Poland’s leading annual economic summit, sometimes nicknamed the “Polish Davos”, is drawing to a close. This year’s event – which brings together business and political leaders from Poland and elsewhere in the region – saw:
- The location moved, due to the pandemic, from its usual home in Krynica-Zdrój to Karpacz, another mountain resort. Organisers have hinted that the conference’s future location is currently up for discussion.
- A visit by Belarusian opposition figurehead Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who spoke on a panel and received a special award from Poland’s foreign minister.
- The forum’s Person of the Year award going to Daniel Obajtek, who heads Poland’s biggest oil refiner, state-controlled PKN Orlen, and is currently overseeing a series of acquisitions which will consolidate Polish energy firms.
- Orlen announcing its target of achieving net carbon neutrality by 2050, the first petrol producer in CEE to do so.
- The forum’s Company of the Year award going to another state-owned energy firm, PGNiG, which Orlen is planning to take over.
Krynica to Karpacz
This year the forum was forced to move from its usual spot in the spa town of Krynica-Zdrój in the southern Beskid Mountains. The district that it is part of was classified as a coronavirus “red zone” by the government, thus meaning that large events could not be organised in the area.
Instead, it took place in the ski resort town of Karpacz in the southwestern Karkonosze Mountains. And some reports suggest that the move may be made permanent.
“The return of the Economic Forum to Krynica is by no means a foregone conclusion,” said Zygmunt Berdychowski, the event’s founder, quoted by Gazeta Wyborcza.
He noted that this year the agreement between his Eastern Institute (IW), which organises the forum, and the local authorities in Krynica lapses. Berdychowski is using the opportunity to push for better conference infrastructure in Krynica.
During the previous extension of the agreement between the organisers and local authorities, Berdychowski had also called for the regional authorities in Krynica to subsidise the conference with 1.5 million zloty (€0.3 million) each year, reports Gazeta Wyborcza.
At the time, the seaside city of Sopot, which already hosts the annual European Financial Congress (EKF), made a counter-offer, which reportedly is also on the table this time round.
As a special guest at this year’s event, the international figurehead of the Belarusian opposition, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, attended the conference to speak on a panel entitled “Between Europe and Russia: the future of Belarus”.
Tsikhanouskaya, who contested August’s presidential election in Belarus that has led to weeks of protests and unrest, also received a Special Award, delivered by Poland’s new foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau.
Please accept this award as an expression of great sympathy and authentic friendship, and above all, as an expression of great respect of the Poles for the Belarusian nation.
— Ministry of Foreign Affairs 🇵🇱 (@PolandMFA) September 9, 2020
During the discussion, Rau commended the Belarusian protests as a “struggle of society for the most fundamental European values: for human rights, including the right to assembly; for democracy – the ability to elect its own representative; and for the rule of law – for the elections not to be rigged.”
He added that the protests “captivate Poles” and “inspire us to provide all kinds of help”. During an earlier meeting with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Tsikhanouskaya had said that she hopes for “moral and financial” backing from Poland.
Morawiecki handed Tsikhanouskaya the keys to a building in Warsaw that, a government source says, can act as a headquarters for the Belarusian opposition. He also declared that the protesters have “the support of the EU and all political forces in Poland”.
Poland’s government also yesterday launched a programme, called “Poland: Business Harbour”, that will help Belarusian individuals and firms in the IT sector relocate to the “democratic, free-market economic haven” of Poland.
The main awards
The annual Company of the Year title was given to PGNiG, Poland’s largest oil and gas company, which is currently led by former finance minister Jerzy Kwieciński. The decision continues a run of state-controlled firms winning the award every year since 2015, when mobile operator Play was the last private victor.
Earlier this year, PGNiG won 6 billion zloty (€1.31 billion) in an arbitration case against Russia’s Gazprom, due to the latter overcharging the Polish firm for gas.
Meanwhile, the Person of the Year award was handed to Daniel Obajtek, who has been CEO of Poland’s biggest refiner, PKN Orlen, since 2018.
The award is traditionally given to political figures, with recent winners including Morawiecki and Beata Szydło, his predecessor as prime minister, as well as ruling party chairman Jarosław Kaczyński and Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán. The last non-political figure to win the award was Pope John Paul II in 2001.
In July, Orlen signed a letter of intent to begin a takeover of PGNiG. Orlen was already preparing to acquire a smaller rival, Lotos Group, for which it received the European Commission’s conditional approval in July.
Obajtek says that the aim is to create a “global multienergy syndicate in Poland”. The combined value of Orlen, PGNiG and Energa and Lotos would reach 70 billion zloty (€15.7 billion).
The government has hailed the mergers as a “great step towards the consolidation of Polish energy firms”, which would let them “develop faster and compete on the global market.”
Orlen turns a new leaf
Obajtek used the economic forum to announce that Orlen plans on achieving climate neutrality by 2050. It is the first petrol producer in Central and Eastern Europe to make such a pledge, according to business website Money.pl.
“The global energy transformation that is taking place before our eyes is a huge development opportunity for Central Europe,” said Obajtek, quoted by Reuters. “As the largest company in the region, we want to increase our involvement in this process and we are well positioned to do it.”
During the next decade, the refiner plans on reducing carbon emissions by a fifth from refining and petrochemical assets, and by a third in power generation.
It has also pledged to invest 25 billion zloty in around 60 green projects over the next decade, with the goal of reducing emissions.
Poland’s government itself has, however, so far refused to commit the country as a whole to the EU’s target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. It is the only member state not do have done so.
Main image credit: Tomasz Pietrzyk / Agencja Gazeta