KRYNICA, Poland — The debt crisis is showing up a new division within the European Union between members able to cope and those whose courage falls short, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said yesterday.
"The division into old and new Europe is being replaced by the new order of a Europe of the able and the less courageous," Komorowski told hundreds of delegates in a keynote speech launching the 22nd Krynica Economic Forum, an annual event in southern Poland dubbed the "Davos of the East".
"The financial crisis woke many Europeans up from a luxurious snooze, making them realise that wealth and a high standard of living can't be taken for granted," Komorowski insisted, pointing to the plunge which came as growth and public spending fuelled by debt proved unsustainable in eurozone states like Greece and Spain.
"Our part of Europe has its own experience with overcoming crisis — it's worth sharing that experience with the entire European Union at a time of crisis," said the Polish head of state referring to the east's difficult but successful more than two decade transition from communist bankruptcy to capitalism.
"Poland isn't a source of crisis. It's not part of Europe's woes. Quite to the contrary, Poland's experience and achievements are an opportunity and a common hope for a faster recovery from the crisis," Komorowski said, highlighting over twenty years of consistent growth in the country of 38.2 million.
While the rest of the EU wallowed in recession as the global crisis hit hard in 2009, Poland was the only country in the 27-member bloc to remain in growth, clocking 1.7 per cent.
"Poland was the only green island to avoid recession, but today we can say with pride it's no longer the only one," Komorowski said.
He pointed to Sweden, Finland, Slovakia, and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as making up Europe's "green archipelago".
"Now, there's a whole archipelago of islands of economic growth and responsible macro-economic policy that have joined Poland, proving that overcoming crisis is realistic, possible and necessary," the Polish head of state noted.
The crisis is underpinned by "human weaknesses like pride, greed and avarice" and can only be overcome by a switch to "humility, thrift, common sense and courage," Komorowski claimed.
The Polish leader called for further reforms in public spending, the labour market as well as development of Poland's large domestic market and geographical diversification of its exports beyond its main partners in crisis-struck Western Europe, notably to China and other Asian economies.
Despite an EU-wide downturn forecast next year, Poland is expected to avoid recession in 2013, after growing by a forecast 2.5 per cent in 2012.
The ex-communist country which joined the EU in 2004 has made its eurozone entry contingent on a lasting resolution of the 17-member currency bloc's debt crisis.
Poland scored robust 4.3 per cent growth in 2011, and 3.8 per cent in 2010.
Smaller neighbour Slovakia is expected to post an expansion in GDP of 1.8 to 2.5 per cent for 2012, making it the eurozone's fastest-growing economy.
Eurozone minnow Estonia recently hiked its 2012 growth forecast to 2.2 per cent from 1.7 per cent, underlining the confident mood of the battered single currency bloc's newest member — it joined in 2011.
Outside the eurozone Latvia — which has recovered from the world's deepest recession in 2008-9 amid tough austerity measures — forecasts growth of around four percent for 2012.
Fellow non-member Lithuania expects 2.5 per cent growth this year.
The Czech Republic meanwhile has dipped into recession, with its economy expected to contract by 0.9 per cent this year before a pick-up to 0.8-per cent growth in 2013.