CIPE Worldwide Update: Central and Eastern Europe

Demoskop Study:
Poles Don't Want Forced Membership

Demoskop (1995-1996)
Business Association Strategy Development

As the Polish economy completes its transition to a market-based system, the business community and government have begun a vigorous dialogue on the future and nature of economic self governance. Following the German model, in 1995 the Polish Chamber of Commerce proposed a system of mandatory membership in one of five trade chambers, to be financed through the levying of "membership fees" on all businesses. As the debate progressed, CIPE astutely identified the need for the views of Poland's private sector to be assessed before the proposal was passed into law, and in October the private polling firm Demoskop was contracted to conduct the first independent survey of Poland's business community.

Support Democratic and Market-Based Principles. The overall objectives of the project were straightforward: develop an unbiased source of information on the business community's views; insure its inclusion in the current debate, and use the findings to help business associations and chambers devise strategies to meet their constituents' needs and support market-based democratic principles.

Focus groups were held in five sites -- Katowice, Lodz, Bialystok, Poznan, and Warsaw -- to generate qualitative information for use in the questionnaire design. Eight hundred fifty business people in 120 sites throughout Poland were then surveyed.

Results Spark Lively Debate. Because of their compelling insights, Demoskop's findings exceeded all expectations. The results were highly publicized in local papers and periodicals such as the Warsaw Business Journal, The Tribune, the Polish Courier, The Krakow Gazette and the Warsaw Voice.

% in favor
free market competition 96%
new business contacts 98%
    through fairs, exhibitions, etc.
    through business organizations
    through informal contacts
    through personal contact in the business community
on-going training and education 97%
    in foreign language skills
    in business management
    in finance and accounting
    in marketing and advertising
efforts by the business community to influence legislative and executive actions 77%
% opposed
mandatory membership in business organizations73%

CIPE had originally planned to hold the survey's public release until it organized a seminar with the Polish Federation of Independent Entrepreneurs (PFIE). However, in early April 1996 three committees of the Polish Sejm passed a bill on economic activity which would make business membership in chambers of commerce obligatory. In order to spark timely debate, CIPE authorized Demoskop to release the survey to business associations and the press. Meanwhile, at a special workshop approximately 100 attendees discussed the survey's implications for private sector development and engaged in several pro and con exchanges over mandatory membership.

President Calls For Changes. With timing closely coinciding with the Demoskop conference, Poland's President Kwasniewski announced his intention to veto the bill in its current form and called for changes. The outcome is as yet unresolved, but it is clear that the Demoskop survey and the wide publicity it received did more to advocate businesses' interests than was originally envisioned when it was commissioned.

The conference was a further success in that it provided an opportunity for leaders of business associations and members of the legislature to discuss this issue publicly, and it helped dispel lingering myths associated with mandatory chamber/association membership. For example, two representatives from President Kwasniewski's office emphasized that EU membership was not contingent on acceptance of this policy and that even in the German model small businesses were exempt from mandatory membership. Speakers also made clear that a reduction in the underground economy would not result from mandatory membership, but that it would in fact most likely precipitate a rise as a result of this barrier to entry into the market. Others noted that the needs of the small businesses would likely be overshadowed by the needs of big business under the mandatory system.

Although originally conceived as a much-needed research project with an emphasis on providing Polish businesses with information to be used to target the needs of the Polish society, the survey has focused the spotlight sharply on an issue which will determine the structure of the Polish business community for years to come. For the present the research has galvanized parliamentary discussion and brought about several changes in the draft laws which, while not totally eliminating the concept of mandatory membership, at least offer Polish businesses greater choice and control over the organizations to which they belong.

CIPE at: 1615 H Street NW; Washington DC 20062-2000
tel: (202) 463-5901; fax: (202) 887-3447; email:

Hari Srinivas -
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