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TRANSNATIONAL CONFERENCE: "One Region, Many Stories"

The Conference "ONE REGION, MANY STORIES: Transformation Experience and Development Perspectives of the Central and Eastern European Countries 10 Years After the 2004 EU Enlargement", organised by Polish ESPON Contact Point and The Institute of Public Affairs, has been held on October 29, 2014 in Warsaw, Centrum Konferencyjne Zielna, Zielna 37 street.

Ten years have passed since the so called “2004 Big-Bang Enlargement” of the EU. A lot has changed during this period in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries that joined the EU back then. Once considered a peripheral region of Europe, the CEE area is rapidly catching up, thus gradually gaining more and more significance in the EU.

Various experts, practitioners and stakeholders from Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia and Germany, as well as Ireland and UK, discussed the challenges for the Central and Eastern European region and the Visegrad Group.

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The key note speaker Michał Boni opened the conference underlining that 2014 is a very important year marking 25 years of the beginning transformation in the CEE region, a history of success that has been sealed by the largest EU enlargement in 2004. Although the conference was organized to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the joint presence of Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia in the EU, the discussion focused on the future.During three thematic panels participants discussed the major challenges facing the region such as influence of the economic crisis, cross-border cooperation and the problems of the future economic development of Central and Eastern-European countries.

Themes of the middle-income trap andlack of innovation in Central and Eastern European economies kept returning like boomerangduring the discussion. Although Poland went through the crisismore or less dry-shod, according to prof. Grzegorz Gorzelak from the University of Warsaw, "you cannot be a green island in the red sea". According to him, Poland does not fully utilize the development opportunities of the EU funds.Although they undeniably contribute to improvement of the quality of life in Poland, structural funds are not effectively employed to foster innovation - the key to future development. Central and Eastern European countries, in his opinion, have not yet developed sufficient policies to support innovation.

The problem of the lack of innovation has also been pointed out by Agnieszka Olechnicka from the University of Warsaw. According to her research results territorial dimension of innovation needs to be fully understood to design adequate innovation policies on regional, national and macroregional levels. She found out that businesses are looking for research partners mainly in terms of content and geographical proximity between where the knowledge is created and where it is capitalised has lesser relevance today. "Our thinking about innovation should be radically changed. Transregional cooperation is required and so is smart specialization "- she said.

Wojciech Przybylski representing Visegard Insight magazine said, however, that Central and Eastern Europe has no problem with innovationper se, but a real issue is marketing and commercialization of innovation. He stressed that as a result of Visegard Insight magazines’ campaign aiming to identify 100 innovators form Central and Eastern Europe, eventually 650 names were listed "although in none of these countries there is a coherent policy to promote innovation."

Many speakers and panelists emphasized the importance of the so-called soft factors of economic development. Ádám Radvánszki,a Hungarian researcher working at the German ESPON  Programme Contact Point said: "This is a trap of the EU cohesion policy. We are focused on building infrastructure and roads expecting that it will result in development. But this is not happening "- he said. Professor Sagan from the University of Gdansk, in turn, drew attention to the importance of the quality of governance in economic development. She presented results of an international research project on crisis (ESPON ECR2), which shows that quality of governance (rule of law, minimizing corruption, managementefficiency, etc.) is one of the five key factors that influence how quickly the regions of the European Union recover from crisis. The situation in our macroregion is not the best. The so-called governance quality index all Central and Eastern European countries (except Estonia and Slovenia) are rated at the tail end of Europe. Poland is the fourth from the end before Bulgaria, Romania and Italy.

In terms of democratic rule of law and its relation to economic and social development context, the situation in Hungary has been identified as an appealing problem. The way government of Orban fights independent media and NGOs has been described as borderline undemocratic by prof. Gorzelak. Dr. Sandor Gallai representing the Institute of Foreign Affairs and Trade said however, that the ruling Fidesz admittedly uses all possible means in a political battle with the opposition, but only within the limits of the law.

The discussion also revealed other regional challenges, such as demographic problems (migration, aging population), growing inequalities between regions, increasing urban sprawl, the need for the development of education corresponding to future market challenges.

One of the responses to these challenges is development of cross-border cooperation in the CEE region. German expert, dr Katja Sarmiento-Mirwaldt, a German researcher working at a British university highlighted the great potential of such cooperation between the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. According to her research cross-border cooperation  between CEE countries is often more effective than between Western countries i.e. Germany and Austria. Based on the results of research by Agnieszka  Łada and Łukasz Wenerski from the Institute of Public Affairs one can observe how cooperation at Polish-German border has flourishedsince the 90s, and how much is still to be done at eastern borders.

The conference was organized by the Institute of Public Affairs and EUROREG – Polish ESPON Contact Point, thanks to the financial support of the International Visegrad Fund and the European Union.

 

 

  • 10:00 – 10:30    Key note speech:  dr Michał Boni, Member of the European Parliament, former Minister of Administration and Digitization, Poland - 10 years of Central and Eastern European countries in the EU – successes and failures of strategic thinking
  • 10:30 – 12:00     Thematic Panel 1: How are we recovering from the crisis?


  • 12:30 – 14:00     Thematic Panel 2: How do we cooperate in the cross-border areas?


  • 15:00 – 16:30     Thematic Panel 3:  What are our perspectives for the future?


The conference has been held in English and Polish.

Detailed programme (in Polish and English) as well as presentations and photos from the event are available below.

This event has been funded by the European Region Development Fund – Investing in Your Future and the Visegrad Fund.

 

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