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The Warsaw Voice » Business » September 2, 2011
Business & Economy
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Seeking New Ideas for Europe
September 2, 2011   
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Henryka Bochniarz, president of the Lewiatan Polish Confederation of Private Employers, a business association that organizes the European Forum for New Ideas in the Polish coastal resort of Sopot, talks to Andrzej Jonas and Witold Żygulski.

Among the many conferences focusing on European issues, there is a new event called European Forum for New Ideas in Sopot. The event is organized by a business association but it does not exclusively focus on economic issues. Do you think there are reasons to be concerned over how Europe is doing these days?
I think there is a reason to worry. The idea of holding the European Forum for New Ideas (EFNI) cropped up before the outbreak of the crisis in the wake of the events in Greece. At the time, no one could even imagine that a tragedy like that in Norway could ever happen. But when it comes to the economy, we knew that a difficult period was coming. The business community can predict different trends before they come about. Especially small and medium-sized businesses, which have moderate financial resources and are not supported by the state, must have their ear to the ground.

Conversations and discussions within our community show that most businesspeople in Poland, about 90 percent, are happy with the country’s membership of the European Union. The average number of those satisfied in the population as a whole is about 70 percent. Businesspeople benefit from Poland’s presence in the EU, but do not yet feel strong enough to try to change the bloc for the better, suggest new solutions. I must admit that although I am an avid supporter of the EU, every trip to Brussels erodes my enthusiasm. However, you should not be sitting around and complaining; you need to discuss things and fight for what you believe is right. This is precisely the aim of the European Forum for New Ideas, which we are organizing in Sopot. It is expected to be not only a venue for a debate about the implications of the crisis and opportunities for growth, but above all a place where we will be seeking real solutions to pressing economic and social problems.

The conference is about new ideas for Europe. Does this mean that old ideas are already worn out and do not meet the challenges of the times?
Some are worn out, others need to be dusted off. At the dawn of the EU, the free movement of people and capital, which means the common, single market, was the largest instrument in generating economic growth. Today it is undergoing an erosion and is beginning to be questioned—all because of the crisis. In some areas of the common market, such as the Services Directive and e-commerce, the EU is still not prepared; serious debate is just beginning.

I am afraid that the idea behind Europe is not promoted by politicians in individual countries well enough. All too often, they say that the good sides of living in a given country result from internal politics, while any problems or even dangers come from Brussels or Strasbourg. We have dozens of examples showing that good ideas die on the altar of successive elections.

I hope that during the European Forum for New Ideas we will show many dark sides of the current situation in the EU. This is necessary. If we fail to identify all the negative symptoms, we will be unable to come up with the right diagnosis and begin effective treatment. Our goal is to end the Sopot meeting with a belief that we have offered such a diagnosis, and with a conviction that the idea behind Europe is worth refreshing, adapting to the requirements of the times, and pressing ahead with for the good of all citizens of the EU.

What do you think could be the most important instrument for such a refreshing process?
Certainly, this cannot succeed without economic growth, and most of all without an increase in employment that will lead to a situation in which people will be able to function in a normal way in the family and society. If the EU is to win over people, especially young people, who have already displayed a dangerous tendency to emigrate, we must provide them with equal opportunities in education as well as an opportunity to use the knowledge they have acquired in practice—which means provide them with jobs. This does not have to be employment in companies; these may be NGOs or voluntary work, but people must feel that they are needed. You cannot allow a further increase in the army of the excluded.

What is the idea behind the Sopot forum? Is it supposed to become a one-time event or a regular get-together?
We want the EFNI to become an annual think-tank dedicated to new ideas for Europe. Before the opening of each panel discussion, participants will receive a report summarizing the current state of knowledge in a given area. The moderators will try to conduct the discussion in such a way so that there are as many presentations of new ideas as possible. Later, throughout the year, we plan to issue special brochures containing a summary of the discussions and an introduction to the next forum. In this way, we want to encourage participants to work all year round on the development of new ideas. We will try to make sure our recommendations reach decision makers: politicians, European institutions, and business organizations.

I hope the debates at the forum will lead to the emergence of a community of enthusiasts who, with their ideas and abilities, will contribute to the construction of a new European order. If we manage to create an institution that enters the club of European think tanks and stays there permanently, this will be the biggest success of the forum.

Why was Sopot chosen as the venue for the forum?
We looked for a location in Poland that would be able to accommodate and enable a common debate by at least a thousand people. The Grand and Sheraton hotels in Sopot turned out to be the best locations. On the beach, next to them, we are building a glazed pavilion for 1,200 people. We called the avenue leading to the pavilion the Way of New Ideas. During the forum, fringe events will be held there. The EFNI will be yet another event to be held in Sopot as part of the Polish presidency of the EU. All the events in which I have participated so far were perfectly organized. The city is perfectly prepared for this type of activity, and the mayor of Sopot, Jacek Karnowski, is a great enthusiast of our forum.
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