An entrepreneurial state is one that is law-abiding, free and open. Not one that makes its presence felt in every sphere of life. Ignorance, archaic worldview conservatism, combined with years of legislative neglect by Polish politicians in the economy have made us an unpredictable business partner.
Nevertheless, the upcoming elections are about more than just the economy – writes Jerzy Czubak, a Polish entrepreneur who has lived in Switzerland for more than 20 years.
There Is No Freedom Without Economic Freedom
I put forward the thesis that it is largely thanks to entrepreneurs that Poland is where it is today. The regaining of freedom, the restoration of democracy and the beginning of the political transition were huge successes for the whole society and gave a justified sense of pride in being Polish. An even greater achievement that deserves higher recognition than it gets was the difficult but necessary process of transforming a socialist economy into a free market economy based on the rule of law.
It was not economic reforms alone, but the restitution of entrepreneurship among Poles and the influx of capital from abroad in at least equal measure that made it possible to strengthen democracy in our country. Therefore, the skillful finding of the post-transition period and the exceptional work ethic of numerous entrepreneurs are the real “success story” of the Polish economy.
However, I am disappointed to note that despite the right direction of economic policy in the early years of the transition period, there was a lack of a responsible and bold political vision to set Poland on the path of truly rapid economic development. Politicians ceased to create good conditions for the development of companies, instead benefiting from the image of entrepreneurship of Poles and the positive influence of foreign capital.
In addition, they focused on erecting monuments to the past, concentrating the essence of political disputes around this. That’s why I am missing the conversation about how to build a modern state – the kind I know from everyday life in Switzerland.
The Swiss Promised Land vs. Poland
I have lived in Switzerland, where my professional life has brought me, for more than 20 years. It is, needless to say, one of the most expensive countries in the world to live in. This means that the decision to move the company’s global headquarters there was not an obvious one.
Representing a company from Australia, I remember well the difficult search for a location for the new headquarters. At the time, a well-known consulting firm helped us make the decision. London, Frankfurt and Paris were among the suggestions from our side. Meanwhile, the consultants suggested a different solution, convincing us that Switzerland was the best place to run the company. What was their argumentation?
As it turned out, it was not about taxes. The level of taxation can change, which is what is happening. What matters for business is something else – a sense of security and a clear path forward for the economy. That is why Switzerland’s greatest business asset is the stability of the political system and the applicable laws. A person knows what to expect from the legislature and realizes their personal freedom as the right to do what does not violate the freedom of another person. At the same time, a business that expects unchanging rules of operation and, when investing, plans for the next not 2, not 5, but 20 years, knows very well what to expect and conducts its business within the limits of a friendly and stable legal system.
In addition, Switzerland is a place where the best specialists in the world want to migrate. I understand this factor’s importance today and I have a great resentment towards those in power in Poland. Their rhetoric creates a pernicious story that, as Poles, we do not like foreigners, we do not like diversity, thus we do not like people with different skin colors, religion, faith or sexual orientation.
And yet, I am convinced that this is untrue. Poles are different from their government. Switzerland’s rulers have never allowed such an opinion to be created about themselves, and as a result, they attract the best. In addition to legal stability, we chose Zurich for its level of security, quality education, high level of tolerance and respect for multiculturalism.
Hence, what I find lacking in Poland is an inclusive culture, which, although it seems to be the domain of interpersonal relations, has a huge impact on business and, consequently, economic development. It is with sadness that I observe the opposite of this attitude in Polish politics, which can be perversely called a tribal culture, that is, one that excludes and sets social groups against each other. I observe this with pain not only as an entrepreneur, but above all as a person who identifies with Poland and I invariably wish for my children to live in a modern, tolerant society. And this can be done.
Switzerland has been developing by consensus for 750 years, although this seemed impossible. The country, which was founded as a merger of independent cantons and still functions today on the basis of self-governing regions, and whose citizens speak four languages, has created a unified culture of inclusiveness, that is, of simply feeling good together. In this political, but also social arrangement, consensus is the only way to cooperate. Such a state culture is not enacted by law – it is enough for it to be respected. This is a task for all future governments in Poland.
As a result, Switzerland has become a second home not only to me, but, above all, to international companies not at all because of the wealth of the state, but because of the creation of a good economic climate that is friendly to business development, and from which its wealth results.
Capital Has No Nationality
I mentioned at the beginning that for economic development and the building of a strong democracy we need more respect for the entrepreneurship of Poles as well as capital from abroad. But is it right to classify capital into “own” and “foreign”?
I believe that such terminology is a relic. The current rulers may try to distort reality, but we do not have enough capital in Poland, the inflow of which Polish companies already need, and to an even greater extent than before. They will suffocate if they do not export, import and cooperate. For this reason, they need to be able to establish lasting relationships with foreign companies, and, in turn, these companies should feel absolutely certain that they can count on the creation of conditions for development based on stable laws.
Politicians should finally understand that an internationalized economy is the key to development. European countries are competing to attract capital and good companies to each other, and every investor requires trust, legal stability and openness from the state. Legal disputes with the European Union, homophobic statements by leading politicians, or scandalous “anti-LGBT+” resolutions that have resounded around the world are all gross violations not only for society, but also for the economy.
According to the rule of law index compiled by the U.S.-based World Justice Project, Poland ranked 26th out of 31 European countries surveyed in 2022. When it comes to the level of equality for LGBT+ people, as measured by ILGA-Europe’s annual ranking, we are closer to Russia than Western Europe – we rank last among European Union countries. In the case of the index of economic freedom, the Fraser Institute ranks Poland 80th in the world, the second worst position in the EU after Greece. These examples do not create a good climate for investment in our country.
So if Poland continues to be governed by narrow-minded people it will undeniably limit our economic opportunities. We cannot afford this, which is also why the upcoming elections are so important.
Entrepreneurs vs. Politics. We Also Bear Responsibility
Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming parliamentary elections, it is important to remember that it is not politicians or any government that creates wealth, because, to quote Margaret Thatcher, after all, the government has no money of its own. And the money it has from our taxes should be invested not in the myriad of unnecessary institutes, foundations and new state-owned companies engaged in, among other things, providing hotel services, but should be allocated to building an innovative economy.
It is entrepreneurs, both Polish and foreign, who are capable of pulling our country to greater success, but for that they need a good economic climate. And this, as I try to prove in this text, does not just mean simpler regulations. Some political forces, preaching the otherwise correct idea of low and simple taxes like a mantra, but at the same time emphasizing the exclusion of certain social groups, are not the right choice for our economic development.
Not long ago, Arkadiusz Mus, a prominent Polish entrepreneur and founder of the internationally recognized Press Glass company, spoke publicly, addressing a proclamation to “fellow entrepreneurs.”
In it he pronounced: “Entrepreneur, do not be passive. There are many ways to get involved today on the right side. Think about the future of Poland, where you would like to further develop your business projects, invest, and create jobs, and what kind of Poland you, your children or grandchildren will live well in. Another four years with the same politicians in power is not a good vision of the future. I encourage everyone to mobilize fully.”
I agree with my fellow entrepreneur, also in the opinion that entrepreneurs, like all citizens, can get involved in politics. We can support a change in the direction of economic policy, and this means building mutual trust between the state and those doing business, including those from abroad – trust in stable laws and the openness of those in power to international cooperation – not only political, but also business.
With conviction, then, I join Arkadiusz Mus’ appeal. Let’s get involved, but not for the sake of settling our own interests, but looking more broadly, for the long-term development of Poland – the country where we build our businesses. Because Poland can be inclusive and better for everyone. This is what we must fight for.
This article was originally published in Polish in Rzeczpospolita
Written by Jerzy Czubak – an international manager with many years of experience. For years he has held management positions at Amcor, the world’s largest packaging manufacturer, listed on the New York Stock Exchange. He has been associated with Łódź all his adult life and lives in Zurich. Member of the Atlas Network’s Advisory Council.