France Backs Poland Demanding Russia Removes Ban on Polish Agriculture Products

rance is siding with Poland on complaints the European Commission has not done enough to help break Russia’s food trade ban, as Finnish PM Matti Vanhanen attempts to salvage next week’s EU-Russia summit. Independent internet publication EUobserver.com quoted an unnamed French diplomat as saying: “We have supported Poland on the issue of the [food trade] embargo. We repeated on Wednesday (Nov. 15) that it falls fully within the commission’s competence — it’s not a bilateral issue.”

“It’s not for Russia to decide what the European Commission’s competence is in our own interior architecture,” he added, with Poland saying Brussels “overslept” on the food trade question, passing it from department to department over the past year.

Last November Russia has imposed a blockade on Polish exports of meat and vegetables, with Poland now saying it will block next week’s EU-Russia negotiations on a new post-2007 treaty unless the EU gets tough on Russian trade and energy policy.

In April EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson privately promised the Polish ambassador in Brussels he would intervene, but washed his hands of the issue in June saying it was a “bilateral matter” and passing it back to colleagues in the commission’s health department.

“The Russians did not want the commission involved in the negotiations. We were proactive, we did our best, but the Russians just didn’t want us,” an official from Mandelson’s team said.

Another commission official added: “There is sympathy for Poland. It’s pretty clear that if a third country imposes a trade ban on an EU member state for political reasons — as in this case — then the commission has to act. But they didn’t want to upset the Russians.”

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Poland faces labor shortage as workers go west

A Polish nurse is running for Parliament in Iceland. A British labor union is establishing a special section for Polish immigrants. The Catholic Church in Ireland is going through a revival as Poles flock to Sunday services.

New Polish-language newspapers are flourishing in Britain and Belgium, France and Sweden, Ireland and Germany, catering to Polish craftsmen, engineers, teachers, nurses, plumbers, architects, maids and drivers. These newspapers are the lifeblood for newcomers seeking to find cheap housing, ferret out Polish food shops, and meet teachers to learn their new language.

This is the "second" Poland, a diaspora of 800,000 Poles estimated by officials here to have left the country since it joined the European Union in May 2004. The exodus is believed to be one of the single biggest migrations by Europeans since the 1950s, when a wave of Irish crossed the Atlantic to escape poverty.

But in Poland, this incredible movement of people has created a labor shortage so severe that Warsaw may not be able to spend the money that is due to begin arriving from the European Union for projects like improving roads and the water supply. The reason? A lack of manpower.
"The money is there but so is the problem," said Bartlomiej Sosna, a construction analyst at the consultant group PMR in Krakow. "Now that we are in the EU, we have a fantastic opportunity to improve our infrastructure because we are due to receive billions of euros starting in 2007. But how?"

The Polish Transport Ministry, for example, has already allocated €30 billion, or $38 billion, to be spent from 2007 to 2013 on a road and motorway construction program, some of it financed by EU funds, which will start flowing in January.

"We do not have enough workers to build the roads," Sosna said. "If we don't take up the EU funds over a certain period of time, we will have to return them to Brussels. Do you know what this means? There will be a delay in the modernization of our country. And that would have negative repercussions for investment."

Given the unemployment rate in Poland of 15.2 percent, one of the highest in the EU, it is puzzling why there is a labor shortage in the first place. But as hard as employers advertise, they cannot find enough workers in the construction, engineering and medical fields.

"In some cases, the construction industry cannot offer tenders because they have not yet found enough workers," said Marcin Kulinicz, an immigration expert at the Labor Ministry. "But consider these statistics: Last summer, 61,700 bricklayers were registered as unemployed," he said, out of 100,000 construction workers on the jobless list. "So on the one hand, the industry says it does not have workers. On the other hand, 100,000 say they have qualifications as construction workers."

Clearly, the Labor Ministry says, many of the construction workers have quit Poland to work abroad, lured by higher wages - yet they register as unemployed back home in order to remain in the state health insurance system and receive other benefits.

President Lech Kaczynski bemoaned this fact, and the costs to Warsaw, during his recent state visit Britain. He criticized Poles for drawing unemployment benefits back home while enjoying good wages outside their country.

To be sure, there is genuine unemployment in Poland, especially in eastern areas suffering from a depressed economy. But in much of the country, the economy is booming.

With the economy expected to grow by 5 percent this year, according to the Economics Ministry, and the baby- boom generation of the early 1980s now in the labor market, there should be ample work, and workers to do the jobs.

But Krystyna Iglicka, a migration expert and sociologist at the Center for International Relations in Warsaw, says Poland's education system failed during the 1990s to train enough skilled workers, including engineers and craftsmen.

"The trendy professions were marketing and services, not focusing on vocational or technical skills," Iglicka said. "Vocational and technical schools were closed, teachers were made redundant. We are now paying the price. There is a shortage of skilled people in their twenties."

So critical is the shortage of welders and shipbuilders for Poland's shipping industry that Poland and Germany are close to an accord to allow skilled ship workers from northern German ports who are unemployed to go across to Poland to work.
The government is also granting work permits to skilled and unskilled laborers from its eastern neighbors in the hope of wooing Ukrainians and Belarussians to Poland, where wages are two or three times higher than at home.

German companies here are adopting the same course. Hochtief, a large German construction company that has offices in Poland, says that hiring workers from Ukraine and Belarus "is one of the solutions we are pursuing."

Last year, however, only 2,697 Ukrainians and 610 Belarussians took up the offer of work permits, although the Polish authorities issued a total of 10,304 such permits to foreigners.

Migration experts say the low number is hardly surprising. Iglicka, for one, called the work permit system a "fiasco."
"Polish labor costs are too high," he said, "so Ukrainians prefer to go south to Spain and Portugal. Employers here say it is now not worth their while to hire on the official labor market. Some resort to the black economy to employ Ukrainians, or Poles for that matter."

The labor shortage is exacerbated by status issues. A booming economy has created a new middle class that is seeking domestic help. But many Polish women would rather work abroad than serve other Poles.

"Some jobs are not being taken up by Poles because they are not considered decent," Iglicka said. "It's almost a shame to do these jobs. Maybe it has something to do with the past, under communism, when there were no servants, we were all deemed equal, and the working class was supposed to be the leading class.

"Now people have money to hire domestic staff. But Polish women do not want to serve as maids. They would rather be a maid outside Poland, and let Ukrainian and Belarussian women come across to do those jobs."

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Want low-cost skiing? Try Poland

A staple complaint amongst skiers and snowboarders is that good resorts, such as the ones in France and Switzerland, have become inordinately expensive and crowded.

While eastern Europe might not immediately spring to mind as a skiing mecca, for those sick of the glitzy, expensive and almost always crammed full resorts of western Europe, it may be worth a try.

And the Zakopane resort in Poland is one of the jewels in the crown of eastern European skiing.

Nestled in a mid-mountain valley in the southern part of the picturesque Podhale region, Zakopane has the highest altitude of any town in Poland and features breathtaking views of the Tatras peaks.

Both novices and experts are made to feel welcome at Zakopane, which also offers cross-country skiing.

Though the town of Zakopane only has about 28,000 inhabitants, as its beauty and wonderful skiing are becoming more widely known, it is starting to attract increasing crowds of skiers from all over Europe.

As well as skiing, the resort offers a selection of museums and fine dining opportunities.

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Poland pushes investment

POLAND has offered preferential policies to attract Chinese investors to the eastern European nation's comparatively low labor costs and its proximity to huge Western consumer markets.

Companies that invest in Poland will enjoy corporate tax reductions, subsidies in employee training and government support in land purchases, Andrzej Kaczmarek, an undersecretary in Poland's economic ministry, told an economic forum in Shanghai yesterday.

"Poland's sound political and economic relationships with China have set the stage for future cooperation," Kaczmarek said. "We encourage Chinese firms to invest in Poland and hope the Chinese government will also support the moves."

About a dozen Chinese enterprises, including electronic products maker TCL Corp, have set up facilities in Poland, but the combined investment remains small, according to Jonathan Goo, director of the international cooperation department at the Shanghai Small Enterprises Trade Development Service Center.

The state-backed agency, which is in charge of helping Shanghai-based firms invest overseas, may organize a tour to Poland next year for local enterprises that have an interest in shifting manufacturing abroad, Goo said.

"The previous investment in Poland by Chinese firms was only several million US dollars per deal, which was not impressive," Goo said. "We hope bigger exporters can land in Poland."

Poland's labor costs, the lowest among all European Union nations, are similar to those in China's Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. The European country's 14 economic zones and 26 industrial parks have separate preferential measures for foreign investors apart from those at the state level.

"I believe Poland's low labor costs, abundant natural resources and rich talent base will bolster its attractiveness to Chinese investors," Goo said. "My department has already gained a good response from some Shanghai firms and is working with them to enter Poland."

China accounted for 4.8 percent, or 1.18 billion euros (US$1.51 billion), of Poland's imports in the first six months of the year, according to Kaczmarek. Poland exported 211 million euros worth of goods and services to China during the period, or 0.6 percent of its total exports.
Source:By Leo Zhang, shanghaidaily.com

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MGM Looking to Expand in Poland

What is "roar" in Polish?

Click here!
MGM's lion is on the prowl in the former communist country, teaming with Poland's ITI Neovision Group to launch an MGM-branded channel.

The channel launches in December on direct-to-home satellite platform called, simply, n. The channel will be available in standard and high-definition. ITI and MGM bill it as the first HD channel in the country.

Before the Soviet sphere was deflated, American TV was cited as one of the powerful propaganda tools by showing, when it could be smuggled in, how much better things were over here. But if the lineup of named library product slated for the channel is any indication, Poland will be getting a rather dark--if skillfully etched--picture of the U.S. It includes Raging Bull, Midnight Cowboy, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Coming Home, Network, and The Manchurian Candidate. And there will also be fare from Woody Allen.

MGM has branded channels in almost 120 countries, according to the company.

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Finnish PM to visit Poland in effort to resolve deadlock over EU-Russian talks

Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen will fly to Warsaw this week to try to salvage talks on a political and economic cooperation agreement with Russia, which the Polish government is trying to veto.

Vanhanen, who holds the EU's rotating presidency, will meet his Polish counterpart Jaroslaw Kaczynski on Friday, a week before an EU summit with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

EU officials had hoped the Nov. 24 meeting with Putin would lead to the launch of negotiations to cement closer ties with Russia on issues ranging from energy to human rights.

However the Polish government has said it will veto the start of negotiations unless Russia lifts a ban it imposed on meat and some other farm products from Poland last year. Warsaw also wants Russia to give stronger guarantees on energy supplies.
Polish officials estimate that the Russian ban affects 11 percent of Warsaw's exports to Russia and is costing Poland €400 million (US$512 million) a year in lost sales.

The new EU-Russia partnership accord is to replace a 1997 agreement that remains in effect until a new one is signed.

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EU warns Poland of 2007 budget deficit

Poland is not taking sufficient actions to bring its budget deficit below the European Union(EU) limits next year, warned the European Commission on Tuesday.

According to the draft budget of Poland for 2007, the deficit is expected to reach 3.7 percent, taking into account the costs of pension reform, but the European Commission forecast that it might turn out slightly higher, standing at 4 percent of the Polish gross domestic product (GDP). Either figure is above the 3-percent limit set by EU rules.

The European Commission said in its recommendation to the EU Council that Poland should make more ambitious efforts to consolidate its public finances given its strong economic growth at the moment.

"This is in the interests of the Polish economy and people, irrespective of the target date that is set for the adoption of the euro," said Joaquin Almunia, European commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs.

Poland recently reported a deficit of 2.5 percent of the GDP in 2005 and expects a deficit of 2.1 percent this year. The draft budget for 2007 set the deficit at 1.7 percent.

However, these figures did not take the country's pension reform into accounting, which was allowed under a transitional arrangement. As the agreement is set to expire on April 1, 2007, under the new accounting which incorporates pension reform costs, the deficit figure would stand at 3.7 percent in 2007.

EU finance ministers are likely to vote on the Commission's recommendation when they meet again on Nov. 28.

Source: english.people.com.cn

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Ukraine, Poland urge faster Odessa-Brody oil pipeline extension

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski have made the extension of the Odessa-Brody oil pipeline to Poland a cooperation priority, the Ukrainian presidential press service said Wednesday.

The pipeline was initially designed to supply Caspian oil to Northern Europe, but has instead been used "in reverse mode" since 2004 to transport Russian oil south to the Mediterranean basin.

"Yushchenko and Kaczynski have set the extension of the Odessa-Brody oil pipeline to Plock as an unconditional priority in cooperation between Ukraine, Poland and the EU, and stressed the necessity of starting the practical implementation of the project soon," the press service said following the meeting.

Ukraine is a major transit route for oil exported to European markets, mainly by Russia. The country wants to improve its position as a transit nation and reduce its energy dependence on Russia.

Ukraine's president said in late October the country is ready to confirm its commitments to guarantee reliable energy deliveries to Europe on an international level.

"The integration of the Ukrainian energy system into the European network is in line with Ukraine's course toward accession to the EU," he said.

Yushchenko said Kiev is poised for talks on oil deliveries to Europe, and is ready to attract such oil-rich Caspian states as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan. He added that financial issues still needed to be coordinated to complete the project.
Source:RIA Novosti, en.rian.ru

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Poland's Prime Minister does not understand how Poland works

When he criticized Poles gainfully employed in the UK for simultaneously drawing unemployment benefits at home, Poland�s Prime Minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, showed that he does not understand how the Polish people read the Polish laws to their benefit and not the way the Polish Government wants them to.

He accused some Poles of being "feckless" for Poles claiming unemployment benefits at home while "doing very nicely" working in the UK.
See: http://www.theherald.co.uk/politics/73938.html

It appears that the Polish Prime Minister does not understand that the Polish people are like people everywhere. They read the laws to their benefit and take anything due them under the law as it is written.

The Polish Government offers benefits and the people oblige the Government by accepting them. That is the way that Poland works.

If the laws give the opportunities that the Government does not intend to be given, then the Government should changes the laws.

The Prime Minister has, however, a habit of blaming everyone else for problems. To him it is the fault of the people for reading the laws and not the fault of poorly written laws that were not fully thought through.

The Polish people should not be underestimated. They not only read the laws. They study the laws.

It might be safely said that the Polish people study the laws better than the Polish legislators who draft them and sign them into effect.

The Polish legislative process is very simple.

Laws are passed but their effects are not fully understood by the originators.

The Polish people use the laws that benefit them.

If they do not like a law, they ignore it.

That is Polish Democracy and the Prime Minister does not seem to understand that is how it works.

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Russia wants end to smuggling, re-exports from Poland - ministry

Russia's Agriculture Ministry demanded Wednesday that Poland stop smuggling and re-exporting banned products to Russia, responding to Warsaw's demands for EU sanctions against Russia over the suspension of Polish food exports.

"Poland has become a hub of re-exports and smuggling of banned and counterfeit goods," minister Alexei Gordeyev said.

Poland, a European Union member since 2004, requested Tuesday the EU impose sanctions against Russia if it fails to lift the embargo on Polish meat and vegetables exports.

Russia banned agricultural imports from Poland last year, citing health risks and counterfeit veterinary certificates. Warsaw called the embargo political.

"Let the Poles ensure at least some order in their country," the minister said. "Polish companies' spirit of 'enterprise' has prompted many questions in here," he said.

On Monday, the former Communist-bloc state vetoed a decision by EU and Russian diplomats to launch talks on a new cooperation accord. Negotiations to replace the Friendship and Cooperation Agreement, which expires in 2007, were due to start at a Russia-EU summit in Helsinki November 24.

Warsaw demanded that Moscow first lift its embargo on Polish food exports and sign an Energy Charter with Europe, which Moscow has refused to do, saying that opening up access to its pipelines for European companies - one of the charter's requirements - runs counter to its interests.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin's aide blasted Poland's attempts to debate bilateral issues in a pan-European context and drag the EU into its disputes with Russia.

"The language of blackmail and ultimatums in our relations is unacceptable," the official said.

Sergei Yastrzhembsky said other EU countries seem willing to negotiate the agreement, adding they could clear the way for talks by the time the summit takes place in Helsinki. But he added that in any event a legal vacuum will not emerge in Russia's relations with Europe, as the existing agreement can be extended.

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Suspected human trafficking gang leader nabbed in Poland

A Pole suspected of leading a gang that sold Poles into virtual slavery on plantations in southern Italy was nabbed by police in Poland Wednesday, a spokesman for Poland's Police Headquarters confirmed. Identified only as Lukasz Z., the man was taken into police custody in Lublin, eastern Poland, along with two female suspects in the human trafficking ring.

In July, a joint operation saw Italian and Polish police free more than a hundred Polish citizens that were being held in Nazi-style labour camps in Italy's Apulia region, close to the cities of Bari and Foggi.

Polish prosecutors investigating the Italian slave labour camps using Polish nationals began questioning victims in the case in mid- October.

Polish justice officials believe that up to 1,000 Poles may have been used as slaves in Nazi-style agricultural labour camps in the Apulia region that forms the heel of Italy's boot.

Warsaw has also urged Rome to help track down dozens of Polish citizens that have gone missing over the past six years after working as slave labourers in southern Italy's tomato fields.

Polish police have published an internet list of more than a hundred missing persons, some of whom could have been murdered by the slave labour gangs.

Justice officials in Poland have already indicted nearly 30 people on human trafficking charges in connection with the case.

Investigators said the Poles were lured to Italy by unscrupulous individuals on the false promise of a decently-paid job.

Once in Apulia, they were forced to work the fields picking tomatoes or artichokes under scorching hot summer temperatures of more than 40 degrees Celsius for up to 15 hours non-stop.

They were paid pitiful wages - often between 15 and 20 euros (20 to 25 dollars) per day. The money was often taken back through extortion.

The Poles were confined to dirty camps with no sanitation or running water. They were given only bread and water to eat and forced to sleep on floors.

Those who tried to rebel were tortured and beaten by armed guards calling themselves "kapo", a term used to describe Nazi concentration camp overseers.

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EU Warns Poland on Budget Deficit

Poland is not doing enough to reduce a budget deficit that will break EU limits next year as it counts the cost of pension reform, the European Commission said Tuesday.

Current budget plans are "not sufficient to correct the excessive deficit in 2007," it warned.

EU economists forecast that Warsaw is on track to report a deficit of 4 percent next year, above the 3 percent limit set by EU budget rules. Poland's draft budget predicts a 3.7 percent deficit.

Poland should use strong economic growth _ averaging at 5.25 percent a year _ to pay off its debt, the EU executive said.

"This is in the interest of the Polish economy and people irrespective of the target date that is set for the adoption the euro," said EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia.

Poland, which joined the EU in May 2004 with a deficit above the EU limit, was asked to bring it down below 3 percent by 2007.

It also received a three-year breathing space when it did not have to include its pension reform in the deficit accounting. That ends on April 1, 2007 when the higher figures will have to be used.

Without the pension reform, Poland reported a 2.5 percent deficit last year and estimated 2.1 percent in 2006. Adding in pension costs gives 4.4 percent in 2005 and 4.2 percent this year.

However, the Commission said that the economy's strong rebound this year is set to remain above EU average growth of 2.4 percent over the next two years and this higher tax revenue should make the government's task to cut the debt next year slightly easier.

"Maintaining a deficit above 3 percent affects the debt levels," and has a negative effect on businesses' ability to fund themselves," it said.

EU finance ministers are likely to vote on the Commission's recommendation when they meet again on Nov. 28.

Polish Finance Minister Zyta Gilowska said last week there were no grounds for the criticism as the deficit "is properly controlled and will remain so."

Separately, Gilowska said Poland aimed to meet the criteria for adopting the euro by 2009 and would call a referendum on the currency in 2010.

Poland committed to switching from zloty to the euro when it joined the European Union in 2004, and the requirement is non-negotiable, but Gilowska said the government wanted to gauge the public opinion on the issue.

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Vietnam's exports to Poland skyrocket

Vietnam's export turnover to Poland reached US$111.7 million in the first nine months of the year, a whopping 114.8 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Ministry of Trade.

Export turnover to Poland in September alone reached $13.65 million, an increase of 67.26 percent over the previous month and 72.26 percent over September of 2005.

Seafood, coffee and footwear exports saw the highest increases, with seafood accounting for over half of all exports to Poland and representing an export value of $6.89 million.

Seafood posted a 287.68 percent one-month increase in September, 386.17 percent over September 2005.

Poland is one of the leading EU markets for Vietnam seafood, according to Vu Van Trieu, head of the International Cooperation Department under the Ministry of Fisheries. He said the ministry plans to increase trade promotion in this market.

Coffee exports, despite low figures in September, increased in the first nine months of the year overall. A turnover of $15 million is twice last year's figure.

Garment exports to Poland showed slower growth in the first nine months with an export turnover of $16 million, a 16.6 percent year-on-year increase.

Trade relations between Vietnam and Poland began to surge in 1993. Bilateral trade value reached nearly $243 million in 2005.

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Exports to Poland surge in 2006

HA NOI — The nation’s export turnover to Poland reached US$111.7 million in the first nine months of the year, a whopping 114.8 per cent increase over the previous year, according to the Ministry of Trade.

Export turnover to Poland in September alone reached $13.65 million, an increase of 67.26 per cent over the previous month and 72.26 per cent over September of 2005.

Seafood, coffee and footwear exports saw the highest increases, with seafood accounting for over half of all exports to Poland and representing an export value of $6.89 million.

Seafood posted a 287.68 per cent one-month increase in September, 386.17 per cent over September 2005.

Poland was one of the leading EU export markets for Viet Nam seafood, said Vu Van Trieu, head of the International Co-operation Department under the Ministry of Fisheries. He said the ministry planned to increase trade promotion in this market.

Coffee exports, despite low figures in September, increased in the first nine months of the year overall. A turnover of $15 million is twice last year’s figure.

Garment exports to Poland showed slower growth in the first nine months with an export turnover of $16 million, a 16.6 per cent year-on-year increase.

Trade relations between Viet Nam and Poland began to surge in 1993. Bilateral trade value reached nearly $243 million in 2005.

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EU partners urge Poland to give up 'No' to EU-Russia deal

Brussels - Poland's European Union partners on Monday urged a change in Warsaw's hard-line opposition to a new trade and co- operation deal with Russia.

Warsaw must consider whether its veto of negotiations on a new EU- Russia deal can be a 'sufficient and final position,' German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters after a meeting with his counterparts in Brussels.

Polish interests 'are not ignored and will not be ignored,' Steinmeier said. However, there was 'still enough to discuss about' with Warsaw, he stressed.

Poland earlier on Monday blocked EU plans for a new cooperation pact with Russia, citing Moscow's failure to ratify an international energy charter liberalizing the oil and gas sector.

Warsaw, which is also angry over a year-long Russian ban on imports of Polish meat and plants, gave no indication of when it would be ready to approve the pact which other EU countries consider vital to upgrading relations with Moscow.

EU external relations chief Benita Ferrero-Waldner told reporters she sympathized with Poland's demands, but said the planned agreement with Russia would include market-opening principles included in the energy charter.

'We all appealed to Poland to lift its blockage,' said Ferrero- Waldner, adding that the commission, the EU's executive agency, would try and give Warsaw reassurances that its demands would be recognized in the new pact.

However, even if negotiations on the new agreement are not launched as expected at an EU-Russia summit in Helsinki on November 24, relations between the two sides will not be damaged, she said.

'There is no danger of a legal vacuum,' in the relationship because the current pact with Moscow could be extended, said Ferrero- Waldner.

Discussions on the pact will continue over the coming weeks. 'We still have some time to go,' said Ferrero-Waldner.

The EU has been trying unsuccessfully to convince Russia to sign the energy charter for several years.

Russian President Vladimir Putin repeated at a meeting with EU leaders in Finland last week that he was not ready to open up the energy sector to full foreign competition.

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First batch of F-16s arrives in Poland

The Polish air force's first batch of four Lockheed Martin F-16C/Ds arrived at Poznan-Krzesiny airbase last week following a testing ferry flight from the USA. The aircraft - three Cs and one D - had to return to the USA from over the Atlantic Ocean on 6 November because of a radar system malfunction in one aircraft. The following day, two of the single-seat fighters experienced problems with their in-flight refuelling systems and had to refuel at Keflavik, Iceland and Royal Air Force Leuchars in Scotland.

The US Air Force says the minor refuelling system malfunctions can be repaired in Poland, but Polish defence ministry F-16 programme director Piotr Lukaszewicz says he is waiting for official information about the cause.

Poland will eventually have three squadrons of F-16s, with the 48-strong fleet to achieve full operational capability in 2012.

Washington has offered to donate to Poland nine ex-USAF Northrop T-38A Talons to support its F-16 training requirements for the next 20 years. Warsaw would be required to cover the cost of upgrading the aircraft to the T-38C standard - potentially $100 million. Poland currently plans to order a new advanced jet trainer by early 2009 to replace its obsolete PZL Mielec TS-11 Iskras.

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Risky climate around Poland euro referendum plans

Poland risks fresh tensions with Brussels over plans to hold a referendum on joining the euro in 2010, with the country's president planning to launch the event personally three years from now.

"In 2010, as it has been announced, the president will hold a referendum [and]...the final decision will be made by the people," finance minister Zyta Gilowska said in Warsaw on Friday (10 November) a few days after president Lech Kaczynski said in London "I am more eurosceptic than my brother [the prime minister]."

The Polish government, including Ms Gilowska, has always been careful to praise the economic benefits of joining the eurozone - a legal obligation under its EU accession treaty - while hammering on the need to protect Polish sovereignty in EU decisions and siding with The League of Polish Families in a government coalition.

Asked if she could promise the president will himself campaign on the 'yes' side in the 2010 poll, Ms Gilowska answered "The only things certain in this life are death and taxes, other categories of life are less so. But in my opinion, I think we can be certain of that."

She nuanced Mr Kaczynski's eurosceptic confession saying "this word 'euroscepticism' should be understood in line with its literal meaning - it means a rational and reasonable attitude. It doesn't mean there is a reluctance to the EU in the background."

But the abstract fiscal benefits of the euro will be hard to sell at popular level without explicit government support, with pro-euro fiscal discipline set to curb welfare spending for Poland's 2 million unemployed and with older Poles still wary of the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank as some kind of instrument of latter-day German imperialism.

"Polish people tend to be unusual" Ms Gilowska explained. "We are more proud [than other EU states] and we are not afraid to argue and ask questions. In a poll published yesterday, 92 percent of Polish people said they are 'patriots'."

Commenting on Poland's referendum plans on Monday, European Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger stopped short of explicitly criticising Poland but said "[Poland's] treaty obligations are clear" adding "the euro is to be introduced when the convergence criteria have been met."

A second EU official told EUobserver that "[EU finance commissioner] Mr Almunia has advised member states that given recent referendums in France and the Netherlands [which rejected the EU constitution] it would be risky to hold a referendum on anything for now."

Investors face uncertainty
Meanwhile, multinational companies are increasingly pushing Poland's foreign investment agency - PAIZ - for guarantees that the country will join the eurozone as soon as possible. PAIZ director Andrzej Kanthak told EUobserver last Thursday that "I do not expect there will be such a referendum" on the euro.

The fresh uncertainty in the Polish investment climate - the government has had five finance ministers since last September and could face early elections before 2010 - comes on the back of anecdotal evidence of shortages of skilled labour due to the post-2004 emigration of up to 1 million Poles.

Polish economy minister Piotr Wozniak said last week that directors from LG Philips - due to open new administrative offices in Poland - complained they only got 600 applicants for the 600 new posts on offer, limiting their ability to choose the best staff.

Hard-working Poles
Poland this year is set to attract some $10 billion of foreign investment with its reputation for cheap, highly educated and hard-working labour among the country's key assets in competing for overseas cash against neighbours Slovakia and the Czech republic.

On top of this, Poland's growing financial deficit - set to hit 3.5 in 2007 - is likely to see the European Commission on Tuesday issue a stern warning to Warsaw for breaking the EU's official 3 percent ceiling, despite Ms Gilowska's assurances to Brussels that the deficit is being reined in.

"It's hard for me to understand why the good news we have sent to the EU is not being accepted," the finance minister stated.

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Counting Poland's votes to local government

An average turnout of 45% is being reported from yesterday's national elections to Poland's local government bodies. Poles were voting for some 47 thousand councillors and more than 8 thousand mayors and city presidents, elected for a 4-year term.

Initial results show that the ruling Law and Justice party performed well in rural districts though lost the race in the majority of the large urban centres. A second round of elections is faced by the Polish capital, Warsaw, where the Law and Justice candidate, ex-prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, failed to gather the required majority over Civic Platform's Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz.

Elected in the first round were among others presidents in Gdańsk - Paweł Bogdan Adamowicz (Civic Platform) and Wrocław – Rafał Dutkiewicz, running with his own committee, who collected more than 80% of votes.

The Polish Electoral Commission has said that the local government elections were "one of the quietest" ballots ever in Poland.

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Europeans unhappy with Poland-CIA ties

European Union lawmakers on Friday accused Poland of failing to cooperate with their investigation into claims the CIA held terrorism suspects at secret prisons in the country.

Members of the European Parliament committee set up to investigate the clandestine jail allegations wrapped up a three-day visit to Poland without turning up new evidence. The lawmakers met with human rights officials, journalists and authorities from the Szczytno-Szymany airport, where alleged CIA flights landed.

But a handful of Polish government officials - including the defense minister, foreign minister, and minister for secret services - declined to meet with the commission, the EU said.

Committee chairman Carlos Coelho criticized what he called "the reluctance of the government to offer full cooperation," adding that Poland had been the least helpful of all countries the delegation had visited. "Without any doubt, there is no other case so bad as Poland regarding cooperation with our committee."

The delegation has already visited Spain, Britain, Macedonia, the United States and Romania.

The committee was also unhappy with the answers it received in Poland. "Many questions we've asked have been met with rather evasive replies," said Claudio Fava, an Italian lawmaker.

However, Coelho said, "there is no new material evidence either to confirm or deny the existence" of the prisons.

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Poland stalls EU-Moscow partnership

Poland on Monday blocked the start of talks on a wide-ranging partnership deal between the European Union and Russia until Moscow commits to opening up its oil and gas pipeline network.

Warsaw’s hard line threatens to scupper an EU-Russia summit this month at which talks over a partnership pact covering trade, energy, investment, human rights and mutual recognition of standards were due to begin.


The issue will be discussed by foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday but officials from the EU’s Finnish presidency said that they were waiting to see if Warsaw would consider a more flexible line.

Piotr Wozniak, Poland’s economy minister, said on Friday that his country was insisting Russia sign the transit protocol of the energy charter treaty, an international agreement signed in 1994 that governs cross-border trade and investment in the sector.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has consistently refused to sign the protocol, which would require Moscow to open its gas pipelines to third parties, or ratify the treaty, which would force him to end the monopoly supply position of Gazprom, the state-controlled gas company.

Mr Wozniak said the negotiations on a new EU-Russia partnership deal, which would update a series of agreements between Brussels and Moscow, were the best opportunity to persuade Mr Putin to change his mind.

“We feel very unsafe in terms of energy supply in Europe,” he told Brussels-based journalists.

After a year when the EU agenda has been largely dominated by difficult energy ties with Russia, which supplies 25 per cent of the bloc’s energy, the spat indicates how disunited member states remain on relations with Moscow.

Poland’s concerns partly reflect their fears that the European Commission and the German presidency of the EU, which starts in 2007, could negotiate a deal with Moscow that runs against Warsaw’s interests.

Suspicion of German motives in Warsaw run deep, notably over the deal between Berlin and Moscow to build a pipeline carrying Russian gas to Germany through the Baltic Sea, bypassing Poland. Mr Wozniak said Germany should “forget it”.

He said there was “no rush” to get a new EU-Russia agreement, pointing out that the existing “partnership and co-operation agreement” could be automatically extended when it expired at the end of the year.

Poland’s opposition to the start of talks with Russia also reflects its anger over Moscow’s ban on Polish meat and vegetable exports. Lithuania is the only other country to express doubts about agreeing the EU negotiating mandate for the Russian talks.

Some EU diplomats have expressed annoyance with Poland’s tough conditions for the start of talks with Russia. “We hope it will be possible for Poland to lift its reservations,” a European Commission spokeswoman said on Friday.

Some argue that although Russia has shown itself unwilling to ratify the energy charter treaty, Mr Putin had suggested he might agree to equivalent measures to those foreseen in the treaty.

Even if foreign ministers fail to break the impasse on Monday, there is still time for the EU to agree a common stance before the summit with Russia next week.

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New local governments for next 4 years in Poland

November 12th is election day to territorial self-government bodies in Poland. More than 30 million registered voters are casting ballots for their local council representatives at more than 25 thousand districts. They shall choose some 47 thousand councilors at village, town and county level as well as over 8 thousand mayors and major city presidents. All are elected for a four year term.
Polling stations have opened at 6 a.m.

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Deutsche Post to move accounting ops to Eastern Europe; save 500 mln eur a year

Deutsche Post AG plans to reorganise its finance and salary bookkeeping operations -- and may include outsourcing some operations to the Czech Republic and Poland -- in a move that is expected to save 500 mln eur a year, the Welt am Sonntag reported, citing Deutsche Post management.

The outsourcing will only affect post workers outside Germany, the newspaper said.

'We will make a decision in the next 12 to 18 months, where our accounting services in Europe are to be located,' Frank Appel, Deutsche Post manager for Global Business Services told the newspaper.

The postal carrier plans to save 500 mln eur a year from the restructuring and outsourcing starting in 2009, the report said.

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Poland keen to expand trade ties

KARACHI: Consul General of Poland in Karachi, Ireneusz Makles has said Poland is keen to expand its trade with Pakistan and prospects of boosting economic ties are very good.

He was expressing his views on the occasion of 88th anniversary of restoration of Poland�s independence on November 11, 1918.

The consul general said trade volume had increased more than 250 per cent since 2003, adding in 2005 trade between the two sides was worth $129.34 million.

Poland exported goods worth $63.74 million while Pakistan�s exports were to the tune of $65.60 million. �We wish to further increase these figures,� Ireneusz Makles remarked.

He informed Poland was keen to expand trade with Pakistan and cooperate in fields like oil and gas, energy, infrastructure, maritime, engineering and food processing as well as development of small and medium enterprises. �There is an interest and the need for establishing joint ventures between Poland and Pakistan.�

He said �Pakistan is a very important partner of Poland in south east Asia and the two countries enjoy deep-rooted relations.�

He said the Poles highly appreciated continuity of economic growth in Pakistan, fast economic development, structural and comprehensive reforms in various sectors, adding �at present Pakistan stands among top four Asian countries.�

All economic indicators pointed to the fact that Pakistan would sustain economic growth of six to eight per cent over the next five to 10 years and as such investors should look to Pakistan as a potential hub of economic activity in the region, he said.

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European lawmakers regret Poland's lack of cooperation in CIA probe

A delegation of members of the European Parliament (EP) ended a three-day visit to Warsaw on Friday expressing regret over the lack of cooperation from Polish authorities with the European Parliament's ongoing investigation into alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the rendition and illegal detention of terrorist suspects.

The head of the EP delegation, Carlos Coelho, thanked the journalists, NGO representatives, intelligence and airport officials who had agreed to meet them, according to an EP statement.

"I regret, however," he said, "the fact that political authorities from the Polish government and Parliament were not as kind: some government members rejected the invitation, others initially accepted to see us and later refused to come."
Speaking to journalists about the outcome of the meetings in Warsaw, Coelho concluded: "I am afraid sometimes we need to remind our European partners that the EU is much more than a common market." "We in the committee will continue working until the end of our mandate to ensure that freedom, democracy and respect for human rights will be preserved on European soil in the future."
It will be up to the EP Committee as a whole and later with the plenary of Parliament to draft the final conclusions and decide which measures to take accordingly, he added.

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Poland considers nuclear power to reduce dependence on Russian energy

Poland is considering using nuclear energy to diversify its energy sources and reduce its dependence on Russian fuel, Economy Minister Piotr Wozniak said Friday.

No concrete proposals on the use of nuclear energy have been tabled, but the issue has gained added significance as Poland, largely dependent on Russian oil and gas, is increasingly concerned about Moscow's reliability as a source, Wozniak said.

"I think in a few years, we will have nuclear power, either from abroad, or generated domestically," he told reporters.

Poland has no nuclear plants, and Wozniak said he would seek public approval for any plans to introduce them.
"We don't want to do this against public opinion. We all remember Chernobyl," he said, referring to the world's worst nuclear accident when a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in neighboring Ukraine exploded and caught fire in April 1986.

Poland has said it may block a new EU-Russia partnership agreement if it does not include a call for Moscow to commit to supplying Russian gas and oil to Europe.

The EU has pushed Russia to ratify a charter, which would set up formal rules for dealing with energy transport and supply issues — to avoid a repetition of Russia's spat with Ukraine last winter that saw Moscow temporarily turn off Europe's gas supply.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Moscow will not ratify the charter in its current form.

Wozniak said Poland insisted particularly on Moscow guaranteeing access to transit routes from countries such as Uzbekistan or Kazakhstan.

"We feel very unsafe in terms of energy supplies," he said.

Poland disagrees with the majority of EU countries on how to deal with Russia's crucial energy supplies. It wants the bloc to take a hard line with Moscow, requiring more access for foreign investors and secure supplies for western European countries. The EU and Russia are due to hold a summit on Nov. 24.

At an October EU summit in Finland, Putin dodged EU demands to ratify the charter that would regulate transit and investment in the energy sector and allow for market competition between foreign and independent companies.

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Take journey to Poland with Rotary Club

Travel and Adventure Series continues Nov. 14

After the successful launch of the 46th Travel and Adventure Series, the Rotary Club of Dundas is now preparing to take participants on a journey to Poland.

Well-known producer and narrator Charles Hartman will whisk the audience away on a fascinating journey from Gniezno, the "cradle of the Polish nation," to Gdansk, the "birthplace of Solidarity."

The trip will begin in the picturesque Sudeten Hills and will carry participants along the windswept Baltic coast beaches to the peaks of the high Tatra Mountains.

Along the way, the audience will visit quaint fishing villages, historic towns and cities, the Elblag-Ostroda Canal with its unique "water-powered slides" and Warsaw, with its beautiful Lazienki Park. Next the audience is off to Krakow to view the splendour of Renaissance Square.

Wawel Castle

This is followed by a walk to Wawel Castle, which lies above the Vistula River. Participants will visit the town of Zalicpie where its local artists have covered the buildings with colourful paintings. The journey will end with a cable-car ride up Kasprowy Mountain.

As part of this special evening, there will be a dance presentation by the Polonez Dance Ensemble. They will perform two of the five national dances of Poland -- the Kujawiak and the Oberek.

Dressed in authentic costumes imported from the Lowicz Region of Poland, it is sure to be a feast for the ears and eyes.

The presentation takes place Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m. at Central Public School auditorium at the corner of Melville and Albert Street in Dundas to learn about the People of Poland. Tickets are $8 per person or $30 for five shows, including this one.

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Poland's Orlen Q3 sales 14.9 bln zloty

he Polish fuel giant PKN Orlen said third-quarter overall sales reached 14.9 bln zloty (3.9 bln eur) driven by improving retail sales, which have continued into the current quarter.

Orlen chief executive Igor Chalupec said: 'The retail sales of fuel generated better results in the third quarter than the chemical unit. In the next quarter it may turn out to be bigger than the petrochemical unit.'

Consolidated net income in the quarter rose to 1.037 mln zloty, 8.2 pct more than in the previous quarter and 4.3 pct ahead of the same period last year.

Orlen said it sold more than 814 mln litres of fuel in the third quarter, 15.7 pct up on last year.

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Lithuanian PM questions Poland's shut down of drug company

Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas questioned Poland's decision to halt production at a Lithuanian-owned pharmaceutical company after an anti-allergy drug was found to contain a potentially deadly substance.

"We are extremely concerned over the situation and are trying to set all things clear via diplomatic channels," Kirkilas was quoted as saying by the Baltic News Service (BNS) agency.

Polish authorities on Thursday ordered a production freeze at the Jelfa drug company, which is based in southwest Poland and is owned by Sanitas, neighbouring Lithuania's largest pharmaceuticals group.

Polish officials acted a day after ordering the immediate withdrawal of Corhydron, a hydrocortisone made by Jelfa which is used to treat allergies and inflammation.

The Polish health ministry decided on the recall following the discovery that packs of what was purportedly Corhydron actually contained suxamethonium chloride, which is normally used to cause muscle paralysis during emergency surgery.

The packs were part of a 6,609-strong consignment produced by Jelfa in 2005, when the company still belonged to the Polish state.

Jelfa has already acknowledged that it was at fault and begun an internal investigation.

Sanitas, which acquired Jelfa for more than 159 million euros earlier this year, is also ready to do its part, said Kirkilas.

"They have admitted their mistake and are ready to offer compensation. However, they ask for the measures taken to be adequate," he said.

"In the opinion of Sanitas' representatives, there actually was no reason to suspend the production at Jelfa's plant," he added.

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ThyssenKrupp Stainless AG expands distribution network: New service center in Poland

ThyssenKrupp Stainless AG is expanding its service offering and developing new markets. As part of this, a new service center was officially inaugurated Nov. 09, 2006) in Poland. ThyssenKrupp Stainless Polska, a subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp Stainless International GmbH, is based in Dabrowa Górnicza (near Katowice) and will mainly serve the Polish market, where demand for stainless steel flat products is growing. Supplies to the Baltic states will also be made from this location.

"The companies of the Stainless group see themselves as dependable partners to their global customers from areas such as the automotive, appliance and electrical sectors. To enable us to serve these customers as locally as possible, we are constantly expanding our distribution network in the form of service centers, sales offices and distribution warehouses. The growing Eastern European stainless market is of increasing importance for us, which is why we have now established a base in Poland," said Jürgen Fechter, Executive Board Chairman of ThyssenKrupp Stainless AG, at the inauguration of the Polish service center. The new facility has been realized in close cooperation with ThyssenKrupp Energostal, a subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp Services. The project will be integrated into the ThyssenKrupp Stainless service center network, which the company is using to grow in existing markets and move into new ones.

ThyssenKrupp Stainless Polska in Dabrowa Górnicza has commenced operations with 35 employees and will process and distribute the entire ThyssenKrupp Stainless product range. It has cut-to-length and slitting lines as well as modern surface grinding/polishing equipment. In addition to business with flat products, ThyssenKrupp Stainless Polska also offers processing services for welded stainless steel tubes. The stainless markets in Central and Eastern Europe are also served by the Hungarian service center ThyssenKrupp Silco Inox, a further subsidiary of ThyssenKrupp Stainless International.

ThyssenKrupp Stainless International (Krefeld) supports the direct sales activities of ThyssenKrupp Nirosta in Germany and ThyssenKrupp Acciai Speciali Terni in Italy. The company has around 450 employees and sells some 850,000 metric tons of material a year, generating revenues of 1.28 billion euros in fiscal 2004/2005. ThyssenKrupp Stainless International currently has service centers in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Poland, Hungary and Turkey as well as a sales company in the Benelux countries and a warehouse with processing facilities in Southern China. The service centers are equipped with cut-to-length and slitting lines and can offer a variety of finishes, such as ground and brushed.

ThyssenKrupp Stainless AG (Duisburg), is the holding company for all the ThyssenKrupp Group's activities in flat-rolled stainless steel and nickel alloys. Its subsidiaries with plants in Germany, Italy, Mexico and China employ a total of 12,200 people. In fiscal year 2004/2005 the company achieved sales of around 5.6 billion euros.

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Poland's unemployment statistics artificially boosted

Polish president Lech Kaczynski criticised compatriots working in the UK for artificially raising Poland's unemployment statistics. Many of the estimated 1 million Poles living in the UK are still registered as unemployed in the home country.
Brief News:

Despite the recent economic boom and growing demand for skilled labour, Poland's unemployment rate poses a main challenge for the country. Yet, the mobility of Polish citizens, living and working particularly in the UK, is not reflected in the country's unemployment statistics scaling down. The current unemployment rate at a level of 15,2% (September 2006), also takes into account Poles who already work abroad but still enjoy unemployed status back in the home country.

Polish president Lech Kaczynski pointed at the problem during the meeting with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair on 7 November. While expressing gratitude for the opening-up of the UK job market for Poles following the 2004 enlargement, he expressed concern that those Poles artificially raise the country's unemployment rate.

He said: "These people are registered as unemployed in Poland, so they are living a fiction and raising unemployment figures in Poland while they are doing very nicely in the UK and their unemployment benefits should rightly be sent to London. This is something we would like to do without."

This 'statistical effect' is followed by financial benefits to which Poles working abroad are officially entitled, due to their unemployed status in Poland. The number of Poles settling in the UK is expected to fall following the country's current economic prosperity and ongoing attempts to prevent the 'brain drain' and an increasing shortage of skilled labour.

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Poland's largest oil refiner and retail PKN Orlen reports solid third-quarter results

Poland's largest oil refiner and retailer PKN Orlen on Thursday reported a rise in third-quarter net profit, buoyed by a strong performance in its petrochemicals and sales divisions.

The company said net profits for the three months ending Sept. 30 totaled 1.03 billion zlotys (US$343 million; €269 million), up from 958 million zlotys (US$319 million; €250 million) in the same period a year earlier.

In a statement, Orlen called them "very good results ... mainly due to excellent retail fuel sales supported by very good and strong results in other segments."

In its combined sales divisions as a whole, retail sales rose 13 percent over last year. Retail sales of diesel rose 23 percent on year, beating most optimistic expectations.
The petrochemical sector generated 211 million zlotys (US$70 million; €55 million), partly due to a 53 percent increase in sales volume.

The strong sales performance offset a 17.3 percent drop in operating earnings at Orlen's refining unit, which was hit by narrower margins.

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Ahold ditches Poland, Slovakia

The Dutch-based Ahold — which runs nearly 300 Albert and Hypernova stores throughout the country — will abandon its stores in Poland and Slovakia in order to focus its efforts on the cramped Czech market.

The move signals the company's effort to make the Czech Republic the cornerstone of its growth in Europe, the company said Nov. 6.

It is also another example of a retail company cutting its losses in countries where it is dropping market share as the Central European retail food market further consolidates.

"It is now time to concentrate all efforts on enforcing our competitive retail positions in the Czech Republic," said Johan Boeijenga, Ahold's director general for Central Europe.

The announcement came as part of a major restructuring at the company, in which it also revealed its intention to back out of the U.S. market and cut operating costs by 500 million euros ($630 million/14.2 billion Kč) by 2009. Ahold wants to sell U.S. Foodservice, which has grocery stores in Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.

Analysts say the market is undergoing consolidation, but Ahold's departure from Poland and Slovakia does not signal internal problems.

"True, the company is leaving some markets, especially in Central Europe, but that's because it had different strategic ideas when entering these markets," says Zdeněk Skála, a retail market analyst with Incoma. "We see high competition on the Czech market, but Ahold holds a top position. I would see its place on the market as very promising."

Analysts say the days of major international grocery chains eating into domestic operators' market share are over, and that companies will now look to holding on to the markets they dominate.

"We shall operate as a major small retail player in markets where we are able to secure the No. 1 or No. 2 position, with a clear perspective on growth and maintainable development," said Ahold Account Manager Marta Vokurková.

Ahold also plans to shift its focus with its existing hypermarkets, the daily Hospodářské noviny reported Nov. 6. The paper said the company could reduce the size of some of its Hypernovas, emphasizing food sales over consumer goods and electronics.

Meanwhile, Ahold launched cash-back service in all of its 297 Albert supermarkets and Hypernova hypermarkets Nov. 7. The service is only available to ČSOB and Poštovní spořitelna clients.

The company was the first to open a supermarket in the Czech Republic, launching Mana in Jihlava, east Bohemia, in June 1991.
Source:By Brandon Swanson, praguepost.com

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Low-cost skiing in Poland's winter capital

If you would like a winter break away from the pricey European resorts, then a skiing holiday in eastern Europe might well be worth trying.

Known as the winter capital of Poland, a trip to the Zakopane resort is gloriously off most western European skiers' radars.

Located in a mid-mountain valley in the southern part of the Podhale region, with views of the 2,500 metre high Tatras peaks, Zakopane is the highest altitude town in Poland.

However, holidaymakers should not expect empty slopes – Zakopane receives two million visitors a year, despite only having 30,000 residents.

One of the reasons for its popularity is that the resort caters for skiers of all abilities, with technical runs for experts and easier slopes for beginners, and cross-country skiing opportunities.

Mount Kasprowy Wierch is one of the most popular runs, which is served by a cable car from Kuznice and a ski lift, with other runs in relatively easy reach.

Another reason for the town's popularity is its unique ambience thanks to unusual buildings, plenty of places to eat and drink and its status as a centre for Poland's mountain-dwelling culture.

As well as winter sports opportunities, the town's museums offer travellers the chance to get a feel for the region's heritage.

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Railway in Poland: PTKiGK Zabrze ends the consolidation process

PTKiGK Zabrze, one of Poland's successful private freight operators, is closing the process of consolidationg its subsidiary companies.
PTKiGK Zabrze is about to take over the Kuźnica Warężyńska Sand Mine.

Soon PTKiGK Zabrze will change the name to PTK Holding (Polish short for Rail Transport Company Holding). It will also change the legal status from Ltd. to JSC. These will be the results of joining with the Kuźnica Warężyńska Sand Mine, company already owned in 100% by PTKiGK Zabrze.

The structures will be more transpartent, costs reduced, operations easier PTKiGK says.

The Holding will also include companies Drokol and Petkol.

In Poland there is also another private rail freight operator by the name PTKiGK - PTKiGK Rybnik.

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Dutch Aegon buys Poland's Ergo Hestia pension fund

Amsterdam- Dutch bancassurance company Aegon said Thursday it was buying Polish pension fund Ergo Hestia as part of its plans to expand in central and eastern Europe. Financial details regarding the transaction, which still needs approval from the financial authorities, were not disclosed.

According to the information from Aegon, Ergo Hestia holds 650 million euros (815 million euros) for 372,796 participants.

Following the purchase, Aegon will manage the pensions of some 1.2 million clients.

Last year Aegon bought the Polish assurance company Nationwide Poland.

Thursday's announcement came as Aegon announced third-quarter net profits of 679 million euros, 10 per cent more than a year earlier and well above analysts' expectations.

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Poland welcomes first F-16s in shift from Soviet-equipped to force tied to West

Poland formally welcomed the first F-16 fighter jets into its air force Thursday, a key step in the transition of the ex-communist country's creaky Soviet-equipped military to an advanced force integrated with the West.

An air force brass band played as two of the American-made jets touched down at the Poznan-Krzesiny air base in the west of the country during a ceremony attended by President Lech Kaczynski and military leaders.

The pair joined two other new F-16s that landed at the base a day earlier.

Poland, now a NATO member, will phase out many of its older Soviet-built MiG fighters as it gradually adds a total of 48 new F-16s, assembled in Fort Worth, to its combat fleet over the next two years.

"The F-16 is a modern fighter jet, but also a proven one," Kaczynski said on the wind-swept tarmac as a color guard, Polish generals and U.S. Ambassador Victor Ashe looked on. "The F-16 is a plane produced by our ally — in other words, it fulfills the conditions to serve our military."

Defense Minister Radek Sikorski said it was a "momentous occasion" for the country's air force.

Three military clergymen — one each for the Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian and Protestant faiths — blessed one of the four planes before red and white balloons, matching Poland's national colors, were released into the air.

The move will dramatically transform a lumbering force based on decades-old Soviet jets to one fully able to take part in far-flung NATO and U.S.-led operations.

Having F-16s will also bring a range of demands that will stimulate modernization — including advanced pilot training, refitting air bases and adding a range of modern equipment needed to support the fleet.

"It's a very big cultural shift for the air force," said Brig. Gen. Leszek Soczewica, an aide to the defense minister.

Poland ordered the jets from U.S. producer Lockheed Martin Corp. in a push to bring its military up to NATO standards. Poland joined the alliance in 1999.

The deal further enhanced the already strong ties between the United States and Poland, a staunch U.S. ally with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defense experts say that choosing American over European-made warplanes will make the Polish forces more compatible with the U.S. and NATO, though it will still be three years before the Polish air force will have enough jets and pilot training to operate in such distant conflicts.

A beefed-up force will also bring new demands, with allies expected to seek more Polish aid in future military crises, observers say.

The F-16s "will give extraordinary power to the air force," said Grzegorz Holdanowicz, a military analyst and editor of the monthly defense magazine Raport.

"But it will be a challenge for us to fulfill those expectations because we will need to provide enough resources and train pilots to use the aircraft effectively as real tools in international defense policy," Holdanowicz said. "And not just use them as a wonderful background for state ceremonies."

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