Nations that have joined the European Union since 2004 must get a fair hearing as the bloc strives to solve a string of crises, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Wednesday.
Tusk, whose country currently holds the presidency of the 27-nation EU, told participants at the Krynica Economic Forum in southern Poland that East-West divides were old news.
"When we look at those who joined recently, they are now doing their homework much better than their teachers," he said in a keynote address to the three-day annual gathering dubbed the "Davos of the East".
"That's why our voice should be heard when we are defending Schengen, Maastricht and the idea of an integrated Europe," he added.
The 1985 Schengen treaty, which now allows border-free travel in a zone stretching from Finland to Portugal, is cherished by ex-communist states such as Poland who were stuck behind the Iron Curtain until 1989.
But the travel-smoothing rules have come under attack from some West European nations, such as Denmark, France and Italy, amid concerns about mass emigration from North Africa.
The 1992 Maastricht treaty, meanwhile, paved the way for the introduction of the euro by setting down restrictions on countries' debt and deficits.
Ex-communist countries that have striving to meet the financial conditions to adopt the euro have been riled by the failure of most existing, Western members of the currency bloc to respect the rules.
Poland has also pressed the crisis-struck EU not to stall on enlarging the bringing more ex-communist states on board.
"European treaties have a sense only when they refer to the whole of Europe, and are characterised by courage, not the idea of an exclusive club that would separate Europe," Tusk said.
The EU's budget commissioner, Janusz Lewandowski, who is Polish, also said his region's time had come.
"We're maturing, ready to take up major challenges. If the main test for political leaders today at the European level is the ability to lead Europe out of the crisis, it means there are more such leaders," he told the forum.