For months, the organizers of the conference, Gülfem Saydan Sanver and Sepp Hartinger, had been trying to attract as many experts of the scene as possible for the conference. For all who attended, the conference offered a fantastic combination of high-level lectures, exciting discussions, and unique social events.
Here is a review with all the details.
The conference’s impressive kick-off speeches were held by Tunç Soyer, Metropolitan Mayor of Izmir, and Canan Kaftancıoğlu, Istanbul CHP Chair, who was banned from all public offices by the Erdogan regime the previous year.
Both outlined in their speeches Turkey’s dramatic situation and the state of democracy in the country. Tunç Soyer gave hope to the participants by expressing confidence that he would be able to defend the successes of the last election in the local elections in 2024.
They both emphasized the need to strengthen the base in order to be successful in future elections.
In the subsequent panel discussion, initiated by Sepp Hartinger, Austria, Ivana Maric, Bosnia Herzegovina, Faye Diamond, USA, Volker Riegger, Germany and Bo Krogvig, Sweden, the focus was on the question whether political consultants need to rethink their strategies concerning the ever increasing polarization of society, the disenchantment with politicians, many of whom are causing day by day growing mistrust in politics by telling untruths.
In a very passionate discussion, which illuminated many aspects of the development, at the end the opinion prevailed that political advisors and their work are not the main actors of this development, but this topic must be constantly present to every single political advisor, in order to win again more confidence for the political work.
This question was the focus of an extremely exciting session moderated by Selin Özkan, Turkey. Torbjörn Sjöström, Sweden and Ilkka Ahtokivi, Finland spoke about their experiences with populism, which they see as one of the causes of dwindling trust in politics. Ilkka Ahtokivi referred to the parliamentary
elections in Finland last spring, where populist strategies were found in almost all parties.
Torbjörn Sjöström impressively analyzed the individual elements that make populism a real danger to democracy. Social media and all new technologies reinforce this trend which should be counteracted with more honest politics.
The following session of the first day of the conference focused on the question: “Do political consultants share responsibility for events like storming the Capitol or the Government buildings in Brazil?”
Matías Gálvez Fernández, Chile, who was connected via Zoom, and Rick Ridder from the USA, tried to give answers to this question, moderated by Necati Özkan. Neither speaker saw any direct complicity on the part of political advisors, but they did point to the increasing arbitrariness of political leaders who operate outside the law and thus encourage such developments. Politics needs a clear commitment to the rules. Democracy runs the risk to lose, where rules are disregarded.
The first day of the conference ended with a visit to the house of Virgin Mary, the historic city of Ephesus and a dinner with wine accompaniment at a fantastic winery.
The afternoon, which was accompanied by extremely interesting information about the history of the region, offered ideal opportunities for the exchange of ideas and the formation of new friendships among the participants.
The morning of the second day of the conference was dedicated to the analysis of the Turkish parliamentary and presidential elections. Moderated by Gülfem Saysan Sanver, Necati Özkan, Can Selçuki and Seren Selvin Korkmaz shed light on the strategies and background of the elections, which were characterized in particular by the enormous discrepancy between the predictions of opinion polls and the actual results. Necati Özkan presented many lessons to be learned from the elections. In their remarks, Can Selçuki and Seren Selvin Korkmaz pointed out the weaknesses of the opposition, which were not least due to a relatively weak base organization in the rural areas.
For this session, moderator Anthony Grally, France, welcomed Sabin Dima, Romania, Brent Buchanan, USA, and Reza Kazemi, Germany, three prominent representatives of the industry. The presentation of the three speakers formed one of the absolute highlights of the conference.
While Brent Buchanan addressed the development and the rapid spread to all areas of life, Sabin Dima brought examples about completely new applications. Sabin Dima, who works for the UN and for India, among others, presented a speech of the Indian Prime Minister, which was automatically broadcasted in real time in the 23 Indian languages. Reza Kazemi kept the audience’s attention with his humorous contributions from Donald Trump and Barack Obama, which were equally exciting.
Anthony Grally, France, and Arnaldo Costeira, Portugal, then presented examples from the campaigns of the elections in Portugal and France, respectively, under the moderation of Igor Mintusov, Russia.
Unfortunately, Mario Sanchez, campaign manager of the Conservatives in the last elections in Spain, could not give his presentation, planned via Zoom, because the conference was behind schedule due to the preceding sessions and he had appointed commitments that could not be postponed. Here, the prepared presentation was transmitted to all participants. Arnaldo Costeira and Anthony Grally presented interesting details from the campaigns, some of which led to surprising results.
Moderated by Mehmet Ural, Turkey, Rick Ridder and Matt Klink, both USA, and Torbjörn Sjöström, Sweden, also previewed the 2024 presidential elections in the USA and the EU parliamentary elections.
Matt Klink focused in particular on U.S. President Joe Biden, who will run again as the Democratic candidate, highlighting weaknesses.
Rick Ridder sees the upcoming elections as more of a referendum between democracy and despotism. Torbjörn Sjöström gave a first insight into the EU elections, which he predicts will be decided primarily by national issues rather than pan-European campaigns.
Under the moderation of Sepp Hartinger, Austria, Arnaldo Costeira, Portugal, as a member of the EAPC Academy Committee, presented in the afternoon the just completed new continuing education-program of the association.
In the future, this will consist of three central pillars:
In these evenings, organized exclusively via Zoom, current topics from politics will be presented four times a year. These evenings are open to everyone free of charge.
In a joint effort, the EAPC Masterclass has been taken to a new level. It is now jointly designed with universities as a 2-day program. A first event was held in Lisbon in spring. A second one will follow soon in Scotland.
For this course, which lasts 9 months, a contract was signed in the summer between the EAPC and the Lisbon Government and Business School. The course is scheduled to start this fall. Political consultants will be invited as lecturers.
The sessions and presentations concluded with a panel discussion on the “European Day of Political Consultants” which has been celebrated for the past three years on EAPC’s birthday, September 14.
Under the moderation of Torbjörn Sjöström, Sweden, Ivana Maric, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Eric Schnurer, USA, and Alaa Garad, Egypt, who was connected via Zoom, discussed the current development of democracy. Topics as diverse as the current situation in the Balkans, the situation in the UK after Brexit and the general development of democracy were addressed.
The high-caliber cast of the discussion ensured a high level of interest among the participants.
Finally, Reza Kazemi introduced the next conference. The next “EAPC Meeting” is scheduled to be staged in Berlin, Germany, from May 16 to 19, 2024, with the EAPC Board planning to develop a completely new concept in the process.
Gülfem Saydan Sanver, as conference chair, closes the Izmir conference.
The official conference program is followed by a very interesting and entertaining tour of the Old Town through the Izmir Bazaar, passing numerous landmarks.
The very last highlight was a very relaxed gala dinner on the terrace of the Asansör Restaurant high above Izmir.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who contributed to this great conference with their participation, their presentations, their moderation or their contributions to the discussion.
Special thanks also go to the sponsors of the conference: Cygnal, EUobserver, the city of Izmir, Hartinger Consulting, Element Strateji as well as the two conference organizers Gülfem Saydan Sanver as conference chair and Sepp Hartinger as program chair.
See you all again, May 16-18, 2024, in Berlin.