Europe

Europe: Focus on Internal Problems

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The annual Economic Forum in Krynica attracted more than two thousand political and business leaders from European Union Member States and neighboring countries to the Polish mountain resort town on 4-6 September. In a conspicuous departure from previous years, the forum this time focused less on issues affecting post-Soviet countries, including the South Caucasus region, and more on the Eurozone debt crisis. The slogan of the 22nd Economic Forum: “New Visions for Hard Times: Europe and the World Confronting the Crisis.”

“Prescriptions” for Rescuing Europe

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, who along with Croatian President Ivo Josipović opened the forum, told political and business elite gathered in Krynica that “bold decisions” will be required to overcome the Eurozone crisis. Citing Poland as an example, Komorowski said his country has been less affected by the crisis in recent years and, in contrast to other European countries, has maintained steady economic growth to date. The Polish President said that EU membership remains an attractive prospect for many countries despite the crisis and that greater EU integration is necessary to surmount that crisis.

For his part, Polish Minister of Justice Jaroslaw Gowin blamed the finance crisis on the European lifestyle – living on debt at the expense of the future generation, as he put it. A number of other participants in the forum also focused on the crisis not only in economic terms, but as a potential crisis of the democratic model too. According to former Slovakian Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, “a public official must be concerned about the future, not elections, even though reforms are expensive and risky.” Political calculations are what has kept national governments from making necessarily hard decisions.

Other representatives of Poland suggested countries decrease public spending and curb budget deficits as effective ways of overcoming the crisis. Poland has set a three-percent limit on its budget deficit, thus hoping to avoid a national recession. That approach, however, has been criticized by many European leaders.

In the opinion of former EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, EU Member States would do better to channel more amounts toward the economy to stimulate growth instead of cutting state expenditures. Bernadette Segol, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, agreed that Europe must say “no” to a decrease in public spending because “it does not work“.

Most speakers at the forum supported the decision of the Central European Bank concerning the purchase of the bonds of those countries with bad debt. Janusz Lewandowski, the EU Commissioner for Financial Programming and the Budget, said that Europe needs a common prescription which implies enhancing the powers of the Central European Bank and the European Commission.

Mikulas Dzurinda called for a “tax union” in the Eurozone as well. That same opinion was put forward by former Polish President Lech Walesa, who said the European Union cannot have different tax and social security systems. Walesa believes that the future belongs to the common “European State.”

Eastern Neighbourhood – Impact on Conflicts

The issue of Georgia’s occupied territories was debated at one of the panel discussions dedicated to the role of the EU Neighbourhood Policy in the settlement of conflicts within the post-Soviet space.

Georgian First Deputy Foreign Minister Nikoloz Vashakidze underscored the role which the EU Monitoring Mission played in maintaining stability after the Russia-Georgia War in August 2008. That role was especially critical after both the UN mission in Abkhazia and the OSCE mission in South Ossetia were shut down when Russia vetoed their continued presence in the occupied regions of Georgia.

Vashakidze described Georgia as “absolutely transparent” and forthcoming with full information about the movement of military forces and activities. Moreover, Georgia has unilaterally pledged not to use force. At the same time, Russia’s occupational forces lack transparency and Moscow refuses to agree to any reciprocal commitment on the non-use of force.

Even though the Eastern Partnership is not directly linked to the conflict settlement, Vashakidze said the mission of the Partnership in this regard is appropriately seen “in the spread of European values and practice.” He urged the European Union to outline “more vividly” those principles and values on which conflict settlement could be based. Vashakidze also reiterated that any concept of conflict settlement must, first of all, unequivocally reject ethnic cleansing as a means of achieving political goals.

That the Eastern Partnership is not in itself a tool for resolving conflicts was also discussed by Philippe Lefort, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the Crisis in Georgia. As Lefort noted, four of the six Eastern Partnership member states are currently engaged in “frozen conflicts” and, while the Eastern Partnership provides a forum for meetings, it is not a substitute for negotiations between the parties on conflict resolution.

The EU Special Representative also underlined the special role of the European Union in achieving the ceasefire in Georgia in August 2008 and in maintaining stability thereafter, as well as the importance of the ongoing Geneva talks on conflict settlement.

According to Lefort, the Eastern Partnership is a “very attractive proposal” which, at the end of the day, envisages awarding the status of Friends of the Eastern Partnership to participating states. Norway and Switzerland are among participating countries which, through financial or technical support, today enjoy the status of Friends of the Eastern Partnership countries of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine.

Special Representative Lefort reaffirmed EU interest in the development of an energy corridor in the South Caucasus, noting that the events of 2008 has shown that when the region faces unresolved problems, the EU must step in to help settle disputes and strengthen security. At the same time, Lefort stressed the need for Russia to stop its “destructive fight” to gain influence in the region.

Polish MP Michal Szczerba also spoke directly to the central role that Russia plays in the region. The European Union needs “tools of dialogue” with Russia, he said, because conflicts would be impossible to resolve without a constructive approach by Moscow.

Mihai Godea, a Moldovan MP and leader of the Democratic Action Party, labeled Russia as the main obstacle to the settlement of the Transnistria conflict. Godea drew a parallel between Moldova’s Transnistria conflict and Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia conflicts, claiming all were provoked by Russia. Moscow was both a party to and a mediator in the settlement of all three conflicts simultaneously, he added. The Moldovan politician reprimanded Brussels for ignoring the aggravation of Russia “especially, when dealing with interests insignificant by EU measure.” Godea added that Europe could play a crucial role in the resolution of conflicts.

 

Tabula is an official media partner of the 22nd Economic Forum in Krynica. Information about the forum is available at the

website:

http://www.forum-ekonomicxne.pl

 

This article first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue # 114, published 17 September 2012.

 

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