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Overview of General Assessment of Investment Environment
9. januarja 2015 / 13:29

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South East European countries in 2015 will have either Moderately Stable Investment Environment or Moderately Uncertain Investment Environment. The worrying factor is that for the majority of countries analysed in this report, Investment Environment in 2015 will be less stable than it was in 2014. The stability of the Investment Environment will improve only in two countries most often viewed as the poorest European countries – Kosovo and BiH. However, they still remain at the bottom of the Stability of Investment Environment scale, compared to other SEE countries.

Nevertheless, changes in the stability of Investment Environments in 2015 will be only moderate and will not result in changing the General Assessment of the Investment Environment Stability of an individual country. Turkey will be the only exception, as it is expected that its Investment Environment in 2015 will become Moderately Uncertain, while in 2014 it was Moderately Stable.

In 2014 three EU Member States – Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia – as well as Montenegro and Macedonia will have Moderately Stable Investment Environments. It is important to highlight that both Macedonia and Croatia are borderline countries, meaning the stability of their Investment Environment could quickly deteriorate in case of an unexpected socio-political event. If this occurs, their Investment Environment could become Moderately Uncertain.

Due to the still weak economic environment, Economic Uncertainties are expected to increase in Croatia, making it even harder for the newest EU Member State to compete with the EU average. Political Uncertainties are expected to worsen in all EU Member States, while Social Uncertainties will worsen in Bulgaria, Romania and Greece. Due to the expected increase in Political and Social Uncertainties in 2015, Greece’s Investment Environment stability will decrease most severely.

Serbia and Montenegro, the two countries that are already negotiating with EU for a full Membership in the Union, will be faced with exacerbation of their Investment Environment stability in 2015. In both countries Political, Economic as well as Social Uncertainties are expected to worsen.

No change in the stability of the Investment Environment is predicted for Albania in 2015, while Turkey’s Investment Environment is expected to be more uncertain due to the expected aggravation of all three groups of Uncertainties.

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Top Challenges in SEE in 2015
8. januarja 2015 / 13:18

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Global financial crisis and uncompetitive environment have contributed significantly to deterioration of public finances in many countries of the region. Consequently, many governments will have to focus on implementing structural reforms, such as pension reform, labour market reform, healthcare reform, reorganisation and reduction of the public sector. As part of the agreement with the IMF, Serbia will have to reorganise public sector and reduce the number of employees by 25,000 in 2015 as well as lower the pensions and wages. Additional austerity measures will have to be implemented in Romania and BiH, both under IMF monitoring. Structural reforms and austerity measures can lead to a decline of public confidence in politics and a switch of public opinion against the integration with EU. Public discontent is most evident in Greece, where people completely lost confidence in politics and calls to leave the EU are becoming louder.

 

Omnipresent corruption remains one of the main challenges in the region. Governments are addressing it but will need to be more decisive and comprehensive at it if they wish to attract more foreign direct investments and speed up the integration towards EU.

 

Unresolved relations amongst countries contribute to the escalation of populism and incidents, which hamper mutual trade relations and hinder EU integration. This is most evident in the long lasting disputes between Macedonia and Greece, and Serbia and Kosovo. The Macedonian-Greek dispute also blocks the country’s entrance to NATO, where Macedonia has been a membership candidate since 1999. Status of Kosovo remains the main obstacle for Serbia on its path towards the EU. Due to unresolved border issues between Croatia, BiH, Montenegro and Serbia, we expect further delays and obstacles in accession negotiations.

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Top Opportunities in SEE in 2015
7. januarja 2015 / 13:48

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In 2015, the countries of SEE will be faced with the opportunity to make the business environment more attractive for foreign investors. EU funding will be one of the main sources of investments and will drag economic growth in 2015. For 2014-2020 EU Cohesion Policy, Croatia has been allocated around 8.6 billion EUR, Romania 23 billion EUR and Bulgaria 12 billion EUR. Companies will be able to participate on public tenders for co-financing of their projects.

Countries in the region are still in the development phase and labour costs are low, which makes the analysed countries very competitive towards western neighbours. Highly educated and skilled workforce offers huge opportunities for high-tech companies, which can use advantages of good work ethic and technological education of national labour force.

Many sectors in the region, such as telecommunications, energy, and transportation, are in the process of privatisation, which offers opportunities for foreign companies to enter the markets. Greece started with a wide ranging privatisation programme, including rail and road transport, airports and ports, utilities, gaming and public real estate holdings. Some countries such as Croatia, Serbia and BiH are facing severe problems finding suitable strategic partners for their companies. Privatisation could also lead to better corporate governance and liberalisation of local markets.

Local governments try to motivate foreign direct investments through various incentives: simplified administrative procedures, free-trade zones, tax incentives and exemptions, reduced tariff and non-tariff barriers. One of the most attractive business environments in region is Macedonia, which was ranked 30th among 189 economies in Doing Business 2015 (World Bank). The country significantly improved processes of registering companies, offers good protection for minority investors and has one of the most favourable tax system in the region.

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Top Risks in SEE in 2015
6. januarja 2015 / 10:46

Note: Top Risks are an extract from the main findings of ISR publication Strategic Foresight 2015: South East Europe. Whole publication is available here

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In 2015, South East Europe will be exposed to rising political uncertainties. This comes as no surprise as the countries in the region have gone through turbulent political times, which resulted in fragile government coalitions and fragmented political arenas. Aforementioned conditions are a suitable playground for permanent political dribble and populism, which at the end can aggravate implementation of social and economic reforms. Despite elections in 2014, Bulgaria and Romania still lack political stability. This is a result of a weak government coalition led by Boyko Borissov in Bulgaria and difficult cohabitation between centre-right president Klaus Werner Iohannis and centre-left Prime Minister Victor Ponta in Romania. Rise of populism is most evident in Greece with the growing popularity of the radical left Syriza and the extreme right Golden Dawn.

Lack of much needed structural reforms and uncompetitive environment retains high unemployment and poverty rate in the region. Standstill in implementation of structural reforms is most evident in Croatia and BiH. Croatia is facing speculations as being the EU’s next Greece. BiH remains one of the poorest countries in Europe with omnipresent high unemployment and is essentially a failed state. Institutional and structural weaknesses and corruption hamper business environment in Bulgaria and Romania. Both countries also recorded highest levels of poverty in the EU. Poor standard of living, chaotic political situation and mass disillusionment with the political elite can raise social tensions in 2015. These are most likely in Turkey due to the intensions of the ruling AKP to increase presidential powers of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which will strengthen his influence over the judiciary, media, and the central bank.

Region is faced with high ratios of non-performing loans; in some countries these amount to more than 20 % of all loans. High ratios of non-performing loans could further deteriorate bank balance sheets in Serbia, Croatia, Romania, Albania and Greece. This can avert further private investments and domestic consumption and can consequently jeopardise further economic growth.

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