Wrocław Acts Globally
Between May 31st and June 2nd 2012, politicians, economists and other major figures in transatlantic relations converged in Wrocław Poland for the Wrocław Global Forum – a two and a half day conference on current hot topics.
Frederick Kempe of the Atlantic Council called Wrocław an economic success story. Like Lech Wałęsa said during his incarceration, when asked what keeps him busy: “We are busy planting potatoes;” these “potatoes” soon gave birth to ideas and ultimately democracy. The city of Wrocław is the success that came out of those potatoes and a perfect venue for such a high-level discussion between experts of the West and the East.
The many topics discussed ranged from relations with Russia, the recent NATO Summit in Chicago, energy policy and the prospects of eastern enlargement of NATO and the EU. The Forum was co-organised by the Atlantic Council of the United States and the city of Wrocław.
Russia and Control
Kadri Liik, a Senior Researcher at the International Center for Defence Studies in Estonia, compared Russia to the story she heard about a beautiful princess who every time she saw a mouse, would go after it. The princess was turned into a cat for many years and when she changed back, she seemed normal except for the fact that every time she saw a mouse, she would chase after it. Like the princess seeing a mouse, Russia reacts to liberalism by imposing more control. Several examples mentioned were the Beslan hostage crisis, and the fact that now the North Caucasus is a “failed region.” Before Beslan, the region was “somewhat manageable.”
Richard Burt, Managing Director of McLarty Associates, had a more pragmatic and cynical perspective. In a panel on the future of Russia post-Medvedev, Burt argued that Russia wants more control, especially with the company Yandex (Russia’s largest internet search engine), which he likened to a global strategic asset. Additionally, he considered the Skolkovo Project, which aims to develop a Silicon Valley outside of Moscow, to be merely a “buzzword” to the West and Russia alike. Burt mentioned that enterprises in Russia are low because oil prices are low, and the economy continues at a stagnated pace. He likened Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption blogger and nationalist seen as Putin’s main opposition, as the “Yandex darling” so to speak.
Dmitry Suslov, Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, commented that Russia itself is responsible for the worsening of relations with the US. He also characterized Russian diplomacy and foreign policy as empty, defensive, and lacking sense in which visa regulations seem to be the only agenda and because of that, it lacks partnership and is more focused on self-interest. Russia cannot afford anti-Americanism when it comes to politics, economics or geo-politics. The Putin factor matters most and his disillusionment with the US doesn’t help. But nonetheless, Russia wants to continue the reset with the US. Putin’s ideas or beliefs inherent in his famous foreign policy article are that America never changes, and that America undermines Russia.
Evgeniy Gavrilenkov, Managing Director and Chief Economist of Troika Dialogue (a Russian investment firm) had a more positive look on Russia. He commented that “not just oil but manufacturing” and oil, gas, the civil sector expansion has all contributed to an “organic growth” domestically which was “not that bad” but may lead to deceleration growth vs. sufficient growth.
Security and Democracy
Lech Wałęsa addressed the participants on the issue of Poland’s neighbours and the countries of the East. He said that Europe cannot exist without Ukraine. And that Georgia and Ukraine both desire to become part of the European Community due to shared universal values.
Issues that emerged were the global financial crisis, the Eurozone crisis and the deficits of southern countries of Greece, Spain and Italy. There is still great unrest in the Middle East along with high energy prices which burdens the global economy. High energy prices also fund authoritarian regimes. According to National Endowment for Democracy president, Carl Gershman, “if oil fell below $70 a barrel, Russia would be a democracy overnight.”
The United States itself is at a political impasse with a large budget deficit. Shale Gas however can be the light at the end of the tunnel with a potential to boost the economy and industry, and that it could revive manufacturing and at the same time reducing carbon footprints. As an export, it would help Europe.
Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, believes that there is a significant lack of information to detect risk and thus a crisis in Ukraine. There are several contradictions between decision-making and independent states. This doesn’t reflect a united Europe but rather individual interests. Khoroshkovsky used Poland as an example, stating that it is a success because it is not a part of the Eurozone. He supports the idea of partnership even on a local “neighborhood” scale. Ukraine wants to strengthen Europe with or without the EU. Ukraine does not want to become a “toxic asset.”
“Does Europe still matter?”
The importance of the economic relationship between the US and Central and Eastern Europe was emphasised in a panel discussion “Investing in Europe: Difficulties, Hopes and Promises.” Joanna Bensz, the Wroclaw Branch Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Poland asked the panellists: “Does Europe still matter?”
While Poland and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe were once “zero per cent” non-independent, many of these countries are now 80-85 per cent self-sufficient. Jake Slegers, the Chair of AmCham Slovakia and Europe argued that US firms should “stay the course” in investing in Europe, a point reiterated in the American Chamber of Commerce’s “Case for Investing in Europe”. He and the other experts believed that the conflict between trade and investments is related to the fact that investments have less support from the US Administration, which prefers to focus on China.
When Poland was at its “neediest,” the American auto company, General Motors, was its greatest investor. In fact, America was Poland’s greatest investor for the first decade after the transition. When there is a need, US investors are there. The experts observed a shift of focus; as developing states in Central and Eastern Europe increased in self-sustainability, the more they were taken for granted.
Yet, Europe still matters, according to Joseph Quinlan, Transatlantic Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University and the German Marshall Fund. One of the main reasons is that the European consumer “is mightier than the American consumer” and the workforce in Europe is generally more educated.
Summarising the discussion, one of the panellists optimistically predicted that Wrocław Poland, the Capital of Culture in 2016 and host to the Global Forum, would see an increase in self-sufficiency to nearly 90 per cent by 2016. An incredible prediction for an incredible city.
Maia Lazar is an Editorial Intern with New Eastern Europe and a graduate student at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland.
Krzysztof Walski is a graduate student of Politics and International Affairs at the University of Kent and Jagiellonian University.