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The Warsaw Voice » Business » May 28, 2013
Business & Economy
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Conference Discusses Europe's Challenges
May 28, 2013   
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More than 6,000 prominent politicians, economists, academics and media professionals took part in this year’s European Economic Congress held for the fifth time in the southern city of Katowice May 13-15.

The three-day conference, which featured almost 100 debates dedicated to specific topics and many accompanying events, tackled some of the most important issues for Poland, Europe and the global economy. Conference participants discussed the future of the European economy and the situation in the eurozone. They also focused on opportunities for economic cooperation by the EU with Africa and China as well as on Poland’s investment attractiveness and energy policy.

At the opening session, Varujan Vosganian, the economy minister of Romania, said, “Europe is facing many challenges. There is a need to achieve a balance between regulations, for example on environmental protection, so that the issue of competitiveness is not forgotten (…). This needs to be combined with issues related to research and innovation. The key term for Europe is still ‘competitiveness.’ It is important to increase the competitiveness of the European economy. It is important to create a common industrial policy with other countries. Some of our sectors can become increasingly strong in international markets. We have to look for new markets in Africa and in South-East Asia. This will be like opening a window and letting in some fresh air.”

The conference’s first special-topic debate was entitled Go Global! The World, Europe, Africa: Time for a New Deal. The debate was chaired by Aleksander Kwa¶niewski, who was the president of Poland in 1995-2005. “We need a broader perspective,” Kwa¶niewski said. “We should diversify economically. This does not mean that we should give up cooperation within Europe, but that we have to change our approach and leave our stereotypical perceptions of Africa behind us.”

One of the leading issues discussed at the conference was energy. Participants discussed the assumptions of common EU energy policy and they also talked about nuclear power and shale gas.

Poland’s environment minister Marcin Korolec, said, “The current crisis in climate and energy policy does not mean the end of it. It will be redefined, made more realistic, more business friendly but also cheaper. Poland would find it worthwhile to have its presence more clearly felt at this moment of change.”

Krzysztof Kilian, CEO of the energy giant PGE Polska Grupa Energetyczna, said that the climate and energy policy adopted in 2009 needs to be thoroughly discussed. “In principle, its priorities have not changed, but how we see them today is important,” he said. “Perhaps its main objectives have to be redefined, in order to ensure energy safety at a minimum cost to the economy, while maximizing the macroeconomic benefits and, of course, reducing the impact of power engineering on the natural environment.”

During a panel discussion on climate policy, Jerzy Buzek, a member of the European Parliament and its former president (from 2009 to 2012), said, “In no case should the CO2 emission reduction standards be made more stringent compared with the existing arrangements.” Buzek was prime minister of Poland in 1997-2001.

Congress participants also discussed prospects for the development of nuclear energy in Poland and Europe as a whole. Zbigniew Kubacki, director of the Nuclear Energy Department at the Polish Ministry of the Economy, said the ministry is in the last stage of work on “a full nuclear energy program, including the results of social consultations, to define the activities to be undertaken in this area in the next 10 years.” The ministry plans to submit the program to the government for evaluation in late June or early July, Kubacki said.

Panel discussions on shale gas generated a lot of interest. Janez Potocnik, EU commissioner for the environment, stressed the importance of transparent regulations on shale gas extraction and the sustainable use of energy resources. Potocnik said that it is not the European Commission’s job to decide whether shale gas should be extracted or not. Individual member states must make their own decisions as to what their energy mix should be. But they must meet health and environmental standards, Potocnik said.

“The European Commission has held a questionnaire on shale gas,” Potocnik said. “We asked about what sources of energy would be preferred by the citizens of Europe in a 30-year perspective. Seventy percent of the respondents said they are counting on renewable sources of energy and 9 percent on non-conventional sources of fuel, such as shale gas. In Poland, the answers were different: only 59 percent of respondents said that they were counting on RSE and 32 percent that they see the share of other sources of energy, such as shale gas, as desirable.”

Discussion participants noted that Poland is not the only country facing dilemmas related to shale gas. Other countries that are conducting exploratory drilling for shale gas—such as Britain, Spain, Hungary and Romania—may face similar problems, they said. In this context, discussion participants also focused on the issue of investor plans and capacity as well as the technology, fiscal regulations and public acceptance of shale gas in Poland.

A session on the future of the eurozone also attracted much interest. Those taking part in it focused on issues such as the necessity of introducing reforms in the monetary union and the need to increase the EU budget. Jerzy Osiatyński, an advisor to the Polish president, said, “It was assumed that eurozone countries would record fast economic growth. Meanwhile, it is the countries that are outside the eurozone that have been growing faster. Poland could enter the eurozone when we find an answer to the question of what we can do to make sure that we do not share the fate of Spain or Greece once we adopt the common currency.”

The Congress also included an event called the Africa-Central Europe Economic Cooperation Forum. It focused on issues related to the economic potential of Africa and was attended by delegates from Senegal, Uganda, Angola, Tanzania and Zambia.
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