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The Warsaw Voice » Business » February 4, 2010
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Looking East
February 4, 2010   
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Jacek Janiszewski, the founder and main organizer of the Integration and Cooperation Association, which holds the annual Economic Forum in the north-central city of Toruń, talks to Michał Jeziorski.

The Integration and Cooperation Association is preparing to hold its 17th Economic Forum in Toruń Feb. 11-12. What can we expect at this year's event?
The meeting will focus on the European Union's Eastern Partnership initiative. Economic and political relations with countries beyond Poland's eastern border are an important part of the European Union's policy in Eastern Europe. We believe that Poland has a special role to play in this policy. That is why we have invited ambassadors from countries taking part in the EU's Eastern Partnership program as well as the ambassadors of Russia and China. Among the many government officials who have confirmed they are attending are deputy prime minister and economy minister Waldemar Pawlak, Treasury minister Aleksander Grad, interior minister Jerzy Miller, and deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament Ewa Kierzkowska. Also on hand will be senior Polish Eurodeputy Danuta Hübner, who chairs the European Parliament's Committee on Regional Development. Our guest of honor Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European Parliament, will sum up the conference. We also expect to welcome a significant number of participants representing opposition parties, both leftist and rightist.

The Economic Forum is above political divisions. We invite leading figures who have something to say regardless of their party affiliation. Of course, a vast majority of our guests represent various areas of business. In all, we expect about 1,000 participants from 40 countries. This makes the Economic Forum a large-scale event that brings together a crowd of top decision makers.

How does the event help promote the region?
We want to showcase Toruń as a major conference center in Poland. A new hotel complex is currently under construction right next to the Old Town. It will be a great venue for large international conferences. We also want to promote our Advanced Technology Park that will be developed on the site of the former Elana factory. There are about 150 hectares to develop there, and we are encouraging companies, banks, universities and the province government to join the project.

We want to attract our guests' attention to plans for freeway construction in our region. People and cities have always developed along main transport routes. Today, freeways are such routes. It is thanks to them that the five largest cities in Kujawy-Pomerania province, namely Toruń, Bydgoszcz, Włocławek, Grudzi±dz and Inowrocław, will form a metropolitan area that will compete with Warsaw, the Tricity area, and the Silesian conurbation over the next 20 years. The five Kujawy-Pomerania cities have almost 2 million residents between them and huge potential for development.

A large panel discussion devoted to energy is on the forum's agenda. Will it focus on the controversial Northern Gas Pipeline project?
This topic should not dominate the debate. The Northern Gas Pipeline is more of a political issue than anything else. It should be discussed at the central government level. We, on the other hand, want to concentrate on what stimulates development inside the country. We want to deal with issues and indicate possibilities that are receiving less public attention. These include the development of the power grid in rural areas.

Building a factory in a rural area would be very profitable due to lower construction costs and cheaper labor, and for the local people it would mean an alternative source of income. The barrier to this is not the lack of roads or telephones, but insufficient power supply. Today it takes just a gust of wind toppling one wooden utility pole holding up a length of wire for several villages to be cut off. The problem is not that the pole toppled over, but that there are far too few power connections. It's like a car accident. If there are many roads, hardly anyone will notice there was an accident because there are many fast detours available. If there is just one road, everyone will be stuck in a traffic jam. It's the same with electricity.

The best way of understanding the entire power system is to imagine electricity as any other commodity. Like anything else, it is produced, then it is sold, you have to store it somewhere and you have to get it to the end buyer. With this approach, issues related to the energy sector do not have to be so terribly complicated. We also want to talk about renewable energy, wind energy and the idea of building a system of nuclear power plants in Poland. We are not hampered by any current matters, so we can look boldly towards the future. Our perspective is not restricted to one government meeting, one state budget or one parliamentary term.

The discussions at this year's forum will not be just about the economy. Where did the idea come from to include topics like safety at schools and the role of women in a changing world?
We don't want to shut ourselves off from any issue that is important and topical. During the year we hold "Safe Vacation" concerts in different places across Poland, to which we invite parents with children. We want to talk about why marihuana and other, harder drugs are so widely available in Poland. If only a child wants to, they can get drugs with no trouble at all. Most parents are completely unaware of this problem. We want to warn children that some things really are not even worth touching. We want to inspire the business community with our work for the public good, and to make politicians and local government officials aware of the magnitude of the problem-a problem that is growing, not diminishing. It certainly is worth talking about.
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