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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » November 25, 2011
Britain in Poland
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Shared Challenges
November 25, 2011   
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The new British ambassador to Poland, Robin Barnett, talks to Ewa Hancock.

This is your third diplomatic posting in Warsaw. Can you describe the changes you have witnessed in Poland?
Obviously, there is a rather radical difference between my first arrival in June 1982 and now. Specifically, on the day that I arrived there was still martial law, a curfew and the famous Rozmowa kontrolowana [“this call is being monitored”] tape on the telephone. So, the biggest difference, the most wonderful difference I see between then and now is, of course, that Poland is now a free, democratic country and a strong member of both the EU and NATO. And it is great to come back with Poland just having taken on, for the first time, the presidency of the EU, a further sign of its full integration into Europe.

The other hugely impressive change, of course, is the transformation from an economy where the most frequent word was nie ma [“none left”] followed by the ration card, to a highly successful free- market economy which has had one of the most impressive growth records... in recent years. All of that, obviously, is reflected by the remarkable changes in infrastructure that we have seen, particularly in big towns and cities.

Politically too, it is a very interesting moment, because this is the first time since 1989 that a government has effectively been reelected, which is also an indication of the maturity of the Polish political system. So, taken together, I have seen an awful lot of very positive changes since my first arrival. Obviously, that does not mean there isn’t plenty more to do. Everybody is aware of the continuing infrastructure challenges. In particular, I am looking forward to the day when it will be possible to get around Poland at speed using the train.

Next year brings big sporting events— the Olympics for Britain and the Euro 2012 football championships for Poland. This is the first time Poland will have hosted an event on such a scale. How is London preparing for its games and what advice can it offer Poland?
I think London has been preparing for the games for a very long time. I think perhaps the most important thing to say is that from the outset, when we were preparing the Olympic bid, we were already considering the legacy from the Olympic Games. It was not about just a fantastic sporting event and a great opportunity to showcase the United Kingdom, but also about ensuring that all the new infrastructure that was built would lead to lasting benefits. I think that an important consideration for Poland too is to ensure that there is a long-term plan to make the best use of the fantastic new stadia that are being constructed for Euro 2012.

Equally important, though, we face a whole series of shared challenges. First of all, how to ensure the safety and security of everybody at what are going to be huge sporting events. I know there is already collaboration between us on these issues. Secondly, making sure that people have a really good experience. That includes things like providing good, helpful information and, importantly, a good transport experience. London is well aware of the challenge that it will face in hosting so many people for the duration of the Olympic Games. The challenge of Euro 2012 is that you will have matches in diverse stadia across Poland and have to make sure that people can get from place A to place B.

An important issue not to be forgotten in my view too is that, as part of all of this, in London we are talking about the Paralympics, so there will be a huge number of disabled athletes. But we need to ensure that all the other people who may have disabilities or other problems are still enabled to have a really good experience.

And finally, both Euro 2012 and the Olympics are fantastic opportunities for our respective countries to project a modern, 21st-century image.

What does the British government aim to achieve through The GREAT Britain campaign? Who is it targeted at? How will it benefit the country?
The “Great” campaign follows up from my previous answer. The Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the United Kingdom in the same way that Euro 2012 is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Poland. What we want to use the Olympics for is not only to project the image of a country capable of running a massive and highly successful sporting event, but also a country that in so many ways is a dynamic world leader. So, for example, the Great campaign is a fantastic opportunity to showcase the fact that Britain is one of the world leaders in areas like innovation, research and development and financial services. And not to be forgotten, still the sixth largest manufacturing nation on earth. This is a great opportunity for us to correct perceptions that, for example, Britain no longer has a car industry. One of the most exciting investment announcements over the last couple of years in the United Kingdom was the decision by Nissan to choose to make its new electric car, the Leaf, in Sunderland. The whole point of the Great campaign is that we have a single, coordinated set of messages. I think the Great campaign really does meet that objective and is therefore aimed at promoting, across the world, the United Kingdom’s unique set of strengths. I very much hope that it will help us here in the United Kingdom encourage more Polish businesses to consider investing in the United Kingdom. I’m talking about greenfield sites as much as areas like innovation and R&D, where Polish companies, like companies from across the globe, could benefit from the clusters of technology and experience that we have in the United Kingdom. But I also hope that it will encourage more Polish tourists to visit the United Kingdom and sample the British experience for themselves.

Poland has put off plans to adopt the euro. Does Britain’s insistence on keeping the pound help or hinder the British economy?
The British economy has been highly successful over a long period in the same way that the eurozone was highly successful over a long period. Currently, both the eurozone and the countries surrounding the eurozone have suffered as a result of the global recession of 2008 and the current turbulence. To me, the important message is not, as far as individual countries concerned, whether or not they are members of the eurozone, but rather that in Europe we are interdependent. The crisis affects eurozone members and non-eurozone members alike. As my Prime Minister, David Cameron, has made clear, we need a resolution to the current eurozone crisis, so that we can all move forward and return to higher rates of growth and a successful global economy. What that means is that within Europe we not only need to be looking at the issues surrounding the eurozone, but also at the wider growth and competitiveness agenda, because the real long-term solution to prosperity for all of us in Europe is to ensure that Europe is competitive when it comes to the rising challenges of emerging economies like China, India and Brazil. And that within the EU we are focused on doing everything we can to promote economic growth by removing barriers to business, minimizing unnecessary regulation and pushing, as an EU, for global free trade.

Martin Oxley, new Country Head, UK Trade & Investment, joins the Embassy team in Warsaw building on a 15 year business career in Central Europe. An expert in the healthcare and life sciences sector, he has led a number of the leading blue chip and regional pharmaceutical companies in Poland and the broader Central and Eastern European region. Most recently he was CEO of the British Polish Chamber of Commerce. Under his leadership the Chamber grew to be one of the most prominent international business networking organisations in Poland, receiving a number of awards for excellence and partnership development. Martin retains a keen interest in digital media, communications, cultural relations and enterprise development. He is very enthusiastic about his new role at the Embassy and honoured to have the opportunity to play a leading role in championing the development of British business in Poland. He is married to Małgorzata and has two children, Ja¶ and Nati.
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