2013 Chair of the Year Goes to El┐bieta Bie˝kowska: Poland Needs an Iron Lady
December 19, 2013
Every year around November, brainstorming begins at The Warsaw Voice about who should receive our magazine’s annual Chair of the Year award. Every year this decision requires a thorough review of what happened in the country over the last 12 months. We ask ourselves whether we should hand the award to a politician, businessman or scientist. Or perhaps a cultural figure or an athlete? Or someone else entirely? We have been known to announce non-human winners, such as a market commodity or an organization that had a major, positive impact on Poles and their lives in a given year.
Since The Warsaw Voice was established 25 years ago, the prestige of our Chair of the Year award has increased, meaning that we need to be all the more careful when making our choice.
Looking back on 2013, what kind of year was it in Poland? Who and what stood out? For sure, it was not an easy 12 months. It was a time dominated by economic concerns combined with efforts to fend off the global crisis. Europe was hit hard. Poland struggled as the economy slowed, public debt rose and unemployment remained high. At the same time we saw a major construction effort that has turned this country into a huge building site. It was a difficult year, but Poland continued to change and develop due to billions from the European Union and huge spending from government coffers. The year marked the end of the EU budget for 2007-2013 and saw the bloc’s new budget for 2014-2020 being thrashed out.
The obvious truth is that it is not enough to have money; the trick is to spend it well. As far as EU funds are concerned, the situation is particularly tricky. First you need to secure the money, then you need to spend it well, and you need to deal with all the paperwork involved. Not all the countries benefiting from EU funds have been able to master these skills. But Poland has been doing a good job in this area, even though many had doubts just a few years ago.
EU funds have been driving Poland’s development over the past several years, and managing these resources is the responsibility of El┐bieta Bie˝kowska, a government minister since 2007. Until recently she was responsible for regional development; in the wake of a government reshuffle in late November her portfolio was expanded to include transport.
Bie˝kowska has earned a reputation as something of an “iron lady” figure. She enjoys an exceptionally strong position in the government. She is a woman of character and energy. She combines her considerable responsibilities at work with her duties as a caring mother of three. Competent and relentlessly practical, she is down to earth and stays away from day-to-day politicking. However, she does not shy away from confrontation if she deems it necessary. The EU funds for which she is responsible are being managed so well that the opposition, given to stinging criticism of most government ministers and eager to highlight every weakness of the government, has not said a bad word about Bie˝kowska, even in times of the biggest political turmoil.
We are not the only ones who have come to appreciate Bie˝kowska. Shortly after we decided that she would receive our 2013 Chair of the Year award, Prime Minister Donald Tusk promoted her to deputy prime minister and appointed her minister of infrastructure and development (thus expanding her previous portfolio as minister of regional development to include transport, construction and the maritime sector). After the appointment, Bie˝kowska admitted that the extent of the challenges before her may appear daunting, but said she believes that she will cope.
The European Parliament has approved the EU’s new budget for 2014-2020, with Poland as its biggest beneficiary—entitled to more than 82 billion euros from the Cohesion Fund. This is likely the last time the EU will be so generous to Poland, which now has to ensure that the money at its disposal is properly used to spur development. We believe that El┐bieta Bie˝kowska is the best person to ensure that this happens.