Poland’s investment priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic in the light of digitalisation and the fight against climate change were the main theme of today’s expert conference attended by Jarosław Gowin, Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Development, Labour and Technology, and EIB Vice-President Teresa Czerwińska, as well as leading business figures, representatives of financial institutions and entrepreneurs.

Presented at the conference were the results of the fifth EIB Investment Survey for Poland (available in English at: https://www.eib.org/en/publications/econ-eibis-2020-poland). This annual survey conducted by the EU bank aims to gather qualitative and quantitative information on investment activity, funding requirements and the challenges faced by both small and large companies.

Future of the Polish economy

“Investment is the foundation for the innovativeness and future of the Polish economy. The winners of tomorrow will be those countries that use the difficult time of the pandemic to carry out profound changes and reforms,” said Jarosław Gowin, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Economic Development, Labour and Technology at today’s press conference.

In terms of support for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, it is crucial that policy is geared towards providing investment resources and enhancing operational capacity. It must also ensure access to appropriate know-how, which is especially important in a time of rapid technological change. We must develop instruments that make it easier for companies to expand onto foreign markets, merge with other companies and absorb the latest technologies, particularly in the area of production automation. At the same time, the state must help finance research into new advanced products, facilitate access to financing, build public demand for products and lobby for favourable regulatory solutions at the EU level.

On the other hand, it is mainly big companies that can make technological breakthroughs. They are able to design, implement and produce on a scale that allows them to be globally competitive. Therefore, one of the Polish government’s priorities is our new industrial policy, which is being developed in close dialogue with entrepreneurs and experts. Horizontal measures based on five core themes (digitalisation, a green new deal, security, localisation of production and a modern society) will be supplemented by sectoral measures developed in collaboration with business.

This coexistence of large state enterprises and the private SME sector points to the target model for the Polish economy. It should be based mainly on a network of medium-sized and large private enterprises conducting business globally with effective state support. The network would be complemented by a carefully designed ecosystem for startups in advanced sectors of the economy.

“The crisis caused by the pandemic has shown us how important it is to embark on new digital and green development paths. Investments in new technologies are playing an increasingly important role, so it is pleasing that Polish entrepreneurs, seeing this opportunity, are increasingly willing to implement digital solutions into their businesses – half of Polish companies have already done so,” said EIB Vice-President Teresa Czerwińska. “We have grounds for optimism, but optimism alone is not enough – the pre-COVID economic model has basically run out of steam. For the crisis exit plan to be successful, a strategic approach is needed, one based on a specific investment programme that encompasses the two fundamental pillars of the new economic model: green and digital transformation. This is one of the EIB’s priorities, which is why 40% of the funding it grants to Poland is being allocated to green investment, financing the next step in Poland’s energy transformation. By 2050, the EIB Group plans to mobilise €1 trillion globally to support investment in the low-carbon economy.”

Results of the EIB survey in Poland

A study carried out by the EIB shows that despite the pandemic and concerns about the future, Polish entrepreneurs are not shying away from innovation – 46% have implemented new services, processes and products in the last year (EU average – 42%), and 20% declare that they have introduced innovation on a national or even global scale (EU average – 15%).

The EIB study also focussed on how companies see climate change and the fight against it. Polish entrepreneurs are aware of the problem – 60% of them recognise that climate change affects their business (EU average – 58%) and are investing or plan to invest in activities to reduce the impact of adverse weather events and carbon emissions. However, they are doing so to a lesser extent than in the EU as a whole (60% in Poland compared with 67% across the EU). In terms of increasing energy efficiency, Polish entrepreneurs are also lagging behind. Only 39% of them declared that they were investing in this type of activity compared with 47% in the EU as a whole.

“As in the European Union overall, investment in Poland has been hit by the COVID-19 crisis and the outlook remains uncertain. Yet the sense of urgency for strategic investments is now greater”, says EIB Chief Economist Debora Revoltella. “According to our survey among European firms, digitalisation is a key response to COVID-19. Interestingly, although Europe lags behind the US in digitalisation, it is leading at the intersection of green and digital, making the case for investment in both climate action and digitalisation even more compelling. In this respect, Poland looks well placed. Though the short-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis may be a cause for concern, the investment outlook of firms is less pessimistic than the EU average. This shows a willingness to react in order to catalyse investment, create the jobs of the future and become more competitive.”

Discussion panel

The conference also included a panel discussion on the needs of entrepreneurs in terms of government support for investment at home and abroad. The following people took part: Mikołaj Budzanowski, Member of the Management Board of Boryszew S.A., Piotr Garstecki, President of the Management Board of Scope Fluidics, Paweł Przewięźlikowski, President of the Management Board of Ryvu Therapeutics, Edyta Stanek, Vice-President of the Management Board of ML System, and Paweł Wieczyński, President of the Management Board of DataWalk S.A. The discussion was moderated by Marek Dietl, President of the Management Board of the Warsaw Stock Exchange.

“Polish entrepreneurs, supported by the government, have saved Poland from a deep recession. Particularly impressive has been our ability to conquer foreign markets and the rapid return of industrial production to its pre-pandemic growth path. As we exit from the pandemic, we should work to create even more favourable conditions for investment. Our position on the economic map of the post-COVID world will depend on the level of investment over the next three years,” noted Marek Dietl, President of the WSE Management Board.