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The Warsaw Voice » Other » March 5, 2008
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We Haven't Wasted a Single Zloty
March 5, 2008   
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Putting European Union funds to good use is a priority, says Regional Development Minister Elżbieta Bieńkowska, talking to Urszula Imienińska.

Which Polish regions should be first in line for EU funding?
I have a clear vision about this. EU funds should first go to the more industrialized regions of Poland so that these can develop more rapidly and help the poorer regions. These will be the engine that pulls the rest of the train along. Channeling the bulk of our funds into the poorer regions won't make up for all the development years they've lost.

Poorer areas have to invest in basic infrastructure whereas richer regions can spend on modern technology. These are the areas where technology parks get built and which attract investors. We have to support the rich so they can help the poor.

EU funds to be distributed under the Regional Operating Programs should be divided amongst regions in a way that best stimulates research and development, private enterprise and innovation. EU money needs to generate more money.

What gives you most cause for satisfaction after 100-odd days in office?
When I worked in Katowice [as head of regional development department in the Silesian Marshals' Office], I knew our region had to be most efficient in acquiring EU finds. I still want to be the front-runner. The most important event involved obtaining [EU] Regional Policy Commissio-ner Danuta Hübner's signature under the Operating Program Infrastructure and Environment for 2007-2013. This capped many months of developing the largest program in EU history. The program is budgeted at 37.6 billion euros of which the EU has contributed almost 28 billion.

What will this money be spent on?
The program aims to make Poland and its regions more attractive by developing infrastructure and technology while caring for and improving the environment, protecting health, preserving our cultural identity and building territorial cohesion. This is one of the operational programs that make up the basic tools for achieving those goals for which money from the Cohesion Fund and the European Regional Development Fund has been allocated. The program complies with the National Strategic Reference Guidelines the European Commission approved May 7, 2007.

We're talking about billions of euros and province marshals will be responsible for spending that money. The EU probably won't be this generous to Poland in future so we have to show that we are implementing major regional programs.

The province contracts we signed with regional self-governments were another success. These contracts, which took until 2006 to prepare, will distribute 16.5 billion euros under the Regional Operating Program.

What have been the major stumbling blocks?
One of the problems in funds management is that insufficient funds have been allocated for environmental protection in my view. Poland will also be losing part of its 2004-2006 structural allocation for fishermen. But the really big money hasn't arrived yet.

What are the most important tasks for the immediate future?
Our two main tasks are supervising the spending of EU money this year and developing an efficient system for utilizing our 2007-2013 EU allocation. We have to spend the money effectively and according to schedule. The European Commission will be reviewing Poland's and other countries' implementation of EU funding in 2010, so we need to monitor spending regularly. Projects that are poorly planned or running behind schedule will have to be abandoned.

What impact will the Euro 2012 soccer championships hosted by Poland and Ukraine have on the country? How much EU money is going to be spent on organizing this event?
The Euro 2012 championships will trigger an economic boom in Poland. The 48 investment projects submitted for ministerial approval have been valued at 452 million euros and investment in tourism will come to 163 million euros. The 13-million-euro beautification of the Vistula river is one such project.

Some 28.5 billion euros have been earmarked for transport as part of the Infrastructure and Environment program. This will include building new road an rail connections, and upgrading airports and border points. Some of this money will help construct city beltways, build road and rail connections with neighboring countries, and develop public transport.

Do you think that Poland will be able to utilize 100 percent of its 2004-2006 EU allocation?
That would be great but practically no-one has ever managed to actually achieve it. I don't think the fisheries program is going to make it but I'm optimistic about the others. I think we will be able to use 99 percent of our EU allocation.
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