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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » March 31, 2011
The Netherlands in Poland
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Effective Partnership
March 31, 2011   
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The Netherlands’ ambassador to Poland, Dr. Marcel Kurpershoek, talks to Ewa Hancock.

How would you summarize the current state of relations between the Netherlands and Poland?
Dutch-Polish relations are deeply rooted and strong. Historically, our nations have been close and very friendly. Before the partitions of Poland in the 18th century, bilateral ties were intense and substantial, but they declined somewhat after that. The Netherlands is very grateful for the role played by the Polish military in the liberation of our country in World War II. The European Union finally brought us together under the same political and economic roof. After long periods of unnatural separation, we now have every opportunity to explore our affinities and build a stable web of relations in every field. We do so as equal partners in a common endeavor. In the daily reality of political rough and tumble within the European Union, we should never lose sight of this miracle. Poland is in a better position to appreciate this fact because it has emerged more recently from the dark shadows of European history than we did. Therefore, it is a good thing that Poland keeps reminding us of the past and our historical obligations towards others. At the same time, Europe cannot be taken for granted. Europe is an edifice that is in constant need of repair, improvement, and even redesign. Europe needs to be better integrated, more efficient and competitive in order to deal with its own and global challenges.

Our long-term views are very similar: we are in the same European boat. Sometimes we may diverge in our views how to get there and as to the ways and means in the short term. Still, our relations are embedded within the same project. We share a common European destiny. This has some surprising consequences. For instance, we have to get used to the fact that the distinction between foreign and domestic policy has blurred to a large extent. Decisions made by Poland in the domain of taxation, fiscal and budgetary policies, migration, the regulatory environment and so on are directly relevant for the Netherlands, and vice versa. Sharing a common currency creates an even greater community of interests. But it appears that in the case of Poland, this will be delayed until some time in the future. Creating a more integrated union and more efficient internal market is our common endeavor.

Poland is one of the priority countries of the Netherlands Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation. Our economic interests cover a wide spectrum. One field which I could mention in particular is water. The Netherlands has world-class experience in taming and regulating the flow of water. The floods in 2010 have been an occasion for us to team up and share some of our experience with Poland. This is an urgent matter, also because the date is drawing near for the implementation of the EU water directive in Poland. And, nice to know, in December I walked on an ancient dike in the area of ¦winouj¶cie. Very likely this dike was constructed by Mennonite settlers from the Netherlands in the 16th or 17th century.

For many years now, the Netherlands has been among the biggest investors in Poland. Why is the Polish market so attractive for Dutch businesses?
All over the world, investments are primarily determined by the expected profit rate. Why invest in Poland? Well, in the first place because, geographically, it is quite close to the Netherlands: the distance between the two countries is less than 600 km from border to border. The level of wages in relation to productivity has been very advantageous for Dutch investment. This was particularly true in the 1990s. The fact that Poland become a member of the European Union, and thus become part of the EU internal market with all its EU legislation and opportunities, has created extra advantages for foreign investros, Also, the exchange rate of the zloty to the euro was, and still is, very favourable from the Dutch point of view. The Polish economy has grown substantially over the last 20 years. Its annual growth has invariably been higher than average growth in the EU. In a positive development, the financial and economic crisis of 2008/2009 has left Poland relatively unscathed, without too much of a negative impact. And last but not least, Poland is the gateway to Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries.

In what areas of the Polish economy is Dutch business doing best?
This is difficult to measure, but I can see a relatively large number of Dutch project-management and engineering companies active in Poland. Dutch banks (ING, Rabobank) are doing very well too and have a big market share. On almost every street corner in Poland, you can see a banking office of ING, or BG¯, which is practically completely owned by a Dutch bank. In the agricultural sector, both Dutch farmers and food processing companies are very successful in Poland. Other promising sectors for Dutch business include water management, energy efficiency and waste management. The Netherlands can demonstrate its profound expertise and contribute to solving problems existing in these areas in Poland.

Can you give an example of a success story?
Yes, there are many success stories. Giving specific examples, however, always means neglecting others that deserve to be mentioned too—so I apologize in advance.

Dutch entrepreneur Ewald Raben can be called a real pioneer. In 1991, when he was 22 years of age, he moved to Poland to set up Raben Polska, a company dealing with logistics and domestic and international transport. Today Raben Polska is the biggest road transportation company in Poland and it has even become larger than its parent company in the Netherlands. The same is true of a company called De Heus, an important Dutch producer of foodstuffs. At present, it has eight plants in Poland, and its products are distributed all over the country.

What are the obstacles to doing business in Poland?
Dutch businessmen need to get used to the cultural differences between the Netherlands and Poland. Dutchmen are generally more straightforward and have problems with time consuming procedures, for example those for obtaining a construction permit, the bureaucracy and overregulation in Poland. According to OECD Economic Surveys, the government’s influence on the economy is in Poland the highest of all OECD member states. But at the same time, I can see that the government is willing to do something about it. It wants to create a better environment for business by introducing better regulations and reducing administrative burdens for companies. I spoke about that with Minister Adam Jasser, the prime minister’s pointman on ways to reduce bureaucracy, who really wants to “deregulate” things. But this too takes a long time. Public procurement procedures in Poland are a special case. The experience of Dutch companies in Poland is that they are very complicated and inefficient. By tendering only on price, Poland will not get the quality it actually wants to have, and in the end, the deal will be more expensive because of the more costly maintenance works which are necessary. The Dutch will be pleased to share best practices with Poland in the field of public procurement.

What would you like to accomplish before you leave Poland?
It is important that in spite of the financial crisis, we keep our economic relations on an upward trajectory. Economic factors have emerged as driving factors for change in the 21st century. Partly, this is the success of the Western market model having been adopted by most of the world. As the largest of the new EU member states, Poland has great potential. Now Poland accounts for about 2 percent of Dutch exports, Germany for about 25 percent—and the large emerging economies, the so-called BRIC countries, for 4 percent. Therefore, logic dictates that Poland offers a very promising scope for increased business. However, logic is one thing, and making things happen is another challenge. Someone has to push or smooth the way. Here the embassy has a role to play.

Second, I would like to see Poland and the Netherlands become more closely engaged and become more effective partners within the European Union. Even where we disagree, finding a productive middle ground could render great services to ourselves and to the Union as a whole. As for me personally, I enjoy getting to know the country better through travel, reading and learning some of the language. To understand European history, one has to understand Polish history. So, talk to me again in two years!
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