Business and Politics
June 3, 2014
More than 6,000 prominent politicians, businessmen and academics took part in this year’s European Economic Congress held in the southern Polish city of Katowice in early May.
The annual congress, first held in 2009, is considered to be one of the most important economic events in Central Europe. It attracts presidents, prime ministers, European Union officials, government ministers, and business and finance leaders from various European countries.
The main topics of this year’s conference were global competition challenges, new EU funds, industrial and power policy, energy security, migration and the labor market in Europe, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the global expansion of Polish companies.
The congress was held 10 years after the European Union’s eastward enlargement in May 2004 when 10 countries—among them Central European nations and the Baltic states—joined the bloc. That event was a watershed for both Poland and Europe as a whole.
The current development dilemmas of the European Union were at the center of this year’s Congress. The debates dealt with issues such as reindustrialization, innovativeness, removal of free market barriers and other potential tools for economic recovery, as well as the future of energy in Europe in the context of climate policy and global changes in the energy sector.
The future of the European Union will largely be determined by the ongoing negotiations on the economic and trade partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the United States. This year’s conference examined the shape and long-term consequences of this emerging alliance.
As usual, the conference agenda included sessions on finance, energy and fuels, mining and metallurgy, local government and regional policy, infrastructure, transport and logistics, and construction and property.
Other events included the EU-China Meeting, the Africa-Central Europe Economic Cooperation Forum, and, for the first time, the Pakistan-Central Europe Economic Cooperation Forum.
As in previous years, energy was a key topic of the congress. Mari Kiviniemi, former prime minister of Finland, said, “For the sake of the energy security of the EU, all member states should enhance energy efficiency and energy conservation. It is also necessary to promote the use of renewable energy sources and conduct research into new technologies in this area.”
Jaroslav Neverovic, the energy minister of Lithuania, said that it is time for the EU to move from words to deeds and begin building a truly common energy market in the bloc. “We should finish the implementation of the third energy package and spin off transmission operators to make sure that all companies have equal access to the market. We should unify the rules for the functioning of these markets, step up energy efficiency, and make use of the natural resources that we have in Europe,” Neverovic said.
The debate revolved around topics including the shape of the EU’s climate and energy policy. Janusz Piechociński, Poland’s deputy prime minister and economy minister, said, “It is very important to make sure that the idea of respect for the climate, which also has economic value, is an idea friendly to industry. Even before entering a megazone with the U.S., we want industry to contribute not just 22 percent but 25 percent to Poland’s GDP. This is a target that we want to achieve.”
Jerzy Buzek, a Eurodeputy, former prime minister of Poland, and former president of the European Parliament, said that the EU’s Europe 2020 strategy calls for the need to build a whole new industry and a new industrial policy based on innovation. “We are looking for the right balance in climate policy,” Buzek said. “We have overregulated the European Union; everybody knows this. For the time being, we’ve managed to blunt the edge of climate policy, but not enough. We are facing a major challenge in this area. Industry should be modern. It cannot threaten the environment and people’s well-being, but this does not mean that it can eliminate coal,” said Buzek.
Congress participants also focused on the international expansion of Polish companies, especially on opportunities to enter African and Asian markets. Khurram Dastgir Khan, Pakistan’s minister for trade, said that Central Europe, with Poland at the helm, is seen as a model of economic transformation. Pakistan wants to develop its international trade, but is grappling with an unstable political situation, especially in neighboring Afghanistan, he said. Despite this, Pakistan is a source of economic growth that may also benefit the European Union, he added.
Essossimna Legzim-Balouki, trade minister of Togo, said that Poland could become a gateway to Central Europe for Africa—especially as it does not have a colonial past behind it.
Katarzyna Kacperczyk, Polish deputy foreign minister, said the Polish government’s Go Africa program has contributed to the development of ties with African partners. “Interest in African countries has grown among Polish businesses in terms of trade and investment over the past year. Also visible is an interest among African countries in working with Polish companies,” said Kacperczyk.
Deputy Economy Minister Dariusz Bogdan said, “If we were to evaluate our relations statistically year on year, then in 2013 and in the first half of 2014 we chalked up a notable success because trade between Poland and Africa grew by about 20-22 percent, and Polish exports to Africa increased by more than 30 percent. This is a very good result.”
A debate on the EU’s prospective trade agreement with the United States generated much interest among congress participants. Ignacio Garcia Bercero, the EU’s chief negotiator for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), said these are probably the most important negotiations currently being conducted by the EU. Commenting on why the EU needs this agreement, Bercero said he was convinced the agreement would result in growth in both the EU and the United States. The agreement could add 3 percent to the EU’s GDP, he added.
Congress participants also discussed European funds available under the bloc’s new budget.