France: 30 years and counting in Poland

Did you know that the French are the third largest group of foreign employers in Poland or that Orange has connected a quarter of all Polish households with fibre-optic internet? Poland Today explores France’s imprint in Poland with the CEO of Orange Polska and the General Director of the French-Polish Chamber of Commerce (CCIFP) – along with Orange Polska’s 5G plans for Poland.

The French were the first to arrive in Poland after the fall of the Iron Curtain and 30 years later, the Tricolour journey into the Polish market has only just begun. That was one of the key messages delivered during this month’s PTLive panel held in the lead up to Bastille Day and the 25th anniversary of the French-Polish Chamber of Commerce (CCIFP). To reflect upon this major milestone, Poland Today’s own Richard Stephens was joined by Jean-Francois Fallacher, CEO of Orange Polska and President of CCIFP, and Monika Constant, General Director of CCIFP.

The French-Polish Chamber of Commerce marked its 25th year of operation (1994-2019) in Poland by releasing a report chronicling the vast and deep imprint of French commerce in the country. French companies have become such a mainstay in the local commercial landscape that the scope of French business in Poland might not be all that readily apparent. But it’s hard to deny the numbers detailed in the report. For example, France is Poland’s fifth biggest trading partner with a total volume of €19.15bn in 2017 (up by 11.8% compared to 2016). French FDI (€17.94bn) in 2017 amounted to a 9% share of total FDI in Poland. 

We have more than 1,100 French investors in Poland, employing more than 200,000 people here,” said Monika Constant. That, according to the report, makes French companies the third largest group of foreign employers in Poland. Constant and Fallacher went on to list the various sectors with French representation, from retail (e.g. Carrefour, Auchan and Decathlon), energy (e.g. Total and Veolia), banking and insurance (e.g. BNP Paribas, Société Générale and AXA) to automotive (e.g. Michelin, Peugeot and Renault) and of course, telecommunications (e.g. Orange). “So most of the large French businesses of the so-called CAC 40 [French stock market index] are present in Poland,’ added Fallacher.   

As he pointed out, the chamber itself is one of the largest bilateral trade organisations in Poland with more than 450 members. “French companies are still investing here because we consider that Poland is a very important market for French companies,” said Constant, before elaborating on the country’s attractiveness for French companies. “In general, French companies are very satisfied with the Polish people, the quality of the employees, and they want to develop and want to invest in research and development in some innovative sectors.”

But Fallacher touched upon the ongoing challenges associated with the nationwide labour and skills shortage. Although the supply problem has helped to increase wages and overall private consumption, he noted that it has become increasingly difficult to recruit talent in Orange’s retail operations and call centres. He concluded, however, that the recent influx of Ukranian migrants should help to relieve some of the supply-side pressure. Interestingly, Eurostat reported in May this year that Poland had become the EU’s largest issuer of work permits to non-EU workers. In 2017, the Polish government issued permits to over 680,000 non-EU workers.

Orange is perhaps the most successful example of French investment in the country. “For the group, Poland is the third business unit in terms of size after France,” said Fallacher. “I think we’re one of the largest private investors in Poland. For the last three years, we have invested more than 9bn zł in the country. We are in the process of massively investing in fibre, connecting households and businesses. As we speak, we have connected more than 3.5 million households with fibre [optic internet].” The figure equates to a massive 25% share of Poland’s 14 million households.

Orange is also in the process of preparing for the rollout of its 5G network. The company has already begun trials in Gliwice and Zakopane – the latter of which had only begun a week before the discussion. “They are live 5G stations with devices to test the network in a real environment to prepare our teams and also together with the suppliers/partners for the future of 5G.” He said that the local regulator plans to begin the tender process as early as the beginning of next year, before allocating frequencies to operators by mid next year. There are still a number of deployment issues to overcome, namely around the level of emissions allowed by communication towers in Poland. “Our base stations and antennas are not allowed to emit as normally as they can emit in Europe. The norms are 10 times lower compared to the rest of Europe, which is causing a bit of trouble, because we need to have more stations.”

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Written by: Poland Today Team