| WOCCU Poland Engagement Program participants pose in front the presidential palace in Warsaw.
WARSAW—In the face of potentially damaging legislation currently before Poland's Parliament, the country's credit union movement has been bolstered thanks to positive support from many of the Baltic nation's legislators and the office of Polish President Lech Kaczyński, who remains "optimistic" about the movement's future.
During three separate events this week, members of the 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 who belong to those credit unions' fields of membership. In addition, the amendments would limit credit union access to certain funding sources and reduce credit union oversight authority by the National Association of Co-operative Savings & 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."
|Bill Cheney (left), president and CEO of the California & Nevada Credit Union League, 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 also supports credit unions, having gone so far as to attempt submitting more favorable legislation. However, the President's legislation wasn't supported and didn't survive, according to Kownacki. If the Polish Parliament passes legislation damaging to credit unions, however, President Kaczyński 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."
Joining Mercer as part of the delegation led by WOCCU executive vice president and chief operating officer Brian Branch are Joe Bergeron, president of the Association of Vermont Credit Unions; Bill Cheney, president and CEO of the California & Nevada Credit Unions Leagues; Barry Jolette, CEO of San Mateo Credit Union 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 CUNA & Affiliates; and various WOCCU staff members.
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 56,000 credit unions in 101 countries serve 200 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.