T H E I N T E R-WA R Y E A R S
Joseph Noulens. In the spring of 1919, he went to the Managing Director of the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas, Horace Finaly, and suggested that Paribas get involved in Poland. In April 1919 a proposal was made to the Polish government to set up Banque Franco- Polonaise in Katowice, in the former German Silesia. The groundwork was laid in July, and the new bank finally set up in May 1920. Banque Franco-Polonaise was backed by a group of Polish financiers brought on board by the Warsaw Commerce Bank and a group of French banks led by Paribas, comprising Banque de l Union Parisienne (linked to SGB), the Paris- based Société Générale, and Crédit Industriel et Commercial. But what is perhaps most striking is that several French industrial groups including among others the Iron & Steel specialist Forges et Aciéries du Nord et de l Est, and Constructions Électriques de France, a rolling stock and tram manufacturer also took stakes in the new bank.
The new bank created four branches in Poland in Warsaw, Gdynia, Katowice and Poznan. In 1925 a fifth was opened in the free city of Danzig, which is today the Polish city of Gdansk.
The stated mission of this Franco-Polish financial institution was to promote invest- ments in the Polish economy and trade relations between the two countries 4. Choosing Katowice as the central headquarters demonstrated the founders intention to focus on heavy industry. The former German Silesia had been a highly industrialised area since the 19th century.
Banque Franco-Polonaise, whose headquarters were in Paris, had an extremely special status in Poland as it provided services exclusively to French industrial companies estab- lished in the country and did not accept Polish customers. It nevertheless made sizeable profits. The main branch was in Katowice, in the Dombrowa district, where many compa- nies backed by French capital had been set up.
Paribas had also taken a stake in the short-lived Śląski (Silesian) Bank, which was set up in Paris in December 1921 in the wake of a mission to Western Europe undertaken by the Polish economist Arthur Benisa.
Its capital, initially fixed at 200 million Polish marks, was subscribed 50-50 by Polish interests and French companies. Under pressure from the French government, Paribas agreed to take 8% of the French stake i.e. equivalent to 4% of the total equity.
However, although the establishment of the Śląski Bank had been intended as a favour to France, it soon became clear that only the Polish investors were keen to see it thrive. The French, whose fingers were being burned by Poland s galloping inflation and political instability, fairly soon expressed their desire to withdraw or at least not to grow the business. In those circumstances, Śląski Bank was too small to act as a counterweight
4. In Paribas, Europe and the World 1872-1992, Antwerp, Mercator Fund, 1992, p. 113.