How does an ECE course make sense?

ECE is looking for roles again

The 55 member states of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe are meeting this week in Geneva for their 58th annual meeting. The focus is on discussions about one's own future and about sustainable economic development in the region.

The UN Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) does not come to rest. It, which for around four decades was the only international state body to act as a bridge for the economic exchange of ideas between the communist planned system and the western market order, has had to adapt to the constantly changing (economic) political realities since the fall of the Iron Curtain. It is proving very difficult for the intergovernmental body to keep up with this dynamic process. The initial belief of the ECE to serve as a transmission belt for the market-based transfer of experience and knowledge from the West to the East is based initially on German reunification and now also from the expansion of the EU by 8 (until 2004) or 10 (until 2007) countries Central and Eastern Europe have been overtaken and overtaken. The wear and tear at the top of the ECE secretariat was correspondingly; the current Polish Executive Secretary, Danuta Huebner, is the third occupation in the last five years.

Existential question

The gradual shifting of the EU's external border to Central and Eastern Europe, which has already been initiated, increasingly raises the question of ECE's own right to exist. In fact, there appears to be a continuation of a UN body in which - to put it bluntly - the representatives of the EU, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Switzerland or the EFTA countries meet regularly to exchange ideas on economic policy, for reasons of factual and cost-related issues makes little sense. An embedding of this cooperation and also the economic analyzes of the ECE Secretariat in other existing supranational forums is absolutely necessary if one does not want to use the ECE to test the actual cohesion of a growing EU almost permanently. Of course, this is only possible if the increasing number of EU member states is allowed to evade the Brussels balance of interests and to speak with many different voices within the ECE. Since the EU's areas of responsibility are expanding to include more and more topics and policies in the course of deepening integration, such an approach seems rather unlikely. The growing need for a priority EU agreement is also burdening the more than 300 international agreements that the ECE has concluded since its establishment, among other things, in the simplification of customs formalities (e.g. Edifact), in the transport sector (e.g. TIR regulation) and negotiated in environmental policy (e.g. cross-border air pollution) and still looks after it today.

Domestic economic impetus

In the economic report for the 58th annual conference, the ECE Secretariat emphasizes that Central and Eastern Europe was one of the fastest growing regions in the world in 2002 despite the unfavorable international environment. The main reason is the recent shift from export-oriented to domestic economic growth. This trend is likely to continue in 2003, although it is admitted that the available forecasts are likely to be somewhat optimistic. The ECE experts warn that several Central and Eastern European countries will not be able to maintain their expansionary course for too long without serious long-term effects, under the pressure of the increasingly tight budgetary situation and the impending deterioration in the external economy.

In other words, the opinion is conveyed that, in 2003 and in the following years, economic development in Central and Eastern Europe, despite the growth-promoting effects attributed to the EU's eastward expansion for future member states and also for third countries in the region, entails a large number of risks likely to be afflicted. This judgment is also not weakened by the finding that, for reasons of cost and margin pressure, possibly internationally active western industrial companies have transferred certain parts of their production to their young subsidiaries in Central and Eastern European countries and thus contributed to their somewhat sustained export performance. However, the ECE analysts are not sure whether this targeted exploitation of the advantages of a comparative competition reflects a fundamental trend or whether it is a phase of growing into production capacities provided by business strategy.