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Bucharest
October 21, 2021
SUPPLEMENTS WORLD

H.E. Marek Szczygieł, Polish Ambassador to Bucharest: “Poland and Romania became pillars of security, stability and economic growth in this part of Europe”

Your Excellency, you’ve been appointed to represent Poland’s interests in Romania four years ago. How would you assess this lapse of time since you’ve been serving as your country’s Ambassador to Bucharest?

 

I approach the end of my ambassadorial term with some level of satisfaction. The four years I have spent here in Romania have been among the most rewarding and enriching in my professional career, as well as very satisfying from the personal perspective. I was honored to represent Republic of Poland here in Romania, the country that is so important for us, with centuries-long history of close contacts. I have traveled extensively across Romania, visiting more than 30 of its counties. And the best part has been getting to know individual Romanians, their energy, intelligence, passion, creativity and sense of humor. I was received with great hospitality and friendship and always experienced very positive attitude towards my country.  From this perspective, my task in Romania was easier, because Poland is well known here and has positive image among Romanians. Personally, I became great admirer and fan of Romanian culture, traditions and incredible beauty of this country. I am entirely optimistic about the future of Romania.

 

What are the most significant achievement of your mandate here?

 

I prefer to talk about our joint achievements. We managed to strengthen and consolidate Polish-Romanian strategic partnership established 5 years ago. It was manifested through the intensity of contacts on political level, including exchange of visits of the prime-ministers and ministers of foreign affairs. Official visit of President Klaus Werner Iohannis to Poland in March this year was the culmination and important mile-stone in our bilateral relations. Equally important, in my opinion, was the establishment of very dense network of contacts and practical forms of co-operations between numerous institutions, organizations and representatives of civil society in our countries. The dynamic of the Polish-Romanian economic cooperation in recent years is very impressive. We registered almost 50 % growth of the value of our trade in recent 4 years. I think, that we improved also the visibility and knowledge about today’s Poland in Romania. This is the result of very active public diplomacy efforts, with the effective use of modern instruments, like social media for example. One of my first big tasks in Romania was the Polish EU Presidency in 2011, that we executed actively and effectively. Altogether, I am proud that I have the chance to contribute the further enhancement of our relations and witness their development in so important moments of European history. Poland and Romania became pillars of security, stability and economic growth in this part of Europe.

 

It is not by mere coincidence that one of the first visits abroad made by President Klaus Iohannis has been paid to Warsaw in March: Romania and Poland have an excellent bilateral relationship, they signed a Strategic Partnership in 2009, they are key players in Central and Eastern Europe and share similar visions and interests regarding the security and stability in the region, they both manage EU and NATO borders. What’s next in the Polish-Romanian Strategic Partnership which is vital for building and preserving a security bridge between the Baltic and the Black Sea?

 

In the context of the events in Ukraine, at this moment the issues related to the security of the region represent a priority in our bilateral cooperation and they are currently our main common goal. Moreover, taking into account the very good historical and current ties, we would like to further develop and consolidate our bilateral relations, especially in the field of economic, educational, scientific and cultural cooperation and to more actively broaden our citizens’ knowledge about history and contemporary ties. The cooperation between Poland and Romania should be more visible within the EU and NATO activity framework since these are key organizations for both of our countries. Apart from these issues, in the short term, we want to focus on the implementation of the decisions of the NATO summit in Wales and preparations of the next NATO summit in Warsaw in 2016. We are happy that the President of Romania decided to host the next meeting of the heads of state from the NATO Eastern flank, in the so-called Warsaw Format and that this meeting will take place in Bucharest this autumn. Within the EU, the most important issues will be the stimulation and the consolidation of the economic growth, a sustainable development and energy security. In the field of external relations, the priorities are the Eastern Partnership, migration, the trade and investment partnership with the US. These were also the main topics of discussion during the working visit of minister of foreign affairs Bogdan Aurescu in Poland on April 29th, 2015.

 

Romania and Poland are key allies of NATO with a crucial role in defending its eastern flank. However, in the extremely complicated regional context, the two countries are also in a very delicate situation as Russia has begun to be more and more nervous because of the U.S. anti-missile shields hosted by the two countries. When do you think that Russia will finally understand that these defense facilities should not be perceived as threats against its security? Statements in this respect have repeatedly been made by NATO, by U.S. officials, by authorities in Warsaw and Bucharest, however Moscow officials refuse to believe and have their own interpretation…

 

Having in mind their own development and prosperity, some countries make many of their own choices. They are not making these choices in an international void, but they are guided by the assessment of their geopolitical environment, taking into account, among others, the political, economic and cultural factors and obviously, the security factors. Poland and Romania share the same strategic culture and they approach the question of their own security with great seriousness. Deployment of the elements of the American, than NATO missile defense system on Polish and Romanian territories is a consequence of this choice. By joining NATO and the EU, Poland and Romania decided upon such a formula of integration with the Euro-Atlantic community. Being committed members of the Alliance, we take upon ourselves an important part of the responsibility for its security, including for the prevention of the threats to which the NATO missile defense system is an answer. I think that Russia perfectly understands that the technical capabilities of the planned missile defense system are not a threat to its security. The problem on the Russian side is a different one and it has to do with perceiving the situation in Europe only from the perspective of the areas of influence. From this point of view, all the actions of the NATO countries (among which are also Poland and Romania) are treated by Moscow as directed against its interests. This way of thinking will not change as long as the Kremlin will build its foreign and security policy in clear opposition to the West, as an individual „zero-sum game”. Unfortunately, last year events radically worsened the security situation in Europe. Through the illegal annexation of Crimea and through the conflict in Ukraine, Russia rejected the offer to jointly build the European security system. We are finding ourselves now in a historic moment in which the re-definition of the NATO role in the perspective of the next few years is very justified.

 

How can Poland and Romania help Ukraine and Republic of Moldova to follow their European paths?

 

For a long time now, both Poland and Romania have been seriously involved in the realization of the projects supporting Ukraine and Moldova to enter the European path of development and to implement democratic standards. However, it would be worth elaborating a consistent and balanced program thanks to which the authorities in Chisinau and Kiev could:

–        in the short-term perspective, halt the worsening of the domestic situation, both in an economic context (aid programs, opening the EU market for the goods, solving the problem of gas supply, creating trans-border cooperation links that would attract the foreign investors) and in a social and political context (effective fight against corruption, the need to implement structural reforms – above all in the field of the local authorities). The failure of these measures will result in the intensification of emigration, especially among young educated Ukrainians and Moldavians,

–        in the medium-term perspective, accomplish an economic and social progress that is perceptible to the population and thanks to which, the citizens of Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova will confirm their belief that it was right to make a pro-European  choice. Even a moderate, but socially perceivable progress would be able to create, for instance Ukraine, as a “positive example” for the other post-soviet countries,

–        in the long-term perspective, conduct wide and thorough system reforms in basically all the fields of the state administration, which are essential in order to accomplish these countries’ aspirations of getting closer to the EU. In case of Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, the scale of challenges goes further than the problems that other countries that joined the EU, like Romania and Poland, had to overcome in the last 11 years.

Many opportunities are opening in connection to the implementation of the association and the free trade agreements with the EU. It depends on the authorities in Kiev and Chisinau if they will be able to use these opportunities. We are counting that the May summit of the Eastern Partnership in Riga will define the new aims in the field of EU cooperation with the Eastern neighbors. If the Union wants to be a 21st century international power, it must have a positive offer for its closest neighbors, especially for the Eastern European neighbors. Of course, the doors to cooperation are also open for Russia, on the condition that it respects the principles of international law and it rejects imperialistic tendencies.

 

What is the role played by the Polish minority in Romania and by the Romanian minority living in Poland in building the climate of trust between the two nations and in spreading their values and traditions in their countries of adoption?

 

Compact presence of Poles in Romania dates back to the 18th century and is associated with the settlement of Polish miners in Bucovina. This region remains till today the largest agglomeration of the Polish community in Romania, and in a number of its localities the Poles are majority. They cultivate the language of their ancestors, their traditional customs and religion. At the same time, in the good tradition of the multi-ethnic Bucovina, projects supported by the Polish Government and carried out by the Union of Poles in Romania are also addressed to the Romanians, Germans or Ukrainians living there. These projects are focused on the conservation of the Polish identity, language, traditions and culture. In addition to that, the development of social relationships and the trust between the nations were evidently supported by the fact that for almost a quarter of a century, almost continuously, there  is a representative of the Polish minority in the Romanian Parliament, and members of the Union of Poles in Romania represent this minority in local councils. Referring to the Romanian communities living in Poland, one has to underline that it is numerically much smaller, with only a few hundred people. Its members, wishing to promote their own culture and identity, focus mostly around institutions specially created for that, as for example The Romanian Cultural Institute in Warsaw.

 

What are the most valuable lessons, in your opinion, that Romania could learn from the Polish success story in absorbing the EU funds?

 

Every country needs to find its own way to deal with the European Union’s rules and procedures. Romania learns on its own mistakes from the past and draws conclusions – I am positive that Romania in the ongoing programming period (for the years 2014-2020) will successfully use the available European Funds for the benefit of your country and the region. You have qualified people to do so. I also hope very much that the perception of the availability and accessibility of the EU funds among entrepreneurs and business people in Romania will change.

Poland is happy to share its experience in the areas where we have noticed significant success. Polish Ministry of Infrastructure and Development have an agreement on cooperation with Romanian Ministry of Regional Development, our Minister and state secretaries were quite often guests in Bucharest in recent years and Romanian Minister of European Funds have also visited Warsaw with the team of experts. On request of Romanian side the Embassy have transmitted to Romanian Ministry hundreds of pages of documents and guidelines used in Poland with different operational programs. We are open to continue the cooperation in the field of European funds absorption and ready to continue sharing our experience with our Romanian partners.

Our contribution to the EU budget is growing with our GDP, nevertheless billions of euros of total financial net flows since Poland’s accession to the EU helped us to avoid recession during the crisis and are still spinning the wheels of our economy. For 2014–2020 Poland was assigned 82,5 billion EUR in the framework of cohesion policy. In case of Poland smart and effective use of EU funds has definitely contributed to increasing economic growth, accelerated the modernization of the economy, in the end allowed to improve labour productivity. Also thanks to the funds from CAP second pillar many Polish farms were modernized. In overall thanks to these funds we are closing the gap in economic development between Poland and better developed EU states.

In my opinion the key element of the Polish story is that the right use of EU funds together with public investment expenditures allowed for a significant improvement of the infrastructure within the country. And this is crucial – together with the stability of tax regime and predictability of government policies – to attract foreign investors and mobilize internal capital.

 

How do you think that Romania and Poland could take more advantage from the fact that their economies are complementary, in order to attract more investment from each other? Romania has proved to be an attractive market for the Polish investments, especially after its accession to the EU in 2007. However, the investments level of Polish companies here and of Romanian companies in Poland  is far below the real potential of the two countries. What should be done to boost this field?

 

Well, the advantages of our economies for investors are well known: big internal markets, with good geographic location enabling exports in different directions, competitive and still relatively cheap, skilled and well educated workforce. But I would like to turn your attention to the global reality.

We live in free market economies and all that governments can do is strive to save the competitiveness of our economies in the global perspective. This is very important. We very much appreciate the ongoing cooperation with regard to the works concerning projects dedicated to economic growth, climate policy and energy security or trade and investment relations with third countries at the UE forum, that will have direct impact on our economies in the nearest future. I am glad that our countries, which economies have many similarities with regard to their structure, common problems and challenges, very often present common position in Brussels.

You asked about direct Polish-Romanian economic relations. Bilateral economic exchange – that continuingly shows a strong double-digit positive trend – ought to be a great source of satisfaction for both sides. In 2014 trade exchange exceeded 4 bln EUR  and Poland is the sixth biggest commercial partner for Romania. Stable economic situation in our countries allows us to look for further increases in bilateral trade and investments.

And statistics of Polish investments abroad show that Romania is one of the most important directions of investment expansion of Polish enterprises and still attracts the interest of Polish investors. There are 800 Polish companies registered in Romania and they created more than 4000 jobs. According to the National Bank of Poland estimations Romania is on the 11th place among the countries where Polish companies invest, and the total value of FDIs from Poland in Romania amounted to 464 mln EUR. What can be done to further boost it?

 

Just like all other foreign investors in Romania Polish companies are looking forward to stability and predictability of internal laws and norms, acceleration of the implementation of EU funds and improving their availability for business and investors, cutting labor costs and improving conditions for the business operations, and last but not least – improvement of the transport infrastructure.

 

The most important factor is allowing the companies to grow by ensuring stable business conditions and predictable environment. Recent example comes from Ramnicu Valcea, where Polish chemical Ciech group already invested 100 mln EUR in Uzinele Sodice Govora plant employing 650 people. To invest further, the company needs predictability with regard to long term contracts with the local suppliers of energy and raw materials.

 

Of course I would like to see more Romanian companies entering  the Polish market, especially since the few ones present in Poland enjoy a successful expansion of their activities. I have had meetings with most of the regional chambers of commerce and industry in Romania, biggest Romanian companies and entrepreneurs. And early this autumn we expect Polish Vice Prime-Minister and Minister of Economy to visit Romania with selected group of Polish companies and entrepreneurs to attend Business Forum in Bucharest. Talks on innovation and cooperation in R&D sector will be high on the agenda.

 

 

 

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