The Warsaw Voice » Business » Monthly - September 30, 2015
Krynica Economic Forum
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Brainstorming the Future of Europe
Nearly 3,000 prominent politicians, businessmen and academics as well as a crowd of journalists from 60 countries descended on the spa town of Krynica in southern Poland Sept. 8-10 to discuss the most pressing problems in Europe and further afield at the annual Economic Forum conference, organized for the 25th time this year.

The conference, billed as one of the most important business meetings in Central and Eastern Europe, saw debate on the current political situation and about what direction Europe and the world at large are likely to develop in the future. The conference was held under the motto “How to build a strong Europe? Strategies for the Future.”

“Europe, in the sense of the European Union, is strong, but quite helpless in the face of the problems that plague it today,” said Polish President Andrzej Duda at a session opening the conference. Session participants included the president of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, and the president of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov. According to Duda, the most pressing problems are demography, the eurozone crisis, the recent wave of immigration from Africa and the Middle East, and the war in Ukraine.

Duda listed “three basic pillars” that he said would determine the future of Europe. The first pillar is the need to preserve unity. The second pillar is security, “understood not only in the military sense, but also, for example, in terms of energy.” The third pillar is freedom.

“I think that we should return to our roots. The EU should be a union of sovereign nation states, a union based on partnership, where we recognize our mutual interests and try to act towards our neighbors on the basis of understanding on all issues related to Europe, its individual states,” Duda said.

The president of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, said that Europe was going through a crisis of vision and a crisis of identity, strategy and leadership. She said Europe should respond more quickly to threats. Speaking about Ukraine, Grabar-Kitarović said that the integrity of this country should have been strengthened earlier. The lack of immediate unity in Europe in this matter acted as a bad omen, she added. “We are now dealing with another emergency situation. The massive numbers of immigrants flooding Europe pose a major challenge for the Community. However, we should focus on eliminating the root causes of this situation: war, poverty and instability in the Middle East,” Grabar-Kitarović said. Otherwise the foundations of Europe, including the abolition of borders, would be undermined, she added.

Macedonia’s President Gjorge Ivanov said EU institutions do a good job in peacetime, but in critical situations they often fail to make quick decisions, “and then the crisis deepens, causing even greater consequences.”

Vazil Hudak, the economy minister of Slovakia, said that the European Union is still an important part of the global economy, but there is no denying that its importance is decreasing.

Meanwhile, Janusz Lewandowski, a Eurodeputy and chairman of the Polish Prime Minister’s Economic Council, said that Europe still plays a significant role in international institutions, but this largely due to historical considerations rather than a reflection of Europe’s actual significance today. Lewandowski added that the development of Europe in recent years has been inhibited by a series of crises: a financial crisis, followed by a debt crisis, and subsequently the Ukrainian crisis, and now an immigration crisis.

In a panel discussion, Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz said that Poland has gained a lot thanks to European solidarity, both in terms of infrastructure, living standards and overall progress in the country. For this reason Poland should now help immigrants, Kopacz said. “Poland cannot afford to accept economic immigrants, but we want to take in people who cannot feel safe in their own country,” Kopacz said.

While addressing the Krynica crowd, Kopacz mentioned the government’s new budget targets for 2016. She said the draft budget combines two philosophies: the dynamic development of a free economy and social responsibility. “This budget, which is based on the experience of the European economy, is also a budget that ensures a fully free economy, not hindering Polish entrepreneurs, and at the same time keeping in mind those who were less fortunate, those who are struggling,” Kopacz said.

Meanwhile, Beata Szydło, deputy leader of the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) party and its candidate for prime minister in this fall’s parliamentary elections in Poland, who also attended the Krynica conference, criticized the government’s proposal to increase the budget deficit, calling it “an attempt to buy votes from Poles.”

“This is not thinking about development, about the future, but a stop-gap measure designed to further the interests of the ruling coalition,” Szydło said.

Szydło added that if her party won the elections, it would seek to strengthen Polish industry: “We must reorient our economy, relying on Polish capital,” she said. “Capital has a nationality; we should defend Polish capital and provide opportunities for its development. We do not want Poland to be merely one big assembly plant; those times are already behind us. Poland has greater ambitions and we’re capable of more.”

At the same time, Szydło declared support for foreign investors planning to launch production in Poland and create new, well-paid jobs. She said that the arms industry should be one of the most important sectors in terms of jobs and innovation. That is why PiS will seek to increase spending on the defense sector to around 3 percent of GDP, Szydło said. “There are two reasons: on the one hand, increased spending is required due to the geopolitical situation and the need to strengthen the army; on the other hand, it is a driving force expected to improve the Polish economy,” she said.