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East: Salzburg Forum Looks At EU Enlargement, Russia

Some of Central and Eastern Europe's top movers and shakers are expected to be on hand at a three-day forum getting under way this evening in the Austrian alpine retreat of Salzburg. Discussions are expected to center on two main topics: the enlargement of the European Union, and the ramifications of Vladimir Putin's presidency on the countries of the region.

Prague, 28 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- This is the fifth annual summit the World Economic Forum has organized to focus on the transition economies of Central and Eastern Europe. The World Economic Forum is a private organization that advocates a pro-business agenda, and, according to its own less-than-humble website, is "committed to improving the state of the world." This year's theme for the regional summit is "Marshalling Forces for Sustainable Growth."

A veritable who's who of Central and Eastern European business and politics is expected to be in attendance, including Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski, as well as Austrian President Thomas Klestil, who will preside over the proceedings. Joining them will be a coterie of prime ministers from Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, and Poland -- as well as sundry European officials, including Carl Bildt, the UN special envoy to the Balkans, and Charles Frank, acting president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

With such a gathering of dignitaries on hand, it's not surprising that a flood of scribes from the world's leading news outlets is also expected to descend on Salzburg.

The forum will be organized around workshops in which participants will debate and discuss economic issues relating to EU expansion and Russia. One session will examine what EU enlargement will mean to the region over the next five years and ask whether all 12 EU candidate countries can be accommodated or if some of the candidates expected to be admitted in the first wave -- among them the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Estonia, and Slovenia -- could be overtaken by latecomers, like Romania or Slovakia.

Other workshops will key in on more technical topics, such as whether bank privatization in the region inexorably means foreign ownership. Another forum will ask what governments and labor unions can do to create jobs in the region -- although a preliminary lists of participants includes no one from a trade union.

Privatization, and what should be done to accelerate it, will also be another leading topic. Other workshops will examine the media, automotive and energy, and agricultural markets in Central and Eastern Europe and their prospects. Summit attendees will also look at the prospects for doing business in a Russia run by Putin.

But most of the real action may take place away from the conference podium and meeting rooms. According to a preliminary itinerary for the conference, ample time will be set aside for what the forum calls "networking lunches." Set in some of Salzburg's posher hotels, these networking lunches will allow delegates from Romania, Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Russia, Slovakia, and the Baltic states to rub shoulders with Western industrial leaders eager to do business in that part of the world.

No key policy decisions or final declarations will be issued at the conference's conclusion on Friday. Instead, this event is being billed as an opportunity for world business and political leaders to exchange ideas. In other words, it's an opportunity for business and politic leaders from East and West to get together in a charming setting and do a little networking.

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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.