|Minister of Regional Development El┐bieta Bie˝kowska|
Courtesy of the Ministry of Regional Development
Ewa Boniecka: What do you think of Poland’s absorption of EU funds from the current budget?
El┐bieta Bie˝kowska: We have already invested over z│.238 billion, nearly 85 percent of the whole amount of money allocated to Poland in the EU budget for the years 2007-2013. This is a spectacular result, even more so because we can make use of those funds until the end of 2015.
There are certain areas of spending that require more attention, like railway projects, but even here we have seen significant improvement over the past few months. Over 80,000 projects are being implemented all over Poland, and with such a large scale of investments, occasional difficulties are bound to happen. But we are constantly monitoring the process of fund absorption and trying to prevent any possible disruptions.
Overall, the process of absorbing EU funds from the current budget is positive. Well-invested EU funds contribute to our economic growth, increase the competitiveness of our economy, help to develop entrepreneurship and create new jobs. And I want to stress that investing European funds effectively should be seen as a nationwide, long-term and continuous task.
You have earned a reputation as a good minister of regional development, even among politicians from the opposition party. Has that helped you deal with the enormous amount of funding Poland has been awarded by the European Union?
The position of minister is important, but the people I work with are equally important and I have been extremely lucky to have reliable and hard-working associates. And I see myself more as a civil servant than a politician. Before I was appointed minister I worked for a local government and I know the issues of dealing with European funds inside out.
We have a challenging task ahead of us. We need to absorb z│.300 billion in funds from the 2014-2020 budget. In order to do that effectively, we are already working on our priorities for implementation.
And what are Poland’s priorities for 2014-2020?
During the next budget period we want to support investment that will emphasize the biggest advantages of our economy. According to the priorities set forth in the Europe 2020 strategy, there will be a significant increase in funding for scientific research, technological development, innovation and entrepreneurship – and in ways of combining these together.
[Creating and supporting a] low-emission economy will definitely gain more importance.
We will also help small and medium-sized enterprises. We are going to continue developing transport infrastructure, railways and road connections. One of the most important investment priorities will be environmental protection and [creating a] “green” economy.
At the moment, we are making preparations for the distribution of funds from the new EU budget. The ministry is responsible for allocating money for the cohesion policy, but the operational programs themselves will be organized differently. The manner of cooperation with regions will change as well. As the implementation of European funds is increasingly decentralized, we want to allocate even more money to regional authorities. As a result, local governments will have 40 percent of the whole budget at their disposal. While in the current budget they have received €19.8 billion, in the next financial period they will see an increase of €22.8 billion. Each voivodship will receive much more money and I am convinced that it will be spent as effectively as it is being spent now.
Do the EU’s biggest beneficiaries, such as Poland, employ funds differently than net payers?
It is very important to realize that the cohesion policy benefits each EU country. Therefore, in recent months, I undertook a tour to net paying countries to convince our partners of the necessity to further support the cohesion policy. I pointed to the strengthening in the job market, increased growth in the whole European economy, as well as its innovative and competitive nature.
Our studies show that each euro invested in the countries that make up the Visegrad Group [the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia] generates 61 cents in the form of additional exports from the 15 “old EU” member states. The joint value of such benefits in the period 2004-2015 will amount to nearly €75 billion. This shows the real boost that EU funds give the European economy.
What are Poland’s main assets when it comes to handling EU funds?
Our biggest asset is not only our pace, but also our effectiveness in spending EU funds. In 2009, when the rest of Europe was in recession, Poland recorded 1.7 percent GDP growth, and we owe this mainly to those well-invested funds from the European Union.
Now, with most projects nearing completion, the beneficial impact of EU funds is all the more prominent. More than 270,000 jobs have been created, including 150,000 in small enterprises established by formerly unemployed people. We have set up over 2,000 new laboratories and research facilities. More than 11,000 km of new roads have been built.
But there have been more changes taking place in Poland than just in infrastructure. What really matters is the fact that European funds have empowered people to use their ingenuity and enthusiasm to come up with not only successful, but also highly innovative, projects.
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