Make or break for Poland as EU cash floods in

Sun Sep 29, 2013 8:36am EDT
 
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By Marcin Goettig and Christian Lowe

WARSAW (Reuters) - Elzbieta Bienkowska, a 49-year-old mother with a tattoo on her arm and back, has more money to invest than any other Polish minister in history.

As minister for regional development, she is responsible for allocating 73 billion euros ($99 billion) of European Union money over the next seven years with the aim of closing the gap between ex-communist Poland and western Europe.

But with wealth comes responsibility. This will be the last time Poland will get such a huge amount of EU development funding, and if it does not use the opportunity to re-make its economy, it will have blown a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

And it is not as easy as it may sound. Poland needs to go from being a low-cost economy to one based on knowledge and technology - a complicated task that cannot be achieved just by throwing money at it.

Bienkowska, unfazed by the responsibility, has a plan.

"What is very important, maybe it is a kind of dream and it may sound funny, is to build a Polish Nokia," she said in an interview.

The Finnish Nokia NOK1V.HE, which started as a rubber company, became a dominant global player on the mobile phone market over 2000-2010, creating wealth and high-value added jobs for the sparsely populated Scandinavian country.

Nokia sales have since collapsed, ravaged by nimbler rivals such as Apple AAPL.O, but Bienkowska believes that Polish companies should follow the example set by Nokia in its growth years and work with scientists to develop new products.   Continued...

 
A general view of Warsaw city center and the Palace of Culture (R) is seen through the window of a hotel in Warsaw September 24, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel