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The Warsaw Voice » Other » April 7, 2010
Germany in Poland
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Cross-Border Comparisons
April 7, 2010   
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You have been director and member of the board of the German-Polish Chamber of Commerce for five years now. How have you seen the chamber change over the years?
The chamber changed in that we now have close to 1,000 members, which means that in the past five years we gained nearly 170 new members. Our annual turnover has also been getting bigger and bigger, and we now provide a wider range of services to our member companies. Since last year, we have also been supporting Polish companies who want to gain access to the German market, because we are not just a club of German companies in Poland. In 1989, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki signed an agreement to start a bilateral chamber. So our duty is not only to help German companies enter the Polish market, but also the other way around. We need to work on this a little bit harder over the next few years to show the Polish side that we are the gateway to Germany.
How well do you think Poland has been managing the economic crisis?
The economic crisis did not affect Poland as much as it did other countries, because the economy here is still developing fast and is not so export-orientated as, for example, in Germany. You have to keep in mind that in Germany, more than 40 million people are actually in the work force, whereas in Poland there are less than 40 million inhabitants in total. On the other hand, you also have to look at the economic situation in Poland: here we went from 6-percent growth to 1.6- or 1.7-percent, and one element of that is co-financing from European funds. Altogether Poland lost 5 percent of its growth, while Germany lost 5.5 percent. So in fact, Poland has also been hit by the crisis, but it's still doing better than countries such as Hungary or the Baltic states.
One advantage that Poland has is that Poles are more flexible than other nations. They find ways to manage their businesses even in times of crisis. They don?t tend to be as dependent on one customer, and they always have backup options they can fall back on. A German company might think, "I have a 10-year contract with one client so I?ll just keep quiet and do my best with them." But Polish businesspeople are always trying to do better and to expand, which makes them more flexible. It makes them better at managing a crisis, which is a big plus for the Polish economy.
How advanced is the process of privatization in Poland?
The process of privatization is still going on. For the past 20 years Poland has been doing a good job, selling off its state-owned companies for good prices. They signed good contracts, guaranteeing that buyers save the workplaces and invest in them. And in the end, the investors earned good money. But from our point of view, the Polish government made a small mistake. A few years ago, when prices were very high, they refused to sell off the rest of the state assets for political reasons. Now they have to sell, but the prices are very low. They?re going to lose a lot of money. Two or three years ago, several companies from the West were able to buy these companies and to invest in them. But Poland did nothing. Then the crisis came, and now the Western companies are not willing to pay as much as the Polish side needs them to pay.
Some of these state-owned companies are not so attractive to foreign investors, either, because the labor unions have a very strong position in Poland. At LOT Polish Airlines, for example, if someone wanted to buy the airline, they would have the whole labor union structure incorporated within the company, and it can be very difficult to negotiate a new business structure with a union. I have spoken to some German entrepreneurs who were interested in buying companies, but in the end, after their analysis, they decided that the labor unions were too strong and the prices were still too high because they would have had to put in a lot of investment. The state should lower the prices, but they in turn are under political pressure from people who say that the government is selling off Polish national assets too cheaply. From our point of view, it's a political problem.
How is Germany managing the economic crisis?
I just read today that medium-sized companies in Germany have not asked for as much state help as was thought before-only 50 percent of the funds prepared for companies last year were actually used. A lot of companies tried to solve the problem themselves. We also have the advantage that in Germany most of these companies are family-owned, and families are able to cut costs because it's their own money. On the other hand, we lost a lot of our GDP last year. We don?t know what will happen this year, but export rates are growing, producers have signed new contracts, and we hope we will manage to record positive GDP growth this year.
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