Sunday

25th Feb 2018

Interview

Poland ready to be EU budget net contributor

  • "We are not fond of introducing 'political requirements' on investment policies," warned Jerzy Kwiecinski. (Photo: Jerzy Kwiecinski/Facebook)

Poland is ready to increase its contribution to the EU budget, but will oppose any politicisation of EU funds, its deputy minister of economic development told EUobserver.

"Our goal is to be in the future net contributor," Jerzy Kwiecinski said in an interview in Brussels on Monday (9 October).

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  • Lodz. The city's bid to host the international Expo22 is seen as symbolising Poland's economic development. (Photo: Joanna)

"If we've got ambitious goals for the EU," like innovation and competitiveness, as well as security, defence, or migration policies, "we should provide a proportionally ambitious budget," he said.

Asked if the Polish government would be ready to increase its contribution in the next multi-annual budget, the minister said: "If it's on the table, I think yes."

Kwiecinski was in Brussels for discussions about the future of the EU cohesion policy.


He pointed out that cohesion policy is often "the most visible policy for European citizens", thanks to the "hundreds thousand of boards showing 'financed by the EU'."

"We often forget at the political level that for European citizens, the EU is perceived by the free flow of people who can travel freely but also by the cohesion policy," he insisted.

The Polish minister noted that many countries consider the cohesion policy as "the main investment policy" in the EU and that "nobody questions it."

He added however that EU countries are "fully aware that the new cohesion policy will not be exactly the policy as it is now because there are new challenges."

On Monday, the European Commission published its annual report on economic, social and territorial cohesion in the EU.

The EU executive said that disparities between regions are narrowing but persistent.

"Whilst the crisis is over, it clearly has left scars in many regions," regional policies commissioner Corina Cretu said, referring to high unemployment and a demographic deficit in some EU regions.

Kwiecinski said that the report was an "important element of the debate, not only in terms of the current policies, but also in terms of the future."

He noted that the convergence process is providing good results for Poland, whose GDP per capita is 70 percent of the EU average, against 50 percent when it joined the EU 13 years ago.

Looking at future discussion on how to adapt cohesion policies, the Polish minister said that "new ways of financing should be introduced."

He said that companies involved in cohesion project could use "not only grants but also financial instruments, such as loans, capital, instruments or guarantees."

He added that the public sector could also use "evolving instruments" when involved in revenue-generating projects.

"Poland is introducing that now and we would like to use it more in the new financial perspectives," he said, referring to the next EU budget.

Kwiecinski also pointed out to the Juncker investment plan as an example to follow.

He noted that rules and procedure for the European Fund for Strategic Investments, one of the €315 billion plan instruments, "are much easier than in cohesion policy."

Simplify cohesion policies

"Procedures under cohesion plans are very much complicated," he said, adding that some beneficiaries of cohesion projects "prefer to go to [the] Juncker plan" because of that.

"That's something that could be changed," he said.

When it comes to the objectives of the cohesion policy, the Polish minister noted that "it is not only the GDP per capita that counts."

"There are also other elements that count for citizens, because they often do not understand what the GDP per capita is," he said. People "will understand how much money they earn, what quality of life they have."

"From this point of view, we have managed to establish the happiest part of the world. We should be proud of that," he added, noting that "the cohesion policy contributes a lot" to that result.

When negotiations for the 2021-2017 EU budget start next year, with the prospect of less revenues after Brexit, the amount of cohesion funds and conditions attached will be one of the most disputed.

In a paper on the future on EU finances published in June, the European Commission floated the idea of linking EU funds to structural reforms.

'Reasonable manner'

Some in Berlin and Brussels have also floated the idea of conditioning funds to the respect of the rule of law, or participation to the new European prosecutor scheme.

"In principle we are against such measures," Kwiecinski told EUobserver.

"We are not fond of introducing political requirements, on investment policies," he said. "These policies are for the people and the economy, not for politicians."

He insisted that introducing politics into social and economic activities would not help "institutions to behave in rational manner."

"We are fully aware than the European Commission is not an unpolitical animal," he noted.

"Let's behave in reasonable manner," he said however, noting that the Polish government was "elected by the wish of people, not nominated by bureaucrats."

Kwiecinski insisted that there is no contradiction between his government's willingness to defend EU policies, and arguments over the rule of law with the EU.

He argued that tensions last summer over the reform of his country's justice system was only "about relations between the European Commission and Poland [and] about who is competent to deal with the issue of the rule of law."

"It show conflicts in the EU, and at the end this is not good for the European integration process," he said. "It shows that EU institutions are too politicised."

Prestige project

Political tensions between Warsaw and the EU could have an impact on a Polish prestige project, the candidacy of the city of Lodz to host Expo 22, a global international fair.

Kwiecinski said that the bid demonstrates the "successful transformation process" of Poland's cities and regions, and would benefit the whole central and eastern Europe.

But a month before the International Bureau of Expositions chooses the host city between Lodz, Minneapolis, Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, Poland has been struggling to get support from other EU countries.

"It's not easy to convince other member states, even if that should be natural," Kwiecinski noted.

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