The current economic and political order has been shaken and the upheaval is bound to have an impact on the situation in Europe and Eastern Poland. It is crucial that we take an active part in shaping the new order that will emerge out of chaos. This was the key message of the opening session of the 5th Eastern Economic Congress.
The countries of Eastern Europe are waiting anxiously to see what emerges from the global changes. What seems particularly important is that we cooperate on a regional level and promote further integration in, for instance, the area of infrastructure.
"The Eastern Partnership could only take off as a result of... Russian aggression in Georgia. We were late and not very ambitious. However, over the past two and a half years, we have signed breakthrough agreements to reduce trade barriers and introduced visa-free traffic with several countries, such as Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, which would have been unthinkable just ten years ago; we have also agreed on the terms of a framework agreement between the European Union and Armenia", Bartosz Cichocki, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said during a session entitled "Where East Meets West", the opening debate of the 5th Eastern Economic Congress.
Today, the challenge within the Eastern Partnership is to implement free-trade area agreements. If the plan succeeds, companies will be more willing to invest across the eastern border of the EU.
According to Piotr Kravchenko, Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1991-1994, Belarus has been changing.
"Maybe not as fast as we would like, but the changes are indeed underway. On both the Polish and the Belarusian side, however, many unfavourable stereotypes that no longer have anything to do with reality still persist", Kravchenko said, "There is no doubt that in the coming years we will be shifting the vector of our development toward the West", he assured.
Henryka Bochniarz, President of the Lewiatan Confederation, estimated that we are in for a global upheaval in the near future and can adopt one of two approaches.
"We can give in to fear and anxiety and bury our heads in the sand, hoping to emerge unscathed, or we can try to diagnose the situation and determine to what extent the transition period we are going through can be a stepping stone to further growth", Bochniarz said.
The president of "Lewiatan" also estimated that what is happening in Italy, the third economy of the EU, may represent an even greater problem than Brexit. "Add demographic pressure to that: Europe is the fastest-aging continent in the world and without workers from Belarus, Ukraine and now Vietnam, it will simply not make the cut. As a country, we need to offer these people something that will keep them here", she observed.
"Strategic uncertainty also raises fears about the future in Lithuania. From the perspective of Vilnius, the most important issues today concern national security and the aggressive policy of Russia, as well as Brexit, which means that hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians may potentially give up their Lithuanian passports and opt for British citizenship", said Jaroslav Neverovic, President of the Polish-Lithuanian Chamber of Commerce, former Lithuanian Minister of Energy. He assured us, however, that these fears would not steer Lithuania off its course toward further integration with the EU and tighter regional cooperation.
Janusz Steinhoff, Chairman of the Council of the Polish Chamber of Commerce, Minister of the Economy in the cabinet of Jerzy Buzek, observed that Poland is going through one of the best periods in its history. However, he also pointed out a number of threats. "The imminent rise in energy prices will deal a huge blow to the economy. Our CO2 emissions exceed the EU average by half and we need to replace solid fuels with renewable sources in energy generation", he warned.
Robert Ciborowski, Rector of the University of Białystok, remarked that today political decisions are more important than economic ones.
"We should base our economy on solid foundations, i.e. on accumulation. To do so, we need to open up, not to those who have nothing to give us, but to the powerful players. And for this purpose, we need an economy that relies on modern mechanisms of growth. Crucially, entrepreneurs who are given a greater opportunity to accumulate capital are more inclined to invest in innovation", he argued.
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