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Poland, big winner of European enlargement

Scattered metal parts and files litter the table.

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Poland, big winner of European enlargement

Scattered metal parts and files litter the table. All eyes are on the central computer, where discussions with Emirati partners have just ended. From this white-walled meeting room in the center of Warsaw, Jacek Kühnl-Kinel works with his team on his project for individual electric lifts for off-piste skiers.

This is not the Polish entrepreneur's first attempt. Its first invention, the retractable anti-car ram gate in the ground, saw the light of day in 2020. A project mainly supported by the three million zlotys (860,000 euros) of European funds from which it benefited. “Without this funding from Europe, we would never have succeeded, because they provide 60 to 80% of the research and development costs that we carry out. However, the principle of research is that we have no guarantee that it will be successful,” explains the business manager. Its portal is now marketed throughout the world and it should even protect access to the future Mairie de Vitry metro station, on line 15 of the Paris metro.

This first encouraging success pushed Jacek to launch four new projects and as many new start-ups. His applications to the Polish National Center for Research and Development, responsible for allocating European funds, have always been favorably received. He learned a few days ago that his latest project had also convinced the experts. “You can never know in advance, because the competition is very strong. This time, only 8% of projects were granted funds,” insists Jacek, relieved.

Since its establishment in 2007, the Polish National Center for Research and Development has financed more than 8,000 projects like Jacek's with European funds. A total of ten billion euros invested to stimulate the national economy, which helped raise Poland to the rank of sixth European economic power, just 35 years after its exit from communism.

Its entry into the Union also helped improve the country's image. When Jacek began marketing his products internationally, he felt driven by the European brand image: “It was because we benefited from EU funds and certification, that we can now sell our gates in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and wherever the CE mark is synonymous with quality and high technology.”

But entrepreneurs are not the only ones to have moved into another era since Poland's accession to the European Union. Over the years, the country has become the first recipient of European aid in proportion to its own contribution to the Union budget. Enough to invest in public infrastructure and improve the quality of life of all Poles.

Sitting opposite Jacek, his collaborator Adam witnessed the transition between the post-communist era of the 90s and the country's entry into Europe. “Anyone who has not lived in the Poland of 20 years ago cannot imagine that so many changes could have taken place in just two decades. Without European funds, Poland would still be underdeveloped. Whereas today, his face is profoundly European,” he boasts.

He mainly welcomes the Union's massive investments in transport infrastructure. Because although the country has always had a well-equipped railway network, the rolling stock inherited from the communist period was aging and of poor quality. Since 2011, the national railway company PKP has benefited from 733,000 euros from Europe to renew its fleet and speed up journeys with express lines. In stations and on trains, panels juxtaposing the blue star-spangled flag and the national red and white standard remind us of the weight of European funding in Poland.

Signs that can also be found on the doors of the building in which Jacek and his team meet to take stock. “It’s also a start-up incubator funded by the Union,” he emphasizes.

At the other end of the table, Rafał, the company's construction engineer, was only eight years old when his country joined the EU. Going back into his childhood memories, it seems to him that the strongest impact of Europe on the country concerned road infrastructure. Even today, the country is crossed by a motorway network 10 times less extensive than in France, but which at least connects the country to its neighbors. “I remember when I was traveling with my parents, we had to wait for hours at border controls,” smiles the young man used to crisscrossing the continent by car. The roads were difficult, whereas now we have brand new highways, the difference is enormous. No matter where I am, I feel at home everywhere.”

“When our parents tell us what it was like in their time, it sometimes seems absurd given our current standards,” adds Piotr, his programming engineer colleague, also 28 years old. In the countryside, like the one where I grew up, everything has improved. People had more opportunities to improve their overall quality of life.”

The average Polish salary has in fact multiplied 3.5 times since the country joined the Union. “The next step would be the transition to the euro,” hopes Rafał. The single currency would not only encourage their stays in neighboring countries, but also the international partnerships of their multiple start-ups. However, the zloty does not prevent foreign investments: they generate 30 to 40% of the country's GDP. And according to IMF estimates, the purchasing power of Poles should exceed that of Spain within 3 years. A great revenge for Warsaw.

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