The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » Monthly - December 13, 2015
Belgium in Poland
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Business, Beer and Belgian Days
Ma³gorzata Vincent, director of the Belgian Business Chamber in Poland, talks to Ewa Hancock.

The Belgian Business Chamber in Poland has turned 23 and you have been its director for almost six years. How has the organization changed over the years?
It all started with a club that Belgian businessmen founded over 20 years ago to just meet over a glass of Belgian beer from time to time. They called it the Belgian Beer Club and it was an informal organization at the time. It then morphed into the Belgian Business Club and eventually became the Belgian Business Chamber, now a formal organization. The acronym BBC has always remained unchanged.

The chamber now has 115 members, which is 60 percent up on 2010. Members include Ghelamco Poland, the developer behind the Warsaw Spire office tower, currently Europe’s largest office building under construction. We also have Solvay Silica, a company that has invested 75 million euros in a facility to produce silica for use in car tire manufacturing. Then, there is the BG¯ BNP Paribas bank and Schréder Polska, which specializes in lighting technology.

Every year, we offer our stakeholders around 50 different activities, most of them business-related and others dealing with social and cultural life. The Belgian Business Chamber’s mission is to facilitate business relations and create value between Belgium and Poland. Our way to achieve this is a networking platform for Belgian businessmen and everyone who wants to work with them and is interested in investing in Belgium. Polish businessmen have for several years been asking us what conditions they need to meet in order to be able to enter the Belgian market. You need to remember that Belgium has a regionalized economy and the conditions can differ between the regions of Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia. The Belgian Business Chamber has also started working with other chambers of commerce in Poland and with regional chambers. Together, we hold a number of events to enable our members to start new business relations.

How do trade relations between Poland and Belgium look in terms of the hard data?
Trade between Poland and Belgium totaled 8 billion euros in 2014, and Belgium is Poland’s 11th-largest economic partner in the EU. The trade has grown 60 percent in the past five years. There are around 700 Belgian companies in Poland and so far, they have invested over 5 billion euros here. Belgian businesses mainly invest in sectors such as energy, finance and insurance, food, construction materials, farm machinery and municipal services.

The Belgian Business Chamber has organized the highly popular Belgian Days in Poland for many years. What were they like this year?
Those were the 17th Belgian Days and while just a few years ago they lasted less than a week, now they last almost two weeks. The Belgian Days are divided into business events and those designed to promote Belgium. This year, everything took place in Warsaw.

The public celebrations started with a two-hour tour of Warsaw in a Belgian streetcar. During the ride, Warsaw residents were treated to chocolate, waffles and saxophone music, and they also heard stories about Belgium and saw Warsaw sites related to Belgium in one way or another. A key event was a series of Belgian Afternoon meetings promoting the country. Those taking part could learn about the history of Belgian comic books, draw their first comic strip and see a molecular cooking demonstration. They could also get to know Belgium a little better at meetings with Marek Orzechowski, the author of a book entitled Belgian Melancholy, and S³awomir Czarlewski, a former Polish ambassador to Belgium. Both live in Belgium and know the country inside out.

Belgian Afternoon attractions also included a concert by a sax quartet, a nod to Belgium’s Adolf Sax, who invented the instrument. There was also a charity project during which participants could try their hand at sewing a pillowcase with Belgian Smurfs on it. The pillowcases were later donated to the little patients of the University of Warsaw’s Children’s Hospital. We made around 180 cases.

The next part of the Belgian Days was filled with business and business-related events, including a Belgian beer and chocolate night featuring beer tasting. Courtesy of one of our members, Bar Expert Polska, the participants tried over 20 beer varieties, each served in a matching glass. The distinctively Belgian mussels and fries were available throughout the Belgian Days.

The first event to focus entirely on business was the CEO Forum during which representatives from the largest enterprises in Belgium and Poland met with Minister Krzysztof Szczerski, an advisor to President Andrzej Duda. During the event, Belgian company SECO received the prestigious Belgian Business Chamber Award 2015 for promoting business relations between the two countries. SECO specializes in technical inspections and provides technical consulting services.

We also held a seminar on construction and the real estate market. This was particularly important to Belgian construction companies and was attended by major market players, such as BPI, CFE, Democo, Ghelamco, Liebrecht&wooD and Matexi. Then we closed the Belgian Days with a business breakfast with Polish journalist Aleksandra Zieleniewska, the founder of the first commercial radio station in Poland. Zieleniewska discussed the challenges facing business, especially after the latest political changes in Poland.

What other events do you hold for the Belgian community in Poland?
The Belgian Business Chamber aims to bring together the Belgian community in Poland and to this end, we offer Belgians family picnics that we organize together with other chambers. We also hold get-togethers with soccer as the central theme when Belgium’s national soccer team, the Red Devils, are playing a game. Belgium are currently number one in FIFA’s world rankings.