FEBRUARY HOT TOPICS: IKEA clears path for its store in Slovenia; NATO agreement with North Macedonia; Coca Cola buys Serbian BambiAdriatic Journal 28 February 2019
Final hurdle removed for Ikea in Slovenia
Ljubljana’s city council approved Ikea’s initiative to change the municipal spatial plan (OPN), daily Delo reported in February.
This decision enables the Swedish company to meet all the conditions to start the construction of its store in the BTC City shopping center in Ljubljana, Ikea reports. The new plan has removed the problem of land expropriation and with it the condition that, in order to obtain a trade license, Ikea has to have an undisrupted public access road to its store.
The public road will be built in two phases and will be completed after Ljubljana municipality acquires all the necessary land.
"We are very satisfied with the decision on the initiative. We thank those responsible in the municipality for their efforts to overcome the challenges that we have faced. We are planning to apply for a building permit soon and begin the construction of the shop building as soon as possible," said Vladislav Lalić, Regional Director for Real Estate and Development at Ikea SEE.
Ikea plans to open its doors to its first customers in Slovenia in 2020.
NATO signs agreement with North Macedonia
"This is a family that strives to make our world more peaceful and a better place. This is a journey that has made us more mature... we have proven that we can assume our responsibility, face a problem, and resolve those problems," Dimitrov concluded.
NATO signed an agreement with Macedoniain Brussels on 6 February that will enable the country to become the military alliance’s 30th member, under its new name the Republic of North Macedonia.
The country’s 27-year dispute with Greece was resolved last month after Skopje and Athens ratified the Prespa agreement they signed last June that included provisions for name change. Greece had blocked Macedonia’s membership for decades, claiming that Macedonia’s old name implies territorial ambitions over a territory in Greece that bears the same name.
Macedonia officially changed its name on 13 February, informing the United Nations and other institutions about its new name. Emphasising how difficult it was to reach the agreement with Greece,, Macedonia’s foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov said: “This wasn’t inevitable – it wasn’t very likely to happen”.Hegave credit to political leaders on both sides who proved “the impossible is actually doable”, BBC reported.
All NATO member states will now have to ratify the agreement, with Greece being the first one to have already done so. The others are expected to ratify it by the end of this year or early next year. Macedonia is now able to sit in formal meetings as an observer and intensively prepare for full membership. Indeed, the country took a seatat NATO’s table for the first time on 14 February. Speaking to reporters at a meeting of NATO defense ministers, the country’s defense minister Radmila Šekerinska said North Macedonia has “shown that change is possible if you have the right amount of political leadership.”
Coca Cola buys Serbian Bambi company
Coca-Cola HBC has bought Serbian confectionary maker Bambi for EUR 260m, it was announced in February. The deal will be completed in spring 2019 while it remains subject to the customary conditions and approvals of regulatory authorities.
Bambi, founded in 1967, makes a range of products including biscuits, wafers and savory snacks. Its most famous product is Plazma biscuits that is popular across the Balkan region. In 2018, Bambi’s revenue stood at EUR 80m, with more than two-thirds being generated in Serbia.
“This acquisition represents an excellent opportunity to create additional value for Coca-Cola HBC, its customers and shareholders. It adds iconic, complementary consumer brands to our portfolio of leading beverage brands, as well as consumer-focused innovation capabilities,” said Zoran Bogdanović, CEO of Coca-Cola HBC.
He added the acquisition “further strengthens our relevance with customers and allows us to increase our presence in key consumption occasions, such as the start of the day, on-the-go and at home snacking and refreshment.” In addition, Coca Cola HBC said in a statement that “Bambi offers opportunities for revenue synergies through cross-promotion and complementary innovation and cost efficiencies. The Bambi business also brings a strong distribution network and product portfolio in strategically important channels such as traditional retail.”
Serbia and Montenegro criticised in new Freedom House report
After more than a decade of being categorised as a free country, Serbia’s democracy score was one of the lowest, putting it alongside Venezuela, Nicaragua and Tanzania.
Washington-based Freedom House released its Freedom in the World 2019 report in February that saw Serbia downgraded from “free” to “partially free” country.
The report said Serbia was amongst the countries with the most significant one-year declines, scoring 67 of 100 points, dropping six points compared to the previous year when it was listed amongst the “free” countries.
The decline was due to the “election irregularities, legal harassment and smear campaigns against independent journalists, and president Aleksandar Vučić’s de facto accumulation of extraconstitutional powers”, the report finds. Neighbouring Montenegro was also criticised as its president Milo Djukanović “continued to consolidate state power around himself and his clique, subverting basic standards of good governance and exceeding his assigned constitutional role.”
Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabić disagreed with the report’s findings, saying that it was not objective.“The Freedom House report is relevant to me, but I do not agree with it. I do not think and do not feel that I live in a partly free country but rather that I live in a country which is freer than it was a few years ago,” she said.
Of the Western Balkan countries, only Croatia and Slovenia are still firmly amongst the “free” countries, with Slovenia scoring the same as Germany and higher than the USA (94 out of 100).
šarec and his party top most popular lists
While conservative parties are becoming increasingly popular across Europe, in Slovenia they are losing ground, with the centrist party LMŠ continuing to strengthen its position in the country.
Delo’s Barbara Hočevar reported in the paper in February that the popularity of Slovenia's Prime Minister Marjan Šarec continues to grow together with the support for the party he leads, LMŠ, according to an opinion poll conducted in February.
For the first time since the elections in June 2018, both were at the top of the list of the most popular politician and the most popular party. Approvals of the government’s work and that of the National Assembly have also increased, with two thirds rating the government’s work as positive or very positive. Asked which party would get their vote if parliamentary elections were held now, 22.4% of respondents said it would be LMŠ, which is as much as 8% more than a month ago. The right-wing SDS, which regularly scooped most of the votes in recent years, would have received 15.1% of the votes, a 1% less than in January, according to a poll conducted by Mediana, the Institute for market and media research.
Significantly, the number of undecided respondents fell considerably – from 21% to 14%. The poll was carried out on a sample of 731 adults between 29th January and 6th February.
Since September 2018, LMŠ has almost tripled its support, but Hočevar points out that this is primarily a reflection of Šarec’s popularity, who overtook President Borut Pahor for the first time on the popularity barometer.
Kosovo and Serbia remain at loggerheads
The pressure on Kosovo to remove tax hikes on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina has been increasing, with both the EU and the USA urging the country to drop the measure.
The US government went even further, saying it will consider sanctions against Kosovo if the tariffs are not suspended for at least a few months so that the formal dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo can continue.
Kosovo’s president Hashim Thaci wants the tariffs to be abolished, saying that Kosovo cannot sacrifice its strategic alliance with the United States because of its hostile relations with Serbia. The country’s prime minister, Ramush Haradinaj, however remains adamant that “import tariffs on goods from Serbia and BiH will not be lifted until both countries recognise Kosovo as a sovereign state”.
The rift between the president and the prime minister also remains on the possibility of exchanging territories with Serbia. Haradinaj said that Kosovo does not need Serbia’s recognition if that means giving up its territory.“Kosovo does not trade land for recognition. If that is the price, Kosovo has no need for Serbia’s recognition,” he told a commemoration on the 29th anniversary of the killing of Kosovo’s first unofficial ambassador Enver Hadriu in Brussels. In contrast, Thaci continues to advocate for demarcation of borders with Serbia. He recently said he will either resign or call a referendum if the parliament does not approve an agreement with Belgrade, whereby Kosovo would get three municipalities in central Serbia – Bujanovac, Preševo and Medvedja.