HOT TOPICS: Montenegro and Serbia clash over border openingAdriatic Journal 29 May 2020
The Adriatic Journal team has put together the latest hot topics in the region from the past month. We are bringing you news from business, geopolitics and other stories that caught our eye in the past month and wanted to share it with you. Read it bellow while it’s still hot.
Author: Ana Potočnik
Slovenian government adopts EUR 1 billion stimulus package
A new stimulus package to help restart the economy after the COVID-19 epidemic disruptions has been adopted by the Slovenian government. Measures include tourism vouchers, subsidies for shortened working hours, facilitating investments worth EUR500m, and favourable loans for businesses.
Favourable loans worth EUR 40m will be provided to around 900 micro and small companies in order to boost their liquidity.
Subsidies for shortened working hours will be available to employers who cannot secure at least 90% of the work for at least 10% of their employees. The government will subsidise up to 20 hours per week. The subsidies will amount from EUR 112 to EUR 449. The measure will be financed from the European Social Fund and the European Commission’s SURE mechanism and will be in place until 31 December 2020.
The government will also put together a list of strategically important investments amounting to EUR 500m that will help create jobs and speed up the economic recovery. This means that those investments will be subject to faster administrative procedures to speed up their realisation. This will not, however, interfere with any environmental protection laws. Only projects estimated to be worth more than EUR 5m will be considered. The investments will be divided into three priority groups, based on their phase of development: those to be launched this year; then those that could commence by the end of 2021; and the final group will include investments that require new national spatial plan and are valued at more than EUR 25m. The list is expected to be finalised in the first week of June.
Tourism vouchers worth EUR 345m aim to help Slovenia’s tourism industry by providing all citizens, including children, with vouchers to be spent on holidays in Slovenia. Adults will receive vouchers worth EUR 200 each while children up to 18 years old will be eligible for a EUR 50 voucher.
Border crossing restrictions across the region
All the countries in the region have been easing lockdown measures in the past month and are opening their borders with other countries:
BiH will open its borders from 1 June for the nationals of Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro only.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
After first opening its borders to Slovenian nationals, at the end of May Croatia also lifted the entry ban for the nationals of Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia.
Montenegro will open its borders on 1 June for citizens of Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Albania, Greece and Kosovo.
North Macedonia is expected to open its borders in mid-June but whether this will include all or only some countries is not yet known.
Serbia has opened its borders and proof of a negative coronavirus test is no longer needed to enter the country nor will visitors be required to self-isolate.
The Slovenian border is open to citizens from the EU and the European Economic Area (EEA), if they have not stayed outside of the EEA in the last 14 days. Any EU citizens that show symptoms of the new coronavirus may be denied entry into Slovenia. Third-country nationals (including BiH, Serbia and Montenegro) are subject to restrictions and mandatory quarantine if they enter Slovenia with the intention of staying in the country.
Mercator ends first quarter with a profit
Mercator group increased its annual revenues by 10.8%, generating a net profit of EUR 1.1m in the first quarter, after having a net loss of EUR 3.69m in the same period last year. The group’s annual revenue increased to EUR 530.48m, and the President of the Management Board Tomislav Čizmić emphasized the importance of a timely response to the changed situation.
When announcing the business results, Čizmić wrote that the positive business trends, both at the level of revenues and profits, are the result of the successful implementation of the business strategy of differentiation and all 125 operational plan initiatives for efficient operations in all markets.
"Already at the beginning of the business year 2020 we were able to determine a strong positive trend of business performance and profitability. Only timely and responsible preparation for the changed situation at the time of the epidemic allowed the group to continue positive business trends"
– Tomislav Čizmić, CEO, Mercator
Air Serbia resumes flights
Serbia’s national flag carrier has resumed flights last month, with a first flight to Zurich. Other European destinations include flights to London, Frankfurt, Vienna as well as regional flights to Ljubljana, Sarajevo, and Banja Luka. Flights to Podgorica and Tivat in Montenegro are due to resume on 7 June, while flights to Skopje will recommence on 15 June. Face masks are mandatory during all Air Serbia flights, and the planes are regularly disinfected, the company says.
Montenegro and Serbia clash over border opening
Montenegro’s decision to partially open borders in early June, but not to Serbian citizens has sparked tensions between the two countries. Montenegro claimed its decision was based on health recommendations that require countries to have no more than 25 infected per 100,000 inhabitants. At the time of the decision, tis criteria was met by Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Albania, and Greece whose nationals will be able to visit Montenegro.
Serbian PM Ana Brnabić accused Montenegro of discriminating against Serbian nationals, saying that Serbs were unwelcomed in Montenegro, calling on them not to spend their summer vacation in the country. After announcing there will be no reprisals, Serbia’s Civil Aviation Directorate suspended Montenegro Airlines right to land in Belgrade, prompting harsh criticism from Montenergo. Serbia, however, insists the move is not a response to Montenegro’s decision but hasn’t given an explanation for the suspension. The latest tensions between the two countries come amid disputes over Montenegro’s Law on Religious Freedom, which Belgrade argues is an attempt to take over the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) property in Montenegro. Podgorica said it wanted to regulate the property and other religious issues. Orthodox church in Montenegro is not autocephalous and is under the SPC jurisdiction.
EU’s recovery plan
Under the EU’s coronavirus recovery plan worth EUR 750bn, Slovenia will be eligible to receive just over EUR 5bn, while Croatia might get around EUR 10bn. Slovenia will be able to draw the EUR 2.6 bn in grants from different instruments, not just the new recovery and resilience fund. These include the new cohesion instrument ReactEU and the strengthened Just Transition Fund and the Regional Development Fund. To receive the money from the recovery and resilience fund, a member state will have to draft a reform and investment plan setting out the expenditure, which will have to be approved at EU level. Tanja Fajon and Milan Brglez (from S&D and SD parties) said that Slovenia would need a good reform and investment plan and noted that the phasing of the funds would be conditional on priorities such as environment, digitalisation and resilience.
Lipica stud farm celebrates 440 years
The story of Lipica Stud Farm began in 1580 when the Habsburg Archduke Charles II, son of Emperor Ferdinand I of Habsburg, bought the Lipica estate from the Bishop of Trieste. Soon after purchasing the estate, twenty-four broodmares and six stallions were bought in from Spain, starting a tradition that lasts to this day. In 2002, the Lipica Stud Farm was recognised as a breeding organisation, holding the original studbooks of the Lipizzan horse breed. During her visit to Slovenia in 2008, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II was given as a present a Lipizzaner stallion.
PODIM conference highlights people’s ability to adapt swiftly
Slovenia’s digital startup and technology Podim DX conference, featuring more than a thousand representatives of startups, investors, corporations and other stakeholders from the support environment has gone digital this year. One of the participants was European Commission Vice President Margrethe Vestager, who noted that the coronavirus pandemic had shown how people could adapt to new situations virtually overnight if necessary. Vestager pointed to the example of Slovenian education system that swiftly and successfully adapted to digital remote learning.
Slovenian Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek noted that changes and fast response to change were part of everyday life for startup companies. He added that the government fully supports startup initiatives, including by means of a special action plan, as well as funds from the Slovenian Enterprise Fund.
Director of the Slovenian Enterprise Fund, Maja Tomanič Vidovič , added that the fund’s five-year programme, worth EUR 30m, would support a total of 400 innovative startup companies, a significant number for a small market like Slovenia. The fields covered are diverse and include biopharmacy and medical equipment as well as all possible types of information and communication technology, with digitalisation playing the decisive role in which projects will be supported, she added.