trade, but all human interactions are fundamentally built on trust, and the fundamental principle of the Hanse is trust: trust between its members, and trust in the organisation from the outside world. It needs to earn its reputation so that people feel they can trust Hanse countries, Hanse cities or Hanse companies; within the organisation itself there needs to be a special sense of trust and privilege between the members. Again, that is something that is interactions, and if those are the basic reasons why the Hanse exists, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be just as relevant today as it was when it was first created.

What can we learn from these old values for dealing with each other? Or do you think Hanse has adapted in the course of the centuries?
I know almost nothing about the modern Hanse, but as I said earlier, the underlying values really don’t change. Because so much of the superficial stuff does change, often beyond recognition – the way we do finance, communications, technology, transport – it is all the more important that we recognise that the fundamental values haven’t changed. There is something really important about trade and trading networks: the fact that they create relationships of trust between different peoples and different countries. One of the great things about Europe more generally is that we have so much more experience of multilateral collaboration than any other part of the world: this has been a habit of ours for so many centuries, not just since the foundation of the European Union. It’s in our blood, and is one of the main reasons why Europe is such a successful region – we have figured out how to share and collaborate. It is one of the reasons why the top part of my latest survey, the Good Country Index, is dominated by European and particularly Northern European countries – simply because we have that habit of multilateralism. I honestly think that this is not just our heritage as Europeans, but it is also our responsibility to share it more widely. Whenever I am doing strategy for a country or a city or a region, the question I always ask the government is ‘What is your gift to the world? Why should people feel glad that you exist?’ and that is a question you can ask very well of the Hanse. Why does the Hanse exist? What is its gift to the world? I think its gift to the world is this functioning model of cross-border trade, culture, society and politics. It shows that countries can work together, that they can be stronger together, and that they can benefit from their differences. That’s a lesson that the world really needs to learn.

Who will benefit from Hanse? Is it an economic or political benefit or a benefit for society as a whole?
It should be all of those things. The reason why it’s worth doing a project like Business Hanse is because it has so many benefits. When you bring communities together it is never for one reason. It’s never just for economic reasons or social reasons: you get all of those side benefits whether you like it or not.

Does the influence of the Hanse need to be understood globally or is it just aimed at individual countries?
If it is going to benefit the Hanse communities then it needs to be known globally, because all trade is global. I presume that the intention is not to create a closed trading club but creating a trading network which will interact with the rest of the world. For that reason it needs a good global image.

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