Italy’s Balkan Investments: The Four Major Sectors

Automation & RoboticsBusinessSouth-East European INDUSTRIAL Мarket - issue 1/2012

Many Italian corporations have recently taken advantage of this state of affairs, moving part (or all) of their production into Yugoslav successor states (Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo), all of which have very sound relations with Rome. Market penetration in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Slovenia is more difficult because of German and Austrian prominence, though some economic hubs are emerging around Italian companies or merchant banks.

Generally speaking, Italian investments in the Balkans have been made in four principal areass, in which operate major investors: finance, the automotive industry, general distribution and the energy sector. The financial one is understandably the leading area of Italian investments in any Balkan country; in particular, the major Italian banks Unicredit and Intesa-San Paolo have opened since the 1990s bases and affiliates in new capitols and major towns.

Automotive and Industrial Production
Outside of the financial sector, the Italian business presence in Balkan states tends to vary in relation to the disposal of raw materials, energetic sources and level of government commitment in attracting foreign capitals and companies. Broader investment has been allocated in Serbia by FIAT, Italy’s biggest automotive firm, bent on delocalizing in the former Zastava industries of Kragujevac, by means of a joint-venture (two-thirds, one-third) with the Serbian state.

The total amount of the investments exceeds 700 million euros, and will grow in the next years with the launch of the new Minivan L0, entirely produced in Serbia. According to the official project, the production will start at the end of this year and - according to FIAT manager Marchionne’s declarations - will in 2012 have resulted in 200,000 finished cars.

However, the FIAT-Zastava operation is not the only field of Italian investments in Kragujevac. Magneti Marelli - an automotive components industry controlled by FIAT - signed in May 2010 a new agreement with the Serbian government for the construction of a factory, with a capital expenditure of 60 million euros and the likelihood of granting 400 new jobs. Also, in July 2010 the Italian company Dytech (a producer of fluid-conducting tubes) started the construction of a new factory in Nis, with an overall investment of about 13.3 million euros.

In the field of industrial production, greenfield investments have been made by two Italian medium-sized companies, located in Vukovar and Sremska Mitrovica. In the Danubian town Adriatic Dunav, mostly financed by the company Adriatica S.p.a. from Rovigo, is active in the market of fertilizers: the total amount reached 18 million euros, with more than 200 employers working in an ultra-modern factory with a low impact on the environment; in Vojvodina, the STG group last year opened a foundry in Sremska Mitrovica to produce iron bars for building trade, with an investment of near 35 million euros.

Clothing and Trade
A more active Italian sector in general distribution is clothing production and trade, with some well-known international brands moving factories and productions into Serbia and Croatia: above all, Calzedonia, whose investments in Croatia (Cakovec and Varazdin) amount to about 100 million euros, and directly employing 1,300 workers and boosting a growing satellite industry. This company also owns a 700-employee factory in Sombor in Serbia’s Backa region (about 16 million euros invested).

Benetton also has a long history of investments in Croatia: since 2001, when the first manufacturing plant was established in Osijek, Benetton Croatia has evolved to become one of the biggest local industries, with 500 internal workers and more than 3,000 in cooperating firms. The total amount of the investments has been approximately 16 million euros (5.2 in 2000, 7.7 in 2001 and 3.1 million in 2006). In September 2010, Benetton inaugurated its Serbian branch: current projects define a future investment of 50 million euros for a new factory in Nis, which will employ about 2,700 people.

Two more important investors in the clothing production industry are Pompea, with some 300 employees in Zrenjanin and Brus, and Geox (third-largest footwear producer in the world) which is investing 8 million euros in a new manufacturing plant in Pirot, southeastern Serbia.

The fourth area of Italian investments in the Balkans is energy production and supply, in particular in Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. Concerning the first country, ENI (Ente nazionale idrocarburi, the largest Italian state-controlled industry) has worked with the Croatian government since 1996 for the modernization of infrastructures and for the construction of a pipeline between the Adriatic gas rig Ivana and the town of Pola, in Istria. This experience led ENI to create a joint-venture with local oil company INA, named INAgip; current production exceeds 5 million cubic meters.

In a joint venture with INA, Edison (the fifth-largest energy company in Italy, active in electricity and natural gas) created ED-INA for research and production of hydro-carbons in the Adriatic. In 2010 Edison funded an exploratory investment of 25 million euros and spent about 110 million euros for developing infrastructures on the new "Isabella" oil field. The rig started production in 2010 and will furnish an estimated total production for 2011 of 200 million euros.
In Serbia, as well, SECI Energie SPA signed an agreement with Elektroprivreda Srbije to create a joint company named Ibarske Hidroelektrane, with a 51%share for the Italian company. This investment (about 285 million euros) provides for the construction of hydro-electric power plants on the River Ibar.

Energy production represents the main sector of Italian investments in Montenegro, as a consequence of the wide operation of recapitalization and partial privatization of the EPCG (Elektoprivreda Crne Gore) led by the government. In this scenario, the Italian Group A2A from Brescia became a pivotal strategic partner of the Dinaric Republic, buying 43.7% of the capital, for a total amount of 436 million euros. This agreement, thoroughly supported by the Italian government, led Italy to became the principal foreign investor in Montenegro in 2010.

A second Italian energy company, Terna rete elettrica s.p.a. (controlled by the Ministry of Economy through the state bank Cassa Depositi e Prestiti) acquired a 22.09% minority stake of CGES (Montenegrin energy distribution society) on November 23, 2010. The entrance of Terna into the state-controlled company is the first step in the project for the laying of a power line between Italy and Montenegro, which will run for 415 km, 390km of this total being under the Adriatic Sea. The total investment by Terna will amount to 720 million euros.

Besides these high-profile investments made in recent years. many smaller Italian companies have opened subsidiary bases or factories in Balkan states, favored by the development of deeper economic relations between these countries and national or international institution and organization. This tendency is likely to continue in the coming years- unless, of course, the entire Italian economic system is not jeopardized by the Eurozone financial crisis first.