More than 1,000 prominent businessmen, politicians, academics, figures in the arts and media professionals from 36 countries debated security, competition and leadership in Europe during the European Forum for New Ideas (EFNI) conference in Poland’s northern coastal resort of Sopot.
Held in Sopot since 2011, the European Forum for New Ideas is organized by Poland’s Lewiatan employers’ association, the BusinessEurope European Business Confederation, the Sopot city authorities and a number of companies and institutions from Poland and abroad. The participants meet to work out ideas about how to turn Europe into a stronger region with a competitive economy that welcomes new technological trends.
This year’s European Forum for New Ideas took place in early October as a new European Commission was being formed and as an armed conflict raged in eastern Ukraine. The conference was held under the slogan “Secure and Competitive Europe: Realistic Goal or Unattainable Dream? Business Perspective.” The forum included dozens of debates, sessions and panel discussions on topics such as the political, economic, digital and energy security of Europe, the need to build a new economic model for the continent and contemporary threats to freedom and democracy, including those posed by growing social inequality.
Lewiatan president Henryka Bochniarz said during the opening ceremony that the EU needed to show it was capable of dealing with the consequences of the economic crisis and escalating populism, as well as addressing “existential challenges” in international politics. “As their term begins, the new EU authorities are facing the weightiest challenges of the last several decades: to restore economic growth and make the European economy competitive again, to restore citizens’ trust in democracy and European institutions, and to protect European values and standards,” said Bochniarz.
Polish ex-president Lech Wałęsa, who was the honorary guest of the forum, said that while his generation had removed borders between countries and torn down old political systems, it had failed to prevent gaps from growing between different societies. According to Wałęsa, many differences still need to be evened out. “This is worth doing, relying on common values,” Wałęsa said.
Rafał Grodzicki, a member of the management board of PZU, the largest insurance company in Poland, said that power and money were connected. “We still have not found a way to ensure a fair distribution of produced wealth that would be seen as fair by most people,” said Grodzicki. “We need to seek political and economic solutions to make sure that the redistribution of produced wealth brings optimal benefits to the whole of society.”
Forum attendees also debated ways to breathe new life into the European economy and initiatives and legislation that should be proposed to the new EU authorities to achieve this. According to Loic Armand, president of the L’Oreal company and of the European Committee of the Movement of the Enterprises of France (MEDEF) employers’ association, Poland’s optimistic outlook on Europe should be combined with the experience of France and Germany, because the time when each country did its own thing was over. “Now is time to work together,” Armand said during a panel discussion entitled “How to Stimulate the European Economy? Weimar Triangle Businesses on Strategic Initiatives for the New European Commission.”
Olgierd Dziekoński, a senior aide to Polish President Bronisław Komorowski, said during the forum that in order to maintain its present position in the global economy, Europe needed to be more competitive, which could only be attained with a strong industrial sector. Industry in Germany, for example, generates 24 percent of the country’s GDP and the figure totals 18 percent in Poland, while the EU average is a mere 16 percent. Europe needs to revive its industry, according to Dziekoński, especially because industry produces 65 percent of spending on research and development. French ambassador to Poland Pierre Buhler also said that a strong industry is a prerequisite for a strong economy. Markus Kerber, director-general of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), told the conference that Poland, France and Germany could initiate various projects that would become a driving force in Europe. “We can build our energy security and improve our defense capacity together,” said Kerber.
Forum participants also engaged in an discussion on the leaders of the future, pondering ways to find potential leaders and prepare them for the challenges of the 21st century. The main measures that need to be taken to find such people are to foster a large group of talented candidates and then select the best ones. The participants in the debate said, however, that the educational system in Poland kills creativity and keenness to work as a team. Poland lacks a system to support talented individuals while at the same time, teamwork does not pay off, as the system only rewards results achieved individually, participants said.
Lukas Macek, director of the European undergraduate program at French public research and higher education institution Sciences Po Paris, said that good education involves recruiting the best graduates and uncovering their unique skills. According to Małgorzata Adamkiewicz, CEO and vice-president of the management board at Polish pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Adamed, the business community and the science community need to start working together, and spending on research and development needs to be increased. Adamkiewicz also said tax laws should be changed, adding that the current system fails to promote innovation.
Source: The Warsaw Voice