By Rosana Mirkovic, head of SME policy, ACCA
Between 4 to 6 September European politicians and business leaders gathered at the 22nd Economic Forum in the spa resort town of Krynica Zdrój, southern Poland.
Under the title ‘New Visions for Hard Times – Europe and the World Confronting the Crisis’, leaders discussed current models of integration, the economic system, and the substantial reforms required to tackle the on-going economic crisis. Much of the debate was dedicated to the competitiveness of the region and how its businesses can make greater impact on the global stage.
And as the title suggests, this was a high level gathering, attracting regional heads of state, international organisations and the major regional and global business leaders. Most impressively, there was a feeling of a genuine need for the government, business and the NGO sector to work together to address some of the socio-economic problems that remain, despite the remarkable period of transition the region has witnessed. With such a rich audience, the programme provided a similar tapestry of topics; from health, pensions and the ageing Europe, to future energy sources, technological innovations and the social media.
Inevitably, with the Forum’s host being so close to the Eurozone (currently expected to join the Euro in January 2016), the various angles on the Eurozone crisis were debated at length.
I was pleased to take part in a PwC panel debate ‘CEE Goes Global – the Expansion of Foreign Companies in Central and Eastern Europe’, which discussed the chances and the perspectives of the private entrepreneurs with their efforts to expand abroad and the obstacles they have to overcome in order to conquer new markets. The panel also debated the importance of such enterprises for the growth of their home regions and national economies. With larger corporations usually dominating such gatherings, it was especially pleasing to see that smaller, growing businesses were recognised for their dynamism and their increasing presence in international trade.
There was agreement among the panel that while national governments are keen to help the SME sector internationalise, their efforts tend to be mis-directed. The participants, who included presidents of boards of some of the major Polish exporting firms, agreed that government actions ought to be targeted towards making trade easier and less costly and removing barriers to growth and innovation. Other than that, there was reluctance to promote further state interference, and a real sense that entrepreneurs simply need to be left alone to do what they know best. Most interestingly, the extent to which the international expansion of Polish companies benefits the national economy, and as such warrant government support, was raised a number of times – as well as the effect of the country’s branding in boosting the international prospects of its companies. It’s difficult to imagine that either of the questions would be asked if a similar event was held in the UK, for example.
The overwhelming sentiment to note from the Forum however is the general optimism about the region’s future. Having witnessed moderate but steady growth throughout the economic downturn, some degree of retrospection was a common thread that tied together much of the conference’s programme, showing how far the region has come and most importantly, the role of business in opening up the region’s potential and cooperation even further.