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East: UN Official Seeks To Harmonize Integration Of Transition Economies

By Manana Kuzma

The United Nations this month elevated Danuta Hubner of Poland to the post of executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe. She is the first woman to hold the post and becomes one of the highest-ranking women in the United Nations. Hubner talks with RFE/RL correspondent Manana Kuzma about her hopes for assisting the development of economies in transition.

United Nations, 15 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- As a woman and a Pole, Danuta Hubner believes she has the background and experience to help accelerate the transition of Europe's former communist nations into European institutions.

Hubner on June 1 became executive secretary of the UN's Economic Commission for Europe, or ECE, succeeding Frenchman Yves Berthelot. The commission seeks to harmonize the transition of the former centrally planned economies of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe into the rest of Europe.

ECE assistance includes regular seminars and workshops on the operation of the market economy. Specialists provide advice to help the transitional countries meet ECE standards and conventions.

For the past 10 years, the commission has given priority to five areas -- environmental protection, transport, trade facilitation, statistics and economic analysis. It stresses the concept of sustainable development.

Hubner, an economist, says there is a lot of difficult work ahead in preparing the former communist states to meet their ultimate goal -- membership in the European Union. She told our correspondent in an interview that her experience in helping Poland through its transition process can provide lessons for assisting its less developed regional neighbors.

"The majority of them are still facing the major challenge of transition. Frankly, the most important thing for me is my hope that I can do something to speed up the transition, to have these countries accelerate the reforms, to help those countries that dream of membership in the European Union to accelerate their preparation and also to give the feeling to these countries who do not have the prospect of belonging to the European Union soon that they are not left out."

Hubner played a role in Poland's transformation into one of the first-rank candidates for EU membership. She was Poland's state secretary for European integration and conducted negotiations for Poland's membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation, OECD, which Poland joined in 1996.

As undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Industry and Trade, she wrote the first governmental policy program for small and medium-sized industries. She plans to make use of the Polish example in her work for the ECE.

"I think Poland is one of the most successful countries. Of course there are problems. You can't find now a country in the world that would not have problems. Poland is also facing economic problems. But Poland has managed over the last 10 years, I think, to overcome all the major difficulties of transition and Poland has a huge potential to assist other countries, to assist CIS countries, to assist countries like Ukraine, Moldova, or Georgia."

Hubner said the ECE's role, in essence, is to be a forum providing the advanced and less advanced countries of Europe the opportunity to meet together and discuss reforms that can be to their mutual benefit.

"I believe very much in using the experience of countries which are better off for the good of the countries which are not that well off. I think that in Europe even over the last 10 years, we have managed to accumulate a lot of experience that can be used by the least advanced countries of CIS, of southeastern Europe. "

Our correspondent spoke to Hubner last week on the sidelines of the international conference on advancing the status of women, taking place under UN auspices in New York. She says she has often attended meetings in which she was the lone woman among 20 or more men. Hubner supported the conference's call for more women to be allowed into positions of authority, saying women can bring a fresh approach to problem solving.

"I think it's important because when you have people who have different perceptions of things, that have different ideas, that have different approaches to the problems, then it helps. And that's why I think we should have more women participating in the political processes, and the economic processes. I think we should have more women being active in every field of our life, because they bring a different perspective. Of course, they are different by nature, but they are also different in the way they approach problems."

The ECE was established in 1947 with the mandate of helping to rebuild postwar Europe and strengthen economic relations among European countries, as well as between Europe and the rest of the world. The division of Europe between communist East and democratic West shortly after the ECE's establishment forced it to become a body that provided dialogue between the two sides of Europe.

Since the decline of the communist system beginning in 1989, the ECE has focused its efforts on bringing the states in transition up to western European economic standards. All of the nations of the former Soviet Union and communist Eastern Europe now belong to the ECE.