High-flyers celebrate awards in Euro-style

Monica Harper receives the award on behalf of Fidelity presented by Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart
Monica Harper receives the award on behalf of Fidelity presented by Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart
KM chief executive David Lewis speaks at the presentation
KM chief executive David Lewis speaks at the presentation

THE INAUGURAL Eurogazelle 2003 awards were presented in Lille on April 3 to high-flying companies in Kent, Nord-Pas de Calais and Belgium. More than 30 business and civic leaders from the county joined 300 from France and Belgium for the prestigious event promoted jointly by Kent Messenger Group, Face Magazine and Trends, part of the Brussels-based Roularta media group. It coincided with the launch of Eurogazelle 2003, a publication presented with this issue to highlight the region's top performers. TREVOR STURGESS reports from Lille.

THERE was Euro-joy for nine leading Kent companies in the elegant Lille Chamber of Commerce building designed by Eiffel. But only three savoured it to the full by attending a ceremony that marked the launch of the Euroregion business "Oscars”.

So there was widespread praise for Eurogazelle winner Just Learning, from West Malling, and finalists Pearce Sign Services and Elec-Track Installations for taking the trouble to join a rare European business occasion and to make the most of a trade-boosting opportunity across borders.

Absentees had various reasons for missing the event, including pressure on time, non-availability of staff and lack of interest. TV Travel Shop had hoped to be represented but founder Harry Goodman had to pull out at the last moment. Of the nine outright winners across the Euroregion, only two were not represented and both were from Kent.

Monica Harper, British vice-consul in Lille, accepted the handsome awards and bottles of Champagne on behalf of Fidelity Investment Management, Hildenborough, and TV Travel Shop, Bromley.

She said: "Today has been very successful. Important points have been made and I hope we will be able to translate these thoughts into co-operative ventures.

"There must be ways we can work together for the benefit of Kent and Nord-Pas de Calais but we've got to grab them and make them work."

She said that 2004 marked the centenary of the "Entente Cordiale" and she hoped it could be celebrated by concrete achievements arising from the Eurogazelle ceremony.

"Gazelle" awards have been long established in Belgium but only now have they been broadened to recognise high-fliers in Kent and Nord-Pas de Calais as well as Flanders and Wallonia.

The inaugural Eurogazelle 2003 awards marked the culmination of more than a year's joint working by Kent Business, Face Magazine, and Roularta, the Brussels-based publisher of Trends and a host of other consumer and business titles.

More than 300 people packed the chamber's huge conference room for a VIP panel discussion on the theme "What are the further opportunities for economic partnership within the Euroregion?"

Sir Sandy Bruce-Lockhart, leader of Kent County Council, used the occasion -- televised onto two large screens and with simultaneous translation - - to breathe new life into the Euroregion ideal.

The former Euroregion president was clearly disappointed that the removal of a physical barrier with the opening of the Channel Tunnel had not been matched by the removal of social and cultural barriers.

A "top-down" approach led by officials no longer worked. It was crucial for a "bottom-up" approach to lead the way, with more school and cultural exchanges.

This would also include plans, backed by Prime Minister Tony Blair and French president Jacques Chirac, for a Transmanche University with sites in Calais and Ashford.

Sir Sandy also warned that enlargement of the European Union would lead to a shift of power to the east.

The Euroregion had failed to capitalise on the Channel Tunnel and there was a real danger that the North West Metropolitan area of Europe which has regarded itself as an economic powerhouse would find itself "on the edge of Europe”.

He said: "If we don't organise ourselves, we will find that Eastern Europe moves ahead of us."

Rik de Nolf, Roularta's chief executive, also took a broader view, saying that the different countries were starting to know each other better "although there is opportunity for more to be done”.

David Lewis, chief executive of Kent Messenger Group and a panel member, said: "It amazes me that a partnership we joined more than three years ago has developed into this splendid occasion.

"We've gone on to show how working together, despite different cultures and languages, that if you work at something long and hard enough, you will get success."

After the debate, delegates moved to the historic central area for a buffet, while senior representatives of the organisers attended a press conference for national and regional media.

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