Q: Warsaw has been ranked among fDi Magazine’s European Cities of the Future in our latest rankings – congratulations. What do you think makes Warsaw a city of the future, especially for inward investment?
A: Warsaw is one of the most dynamic cities in Europe right now. In our part of Europe, we’re still hungry for growth after so many years of communism. We’re developing really fast, we’re attracting as much talent as possible and we’re hungry to show that we can catch up, and we’ve been catching up quickly over the past 30 years with the rest of Europe.
[By now] our infrastructure and our public transportation is comparable to that of Western cities. Now we’re focusing on quality of life, which is the priority for many people who are living and investing in Warsaw – because they’re saying: ‘Okay, in terms of infrastructure Warsaw changed a lot; of course it’s still investing, but now we need Warsaw to catch up when it comes to congestion, when it comes to clean air, when it comes to education’ – and those are exactly the priorities that are now being pursued.
And, of course, attracting talent [is key]. We have the biggest and the best qualified talent pool in our region. As much as 70% of our population has a university degree, and we are now acting as a magnet to attract the best qualified staff and people who are educated.
So all of that makes Warsaw a really interesting place to be, and on top of that there is this incredible modern office space we are building more and more of. And at the end of the day, there is also the question of prices and salaries. These have been increasingly going up, but they are nowhere near Western standards.
Q: How do you see Warsaw’s position among investment destinations in Europe? Which other cities do you benchmark yourselves against?
A: Of course, everyone looks at innovative and smart city solutions that allow us to look into the future, and we do that; we’re trying to attract start-ups, we’re trying to attract quite educated people who have innovation in their veins and who want to look for solutions that are going to bring us into the future. [As for benchmarking against other cities] it depends in what area.
When it comes, for example, to financial services, obviously everyone looks to Frankfurt and to London, and sometimes it is difficult to compete with those two centres – but slowly and increasingly, banking institutions are interested in Warsaw. When it comes to start-ups and innovation, we’ve looked to London and Paris, but we’re also looking to Tel Aviv, because the Israelis have wonderful expertise when it comes to this field. When it comes to smart solutions connected to green energy, we look at the Scandinavians, such as Copenhagen or Helsinki.
I’m an active member of the executive committee of the Euro Cities network. We’re trying to work in Europe, in order to create those synergies and to create those networks that would allow us to perfect our skills and then use our potential. That’s why I’m fighting in the EU for direct access to EU funds by cities, which would allow us to compete for these funds and then [work] in synergy with other cities.
Q: What do you see as your single biggest challenge right now as a city leader?
A: Our biggest challenge is climate change and clean air – this is what we’re now focusing on, because this is the thing that needs quite a lot of investment and attention.
It is tough, though, because our [national] government is holding opposite views when it comes to the seriousness of the situation. When it comes to climate change, the Polish government [has a] tendency to centralise authority and treat local governments almost as an enemy, so obviously in the face of that, we need to consolidate our power, defend our prerogatives, and show by doing that we can actually face the most important challenges – which are challenges that need to be faced together. And that’s why we collaborate with other cities, that’s why we have direct links to the European institutions.