MEP Life 20; Culture, Innovation, and toppling walls

WELCOME BACK. This week MEP Life has been all about the 30th year since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In my previous life as a documentary producer, I was lucky enough to travel a bit; telling science stories that were exciting and often important. In 1991, not long after the Berlin Wall came down, I was starting out as director on Tomorrow’s World, a prime time magazine show for BBC One about new developments in science and technology. With science in the east now available to us as well as West Berlin, I set off with a friend to make the Berlin Special. It was a fascinating location, time and subject to be exploring life in Berlin. The culture of innovation there was, even back then, fantastic. Back then the words CLIMATE and CHANGE had not yet been put together, the world wide web was only just invented, but I met people using virtual reality to remodel the Potsdammer Platz, engineers modeling designs on environmental forms and a community in Kreuzberg practicing environmental, sustainable living and cut water consumption, while the rest of world was asleep on the job

Fast-forward to 2019, and in this totally new career I find myself once again back in Berlin having been invited to talk at an event; ‘Berlin Wall, Falling Walls – Cultural Heritage & Innovation made in Berlin’ – an extraordinary honour. There were law-makers representing some 150 states, as well as a host of leading figures from the worlds of political theory, diplomacy, business and art

I was pleased to see that the unmissable energy of Berlin has not faded. Those 28 years during which it was a divided city seems to have encouraged Berliners to think and work differently. Through their isolation they were forced to consider not just what was around them, but what they could create, and they brought art and science together in a way that we now understand is going to be critical to the skills we need in the future

The day after the conference, I visited the Chatham House meeting on Europe’s Strategic choices where I took part in a discussion on future skills. The committees I sit on in the EU – Culture and Education (CULT) and Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) may have entirely different objectives, but they both understand the need for innovation

It is my belief that the best place to start is the cross fertilization between disciplines – this is where innovation comes in. Innovation often happens when experts look at their work or their field from a different point of view. Bringing researchers together from unlikely disciplines, such as art, science, music and technology can succeed in the most remarkable of ways.  In Berlin there is tremendous collaboration between the Arts University and the Technical University in the Berlin Open, an experimental space specifically for research projects that cross the borders between technology, arts and society.

Why does all this matter? At the end of the day, it’s innovation that drives employment, taxes and so all important services like schools and the NHS. Innovation drives our society forward.

In the Chatham House debate on ‘Skills Demand and the Future of Work’ I raised the issue of who how the so-called ‘gig-economy’ is often exploited to justify reduce short-term and zero-hours contracts and how this is then used to justify a lack of investment in staff training. Large employers which have the means must commit to investment in skills and training for their employees. That’s better for the employees, but also far more beneficial for the employers who doesn’t need to waste time, resources and money in cyclical recruitment. To be honest I was not sure how well this unfashionable message would be received, and I was relieved to hear murmurs of support around the room

Closer to home, I am delighted to report that the Lib Dem MEPs have appointed the wonderful Caroline Voaden as the new leader of our European delegation. I have the great pleasure of recording the podcast, ‘Our MEP Life’ with Caroline and I am in no doubt she will continue the outstanding work of Catherine Bearder the previous leader. 

This week we’re back in Brussels and I will report back from there next week! Then next week, it’s back to Strasbourg for another busy week in Plenary! Until then, take care!


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