Political, Business Leader gather in Poland for economic challenges

The Charleston Gazette
AP-ES-04-28-04 0820EDT

Political and business leader gather in Poland to discuss economic
challenges facing Europe

By VANESSA GERA
Associated Press Writer

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Police sealed off parts of the Polish capital as
business and political leaders opened a forum Wednesday on the challenges
facing the European Union after eight former Soviet bloc countries join this
week.

The European Economic Summit brought together hundreds of dignitaries,
including 20 presidents and prime ministers and representatives from leading
corporations, for talks on EU expansion.

The three-day event — organized by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum,
which is best known for its annual summit in Davos, Switzerland — concludes
Friday, hours before midnight celebrations in several cities usher in the
historic expansion.

The 650 delegates will focus on Europe’s economic competitiveness as well as
social and environmental issues, said World Economic Forum head Jose Maria
Figueres.

“All of those are vital components of a better — of a more sophisticated —
Europe as we move forward with enlargement,” Figueres said.

Anti-globalization groups have mobilized against the meeting, viewing the
forum funded by many leading corporations as an exclusive club for the rich.
About 5,000 protesters are expected to march Thursday, organizers say.

Downtown Warsaw shops — from elegant boutiques to fast-food chains —
protected their windows with slabs of wood, corrugated tin and cardboard.
Police helicopters whirred above the city center as officers in riot gear
guarded a barricaded perimeter of several blocks around the conference
venue, a hotel.

But government leaders also can expect criticism from other quarters.

Daniel Gros, director of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels,
said economic dialogue in Europe has been reduced to “a charade” as
countries pay lip service to limiting their budget deficits and economic
reform, but then do little to measure up.

“In economic terms they don’t have to talk to each other a lot — they just
have to go home and do their homework,” Gros said.

Alongside workshops on the benefits of adopting the euro currency and the
competitiveness of the EU countries, one-on-one talks between political
leaders also were planned.

These include a planned meeting of the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia,
which have been locked in a dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, an ethnic
Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan.

Ethnic Armenian forces drove out Azerbaijan’s army from the region in the
1990s and ethnic Azeris fled. Though a cease-fire was established in 1994,
the two sides periodically exchange fire.

Presidents Johannes Rau of Germany, Ion Iliescu of Romania and Mikhail
Saakashvili of Georgia also are expected to address the meeting.

On the eve of the summit, Poland President Aleksander Kwasniewski stressed
the importance of bringing together generally richer Western countries with
the new EU members and countries further east that face difficult obstacles
in their search for prosperity.

“I am convinced that the conference hosted by Poland will show that no new
curtain will appear in our continent — not even a velvet one,” Kwasniewski
said.

AP-ES-04-28-04 0820EDT

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