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The Warsaw Voice » Other » April 16, 2008
XV ECONOMIC FORUM IN TORUŃ
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Europe: In Search of a Lost Identity
April 16, 2008   
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Jacek Janiszewski, Integration and Cooperation Association president in charge of organizing the 15th Economic Forum in Toruń, talks to Wojciech Romanowicz

Time to Talk
The Integration and Cooperation Association, which is organizing the forum, was established in Toruń in 2000. The forum itself carries on the tradition of Forum Poland-West Association economic conferences held in Międzyzdroje between 1996 and 2000 and in Ciechocinek since 2001. These conferences attract people from the worlds of economics, politics, science and culture. Many prominent figures have attended, including prime ministers, ministers, heads of government agencies, managers of listed companies, bank chairmen, local government leaders and academics.


What does the forum's slogan-Europe: In Search of a Lost Identity-actually mean? How can you reconcile the national identities we all hold dear with a pan-European identity?
Identity is not just about common Christian roots. There have been many "European Unions" in the past and our cultural differences are not unbridgeable. We once had a common language. Even Copernicus wrote in Latin. There was no language barrier between educated people. So we did have a European identity in the past. Each of these identifies was undeniably achieved through coercion. Once force had reached its peak-I'm referring here to World War II-people started seeking unity in peace. This was when Adenauer, Schuman, Gaspardieu and others got together and said the time had come to join forces economically, to link our capital, to build bridges, and hopefully do away with war. And it worked. We have found a way of working together. Europe has to find its own international identity if it is to avoid losing ground to behemoths like China, the United States or India. That much is beyond dispute.

The Toruń forum is the 15th such meeting. What have you managed to come up with in previous years?
These meetings had a different purpose in the early 1990s. Back then, the idea was to prepare politicians for Poland joining the European Union. We have discussed different topics every year-local government, banking, agriculture and science. Those meetings got things rolling and led to several institutions being established in Szczecin. These included the Szczecin International Fair, the Western Pomeranian Regional Development Agency, the Agricultural Exchange, and the Dom Kupiecki Society. Obviously, a lot of friends helped out as did the regional government. We later got together to assess the new reality and see whether there were any surprises.

We want our conference participants to draw up new legislation. Politicians should spell out their intentions. Officials should tell us what has been done and what is in the pipeline. And the audience need to express their views as to what is necessary and what is pointless. If politicians, administrators and businesspeople can communicate creatively, then the minister need only sit back and listen and draw conclusions. Our assumption was that ministers should listen more and speak less at these forums.

Who is the forum addressed to?
Primarily, heads of companies, local government officials, and politicians regardless of party affiliation. Our overriding aim is to encourage discussion between people of different political leanings. This is an opportunity for them to get to know each other and put their heads together on investment. Politicians should not be divided on issues like economic development or Poland's place in the world. We're expecting guests from more than 20 cities. The forum should attract over 1,300 participants, including some major politicians.

Will it be a good opportunity to promote the region?
Obviously, we will be promoting Toruń and other cities in the region, as well as Poland in Europe, and Europe in the world. Establishing working relationships with other regions would be a great success but this doesn't always work. Not even in places like Toruń and Bydgoszcz. But people are solving this problem on their own. Investing in a facility between the two cities is cheaper and both cities are included. Some 900,000 people live within a 30 kilometer radius of these two cities. A fast train would make it possible to travel between these cities in less than half an hour.

So the concept of a "4city" enunciated by The Warsaw Voice Editor-in-Chief Andrzej Jonas resonates deeply. The idea focuses on the development of an urban area formed by Bydgoszcz, Toruń, Inowrocław and Grudzi±dz-cities that offer great investment opportunities in terms of space and human resources. Once you set up a broad investment area, a construction project near, say, Bydgoszcz, can also benefit Piła. This is how the Industrial Park near Toruń was created.

The 4city has enormous human potential, including 90,000 students and 40,000 engineers.

Who are you addressing in particular?
Anyone interested in creating jobs. That's the main game. Whether we are talking about factories, silicon valleys, tourist facilities, or a nuclear power plant-which I personally advocate-is of secondary importance. Kujawy-Pomerania residents need to realize where they live and what they have to offer, while the rest of Poland and Europe need to learn about the region's potential.

So the forum's short-term goal is to disseminate information. What are its long-term objectives?
Apart from presenting the region's assets, we need to demonstrate how to work with Brussels in putting EU funds to their best use. How can we work together to get ready for Euro 2012 in Poland? There are many such questions.

The forum has very ambitious goals.
I think that we will succeed because Toruń is a beautiful city, and one of the few Polish cities that has a night life. Cultural institutions and museums will be open throughout the forum and there will be concerts. I have no doubt that some visitors will fall in love with Toruń and will want to come back. Hotels are being built to cater for these people. The forum will present Toruń to the world and rid the city of its complexes. Toruń, like the region's other cities, is well governed and has what it takes to become a European Culture Capital in 2016. That's what we're working toward. Toruń will become a household name. All we need is time and consistency.
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