Eastern Poland from in the eyes of Günter Verheugen

28 May 2014
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- Owing to the fact that Poland is a member of the EU and owing to the European support programmes, from 2007 to 2013 Eastern Poland received a total of EUR 2.7bn. By 2020 we will observe another, similar inflow of investments. The lion’s share of that amount, totalling EUR 4.4bn, is constituted by the EU funds. I cannot estimate whether all the funds have been reasonably used, but priorities – modern, innovative and sustainable economy, infrastructural development, modernisation of public suburban transport services – are justifiable and significant, in my opinion – says Günter Verheugen, a former vice-president of the European Commission, the European Commissioner for Enterprise and Industry in 2005-2010 and European Commissioner for Enlargement in 1999-2004.

The 4th Eastern Poland Business Forum, organised by the Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency, will be held on 3-4 June in Kielce. More than 250 people are going to participate in the Forum, including entrepreneurs coming from Eastern Poland, local government authorities, as well as foreign investors interested in economic cooperation with Eastern Poland. The following speakers will take the floor during the Forum: Jerzy Buzek, the former Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland, the President of the European Parliament and Günter Verheugen. During the discussion panel entitled “10 years of Poland in the European Union – impact of Poland’s accession to the Community on the change of its perception in Europe and in the world” guests will share their opinions on the last decade of Poland in the EU, including also in the context of Eastern Poland. Günter Verheugen has already shared the first remarks regarding eastern regions of Poland.

- Over the last 10 years the entire country has changed and we can see that people, who are full of optimism, have benefited from the opportunities offered. We cannot find another explanation to this dramatic catch-up – with almost 50% surplus in the economic result and reduction by half of unemployment rates.  Polish agriculture, very sceptical towards the EU enlargement, is doing well, which makes me really happy. Poland knows what it owes to the European Union membership and it is good to be aware of the fact that the European idea is strongly rooted in hearts and minds of Poles. However, over the last decade Poland has also lost many well-educated citizens to the benefit of other countries and I hope that these people will come back, even if the difference in income is still quite considerable, compared with wealthier EU countries. After all, who would like to see abandoned villages or lonely elderly family members who stayed in Poland as a permanent state? Poland currently needs the best people here in their home country. And this fact is the reason of my biggest concerns – says Günter Verheugen.

The former commissioner also commented on the reasonableness of aid directed to weakly developed regions, including eastern voivodships of Poland: - Meanwhile, owing to the fact that Poland is a member of the EU and owing to the European support programmes, from 2007 to 2013 Eastern Poland received a total of EUR 2.7bn. By 2020 we will observe another, similar inflow of investments. The lion’s share of that amount, totalling EUR 4.4bn, is constituted by the EU funds. I cannot estimate whether all the funds have been reasonably used, but priorities – modern, innovative and sustainable economy, infrastructural development, modernisation of public suburban transport services – are justifiable and significant, in my opinion. I assume that everywhere following the project completion people gather and wonder what has gone well and what could have been improved. I believe that this is of crucial importance.

When assessing the potential of the Macroregion, Günter Verheugen emphasised that – Eastern Poland is beautiful with its unique landscape, with unaffected social structures, which is reflected e.g. by a low crime rate. To put it simply this is a real touristic and ecological paradise. What is more, we cannot forget about people who are able to work hard, who are willing to learn and get involved. The Lublin University, for example, has impressed me a lot, similar to my meetings with citizens of Białystok. 

With regard to determining the direction of development for Eastern Poland, its potential and success, Günter Verheugen sees a need of specialisation, extracting the most significant assets from particular regions, but also the need to involve and establish innovative enterprises. - It is perfectly understandable that responsibility for the regional development is borne by the regions themselves, but they will need good framework conditions which are partly established at the national and European level, such as the Polish Government Programme of 2013. A crucial role is played by the exchange of experiences and good partnership with other regions. They provide an opportunity of getting to know how others solve their problems, being at the same time an impulse for new ideas, but arranged specialisation, a “centrally” imposed one is not a good option, in my opinion. Each region is different, each has to make good use of their assets and overcome their weaknesses.

When responding to the question whether Eastern Poland should base its growth on its natural assets, Günter Verheugen said: - I believe that there is a need for healthy economic structure, with strong innovative enterprises which are involved in long-term manufacture and create many jobs. Otherwise, the region will be condemned to extinction. Young people will simply go away, as they do not want to be only owners of tourist accommodation or foresters in natural parks; they want to have a job that will be both challenging and well-paid.

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