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The Warsaw Voice » Business » April 29, 2009
Katowice, April 15-17
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European Economic Congress
April 29, 2009 By A.R.    
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More than 2,000 politicians, businesspeople and academics attended the European Economic Congress in the southern Polish city of Katowice April 15-17. The event was hailed as the biggest economic meeting in Central and Eastern Europe this year.

Participants debated ways of fighting the global financial crisis and discussed issues such as the security of energy supplies, in addition to other challenges and opportunities for Europe as it aspires to increase its role in the world economy.

European Commission head José Manuel Barroso said that it is essential that top politicians meet with business leaders at a time of crisis in order to discuss pressing problems.

During the opening session, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that respect for taxpayers’ money is the best method to deal with the crisis. According to Tusk, Poland is doing the best job coping with the crisis in this part of Europe, and deserves the trust of the biggest financial institutions such as the World Bank.

Meanwhile, Jerzy Buzek, former Polish prime minister, now a member of the European Parliament, said that Europe is lagging behind Japan and the United States. “In order to overcome the downturn, one needs to be more competitive,” said Buzek, who chaired the event’s organizing committee.

Participants of a panel discussion on the European economy said that the crisis, though a major setback, offers Polish companies an opportunity to enter new markets. Deputy economy minister Adam Szejnfeld said the crisis should be used to increase the strength of the Polish economy and expand to new export markets.

However, developing business and winning new markets will cost money, participants said. European Union funds are among the most important sources of financing for Polish companies these days, they added. Regional development minister Elżbieta Bieńkowska said that Polish businesses were keenly interested in obtaining EU funds, and that EU fund use had grown fast recently. Bieńkowska added that Poland is among European leaders in terms of using EU funds by companies. This will have a positive impact on the Polish economy, she said.

Energy security is one of the key challenges Europe is facing. A key factor influencing oil and natural gas markets is that there is no longer a surplus of resources in the world, said EU commissioner for energy Andris Piebalgs. Europe’s energy resources are also shrinking, he added. For example, production of natural gas is declining. The only way to deal with this situation is to diversify resources and use them efficiently. This also applies to coal, which, contrary to speculation, will not be banned in the EU on account of the carbon dioxide emissions involved, Piebalgs said.

According to Piebalgs, the use of coal should be economically justified and should not result in climate change. That is why he said energy professionals should be encouraged to test and introduce carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technology. These are costly investment projects, but buying CO2 emission rights also requires substantial funds, especially as their prices are going up. Piebalgs said that investment in CCS, due to the risks involved and the fact that it is based on new technology, will be eligible for state aid offered as part of a 4-billion-euro package. EU authorities will also support the construction of offshore wind farms and transborder energy transmission networks between EU member states. The days of cheap energy produced without proper care for the environment are gone, Piebalgs said.

The congress featured the official launch of the so-called Knowledge and Innovation Community (KIC) project, a plan to establish a network of international partnerships among universities, research institutes and companies, coordinated by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology based in Budapest, Hungary. These partnerships are intended to promote the production, dissemination and use of new knowledge products and best practices in the innovation sector.
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