Minister: Poland 'most efficient with EU funds'
Poland's use of EU funding has been the most efficient of all new member states, contributing to the country's resistance to the recession, high-ranking Polish politicians and business figures claimed last week.
Polish Minister for Regional Development lżbieta Bieńkowska was bullish in her assessment of the country's use of EU funds.
In an interview with online business portal Polish Market, Bieńkowska claimed that "compared to other new EU member states, Poland has made the most efficient use of EU funds".
Poland had used in full all the funds allocated to it, she observed, saying this had been felt in the economy's performance.
Poland best performer in recession, say bigwigs
In particular, Warsaw has repeatedly emphasised the fact that Poland was the only EU country to avoid a recession in 2009. Despite the fact that GDP growth last year was at a 10-year low, at 1.6%, Poland stood alone as the only member state "in the black".
While most economists point to the country's large consumer market and strong economic fundamentals to explain this success, Polish EU experts contend that the skilful and efficient uptake of EU funding is also a key factor.
Speaking at a European Parliament event in Brussels last week, Polish MEP and former EU Regional Policy Commissioner Danuta Hubner said Warsaw was trying hard to catch up to the richer "old EU" countries. "And I feel we're succeeding," she said.
Highlighting an "integrated approach" to EU monies, Hubner said the ability to match a variety of funds – "synergies" between European policies - was key to achieving this success rate.
Speaking at the same event, Leslaw Kuzaj, regional executive for Central Europe at General Electric, agreed that Poland had achieved the "right proportion of ingredients" in the country's "EU investment recipe".
GE, one of Central and Eastern Europe's biggest employers with a workforce of over 10,000 in Poland alone, is pushing for investment clusters designed to make the country a hub for EU technology and innovation.
Kusaj also called for future funds to be more focused on the local level, a point echoed by Minister Bieńkowska, who said Warsaw had worked out a new concept of regional policy "aimed at strengthening the potential of each province rather than just at levelling out the development gaps between them".
Best yet to come for Poland?
She went on to claim that the best was yet to come, and the full positive effects of the Polish "success story" would only emerge in the 2013-1015 period.
Regional policy, or cohesion policy, for the 2007-2013 period accounts for approximately a third (35.7%) of the total EU budget. A full list of EU regions and their respective funding eligibility is available here.
The majority of regional funds go to so-called Objective 1 regions, i.e. those whose gross domestic product (GDP) is below 75% of the EU average.
With the accession of ten new member states in 2004 , most beneficiaries of Objective 1 status are now located in Central and Eastern Europe (see table: Breakdown of Community aid to the new member states 2004-2006).
The goal of European regional policy is to reduce the gap between the development levels of the various regions via so-called economic and social cohesion.
Approximately 67 billion euro was allotted to Poland for the 2007-2013 period - the biggest amount of fundingmade available to an EU member country in the history of the Cohesion Policy.
Poland has translated its strategic development priorities into 21 programmes: five national and 16 regional programmes for all 16 Polish regions.