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Thursday, 11 October 2001

Aleksander Kwasniewski paid three day visit to Switzerland

On May 21st 2001 during the first day of his three day visit to the Swiss Confederation the President of the Republic of Poland Mr Aleksander Kwasniewski met in Zurich with the prominent representatives of the Swiss bussiness community and delivered a lecture "Poland on the threshold of the EU" . Ladies and Gentlemen, Excellencies, I am happy to be able to meet such a representative gathering of the business community on the first day of my visit to the Swiss Confederation. I hope my remarks will facilitate an objective evaluation of Polish affairs for those gathered here today. I wish to present to you a handful of reflections on the current shape of the Polish economy, the scale of the challenges facing us in Poland and the priorities of our economic policy. This then will be a talk about my country`s principal economic problems. About what makes today`s Poland tick and what our future expectations are. To the vast majority of my compatriots, Switzerland evokes positive associations. Many things set it apart from other European countries, First of all, there is its political stability. There is also the centuries-old wisdom and prudence of the Swiss which have enabled this beautiful country to avoid the nightmare of wars. An ethic of work and civic behaviour has been developing here for centuries. The Swiss therefore have enjoyed economic success and prosperity. We can all learn quite a few things from the Swiss. Here one may find patterns worth emulating as well as a friendly atmosphere conducive to international experience sharing. In recent years, a broad area of co-operation has opened before Switzerland and Poland. We must do more than we have done so far to get to know one another better. We should establish mutual contacts and multiply bilateral economic benefits. I hope the results of my present visit will help enliven our economic relations and maintain the extremely good political relations between our two countries. Permit me now to focus on the subject of my lecture. Today, in the twelfth year of our political and economic transformation, the Republic of Poland is an integral part of the democratic, and developing world. We have succeeded in travelling a very long road fraught with many dangers. Today`s Poland is a completely new political and economic quality. It is a different state, a different economy and -- I sincerely believe this -- even a considerably changed society. But our starting point was far from advantageous. Towards the end of the 1980s, things were in a state of great imbalance. The economy was in lamentable shape, and our state agencies were not performing effectively. We experienced what is known as the `blind alley` syndrome. Thanks to the courage, determination, imagination and persistent effort of my countrymen, amid the simultaneous well-wishing and assistance on the part of the international community, we accomplished what nobody else had ever attempted before. In a fairly short space of time we built a market economy and a stable democracy. Poles have not wasted the chance given them by history. Among the sources of our success have been the effort of all the society and a pro-European orientation which has become the principal driving force of the systemic transformation. We have strengthened our country`s sovereignty, its international and economic security. We have a modern constitution. We are developing the national economy and laying the groundwork for a civic society. We have succeeded in creating the bonds of good neighbourhood around our borders. We are intensively working towards future European Union membership. That being the case, a logical question would be to ask about the current shape of Poland`s economy. I believe its condition is best described by the following macroeconomic dilemma: How can one reconcile rapid growth with elements crucial to economic and social equilibrium? In the period between 1991 and 1998, an annual GNP growth in the 5-7% range was recorded. At the same time, the trade deficit and current account deficit were growing. At the start of 1999, some economists were predicting the collapse of the tendencies noted to date and even the emergence of crisis-related phenomena like those some of our neighbours were experiencing. They were to have resulted from a peculiar mélange of external causes and the country`s internal problems. But nothing of the sort has occurred. Today we are facing a slowdown of economic growth to the level of about 4% annually. Tensions and difficulties have arisen, but there are also premises permitting the formulation of optimistic forecasts and activity scenarios. This is no coincidence. It has resulted from the state`s economic policy implemented by successive governments since 1989. In terms of economic principles, there have not been any major differences. Over the long run, one may distinguish consistency and determination in that area. Those features have become cornerstones of our economic policy regardless of the political orientation of the government currently in power. After all, what really counts -- and that statement takes on particular significance here in Switzerland -- is continuity stemming from a broad consensus round basic objectives. Agreement on matters of economic importance has been maintained in my country thanks to the European orientation shared by our political elite. Among the matters, worth boasting about I perceive the significant drop in inflation, a considerable reduction of the current turnover deficit (from more than 8% two years ago to less than 6% this year), a record influx of foreign investments (10,6 billion US dollars last year). To the list of positive tendencies should be added our foreign trade results which are constantly improving due to growing exports. Since the start of the year, we have been getting favourable signals from industry and the building sector. The manufacturing industries have noted increased sales, especially by enterprises producing consumer goods and industrial supplies. Worth adding is the fact that in recent years we have thoroughly changed the structure of the economy. At the start of the 1990s, two thirds of our GNP came from the state sector. Now it`s the other way round. Privatisation processes are continuing. Privatisation programmes for the state railways, steel industry and arms industry are due to go into effect shortly. Our strategic economic aim is to improve our competitiveness. We are promoting all undertakings aimed at making Polish products in the 21st century attractive to home and foreign purchasers in terms of price, quality and utility. We want the words `Made in Poland` to signify a modern product worthy of interest. We have also created a climate of credibility and trust which encourages foreign investors to come to Poland. It is our economic accomplishments that makes us an attractive partner and constitutes a good starting point into the 21st century. But there have also appeared threats and challenges with which we must deal. One of them is the problem of growing unemployment which has reached 16%. We realise that that is a problem of a structural nature which has serious consequences for society and the effectiveness of economic mechanisms. The causes of that state of affairs are complex. On the one hand, it has been influenced by an increase in the population of productive age and the shortcomings of our labour market, on the other - by the above-mentioned slowdown of economic growth and stepped-up restructuring processes. The most effective way of overcoming our weakness is to return to the road of rapid economic growth. Acceleration is an escape from those arrears of civilisation which separate us from the Europe we want to be in. From the simple reserves we tapped during the first decade of transformation we are moving in the direction of more complex reserves. We know we must be more innovative, invest in human capital, in education, technical progress, modern technologies and scientific research. At present, we are witnessing what in Poland`s history is an unprecedented drive on the part of young people to acquire modern professional skills. Over the next few years we will do everything possible to enable Poland`s youth to face up to the challenges of the future. We are also faced with another great problem -- adjusting and modernising our agriculture to the standards and rules binding in the European Union. We are working to develop solutions which should fulfil the hopes we are pinning on them. We realise, however, that the results of those efforts are a question of a considerable time span. This is an election year in my country. I recently announced that parliamentary elections would be held on 23 September. I wish to assure all of you that the elections, or rather their outcome, will not bring about any essential changes in Polish economic policy. There is no alternative to a market economy. Whatever political configuration emerges at the helm of government, it will continue a policy geared above all to European integration. There is no basis to any fears over the stability of the state and economy. The period from 2001 to 2005 will be decisive to our economic success and position in the international arena. Personally, I am optimistic about the course of Polish affairs. And, I should very much like you to share my point of view. In the global era and in the face of European unification, speaking about Poland and its problems amounts to speaking about our continent`s tomorrow.
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