Q: The Polish government [led by the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party] says it is putting a big focus on innovation. Why?
A: Poland has been a really excellent imitator in the past 15 years. But if we want to change the structure of the Polish GDP we need more innovation. More than 60% of our exports are created by foreign companies located in Poland. This means we’ve built up a good environment for foreign investment, not only because of cheap labour forces, but also the quality of the people. [However], in times of crisis, the global crisis, this current structure in Poland is very dangerous for the local economy, because once you’re in trouble, as Fiat automotives were, they very easily moved investments in Poland back to Italy.
Q: So PiS thinks Poland is too reliant on foreign capital?
A: Yes. Too much, and it’s growing. This is an imbalanced situation. Especially in an economy which is still based on SME entrepreneurs, more than 70% of which are SMEs. They are the biggest payers into the Polish budget and employ the most. To become not only suppliers, but also creators [with] a higher level of income, then we need to change our structures. But we’re not against foreign capital. We just want a balance [and] to foster our local capital-based economy.
Q: What are the main incentives you’re employing to attract FDI?
A: First, the special economic zones. There are 14 such zones in Poland. If you want to come and invest you might be offered a huge tax reduction and may also find prepared land to locate a big factory. Second is the human capital. We’re no longer the cheapest European labour, but we’ve got excellent, educated people and our ICT capacity is attractive. Since ICT is now [so essential], every branch that is coming to Poland is looking for Polish ICT engineers. Third, we have huge funds and grants, especially, for those who want to develop R&D seeds in Poland. Fourth, there is the new investment platform, the Polish Development Fund, in which the government [co-invests with foreigners]; if they invest one zloty, we’ll give them another. So we’ve got a lot of public money on the market. [For Poles especially], it’s easier to get money in Poland, now, than in the UK. Last, flats and houses are cheaper here than in Western Europe.
Q: Are PiS’s rather protectionist policies, like the supermarket tax, or controversial social policies vis-à-vis abortion, for example, deterring foreign investment?
A:The [now abandoned] project regarding abortion came from citizens, not the government. The discussion was something good, it was democratic. Yes, Poland is split. But so is the UK, Europe or the US. [Regarding the tax], we want a balance, to attract investments, but with some conditions. Not everything or everyone, like the past 20 years. Unlike Europe, Poland has huge foreign shops in the city centres. We offered everything; we gave them the city centres. We privileged the bigger companies from outside and killed our local potential. It was simply unfair, and the income tax paid by them was not proportionate to their earnings.
Q: What is hampering FDI into Poland?
A: It’s not something connected with Poland, it’s the general situation on the market. We’re still in a crisis situation. I feel the EU economy in general, and the ‘old’ EU states are unambitious now. They’re fat cats who feel comfortable in the current situation. [However], Brexit is a chance for us because I don’t think Toyota development would’ve happened this year in Poland if not for Brexit. We feel the deeper interest. The flow from the UK to Poland has increased. It’s also because of increased hate crimes and being offended on the streets, but also because of PiS’s welfare programme.