Mr. Ambassador Marcin Wilczek, recently you had a meeting with Premier Sorin Grindeanu. What were the conclusions of this meeting from the standpoint of the current status of bilateral Romanian-Polish relations?
It was a real pleasure to meet and discuss our bilateral issues with Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, who is very committed to our bilateral strategic partnership. Polish-Romanian relations have always been friendly and intense. We are strategic partners and allies in NATO. We cooperate deeply within the UE, sharing similar views on most crucial issues. Our economic cooperation is booming. It is hard to imagine better conditions for further developing the bilateral dialogue.
In 2019 we will celebrate 100 years of the establishment of the bilateral relations. We are tested friends in various circumstances.
You have been posted in Romania for well over 1 year and a half. If you were to review this period, how would you appraise it from the standpoint of the achievements and projects fulfilled?
The main duty of an ambassador is to contribute to the development of the bilateral cooperation in all aspects. I’m very glad to say that our friendly bilateral ties have been continuously tightened during this period of time, in particular in terms of the high level visits. Romania is regularly visited by the Polish representatives: in November 2015 we had a visit of the Polish President Andrzej Duda, in August last year Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydło paid a working visit to Suceava.
In November last year Witold Waszczykowski, Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs took part in the Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of States from Central and Eastern Europe in Bucharest. Just recently, we hosted in Bucharest the Polish Minister of Defence Antoni Macierewicz.
Similarly, the Romanian high level officials visit Poland frequently: in 2015 there was Prime Minister Victor Ponta and in June 2016 the Minister of Foreign Affairs Lazăr Comănescu. In July last year President Klaus Iohannis paid a visit to Poland. In March we had two visits: by the Chairman Speaker of the Romanian Senate Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu and by the Minister for Business Environment, Commerce and Entrepreneurship Alexandru Petrescu.
As you can see, the exchange of visits is very intense and shows the deep and concrete interest in bilateral cooperation in various aspects.
But an ambassador doesn’t only stay in the capital and meet with high level officials. One of my duties which I take with particular pleasure, is promoting regional and local cooperation. We have supported the cooperation between Deveselu and Polish towns of Redzikowo and Słupsk. I personally have already visited many cities and regions, meeting with the local authorities, Polish companies and the diaspora. So far I’ve been to Târgovişte, Cluj-Napoca, Floresti, Târgu Jiu, Râmnicu Vâlcea, Constanta, Tulcea, Galaţi and Brăila. I’m planning to visit soon Timișoara, Arad, Suceava Sighetu Marmației, Baia Mare and Satu Mare. It’s quite a busy schedule, but the pleasure is just as big. These are also unique opportunities to get to know and to understand Romania and Romanians better.
How can Romania and Poland – two countries that have a dynamic political-diplomatic dialogue – make their voices better heard at European level, during these delicate moments for the European Union and in the international political context?
We all witness that the EU is undergoing a difficult period. We all want to see our EU strong again. It’s in our interest and duty to overcome all the internal crises together. This is the time to remember that it’s united we stay, divided we fall.
I’m very happy to confirm that Poland and Romania share similar views on the most crucial issues on the EU agenda, namely the Brexit, the future of the UE, migration and security, multiannual financial perspectives after 2020, cohesion policy, etc. Those topics are already on our bilateral agenda. We have shared our opinions during a number of bilateral and multilateral consultations. It is time the Central and Eastern Europe countries voice their opinions on those issues. We will continue our hard work in order to have them heard. We are positive that our input and common proposals stemming from our region will truly contribute to the development and strengthening of the EU, in the interest of all its members.
Poland is one of Romania’s most important trade partners in Central and Eastern Europe, with bilateral trade registering a constantly upward trend in the last 10 years. How soon do you think the number of Polish companies registered in Romania will surpass the ‘1000th’ threshold? How soon will direct investments get near the EUR 1 billion threshold?
Indeed, the bilateral trade is registering a constantly upward trend. According to the latest data from the Romanian Institute of Statistics, in 2016 the commercial exchange between Romania and Poland reached the record value of 5,11 billion euro. That means that they increased by 13.4% compared to 2015 and that they doubled in comparison to the year 2007 when the commercial exchanges were at the level of 2,36 billion euro.
It is good to see that both exports and imports are growing and a steady, fast pace. Poland ranked 5th among the providers of goods and 9th in terms of destination for the Romanian products in 2016.
As for the threshold of 1000 Polish companies, I think it can be reached very soon. According to the newest data from the Romania National Trade Register Office, in February 2017 there were 941 companies with Polish capital active in Romania. And as the critical mass of Polish companies is growing, we register more and more inquiries from the Polish investors and traders.
According to the latest National Bank of Romania’s report on Foreign Direct Investment, Poland ranks 17th in the terms of investments. By the end of December 2015 Polish companies invested almost 500 mln euro in Romania.
It is hard to estimate when we will reach the 1 billion threshold of Polish FDI, but I hope it will happen soon. We should also mention that Romanian companies are also starting to look for business opportunities in Poland. I look forward to attracting more and more Romanian investments to Poland.
How do Polish investors see the benefits and challenges of the Romanian economy?
The constantly growing number of Polish companies present on the Romanian market are the best proof that Romania is attractive for Polish investors. I think one of the biggest benefits is the large market and the proximity not only to Poland, but also the Balkan countries. Many of the Polish investors producing in Romania export their goods to other markets. Romania’s position is a real advantage and your country can be a hub for this part of Europe.
Another benefit is the qualified, well educated and motivated people who speak foreign languages. The last, but not least advantage for the Polish investors is the Romanians’ friendly attitude toward Poles and the fact that Poland has a positive country brand. The fact that we shared a similar fate in history is not to be underestimated.
What do you think Romania can learn from Poland’s successful experience in absorbing European grants?
Use of funds available to member states within the framework of the cohesion policies of the European Union has been seen as an opportunity for all members.
We’ve taken a lot of efforts to prepare and carry out this demanding task and we are open to share our experience. I’m happy to say that Romanian and Polish ministries of development are already engaged in the exchange of good practices in this field.
Before the accession to the EU, Poland was able to use pre-accession funds. Those were good testing grounds. When Poland joined the EU on 1 May 2004, all Polish regions were below the threshold of 75% of the EU average in GDP per inhabitant, what made them eligible to access all the funds from European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), European Social Fund (ESF) and Cohesion Fund (CF). For the period 2004-2006 we received just 19 billion euro, but for the 2007-2013 financial perspective we benefited from 67,33 billion euro, to which we added 11,9 billion euro of national public funds and 6,4 billion euro of private funds.
In my opinion, the key to the Polish success in the EU funds management, apart from good monitoring and management system on the central level, was decentralisation of powers. This has strengthened our regions (called voivodships) and made them committed to the regional development. Prior to 1998 Poland had 49 administrative units similar in size to Romanian counties. In 1999 an administrative reform took place. Since then, the territorial division of Poland is based on a three-tier model: the commune, the district and the voivodship, operating on the principles of decentralisation and self-government.
Now Poland has 16 strong voivodships (regions) that have a lot of power. They are mainly responsible for the regional policy, so a vast amount of the EU money for the roads, hospitals, education, are under their management. They negotiate the regional operational programmes directly with the European Commission. Thanks to that solution, big chunks of European funds are spent directly in the regions, close to citizens and their needs.
The Ministry of Development participates in these discussions, but doesn’t dictate the rules. The staff involved in the EU funds implementation has gathered necessary experience in the pre-accession period. Those people are well trained and well paid, so as not to be tempted to go to the private sector.
What is your message for the Polish community in Romania on Poland’s Constitution Day?
While celebrating the 3rd of May Constitution Day, it is impossible not to mention the 2nd of May, a date on which we celebrate the Day of the Polish Diaspora and Poles Abroad. This day was established in order to pay homage to millions of compatriots who have been forced to emigrate and found their homes outside Poland.
I am proud to see the Polish minority in Romania, in Bucovina, preserving the language, culture and faith of its ancestors who came here over 200 years ago and find their home in Romania.