From your correspondent in Warsaw
During our International Media Tour last year, we turned the mic around and asked the 22 visiting journalists about their own experiences of Poland, both before and after the tour. So, how does Poland look in the eyes of the foreign press?
Poland Today brought leading international journalists covering business and economics to Warsaw in September. Over 24 media representatives participated in a 2-day tour to learn more about Poland’s economy. The tour promoted Poland’s economic success story worldwide and highlighted the country’s business achievements on global markets. Here is what some of them had to say about Poland, from the cuisine to its economic success.
What topics about Poland tend to appear in your news feed or what impressions did you have about the country before you arrived here?
Jozef Rynik (Slovakia, Trend Magazine): Mostly political issues. Not economic, actually.
Filip Harzer (Czech Republic, Seznam.cz): Judicial reform and the change of the government towards conservatism. There have been lots of reports about the quality of food coming from Poland. There was a beef scandal this January that sparked memories of a similar one ten years ago. The media was talking about it for the whole week.
Anat Barzilai (Israel, Calcalist): It was the big political crisis around the Polish government’s so-called ‘Holocaust law’. I think it’s still hard for Israelis to understand that Poles also suffered during the Nazi period. It might take at least three generations until that changes.
Jérôme Marin (France, La Tribune): The rule of law and the judicial changes.
Richard Martyn-Hemphill (UK/Latvia, Baltic Times): In the Baltics, I hear about the troubles of connecting the wider region through Rail Baltic and what part Poland has to play there. I’ve also focused a fair bit on Poland’s attempts to wean itself off Russian gas through the LNG terminal in Świnoujście. I also hear a bit about the security situation, particularly how NATO is trying to reinforce itself to close the Suwałki gap.
Marc Santora (USA, New York Times): Like a lot of people coming from the States for the first time, your impression is set in the 70s or 80s: a sort of grey Cold War spy novel, dark, a little grungy. And that’s not what I found in Warsaw. I was surprised by just how vibrant it was, and just how dynamic and European Poland felt.
Christina Peres (Portugal, Expresso): One word I would say would be development. Concerning politics, it would be anti-European and a feeling of doubt about the future of the EU. But development is the most important.
Kenta Shinozaki (Japan, Nikkei): Recently, I have read a lot of information about the relationship between the US and Poland. And because I’m based in London, the future of the Polish people in the UK has been a very large topic. Given the shortage of labour, British business people are very concerned about losing their Polish staff.
Hans van Leeuwen (Australia, Australian Financial Review): I think of school friends and people I’ve worked with with Polish surnames popping up everywhere, and they’ll be second or third generation Poles. They’re not a community that really sets themselves apart. They’re very integrated into the Australian community, I would say.
Galina Kalachova (Ukraine, Ekonomiczna Pravda): Ukrainians perceive Poland as a European country with high salaries.
Razvan Botea (Romania, Ziarul Financiar): There is some interest in Poland. But in my opinion, there should be more interest as Poland could be an example for Romania. Both Poland and Romania stepped into capitalism more or less on the same level and both used mostly the cheap labour force to attract foreign investment. But then Poland developed its infrastructure, and now it’s moving from a cheap labour force to a skilled labour force. And that requires education.
Luca Veronese (Italy, Il Sole 24 Ore): The interesting theme from my point of view is the difference in the state of the economy and politics. The economy is growing fast without any problems or negative influence from the political field.
Assis Moreira (Brazil, Valor Econômico): Mainly about the measures taken by the ruling party that worried the European Commission. Nothing about the state of the economy. I did not know that Poland was growing so much.
What type of trade relationship does your country enjoy with Poland, if any? What’s on the horizon?
Jozef Rynik (Slovakia, Trend Magazine): Our biggest developer, HB Reavis, is building skyscrapers here. And our investors have retail stores. Żabka used to be owned by a Slovakian company. Mbank has had branches for ten years in Slovakia.
Filip Harzer (Czech Republic, Seznam.cz): We mainly export cars and automotive parts, and import food from Poland.
Richard Martyn-Hemphill (UK/Latvia, Baltic Times): Poland is moving up the value chain. A lot of British companies are starting to appreciate that and split office space between Poland and the UK.
Christina Peres (Portugal, Expresso): Banking is very familiar to me. When I see Millennium Bank here, it makes me feel like I’m in Portugal.
Kenta Shinozaki (Japan, Nikkei): Japan exports cars and automotive parts. About 300 Japanese automotive companies are in Poland. I understand that the trade relationship between the two countries is very good.
Hans van Leeuwen (Australia, Australian Financial Review): From a financial perspective, there are Australian pension funds and I believe, one large Australian bank that have bought infrastructure assets and invested in Poland. And I would expect that to continue, given the growth rates and the potential opportunities.
If you were to put on your investor’s cap, in which area or sector would you invest based on what you have seen? Or in general, what have been your key takeaways?
Jozef Rynik (Slovakia, Trend Magazine): I was impressed by Łódź, but I also like Kraków and Western Poland.
Filip Harzer (Czech Republic, Seznam.cz): Maybe in the media, because a free press is really important. I’m unsatisfied with how politicised the local media is and the strong bias it carries.
Anat Barzilai (Israel, Calcalist): I would establish tours for Israeli high school students to Warsaw and other cities – and not just Auschwitz and the other camps. So they can get to know Polish culture and everyday people, like we’re doing right now.
Jérôme Marin (France, La Tribune): I guess real estate. It looked promising. Maybe by the sea in a city like Sopot.
Richard Martyn-Hemphill (UK/ Latvia, Baltic Times): The Warsaw Stock Exchange will be listing agriculture for the first time and that’s a great step forward, versus the previous opaque practices of deal-making. A more transparent marketplace there should offer all sorts of possibilities for innovation and better business practice.
Christina Peres (Portugal, Expresso): From what I’ve seen in smaller cities, I would invest in real estate. But not skyscrapers. Smaller stuff, like old factories or mills to be transformed into housing or lodging for tourists.
Kenta Shinozaki (Japan, Nikkei): I would invest in tech startups because there are many talented people in Poland. I was surprised as I walked the streets of Warsaw to see so many huge financial institutions and global companies.
Hans van Leeuwen (Australia, Australian Financial Review): I was kind of surprised to feel the ripples of Brexit resonating all the way out into Poland; that companies might, instead of looking just to Dublin or Luxembourg, look to relocate here, coupled with this push to possibly have more Polish expats return to Poland from Britain after Brexit.
Galina Kalachova (Ukraine, Ekonomiczna Pravda): I have been impressed by the quality of development in infrastructure projects and that Poland has big and attractive projects for investment. Because in developing countries, we have a problem when we communicate with investors, mainly because there is a deficit in the number of good projects. And after hearing about the STH project, I understand that you have very good communication with investors.
Razvan Botea (Romania, Ziarul Financiar): There are many examples from Poland that Romania should follow, like the digitisation process taken by the tax authorities. We have a problem with tax evasion in Romania. The tax gap is 36% of GDP and fiscal revenue is only 26% of GDP. That’s very, very low. The digitisation process is occurring right now in Poland [which can counter against tax evasion].
Luca Veronese (Italy, Il Sole 24 Ore): That’s easy: Warsaw. I love the city. The first thing is the incredible atmosphere. I think Poland, at the moment, has the energy of a young lady growing up and wanting to demonstrate that she can do it. Italy, on the other hand, is a very old lady.
Assis Moreira (Brazil, Valor Econômico): For Brazil, one focus would be in defense, both in terms of buying and selling materials. I see good prospects for tourism as well, since LOT has a programme called ‘Find your Poland’ to attract people of Polish origin to visit Poland. Brazil has the second largest group of people of Polish origin, around 2 million, only surpassed by US with 10 million.
Calling upon your journalistic hunch, what will be the major trending story about Poland in 5 years’ time?
Jozef Rynik (Slovakia, Trend Magazine): We admire Poland’s usage of the EU cohesion funds. They have used them very efficiently compared to Slovakia. So the further development of roads and highways, because Slovakia has been really slow with this. We may ask ourselves later: if Poland has done it, why can’t we?
Filip Harzer (Czech Republic, Seznam.cz): It will be the changes after the second win of the Law and Justice party. I think they’re going to be really big, covering the social sphere, the political system, the media, etc.
Anat Barzilai (Israel, Calcalist): Probably how more and more Israeli companies will come here… Since I arrived here, I have felt a very strong bond with everyone. When they hear that I’m from Israel, they are so warm. It feels like everyone loves me here. And I don’t get it anywhere in the world. I think it’s because we have the same trauma; just in different sizes. It makes for a really strong bond.
Jérôme Marin (France, La Tribune): I asked the question today about Poland’s chances of joining the Euro and I was told it wouldn’t happen anytime soon. The question will be about the relationship between Poland and the EU. I haven’t been following closely, but I feel that the government has become more populist.
Richard Martyn-Hemphill (UK/Latvia, Baltic Times): My sense is it will relate to the automation of large parts of the workforce, and how Poland responds to that. It will be a struggle towards a new social contract that will see the state play more of a welfare role than it does at the moment. In terms of relations with the EU, Poland seems to have consistently punched below its weight in Brussels. It’s struggled to muscle its way in as a third big powerbroker in Brussels after France and Germany. That will be the story for the next five years.
Marc Santora (USA, New York Times): If I could predict one month from now, I’d be paid a lot more money. But if Poland continues through whatever bumps and stumbles that it has endured over the last 30 years, then it will be in good stead.
Christina Peres (Portugal, Expresso): I think that Poland will benefit from Brexit, in the sense that capital is always attracted to areas of development. But when I landed, I was looking at Warsaw and I thought the city had doubled in five years. I’ve noticed that it’s also a more international city than it was five years ago. And let’s hope that politics won’t ruin this.
Kenta Shinozaki (Japan, Nikkei): My point would relate to the future of the European Union. I believe Poland will have a more important role in integrating the European Union. Unfortunately, the European Union’s strength is not very good at the moment and I believe Poland must do a lot to unite the block.
Luca Veronese (Italy, Il Sole 24 Ore): Their connection with Europe is the most important thing for Poland in the future. All the partners know it. They have to work harder in Brussels to make the EU stronger. In the European Union, we need the support of Poland, the leading country in the region.
Assis Moreira (Brazil, Valor Econômico): We will continue to see tension with the EU, about the discussion around democracy and societal trends in the country, at least more than the economic side of things.
Now to the hard-hitting questions. What is your favourite Polish food or beverage?
Jozef Rynik (Slovakia, Trend Magazine): Żurek
Filip Harzer (Czech Republic, Seznam.cz): Definitely pierogi. My favourite pierogi bistro is on Plac Unii Lubelskiej in Warsaw. The lady there knows me very well and always gives me extra because I’m Czech and Czech people are popular here.
Anat Barzilai (Israel, Calcalist): It would have to be cow’s tongue [ozór]. It sounds disgusting, but it’s very good. For dessert, I like the cinnamon buns with cherry [drożdżówki z wiśniami].
Richard Martyn-Hemphill (UK/Latvia, Baltic Times): I had a very good soup last night. I believe it was called Żurek. On previous trips, I have been very impressed by Polish horseradish. I think it is the best in the world.
Marc Santora (USA, New York Times): I’m surprised that Warsaw has probably the most vegan restaurants in Poland. My favourite restaurant, a place that actually reminds me the most of New York, is Koko & Roy in Warsaw.
Christina Peres (Portugal, Expresso): I wouldn’t be able to spell it, but it’s a stew: bigos.
Kenta Shinozaki (Japan, Nikkei): Last night, I had a Polish dumpling with lamb. It was very nice.
Luca Veronese (Italy, Il Sole 24 Ore): I love Polish cuisine. It is very similar to my Italian region. I’m from the Venice region in the eastern part of Italy and I found something here like gnocchi: kopytka.
Assis Moreira (Brazil, Valor Econômico): Well, I know Żurek soup.