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Businesses in Poland impatient for reform

From the Telegraph.

Businesses in Poland impatient for reform

Poland is poised for a wave of free market reform after the crushing electoral victory of the Civic Platform party on promises of a 15pc flat tax and an auction of state assets.

Incoming premier Donald Tusk aims to throw Poland whole-heartedly into the euro and restore the country's credibility after a lapse into anti-German obscurantism under the Kaczynski twins – currently president and prime minister.

"This is the best news we've had in Central Europe for two years," said Lars Christensnen, East Europe economist for Danske Bank.

"There's enormous joy in Poland's business community. The zloty has been rising every day this week. We're going to have a government with a completely different attitude, one that speaks to investors with a global vision," he said.

Economic spokesman Zbigniew Chlebowski said the new government hoped to join the euro by 2012-2013, once the budget deficit was brought under control. "The implementation of the flat tax is possible in 2009, but this will depend on coalition talks," he said.

The leftist Peasants' Party, the likely coalition partner, is deeply opposed to the idea, but Poland may have to act to prevent investment slipping away to the Baltic states, Slovakia, and Romania, which all have versions of the flat tax.

Topping the list for public floats are the electricity and gas utilities, the railways, and the mines – increasingly valuable as surging energy prices revive coal.

"There are still a thousand state companies, including an insurance group, so there's a lot left to be sold," said Neil Schering, an East Europe expert at Capital Economics.

"Even so, Civic Platform is not going to be panacea for Poland's problems. The country still has a bloated welfare system because people were shifted onto disability benefit when the heavy industries were shut down. It's going to be very hard to push through labour reform with a Left-wing party in the coalition," he said.

Poland is the giant among the ex-Communist states that joined the EU in the Big Bang enlargement three years ago. If it joins the euro, others will find it hard to stay out.

For now the EU states are split evenly between the euro "ins" and "outs". Britain could be uncomfortably isolated if the Eastern European states join the bloc – as they are legally obliged to do under EU treaty rules.