15 October 2019
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Last month, Slovenian prime minister Marjan Šarec made an official visit to Serbia for the first time. A delegation of Slovenian government headed by Šarec met with the Serbian prime minister Ana Brnabić and was also received by the president Aleksander Vučić and the Serbian parliament speaker Maja Gojković.

This is Slovenia’s second official visit to Serbia this year after Borut Pahor, the Slovenian president’s visit in January. In addition, Slovenia’s foreign minister Miroslav Cerar also plans to visit the country in September. So, why three official visits in one year? Delo’s Milena Zupanič looked at possible implications in the paper’s edition on 26 August.

The three official visits of the highest representatives of Slovenia to Serbia this spring and the spring announcement of a joint session of the two governments do not mean a “state of emergency” between the two countries, as one might think, but are regular official meetings of representatives of the two friendly countries, one can conclude from the government’s official press release, writes Zupanič. Šarec and Brnabić discussed current bilateral issues, talked about deepening cooperation between the two countries, and exchanged views on the European future of the Western Balkans, the PM’s cabinet said. But what did they discuss specifically?

Purchases and sales

Slovenia and Serbia are strongly economically connected. Among the economic issues, the current one is NLB's interest in acquiring Serbia's Komercijalna Banka.

Both banks are partly owned by each of their governments, as well as partly owned by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), so it would be quite possible for the prime minister to discuss such financial integration during the visit. Already before the summer, it was reported that the choice of a buyer – according to unofficial figures there are six potential buyers – would also depend on political circumstances. Of course, it is also possible that there were discussions about investments by Serbian businessmen in Slovenia.

Economic cooperation between the two countries

Around 1,600 Slovenian companies are registered in Serbia, with about 25,000 employees. So far, Slovenian companies have invested EUR 1.1bn in Serbia and Serbian companies have invested around EUR 300m in Slovenia. Total trade between the two countries has been growing year on year, amounting to EUR 1.6bn last year.

Serbia is obviously an extremely interesting country in terms of investment: according to the Foreign Direct Investment Confidence Index, Serbia is the world’s leading destination for greenfield investment. Among foreign investors in the country, Slovenia ranks sixth to eighth. Brnabić said that the biggest opportunities for Slovenian companies are in tourism, financial industry, digitization, start-up companies and blockchain activities. However, economists warns that the situation in Serbia is precarious, write Zupanič. The business culture is different from that in the EU: there is little respect for agreements, there is a lot of corruption and extortion. In spring, Cerar also warned of Serbia’s (too) great integration with Russia.

Where is Slovenian art and common real estate

Šarec also likely discussed open issues of succession that are at the heart of bilateral talks between the two countries. This includes jointly owned property from the former common state of Yugoslavia. Since the break-up, Serbia still holds 313 works of art by Slovenian artists, which Slovenia wants returned. There is also Depo 555, the so-called Tito’s safe deposit box, undivided property of formerly joint embassies around the world, property of military flats, some Slovenian companies in Serbia, financial obligations of Serbia under the former National Bank of Yugoslavia, access to joint archives to mention some.

Tito's cars and recognition of the Serbian minority

On the other hand, Serbia expects from Slovenia to return Tito’s 13  cars exhibited at the Bistra Technical Museum in Slovenia. Slovenia, however, believes that the vehicles need not be returned, as they were registered as military property belonging to the country in whose territory they were after the collapse of the common state. Serbia also expects Slovenia to recognize the status of a national minority as more than 40,000 of its people live in Slovenia. There are 33 national minorities recognized in Serbia, including the Slovenian minority.

The only major dividing issue between the two countries is Kosovo. But the Slovenian Prime Minister stressed after his meeting with Brnabić that Slovenia strongly supports Serbia’s efforts to join the EU. “Serbia deserves entry, but there are still many open questions,” he said. He added that, although the current mood in the EU is not most favorable for enlargement, Slovenia insists on keeping the enlargement to the Balkans on EU agenda. Of course, Serbia’s accession will not happen overnight, and the country still has to implement the required reforms, Šarec is quoted as saying in Delo.

Adriatic Journal

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