Nicolas Berggruen is a citizen of the world in the very sense of the word. For many years he did not have a home and lived in different hotels all over the world. During the last few years he spends more and more of his time in Los Angeles.
He says, “I feel at home wherever I am, I don’t have a need to belong. Maybe this is a bit different from other people.”
THE MODERN PHILANTHROPIST. A MAN CONCERNED BY THE WORLD.
You are a successful businessman, why do you devote much of your time to your role of Chairman of The Berggruen Institute on Governance and to the new born WorldPost?
It is a personal belief that, if the first issue is culture, political governance is the second issue. Personally, if I can make an impact, a contribution, on making changes and improving political governance, I would consider it an achievement. As a teenager I was studying politics and philosophy and I felt like going back to my past. I have no doubts that ideas and government are the two things that shape our lives.
What is the mission of the Institute on Governance?
We work on ideas and the implementation of them. We work on three major efforts. The first one is the State of California; the second Europe; the third, Global effort. We try not only to be a think tank but to get results. What is interesting is that the more local you are, the more focused you are. For instance, in California we have very good results. In Europe results are quite good. The Global effort is more difficult. The more local one is, the more implementing it is. In each case we put together a group of eminent and experienced citizens that can contribute. For instance, in California fourteen Democrats and Republicans; some are locally known, others internationally. We already met a dozen times for policy recommendations on changes of governance, taxes and constitution. California has the eighth or ninth largest economy, but one can deal with the local government; and you have the referendum system, like in Switzerland.
And your European activity?
It is now run by Mario Monti and we have a key person for each key country, plus experts and thinkers. We have people like Schroeder, Gonzales, Delors. We believe that people in power are not independent in thinking.
In a situation like the one in Ukraine or in Crimea how do you operate?
We look at political structures and try to change or improve them. We don’t get involved in issues that are abundantly followed by the experts, the press and the governments. The Euro crisis is political and not only economic in our view. The economic crisis is the result of an incomplete political scheme. Europe has one currency but cannot cement it. No major economic center can function well without having a fiscal center and the ability to finance itself. Europe does not have a central power; there is not a finance or foreign affairs minister; there is no fiscal center.
The role of Germany in Europe is huge compared to the other countries?
But Germany alone cannot make it. It is like a family. Even if you are the boss you have the others. Everybody speaks a different language, has different rules, a different cultural heritage: it is not easy. When the US became a Federation of States, even if each State keeps its differences, they all came together and they have a central Government and central institutions. If one State goes bankrupt it is not going to affect the Central power. In Europe even the weakest State pulls the strongest down. Since the crisis of 2008 the world has more or less recovered. Europe did not yet.
Europe has a strong currency?
Yes, but one needs to see a future for his children and grandchildren. For that you need economic growth. If you don’t, people start panicking. With no growth the door is opened to populism. But if Europe will not become a Federation with central power there will be no growth.
What about England?
They have their own currency. They can finance it. They are OK.
Can you tell me, what is The WorldPost?
We wanted to find a good way for the people who are involved with the Institute, or other people who have a voice, to have a sort of a podium well beyond what existed in a world that is getting more and more fragmented. We want voices from India, China, Brazil, US, Europe and all the rest of the world. We wanted to give them a large reach and so we did it together with The Huffington Post, who have millions of visitors.
Who is helping you in this venture?
Nathan Gardels is the Editor- in-Chief. He is an editor and a journalist and we have worked together for a long time. I feel very privileged to have the responsibility of the Institute and now of The WorldPost. We have offices in New York, Los Angeles, Berlin and Beijing. The WorldPost contains news and many editorials and interviews. We give an enormous space to people we think have something to say.
How many are you?
A small group; and we select all that we find interesting in Huffington.
Are you still a businessman?
Yes, but I am trying to transfer active investment into passive investment. Berggruen Holdings are invested in manufacturing, services, real estate. But I am planning, as I said, to switch from active to passive.
Because I want to make a much bigger effort in the Institute; as I said, I am going back to my youth.
And what about your family Museum in Berlin, that was created by your father?
The Museum is open in Berlin and I support it as well as my family, and I am quite involved in the largest museum in Los Angeles, the LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). I collect contemporary art and my collection is needed there. LA is still a city in the making. LACMA is 50 years old. Berlin is also a new city. It was for many years like an island but we can say that today it is the only new city in the world.
As you have no home and you are at home wherever you are, do you feel that you have a more global vision of the world?
I have a real global experience. I am very curious and I like to learn from different systems. I really respect differences.
You said that The Institute on Governance is particularly interested in political changes, changes of governance, changes of constitution. What do you think will be the future of Democracy?
Democratic principles are wonderful, but the democratic experience is beginning to be challenged. In advanced democracies, like the US and Western Europe, change, which is inevitable, is hard to accept and to keep up with. Congress is still blocked between Republicans and Democrats. There are great difficulties to come up with reforms. In the so-called democracies, but not yet ready, like Egypt, Ukraine, Turkey, you have elections but not institutions, not the real capability to manage it. One example is Korea. Today its democracy functions well, but at the beginning they had a democratic period that was a mess, because the country was not ready, and they went back to autocracy; and only when wealth came did they change again to democracy. The naïve Western idea that democracy functions everywhere is false because it needs a degree of maturity and information.
Are you searching for new ideas of Government?
Nathan and I wrote a book, “Intelligent Governance For The 21st Century”, that was published by Polity Press of the London School of Economics. Ultimately what we advocate is that you have to balance between the will of the people and the capacity to govern. Nothing gets done if everything is in the hands of people. If everything is in the hands of politics, like in China or Singapore, you can be lucky or unlucky. Putin is like a czar; he has never devolved power, he is the opposite of what we advocate. We need independent institutions. The government should be like a big service organization for the citizens, like a big service provider, without any ideology. People forget that the role of a government is to serve the citizens.
March 17th 2014