<p>SOPOT, Poland – Credit unions are only 10 years old in Poland, but they have made great progress in that relatively short space of time and given them many reasons to celebrate their decade of achievement both nationally and internationally. Several positive steps have been taken over the last few months, according to Dariusz Kijanka, Foreign Relations Officer for the National Association Of Co-operative Savings and Credit Unions (NACSCU). NACSCU and the National Supervision Union of Consumer Co-operatives (SPOLEM) have signed an agreement to jointly undertake projects that can help the members of both groups. NACSCU represents credit unions, while SPOLEM represents the consumer co-operative movement for other areas of enterprise. Both groups have the goal to provide “quality products and services to individual members.” The agreement also provides for direct co-operation between the two groups. An example of how far credit unions have come in Poland was when NACSCU recently scored their first major legislative success in the newly elected Parliament. Kijanka said, “NACSCU proposals were included in Parliament-adopted amended law on physical person tax, which will enable credit union members to deduct costs of housing loans, drawn from their credit unions from their pre-tax incomes.” This adoption means inclusion of credit unions in the new government-introduced program aiming to help Polish citizens in the acquiring housing. In January, credit unions were officially included in the government’s Economic Development Program for the years 2002-2005. This is in recognition of CU’s significant potential to become a “key element in the implementation of government’s Entrepreneurship first strategy for economic development,” Kijanka said. The first credit union in post-war Poland was established in Gdansk in 1992. The idea had been brought back to Poland after Grzegorz Bierecki, NACSCU’s current director, made a visit to the United States at the request of his boss, Lech Walesa, who was Poland’s first democratically elected president. As part of Bierecki’s investigations for ideas to help the Polish economy, he visited a U.S. credit union and quickly saw the potential for credit unions in Poland. On his return, he began to devote his time to their establishment. The formation of NACSCU followed with Bierecki at the helm. At the end of December 2001 the Polish credit union movement counted 680 credit union outlets serving over 525,000 members. Total credit union assets were US$445 million, while deposits equaled US$390 million. Not only have Poland credit unions changed how half a million people do their financial business in Poland, Polish credit unions are a player on the international scene. They are active members of the International Co-operative Association which represents co-operative businesses worldwide. Bierecki is on the board of the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU). To mark the 10th anniversary of the Polish credit union movement celebrations will be held in Poland throughout the year. [email protected]</p>

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