What is the role of Poland in Europe and in the world? How is Poland perceived by other countries?
Danuta Hübner: The position of Poland has changed during recent years. It is now a completely different country than before the political transformation. Mentality of the society has also changed. We are part of the free world and its full-fledged citizens now. Accession to the European Union was another extremely important step for our country. Now, it is important for us to keep improving the image of Poland.
Our Presidency of the European Union was a good opportunity to show a beautiful, modern Poland, which has a huge potential and impact on what happens in Europe. After joining the EU young Polish generation appeared on western labour markets and in the European institutions as an educated man, who knows the language, knows how to work hard and efficiently. This favour changes of Poland and Poles image, as well as well as our increasingly competitive and strong economy.
It is a big step, but we still have a long way to go. We still don’t use our whole potential and a lot needs to be changed. First of all, we have too little awareness of the fact that we are a part of Europe and we have a chance to influence it. We have to be perceived not only as those who expect support from Europe, but also as those who care about the Europe and guard its interests. All these changes are going in the right direction. However, we need to have constant awareness of the responsibility for this image, because it takes a lot of time to build a reputation but it is very easy to lose it.
How does Poland, in comparison to other European countries, cope with the crisis? Do you think that the way out of this crisis will be long-term and painful process, or maybe Europe is already coming out of it?
Danuta Hübner: The crisis has shown that the area of common currency is not fully established and has a lot of weaknesses. Europe realized it very quickly and uses this knowledge to make big changes. It was the fact thanks to which the reform of the European financial sector has been taken. Europe uses the crisis to change itself. Today the main problem is that we have failed to find an effective solution and a way out of the crisis so far, because all reforms are focused on the future and prevention from the next wave of the crisis. This is a part of the task that Europe has already completed, but we are still lacking an an idea to reduce Greek debt. We may not be perfect in finding for solutions, but now we are introducing new methods to counteract the crisis.
We are focused on consolidation packs and on reducing public expenditure. We are often criticised that reforms are implemented too slow or too late. But critics do not see the fact that financial markets consider the ability of countries to improve competitiveness and to create new jobs but also debts and deficits. Europe uses the crisis – we are moving forward and there are forecasts according to which Euro Zone should achieve a record growth next year. However I think that it is going to be rather a long period of slow growth. We still need many reforms in the area of real economy and European structures. Especially those which serve competitiveness and create conditions that generate growth.
The role of Poland and other EU members, which has huge untapped potential, can be significant in the development of growth. Therefore, we must be well prepared for this and be aware that, in order to become a locomotive pulling the European economy, we need to invest in innovation and build the competitiveness of our country.
What should be changed, in your opinion, so that Poland could become more competitive and attractive for foreign investment and in promotion of local entrepreneurship?
Danuta Hübner: It is important for us to have a very disciplined and economically sensible fiscal policy. The crisis in Europe shown perfectly how quickly and ruthlessly markets exploit weakness and bad choices of each country. We have to keep an eye on the balance and stability of public finances and we need to reduce deficit, as these are main factors that potential investors are taking into account. In the Polish case this is not enough, because we are a country which uses traditional factors of its growth for too long. We reach for new sources of growth to slowly and we are not investing enough in education and innovation.
We need a radical change in or thinking to take advantage of our potential and factors which today determines the competitiveness of the country. We definitely need to focus on innovation, not only technological, but also in the service sector and in the way of thinking and acting. It is extremely important for us to finally see that the change in the world, which makes us energy-efficient, can be a source of growth. In Poland, still too little is said about the efficient use of sources, especially sources of energy, which is unfavourable because they could be the driving force of growth. All these changes in our awareness are progressing too slowly, which results in a lack of national policy on the matter, and makes Polish companies think too conservatively. They try to grow as long as possible only by using traditional factors.
There are many opponents of Banking Union. What are the risks and the benefits of joining it? Why do you think we should join the union?
Danuta Hübner: Everything what is happening in the EU, all implemented reforms are focused on the strengthening of the Euro area. Common European supervision of credit institutions is a new approach to be adopted to improve the performance of the euro area. Most European politicians realize that dividing the Union to the core, i.e. Euro Zone, and leave the rest on the side, is a big mistake and a factor that weakens Europe, because Europe’s greatest strength is its unity. We think about opening the Euro area institutions for those countries that are outside, especially for those who have plans or obligations to join the monetary union. We need to enable the access to those institutions and practices for this countries.
This division will create two markets of credit institutions. On the one hand are those under custody ot the most respected institution – the European Central Bank, and on the other hand will be the countries which are outside the Euro Zone. There is a risk that the second market will be less attractive to potential investors, so not joining the Banking Union can significantly reduce our chances of an interest in our market and investing in Poland, and thus, weaken the chances of growth. However, we need to ensure that those who are in the Banking Union have the same rights and benefits from accession to the Union, not only feel the costs of it. It is very important for Poland now to decide what we want.
Do you think it is harder for women to succeed in business and politics?
Danuta Hübner: When we reflect on the role, place and situation of women in business, we surely will find examples of women who have succeed. There are many women who achieved a lot without any support and no one’s help just by their own strength and smart use of the conditions. Unfortunately, these are exceptions, and they should not be. Especially since statistics show that women are better educated and that there are more women then men at universities. Women are more open to education, they want to deepen their knowledge, take on new challenges and more likely to enter into new, unexplored paths. Upcoming times need such an innovative and unconventional thinking. These are the times in which the role of women can be extremely useful, as they are better adapted to changing conditions than men. I’m not saying that women are better and that therefore we need to facilitate them something, but there’s no reason why we should not create conditions in which we could exploit their potential. Such conservative-minded society as Polish will expect from women to fulfil additional functions related to the maintenance of family and home for many years.
How do you manage to separate private and professional life?
Danuta Hübner: I’m not one of those women who say that everything can be separated, because it seems to me that it can not. There is a need of change our mindset. Our families need to understand and accept our choice of the life’s path, as well as employers should allow more flexible working hours. Public authorities can also support professionally active women, enable them to develop and make an effort to keep their commitment to combine family responsibilities and work was not a torture which reflects on their life and health.
What is the motto which guides you in your life?
Danuta Hübner: I had a lot of luck in my life. Life favoured me and I was in a good place at the right time. However, I think that “no pain, no gain” and luck itself will not help. A big effort is needed to achieve goal. We need to assess what we can do and what we want to do. For me, it was always important to do things that I like, and if I had to do something that I didn’t like, then I would try to like it, because otherwise it would be very hard for me. You have to know what you want to achieve and work towards your goal. There will always be a lot of obstacles and people who will not agree with us and try to disturb our actions. If you are convinced that something is important, do not ask anyone’s opinion, just do it. In 1995 I’ve created the first small and medium-sized enterprises policy in Central and Eastern Europe. If I had asked the Minister if I can do it, I’m sure his answer would have been “no”. Do not be discouraged, just draw conclusions and learn from yours and others mistakes.
How do you anticipate the year 2013 will look like?
Danuta Hübner: I think that this next year will be not only different, but also better. It is expected that the European economy will begin to rise in the middle of the year, but it will not happen itself – we are shaping and building this growth. Therefore, everything must be done to make this year better and to achieve growth, which will separate us from the fear of the crisis and subsequent failures. There is a lot of work to do in Poland. We have to roll up our sleeves and begin to work on the stabilization of the political and economic situation, so we could focus on things which are important for our future and future of next generations. We should stop thinking about our past and focus on what can we do to improve the future, because the world does not stand still and eventually we will be left behind. New countries are waking up and they have a good chance to become very competitive markets in a short time. We need to find our own way to raise the competitiveness of Poland and its economy. The best way for this purpose is based on education and innovative thinking.
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