The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » Monthly - December 13, 2015
Belgium in Poland
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Mutual Advantages
Colette Taquet, Ambassador of Belgium to Poland, talks to Ewa Hancock.

You have been in Poland for a year now. What are your impressions of the country?
I visited Warsaw in the 1990s before arriving last October as ambassador and was amazed at the changes. Polish society has undergone a tremendous process of change in a relatively short period of time. This relatively peaceful transition towards a democratic system is remarkable. I find the resilience of the Polish people really commendable. Poland deserves the credit for its own reconstruction as a nation and as a democratic state. It has secured a place among the six biggest countries in Europe. This “promotion” also implies a lot of responsibilities. Big countries have to set the tone in matters of economic policy, solidarity, security and defense of international law. Poland has to rise up to these challenges. Also domestically, the new government will have to shape a substantial program of reforms.

In my second year here, I look forward to leaving Warsaw more often and discovering the fabulous landscapes and charms of the countryside, where nature is almost untouched. There are also plenty of beautiful cities to discover. So far, my daily experience of Poland has been one of a dynamic population eager to improve its condition and engage in further changes. Polish people are well connected to the world and have many dreams. Belgium can certainly be a partner in achieving these aspirations.

Their Majesties the King and the Queen of Belgium visited Poland in October. Do you expect closer ties between the two countries as a result?
The visit had a tremendous effect on our bilateral relations. Of course, we had excellent relations many years before the visit, but this event was important also because it marked the first state visit to be received by Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and the First Lady and also the first state visit by their Majesties Philippe and Mathilde to a European country since King Philippe stepped on the Belgian throne. The meeting also had something special about it. As King Philippe said, coming to Warsaw was a little bit like coming home as Queen Mathilde is well acquainted with Poland through her mother’s family. The visit launched a new, promising relationship that will boost our bilateral cooperation in many areas: investment, trade, academic cooperation and so on. It is worth mentioning that no less than 14 agreements were signed during the visit. They offer new prospects of cooperation in various fields of scientific research, construction, distribution, chemistry, to name a few. This will strengthen cooperation in traditional sectors where Belgian companies are already well established in Poland, but we shall tread new paths as well, for example in the life sciences and new building technologies. Such a high-level visit also strengthens the trust and understanding between our entrepreneurs and officials, and with time, this will boost business and academic cooperation. We have a long-term view of our relationship. The state visit is a significant landmark and we shall see to it that many positive effects follow in the future.

What are the biggest opportunities and challenges in relations between Belgium and Poland?
Today we live in a different world. There are fewer certainties and the old paradigms need to be revisited. The predictable balance of power has changed, but it is not clear yet how the international community will react to this. We face new threats, challenges to international law, frequent expressions of unilateralism and grave violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. And we also have to fight against poverty and address other global challenges such as terrorism or climatic change. Some kind of global governance is in place, and global agendas are much talked about, but it seems that our tools and working methods will need to be adapted if we want to give effective responses to the challenges. What can Poland and Belgium do together in this respect? We need to face our responsibilities, which boils down to making the best of globalization and mitigating its negative effects. We share fundamental values and we can shape alliances and promote our mutual interests. Cooperation is key. First of all, in the European family, we can help each other in reaching a reasonable, balanced consensus within the European Union. And we also have to focus on human beings and safeguard human dignity. This cooperation happens daily in the European Union and in other multilateral contexts. So it is important to strengthen our relations, look for common grounds and try to shape the consensus whenever and wherever we can. If we consider the priorities, such as regional security or fight against terrorism, it is clear that without solidarity and cooperation among allies, we would not be able to respond adequately to the new geopolitical context. Belgium is proud to be part of the Baltic Air Policing Force and if the coalition against the so -called Islamic State . We are present in other theaters as well. These new challenges are also opportunities: working together presents many benefits, from enriching new ideas to defining best practices and improving our policies by sharing lessons learned from experience.

The other area for bilateral work is certainly promotion of economic exchanges. Both Poland and Belgium can benefit from a more robust investment policy. And this is a “win-win” situation, one that we should base on a long-term vision of our mutual advantages. Poland has attracted many Belgian investors thanks to the quality of its work force, the competitive advantage of low salaries, and its sizable market with untapped demand. Belgian investors contemplating investing in Poland will decide to go ahead if they can count on an efficient administration, predictable implementation of the rule of law and the overall stability of the country.

Belgium, as a land of investment, has many advantages. Centrally located, it can attract Polish investors who want to expand their companies abroad, in the heart of Europe, while benefiting from an attractive taxation system and policies that support innovation and research. The presence of clusters of state-of-the art technology is also considered a positive factor.

In trade, our exchanges can continue to increase as well, driven by rising consumption in Poland and the increasing presence of quality Polish products on European markets.

Last but not least, relations between Belgium and Poland will intensify due to the increasing size of the Polish community in Belgium and of the Belgian community in Poland. Cultural and student exchanges are already strong and will develop further. This feature of our bilateral relations cannot be underestimated as it brings about a deep understanding of what we have in common and of our differences. This lays the best possible basis for respect for each other, for friendship. As the Ambassador of Belgium I very much look forward to listening to the Poles, and strengthening our cooperation.