Poland joined the European Union in 2004 together with 9 other countries from Central and Eastern Europe, nearly 60 years after the Yalta Agreement of 1945 and the onset of the cold war at the end of WW2 had sent a Churchillian iron curtain across the continent.
Convergence and Catch-up were the big economic themes for CEE since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and joining the EU in 2004 accelerated the trend of that convergence, creating similar legal and institutional conditions for investment across the enlarged EU, and creating the basis for a second wave of inward foreign direct investment (FDI) into Poland and adjacent countries.
Having seen how southern Europe, in the EU’s previous accession round, had benefitted from EU convergence funds to upgrade its infrastructure, it was clear to Dario and Alex that there must be corporates in Spain, Italy and Portugal who could put that experience to good use in the Polish theatre. But who would talk to a couple of wisecracks with a no-name business card from Warszawa?
A year later, and having teamed up with WestLB (Milan) and Unicredito (Italy), we had secured Italy’s leading motorway company, Milan-listed Autostrade SpA (since re-branded to Atlantia SpA), to buy a motorway bridgehead in Poland – if you forgive the pun.
Numerous complications made the Stalexport deal fiendishly complicated, including the listed nature of the target company - which had a 25-year concession on the A4 motorway between Katowice and Kraków in southern Poland, a significant steel business that had to be divested post-deal, and a public shareholder in the Polish Environmental Fund (NFOS) that found it difficult to make timely decisions – a situation which was finally only resolved when we ensured that visiting Italian Prime Minister Prodi was well-briefed and had a helpful conversation with his Polish counterpart.
Attached please find short 2010 presentation on our infrastructure competences.
Atlantia moved clear of all its competitors in Poland, including Ferrovial, Abertis and Vinci, and subsequently we worked with RBS (London) to structure a public-private-partnership (PPP) for the EUR 1.3 billion 93km motorway stretch between Poland’s two biggest cities: Warsaw and centrally-located Lodz. The traffic studies were strong, Poland’s economy was powering ahead, and thanks to our work international and domestic banks oversubscribed the EUR 1.3bn financing envelope by a factor of 3x …. until Lehman went down in the autumn of 2008, that is.
In the subsequent London meetings with the syndicate of underwriting banks, grown men were reduced to tears as their funding, their livelihood and the world as they knew it dissolved into ruin on their Bloomberg terminals. Our Italian sponsor took fright as the world appeared to implode around us, and the famed motorway was only fully completed by the time Poland and the Ukraine staged the 2012 European football championship. The pace of Polish motorway construction, and the desirable level of PPPs, have been lagging ever since.