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The Warsaw Voice » Business » June 3, 2015
European Economic Congress
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Talking About the Future of Europe
June 3, 2015   
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More than 7,000 prominent politicians, businessmen and academics from around the world descended on the southern Polish city of Katowice to take part in this year’s European Economic Congress (EEC), an annual conference billed as the largest business event in Central Europe.

Held for the seventh time, the conference discussed issues of key importance to the development of Europe. Debates focused on topics including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s plan to plow 300 billion euros into the EU economy in a long-term investment plan. Other issues discussed included the expansion of Polish companies on global markets and innovation in both Poland and the European economy as a whole.

“The Polish economy is not just part of the European Union economy in formal terms; it is an increasingly important component of the European Union economy,” said Polish President Bronisław Komorowski at the conference’s opening session. “Poland’s economic development is important from the point of view of overcoming the crisis in Europe. We need to transform Europe’s traditional economy into a knowledge-based economy. For Poland this means making use of the best-educated generation of young Poles in history. This is the key to our enormous growth potential.”

Among those discussing the 300-billion-euro investment plan for Europe was Jyrki Katainen, vice-president of the European Commission and the EU’s commissioner for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, who said that the aim of the European Commission was to increase private investment. The plan consists of three main parts, the most important of which is deepening and harmonizing the EU internal market, Katainen said. Another goal is the EU’s energy security and an energy union, he added.

According to Katainen, Europe needs more energy connections, particularly gas connections, as many countries are still dependent on one single supplier. A further goal is to reform the capital market in order to improve access to financing, Katainen said.

Jerzy Buzek, a former prime minister of Poland and ex-president of the European Parliament, said that a key challenge for all of Europe is to emerge from stagnation, because stagnation can sometimes be more dangerous than crisis as it can persist for a decade or longer. “We are striving to ensure growth in the range of 3-5 percent [for the EU economy as a whole] rather than just 1.5 percent or even 0.5 percent, as is the case in Europe now,” said Buzek. “We have two paths. The first is to increase the amount of money in the European financial system, and the second is to increase the level of investment, because today it is 20 percent lower than it was before the crisis.” This is a big difference, Buzek said, and the situation must be improved. “According to economists, the amount of money in circulation in Europe is sufficient, but the problem is the lack of optimism. The task of European institutions is to increase the level of confidence in the economy,” Buzek said.

Janusz Lewandowski, chairman of the Polish prime minister’s Economic Council and a member of the European Parliament, said that Europe is still not investing enough to ensure adequate economic growth and revive the labor market—despite the fact that there are funds available for such investment. “The problem is risk aversion even though the money is available,” said Lewandowski.

Carlos Moedas, EU commissioner for research, science and innovation, said that the new European Strategic Investment Fund will help increase funding for innovative projects and promises to become a key tool for supporting innovation after 2020. Europe is suffering from a lack of investment due to uncertainty over the economic outlook—a trend understandable after the worst economic crisis in years, said Moedas. It is difficult to expect that investment in innovative solutions, which are inherently the most risky, will be popular, he argued. Moedas added that uncertainty is only one factor; another is that many European companies are doing much worse financially. The financial crisis has meant cutting R&D budgets, making the situation all the more difficult, according to Moedas.

This year’s European Economic Congress included sessions focusing on individual sectors of the economy and public life such as energy and raw materials, infrastructure, transportation, technology, mining and metallurgy, the health market, construction and real estate, investment, regional policy, management, local government, and the leisure industry. The conference was accompanied by the third Africa-Central Europe Economic Cooperation Forum, the fourth Europe-China Economic Forum, a Poland-South Korea Economic Forum, and the first Poland-Arabian Peninsula Countries Economic Forum.

A new feature on the conference agenda was the EEC: Leaders of Tomorrow project aiming to create and promote active citizenship and increase the participation of young people in public life. The project offers open lectures to students and opportunities to participate in the discussion as either speakers or listeners, in addition to opportunities to help organize the event.
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