Less yawn, more brainstorm: UK hosts edgier summit

Associated Press
Prime Ministers from the Nordic and Baltic region along with the British Prime Minister David Cameron pose for a group photo on the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, in London, Wednesday, Jan., 19  2011. They are from the left- Lithuania -Adrius Kubilius, Estonia -Andrus Ansip, Sweden part hidden- Fredrik Reinfeldt,  Iceland -Johanna Sigurdardottir, Norway-Jens Stoltenberg, Britain- David Cameron, Latvia-Valdis Dombrovskis, Finalnd-Mari Kiviniemi, and Denmark- Lars Lokke Rasmussen. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
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Roll away the red carpet, ditch the stuffy dinner, can the dull communique.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron promised a new style of international summit on Thursday as he gathered leaders, business people and technology gurus from the U.K. and eight northern European neighbors for talks.

Cameron said the forum would avoid monotonous meetings and cringe-worthy signing sessions, instead asking lawmakers, diplomats and guests to mingle at an edgy art gallery.

The talks on the economy and social policy with the leaders of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania began late Wednesday, and were continuing Thursday alongside brainstorming sessions and seminars.

Britain is eager to draw lessons from Scandinavian nations, which with the exception of Iceland largely avoided the harsh impact of the global financial crisis, and has long looked enviously at policies on education and work-life balance adopted by its neighbors across the North Sea.

"This event is about a new way of working, too. Picture a summit of international leaders and you think endless round-table meetings, long-scripted interventions, and staged communique signing sessions," Cameron said.

"These grand summits have their purpose, provided they deliver for people. But I also believe we would all benefit from a new kind of summit — less formal, less about ticking the boxes of international diplomacy, and more about the free exchange of ideas," he said.

Cameron likely also has an eye on the hefty costs of staging traditional international gatherings. Britain — which is making spending cuts of 81 billion pounds ($128 billion) through 2015 — spent at least 19 million pounds (US$30 million) on a one-day meeting of the Group of 20 in London in 2009.

Delegates gathering at the Whitechapel Gallery, in a gritty-but-trendy district of east London, included Sweden's Martin Lorentzon, co-founder of online music streaming service Spotify Ltd., Latvia's best known chef, Martins Ritins, and British Internet entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox.

Sessions saw ministers and business leaders swap proposals on modernizing public services, creating new jobs and tackling climate change — with the presentations and slide shows posted online for the public.

Dignitaries heard dozens of pitches from delegates — on child care in Norway, the slow food movement in Latvia, carpooling in Finland and a recycling program in southern England which pays residents to take part.

Cameron said he and fellow prime ministers were "rolling up our sleeves and engaging in real debate," rather than retreating to a private meeting room as at most ordinary summits.

"Success will be measured not by the length of a communique, not by the number of big pronouncements we can make, but by how much we can learn from each other," Cameron said.

Neil O'Brien, head of Britain's Policy Exchange think tank, attended the summit and wrote on his Twitter website that delegates were an "intriguing mix of PMs, tech types, green activists and wonks."

Julia Hobsbawm, CEO of networking consultancy Editorial Intelligence, said attendees mingled at a reception at Cameron's official Downing Street residence on Wednesday over vodka, herring canapes and blinis.

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