The Polish economist who was a key architect of that country's reforms in the mid-1990s is again directing economic policies as Poland prepares to join the European Union. The recent announcement that 10 new members will enter the union places Poland among 25 countries in the expanding European collaboration.
Grzegorz W. Kolodko, Poland's first deputy premier and minister of finance, began teaching political science and economics courses at the University of Rochester in 1999. His role in shaping Poland's transition from socialism to the free market gave students an insider's view of the dramatic changes in central and eastern Europe in the last dozen years. In 2000, Kolodko was named the John C. Evans Visiting Professor in Polish and European Studies.
Under Kolodko and Prime Minister Leszek Miller, Poland is now working to grow its economy, reduce unemployment, and help restructure troubled companies. When Kolodko held the same post from 1994 to 1997, Poland experienced sustained economic growth. Income increased by 28 percent, inflation fell 25 points, and unemployment dropped seven points to a post-transition low.
"The most important target of my policies now is to bring Poland back to the path of fast growth," the finance minister has said. But the role of finance minister in Poland "is a difficult task at the best of times," wrote Italian economist D. Mario Nuti recently. "In European Union candidate countries today, the challenges for a minister of finance are even more daunting in view of EU strictures and the fiscal shock" placed on public finances, said Nuti in Rzeczpospolita (Republic), Warsaw's main newspaper.
At Rochester, Kolodko taught in the Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies and the Department of Political Science. He also traveled widely and wrote articles for Polish and Polish-American journals about economic issues.
In this expansion of the European Union, Poland stands as the largest country. Almost half of the 75 million more people to be added to the union live in Poland. Others invited to join at the same time are the Czech Republic; Hungary; Slovakia; Lithuania; Latvia; Estonia; Slovenia; Cyprus; and Malta.
Each country must hold a public referendum on joining, but opinion polls indicate that support is strong in all 10 countries. This explosion of Europe's boundaries is seen as an historic move, which will become official in May 2004.
In his years away from government service, Kolodko taught at universities and advised European governments and international organizations on monetary issues. He also is director of TIGER (Transformation, Integration and Globalization Economic Research), a center that pursues efficiency and economic equity for post-socialist countries in transition.
Kolodko, who has a doctorate from the Warsaw School of Economics, was appointed first deputy premier and minister of finance for the second time in July. He is the author of a number of books, including Post-Communist Transition: The Thorny Road (University of Rochester Press, 2000); From Shock to Therapy: The Political Economy of Postsocialist Transformations (Oxford University Press, 2000); and Globalization and Catching-Up in Transition Economies (University of Rochester Press, 2002).