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Polands president optimistic about CUs future
WARSAW (9/19/08)--Facing potentially damaging legislation before Poland's Parliament, the country's credit union movement has been bolstered by support from many of the Baltic nation's legislators and the office of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who remains "optimistic" about the movement's future.
Click to view larger imageWorld Council of Credit Unions' WOCCU Poland Engagement Program participants pose in front the presidential palace in Warsaw. (Photos provided by the World Council of Credit Unions)
During three separate events this week, members of a World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) delegation to Poland met with a dozen Polish lawmakers, including Piotr Kownacki, head of the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland, the country's equivalent of the U.S. presidential chief of staff. In June, pro-banking groups introduced amendments that seek to change Poland's credit union law, passed in 1995 at the rebirth of the Polish credit union movement. Among other issues, the amendments would end all lifetime membership provisions, requiring members to leave their credit unions if they no longer work for employers in the credit unions' field of membership. The amendments also would limit credit unions' access to certain funding sources and reduce credit union oversight authority by the National Association of Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions (NACSCU), one of WOCCU's member organizations. "The new regulations will have a devastating impact on Poland's credit unions if passed," said Grzegorz Bierecki, NACSCU president and WOCCU treasurer, during Thursday's meeting with Kownacki and the delegation in Warsaw's presidential palace. "These laws place important limitations on the member, who will be asked to leave his credit union and pay back all his loans. Essentially, the member will be punished by these laws," he said.
Click to view larger imageBill Cheney (left), president/CEO of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues, explains the power of credit unions to Piotr Kownacki, head of the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland (right), while Andrzej Duda, Poland's undersecretary of state (center), looks on.
WOCCU delegation members shared their concerns and U.S. credit union examples with both Kownacki and Andrzej Duda, Poland's undersecretary of state, during the hour-long meeting. Mike Mercer, president of Georgia Credit Union Affiliates (GCUA), explained that recent limitations on consumer lending by U.S. banks in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis have made U.S. credit unions an even more critical resource during the current economic downturn. GCUA works with NACSCU through WOCCU's International Partnerships program. "A credit union system, if it's healthy, can provide strong and vibrant support in troubling times," Mercer told the group. "All of us thought the situation here critical enough to come all the way to Poland to support our international colleagues." The President of Poland's office attempted to submit more favorable legislation, but it wasn't supported and didn't survive, said Kownacki. If the Polish Parliament passes legislation damaging to credit unions, President Kaczynski must sign the legislation into law, an obligation that allows him to make adjustments he feels are more appropriate to the movement, Kownacki added. "I do agree the current draft goes too far, and I don't believe it will be passed into law," Kownacki said. "I can be quite optimistic on behalf of Polish credit unions, and I believe this group's visit has been very important." Parliamentary discussions about the legislation came to a halt earlier this month when the President submitted alternative amendments. The Polish movement expects as much as a year of discussion and no definitive action before mid-2009. However, support from the President's office and the chief executive's veto power has made Poland's 67 credit unions optimistic about the future. "The 1.8 million ordinary people [and credit union members] interested in keeping and developing the credit union system is the most important strength of that system," Kownacki added. "I think it will be impossible to destroy credit unions in Poland." The WOCCU delegation, led by Brian Branch, WOCCU executive vice president and chief operating officer, includes Mercer; Joe Bergeron, president of the Association of Vermont Credit Unions; Bill Cheney, president/CEO of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues; Barry Jolette, CEO of San Mateo CU in Redwood City, Calif., and WOCCU first vice chairman; Jim McCormack, president of the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association; Mike Schenk, vice president of economics and statistics for the Credit Union National Association; and WOCCU staff.
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