Ben Aris in Warsaw -
Amendments to Poland's private-public partnership laws (PPP) made in February are about to give the country's preparations for the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship a shot in the arm.
Poland is jointly hosting the second-biggest football competition in the world in three years' time and needs to spend hundreds of millions of euros on upgrading stadiums, improving roads and providing more hotel beds for the fans.
The competition is more than a treat for lovers of the beautiful game; it is also an economic stimulus package in its own right and a good excuse to invest in crisis-busting infrastructure. And improving the PPP regime is a goal in itself, as the Polish government is to get some €30bn in EU infrastructure grants now it's a member - in addition to any football spending - but under the old regime the state was always going to struggle to spend this money.
Ahead of the game
While there is some doubt whether co-host Ukraine will be ready for the competition in time, the preparations in Poland are ahead of schedule at the moment. The beauty of these big events is they come with a hard deadline and missing them is politically embarrassing for any government. Poland passed special PPP laws in 2007 to make cooperation between the state and private companies actually doing the work easier, but by the start of this year no PPP deals had been signed.
"Over a 100 projects were covered by the 2007 laws, but the protection of public interests written into the law meant that none of the projects were started," says Arthur Kulawski, a partner with law firm Linklaters in Warsaw. "In fact, some additional regulations - such as those covering the environment - actually made it more difficult to set up a PPP deal."
That has just changed. The Polish government passed amendments to the PPP laws on February 2 that sweep away some of the worst obstacles. For example, under the old rules a contractor wanting to bid for a public project had to provide a detailed analysis that "proved" there was no cheaper option, which could take months to prepare. Under the new rules, the municipality in charge is free to make up its own mind as to who has the best proposal. Likewise, getting paid for the work was difficult, but under the new rules the contractor can receive ownership of the building or stadium as payment, which was banned before.
Municipalities have welcomed the change and are already rolling out a string of new projects: in Warsaw the local authorities have announced a string of projects to build fast transit services, sports halls, underground parking as well as finishing a new national stadium that will host the final of the competition. In all, three new stadiums will be built in the two countries and another eight stadiums have to be modernised.
"The new regime is much more flexible and increases the number of ways that the private sector companies can cooperate with the public sector," says Kulawski. "Before there had to be a public element to any project, but now the whole approach is a lot more commercial and the changes should ensure that our country is one of the very few that will see positive GDP growth this year."
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