Friday, 16 July 2021

Davor Nađi Interview: "Fokus Party Not for American-style Economy, Dutch or Scandinavian Preferred"

July 16, 2021 - One month after the local elections in Croatia, the liberal/center Fokus party president shares with TCN reflections of his Zagreb mayor candidacy, details on political views, plans, and hope for the future of Croatia. Learn more about the Fokus party in an exclusive Davor Nađi interview conducted by TCN reporter Ivor Kruljac.

2021 local elections for Croatia concluded back in June, and as with every local election, the majority of political parties whose candidates earned some new positions in the local governments managed to taste both victories and losses are overall happy. Some parties from both left and right political wings celebrated as scientists whose work won the Nobel prize. Even election losses were interpreted as victories, drawing attention to the number of votes, that although they may not score political roles, show growing support. If there is a once in four years occasion when political parties have as much optimism as the Croatian Adriatic has drops of water, it’s the local elections. 

Currently in parliamentary opposition, Davor Nađi, president of the Fokus political party, politically declared as center-oriented, also doesn't hide his optimism following the result, but it seems he is a bit more toned down in that excitement than some of his political competitors. Satisfied to see his colleagues from the party keeping their previous positions, and some even selected for new ones, he is expecting the Fokus party to grow in the future while remaining aware of Fokus being new and young on the scene - is careful to say more than he can bargain for. Nađi ran for Zagreb mayor, but in the end, didn't manage to win neither the "main prize" nor a seat in the Zagreb Assembly. He noted, however, that his candidacy helped to attract new Fokus members in Zagreb, but again stating it without grandiose announcements, rather with mild optimism, careful not to step out of the line of realism. 

In an e-mail interview, Nađi commented what happened in the Zagreb elections, did NGOs stepped out of line in supporting current mayor Tomislav Tomašević, and what do Fokus voters find attractive in the political party best known for reforming the town of Sveta Nedelja. Are they American-styles libertarians as described by some, and what European politicians are in line with Fokus’s ideas, are just some of the things Nađi revealed in the interview.  

davor_nađi_n1_cut.jpg

screenshot / N1

You are the president of the Fokus party, and candidates from your party had won in Sv. Nedelja, Samobor, Sv. Ivan Zelina and Dugo Selo. So, your party currently has four mayors. Can you list for our readers where your party had candidates for mayors, assemblies, and counties? How do you comment on „your mayor's" first-month post-election, and what moves would you point out as excellent in that time?

Except for these four cities, we also won in the municipalities of Križ and Pirovac. We ran for mayors and local and regional assemblies mostly in central Croatia (Zagreb and Zagreb county) but also in Čakovec, Slatina, Petrinja, Pirovac. We won 50 members of local and regional assemblies, including the president of assembly in Čakovec.

Most of our mayors were reelected, so they just continued working on projects. However, I would like to point out our new mayor of the city of Samobor, Petra Škrobot, who already contracted procurement of software for transparency of city budget and public procurement, which is one of the flagship policies of the Fokus party.

How would you briefly explain to our readers what your party represents and advocates politically? What politicians, foreign or Croatians are your role models, and why?

We represent the fight for lower taxes and fewer regulations for citizens and the private sector and for a more efficient public sector. That means that we want that people and companies can keep more of the money they earn for themselves and decide on what they want to spend it. For example, that is the only correct way to solve the housing problem – to make sure that people earn and keep more money. Further on, that means that the private sector gets better value for money through better service of the public sector where, in our vision, worst or/and unnecessary public servants would be let go, and the best workers would get a financial reward. We also talk and act on investments in infrastructure, which is important for preparing for future climate change challenges.

I can’t say I have some role models in politics, but I like the politics of Dutch PM regarding the economy because they have a small and efficient public sector that provides good service to their citizens. That allows them to keep their economy very competitive, which results in a better life for their people.

You express deep care for private investments, lowering taxes, and overall creating a better environment for private business and entrepreneurship. But, when talking about entrepreneurs in Croatia, people roll their eyes as many of our famous „entrepreneurs“ are associated with crime, corruption ties to politics, and unfair privatization that ended up in many people losing their job. What is your opinion on these entrepreneurs, such as Todorić or Horvatinčić? How to fix that negative perception of entrepreneurs?

Yes, the private sector is very important to us. We care about entrepreneurs but also about their employees. We also care about the best public servants too. 

I think that public opinion on entrepreneurs is changing in a good way because of a new generation of successful entrepreneurs that succeeded in the global market with no connections to the government. Todorić and Horvatinčić are the exact opposite of them and represent everything that is wrong with this country. It’s wrong to call them entrepreneurs because they are a product of crony capitalism. The only cure to fight people like them is an independent and efficient judiciary.    

New option for liberals in Croatia 

You ran for mayor in Zagreb. The polls didn't give you too much of a chance, but libertarian (classical liberal) oriented site Liberal.hr said that you could be „the biggest surprise of the Zagreb elections“. To tell you the truth, it didn't seem likely you will become a mayor, but I was very surprised you didn't win a seat in the assembly. What went wrong in Zagreb, and how is it possible that the city with the most developed business climate and entrepreneurship (and with a lot of entrepreneurs) didn't reward your entrepreneurship-oriented ideas, at least with the seat in the assembly?

Well, Fokus is a new party, and I’m relatively new in politics, so a lot of people weren’t informed about our program and achievements. Fokus party didn’t exist in Zagreb until this year, while other parties were building their organization for many years, so it was hard to catch up in just a few months period during a partial lockdown. However, even though we didn’t win a seat in the assembly, we achieved some other goals. Now we have a lot of new members, and a strong organization in Zagreb and a lot of people have heard about FOKUS for the first time. Further on, we are the strongest liberal party in Zagreb, and we had better results than a lot of old traditional parties. So I believe that in the future, our support will only grow in Zagreb.

Davor_during_his_campaing_in_Zagreb_23.jpg

Davor Nađi during his campaign in Zagreb © Davor Nađi

You said on your Facebook site that you didn't receive enough media attention, and indeed you weren't invited to the debates (with the explanation being that only those who earned 5% in polls will be invited). However, you had banners and posters across Zagreb where you talked about how you are experienced to be a mayor because of Sveta Nedelja, where you were a deputy mayor, and the town did receive media attention few years back for amazing changes introduced there. What was your contribution to the transparency of public servants, lowering taxes, and canceling the subtax in Sveta Nedelja as deputy mayor? 

I was the designer of those policies with the strong support of mayor Zurovec and the city council, and I was working on these policies from the beginning until the implementation. I’m very proud of that because Sveta Nedelja did the biggest tax cut in Croatia, became the most transparent city in Croatia, and received a reward for the best local economy three years in a row.   

You criticized some of the moves by the new Zagreb mayor Tomislav Tomašević. Can you repeat what do you find problematic in his governance so far, but also, is there anything positive, something you would support him in if you made it to the Zagreb assembly?

There are some things that are good, and some are not. I reacted on one occasion, but let's wait a little bit more time before I can comment general impression so far.

However, for our readers who are foreign and didn't have the chance to see your comment in Croatian, can you briefly explain what did you found problematic with Tomašević early on to the point that you had to react publicly?

He stopped most of the public procurement. Even though I understand his concern that there might be corruption problems, that is not the way to solve that problem. That problem should be solved with better process and clear guidance from the mayor to the city administration because if public procurement is stopped for too long, there will be problems for citizens. On the other hand, in a short period of time new mayor will not be able to change much if he doesn’t make the process of public procurement more transparent and efficient. 

Far from the US philosophy

 Once on N1, you said political parties in Croatia are still pretty socialistic. Since on that occasion you were a guest at N1 regarding Zagreb Reconstruction Bill, did you mean they were socialistic just in that regard or in general? Are Croatians also socialistic too?

They are socialistic in general, and that bill was just the latest example. That orientation of political parties in Croatia resulted in a situation in which an enormous part of the economy depends on the state so we actually have crony capitalism. That sends the wrong message to the people, so people lose self-confidence and think they can’t earn for themselves and their families, and instead, they rely on the state to help them in every aspect of their life. They simply don’t take into account the fact that the state is corrupt and inefficient, which may be because of inadequate financial literacy.

However, it seems to me that the tide is changing with the lead from the local level from cites like Sveta Nedelja and that people are beginning to see the benefits of liberal policies.

When you say the parties are socialistic, some could think this is the heritage of Yugoslavia. However, aside from the communist experiences of South-Eastern Europe, the overall European political culture and tradition goes along the way „yes to democracy, yes to free market, yes to the individual freedoms“ but also „yes to social care, yes to free health, yes to free education, yes to supporting cultural and artistic projects, scientific research, etc“. Many people see Fokus as being against that and wanting to dismantle that European political culture with American political culture, which seems to be notorious in Europe for its health and education system, which as people see it, „is alright if you have cash, but not for the poor“. Are you indeed into „making Croatia American rather than European?“ and if so, how would you address the mentioned sectors of health, education, culture, and science? What about HRT in that context (as the idea of a public TV financed by the state is a European invention in the media landscape)?

Of course, we are not for an American-style economy. We prefer the Dutch or Scandinavian style with high economic freedom and adequate social benefits. Some people don’t understand that “free” health care doesn’t exist. Taxpayers pay for that. And if we think a little bit more about our health care system, do we really have health care that is accessible to the poor? How long are the waiting lists? People pay taxes for health care, and when they need it, then they don’t get it. That is not free health care! Almost the same is for everything else. I believe that vouchers would solve that problem because then even poor people could afford health care service from the private sector, and the public health care system would have to be more efficient and provide better value for money. The same thing is possible with education. HRT should be significantly downsized, and subscriptions decreased with the option to opt-out from their service.

When it comes to the overall Croatian political landscape, Fokus does offer something truly different from other political options, and it seems quite right to expect that Fokus will continue to grow. But, what do you think made Fokus uprise to start in central Croatia, in Sveta Nedelja, Samobor, Dugo Selo, and Sv. Ivan Zelina? Is there something that makes the culture and society in these areas different comparing to the rest of Croatia that they were the first to recognize and give a chance to your program?

Fokus also has a mayor of Pirovac in Dalmatia and president of the city council in Čakovec, members of City council in Slatina, etc, so I wouldn’t say that our policies are only recognized in central Croatia. However, we have better support in parts of Croatia, where fewer people work in the public sector and more in the private sector. That is not surprising since we promote policies that would result in a more efficient public sector and less red tape and taxation for the private sector. 

 Davor_during_his_campaing_in_Zagreb.jpg© Davor Nađi

 Up next: European elections and Croatian Parliament 

On the note of local success, many view local elections as a forecast for what can happen in parliamentary elections. How would you rate your chances on the next parliament elections based on local results?

I’m very optimistic. Fokus has a very good position to grow and to achieve a great result. Fokus is already a success story and we have grown in a number of members in every part of Croatia. I believe that a new government after elections will not be formed without a strong party or coalition from the political center, and if we look at the results of local elections, Fokus is the fourth party by a number of mayors in Croatia. Also, we are the strongest party of the political center in national ratings, so that gives us reason to believe that we can gain even more support from our citizens in the future.

 Back to the Zagreb elections. The two main candidates represented Gree-left values and national, conservative, sovereign values. Tomašević not only got support from some of the other European mayors but, just as with Škoro's values, there are plenty of same-minded people in Europe sharing those values. You mentioned your appreciation for the Dutch Prime Minister, but are you as well in contact with like-minded parties and politicians in the EU?  

Fokus is a new party, so we still haven’t formed significant international alliances, but we can see ourselves working with other European liberal parties. Of course, the one with the best results is Dutch VVD that is in power on the state level. 

But when we talk about the support that Tomašević or some right-wing parties and NGOs in Croatia had in recent years from abroad; I would say that there is a thin line between support and meddling into elections, and I would say that that line was crossed.

But, can we expect that Fokus will try to be in communication with them? Any plans for running on European Parliament elections as a good point to meet with other think-alike politicians in the EU?

I said that we don't have some significant alliances with them. However, we are in contact with some of them. We will see where that will take us. EP elections could be the first opportunity to test eventual cooperation.

And regarding what you said about there being a thin line between support and meddling in elections and how that line was crossed in Zagreb elections by NGOs, is there a risk of entrepreneurs doing the same thing when supporting, either financially or with public influence, certain parties? How can we prevent such meddling legally but yet with respect to the right of political expression to organizations and individuals?

I don’t see the financial support of Croatian entrepreneurs to political parties as a problem. The problem is only if they receive privileged treatment after the election in return for giving financial support. I would go one step further and say that we should welcome donations of private individuals and companies to political parties because that would mean that political parties would be less dependant on public financing. That should be a normal part of the domestic election process. However, if foreign money is included in financing political parties or their leaders, direct or through other channels, then we as a state have a problem.

To conclude, you are MA of the economy, and you talk a lot about economic solutions. Are our economy and business truly the core issues politicians need to address? Additionally, what are your views and the views of Fokus on defense policy, diplomacy, international relations, emigration policy (asylum seekers trying to enter Croatia), Croatian veterans, diaspora, and the ideological, historical disputes among Croatians, which for better or worse seem to often resolve the elections on a parliamentary level?

It would take a much longer conversation to answer all these questions, but I will try to answer in few sentences. Yes, I believe that economy is the most important issue that needs to be addressed because that is the place where value is created and which provides a better life for people and necessary funding for all government programs. Without a strong economy, the state can’t finance defense or social benefits. Unfortunately, you are right that elections are, in the biggest part, decided on other issues that target emotions rather than reason. 

When it comes to defense policies, liberals believe that the basic tasks of the state are to provide to their citizen's rule of law and protection from foreign and domestic threats. So we should have adequate defense capabilities. On the other hand, we have no problem financing social benefits to real war veterans, however almost 30 years after the war, there shouldn’t be any new users of these benefits. Regarding international relations, our position is that Croatia should remain an EU and NATO member with strong relationships with the USA and with a clear position that China can’t be our partner until they don’t behave by the same rules like everyone else with the biggest concern regarding human rights issues.

Even though we are a small country, that doesn’t mean we can’t lead by example. It is up to us if we will stay on the bottom of every European statistic table or we will start going up. We have all the resources we need to thrive.

Learn more about Croatian politics and history since 1990 on our TC page.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Entrepreneurs To Have One Chance For Debt Forgiveness, Reports Večernji List

ZAGREB, 2 June, 2021 - Every entrepreneur should have one opportunity to have their debt forgiven during their entrepreneurial life and to be able to do business without hindrance, Večernji List daily said on Wednesday.

This is provided for by the Directive on preventive restructuring frameworks and second chance from 2019, which EU member states have to introduce into their legislation by mid-2021, that is in a month.

The Croatian Ministry of Justice has also announced that it will initiate amendments to the Bankruptcy Act and the Consumer Bankruptcy Act to adapt them to the Directive, but a bill of amendments has not been presented yet so it remains unclear whether Croatia will additionally regulate discharge of business debts.

In Croatia, there are currently about 16,000 entrepreneurs with blocked accounts, and about 8,000 of them are companies, while the second half are craftsmen and other entrepreneurs who keep business books. The total debt of all entrepreneurs amounts to about HRK 6 billion.

The situation is much more difficult for nearly 240,000 citizens with blocked accounts, whose debt principal totals about HRK 17 billion.

So far, the state has twice written off debts of citizens with blocked accounts as part of special campaigns, but that has not significantly affected the overall situation.

Debt write-offs for entrepreneurs were the most common in pre-bankruptcy settlements established by former finance minister Slavko Linić during Zoran Milanović's term as prime minister. Later, the law changed and debt write-offs are now less frequent.

The EU Directive does not address citizens' debts directly, but it proposes that states apply the principle for debt forgiveness for entrepreneurs to over-indebted citizens.

Under the Directive, everyone should have the opportunity to have their debt written off in a procedure that should last no longer than three years, Večernji List said.

For more about business in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

 

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Summer Business School: A Chance for Entrepreneurs at Step-Ri Science-Technology Park

May 27, 2021 - This June, a five-day Summer Business School organized by Step-Ri Science-Technology Park and the American Embassy in Croatia makes Rijeka the place for entrepreneurs.

Science parks, research parks or technology parks or less intriguingly known as innovation centers, are a purpose-built cluster of office spaces, labs, workrooms, and meeting areas designed to support research and development in science and tech, says Bidwells, one of the UK's most reputable property consultancy companies. Common infrastructures worldwide and in Europe, the biggest city in Kvarner, Rijeka, is no exception in having one.

Step-Ri is a science-technology park, part of the University in Rijeka, and a place where science and economy meet to encourage entrepreneurship based on knowledge and new technologies.

„As one of the leading institutions in Croatia when it comes to entrepreneurship, Step Ri brings the newest knowledge in innovation and management from around the world through interesting education and business consulting. With our knowledge and experience, singlehandedly and with the help of the international network of partners and friends, we create projects and specialized programs to encourage entrepreneurship initiatives for both employed and unemployed, students, and the scientific community. With new services, business models, personal and organizational competencies, we make already successful entrepreneurs more competitive“, says Step-Ri's official website.
One example of such initiatives is the upcoming Summer Business Camp which will take place from June 23-27. And what's more interesting, this five-day program is brought to Step-Ri in collaboration with the American Embassy in Croatia.

„Summer Business Camp brings teams from all Croatia that want to improve or refine their business ideas and solutions through exercises, lectures, and individual coaching, “says Step Ri, promising extraordinary mentoring from successful entrepreneurs and investors.

This year, special attention will be given to the gaming startups, but other industries are also welcome. Regardless of whether you are already an entrepreneur or just aspiring to be one, you are welcome to apply if you have a developed business idea or a functional prototype.

Learning how to bulletproof your idea, experienced entrepreneur as a mentor, a chance to hear directly from investors what are they looking for and how to deliver it, valuable feedback and honest thoughts to accelerate your project, creating new opportunities, meeting other people in the business, and a having a good time- are some of the promises by Step-Ri for those who apply.

But, it would be best if you hurried, as June 6 is very close, and that's the deadline to beat. At least ten teams will be selected after a committee of experts evaluates project applications. Bed and breakfast accommodation for up to two team members, lunch at the venue, local bus tickets for getting to the venue, and a commemorative T-shirt await for those who are selected. And once in, a panel of venture capitalists, business angels, and business people will award the best with Apple iPad Pro (1st prize), Apple iPad Air 4 (2nd prize), and Apple iPad 8 (3rd prize).

Pieces of technologies such as the aforementioned above can certainly come in handy to entrepreneurs, but what about money? The actual finance for your projects?
„Many teams in the past received funding from participating investors and judges. However, nobody but you can answer that! Come and pitch your idea and see how far it will take you!“concludes Step-Ri regarding finance possibilities to turn your vision into a reality.

Learn more about Rijeka on our TC page.

For more about education in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 12 March 2021

Zadar: Contracts For Social Entrepreneurship Worth HRK 10 Million Presented

ZAGREB, 12 March, 2021 - Labour Minister Josip Aladrović and deputy director of the National Foundation for Civil Society Development Luka Bogdan presented eight contracts in Zadar on Friday worth nearly HRK 10 million for projects to strengthen the capacities of old and new social enterprises and entrepreneurs.

"Today, we signed contracts with entities that are just starting and that are developing their business in accordance with principles of social entrepreneurship," said Labour, Pension System, Family and Social Policy Minister Josip Aladrović, noting that the ministry has provided over HRK 112 million to encourage social entrepreneurship.

The pandemic and crisis have created an opportunity for doing some things better and fairer, he said.

I believe that we can find a way in our business to regain a positive social impact. There are four counties among the co-signers: Zadar, Šibenik-Knin, Split-Dalmatia and Lika-Senj counties. All forms of entrepreneurship in these areas are more important than ever before, mostly due to the impact the pandemic has had on the tourism sector and all related activities, Minister Aladrović said, adding that by signing the projects they want to strengthen the capacities of old and new social enterprises through additional employment and education.

Deputy director of the National Foundation for Civil Society Development Luka Bogdan  said that social entrepreneurship was one of the models connecting solidarity and entrepreneurship that could be seen every day, not just in a crisis.

The purpose of the projects is to employ members of vulnerable groups -- women, Croatian war veterans and victims of the Homeland War, people with disabilities and others, and this will include creating new jobs and improving the knowledge and skills of employees through specialised forms of training and employment.

Before presenting the contracts cofinanced by the European Social Fund, Minister Aladrović and his associates had a working meeting with representatives of the City of Zadar on increasing capacities of retirement homes.

According to state secretary Marija Pletikosa, it is estimated that about 5% of the population aged over 65 needs accommodation in a retirement home, and Zadar has not yet reached the capacity to accommodate 3%, so it is necessary to build new retirement homes.

Aladrović said that he supported the idea because increasing the number of accommodation units for the elderly population across Croatia was one the priorities of his ministry.

For more about business in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 20 November 2020

EIB and HBOR Sign New Loan Agreement to Support SMEs in Croatia

ZAGREB, November 20, 2020 - The European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development (HBOR) have signed a new, €142.5 million loan agreement to  support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Croatia, the two financial institutions said on Friday.

This is the second tranche of a package worth a total of €400 million. It is part of the EIB's youth employment initiative under which companies that hire young people are granted loans under more favourable terms.

The initiative addresses the issue of youth unemployment as one of the biggest social and economic challenges faced by Croatia and Europe.

The loan is intended for SMEs requiring funds to maintain cash flow and jobs and for further investment to ensure faster recovery from the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, HBOR Board President Tamara Perko said.

This agreement is yet another confirmation of our good cooperation with the EIB and will provide us with an additional source of affordable lending and make it possible for us to further lower interest rates on loans to businesses employing people of up to 30 years of age, she added.

EIB Vice-President Dario Scannapieco said that the EIB continued to support faster growth and development of the Croatian economy, this time through support for SMEs.

This is the second transaction signed since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March, providing a total of €240 million for favourable loans to Croatian SMEs and mid-caps, he said.

Last month the EIB and HBOR signed a €100 million credit line for Croatian SMEs and mid-caps affected by the COVID-19 crisis. 

To date the EIB has supported the economic and social development of Croatia by investing €6.71 billion in the most important sectors of the national economy. Another key component of EIB activities in Croatia is support for SMEs and mid-caps through the creation of long-term financing options in cooperation with local financial institutions. To date the EIB has supported Croatian SMEs by unlocking new sources of finances worth close to €3.75 billion.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Rimac Gives Croatian Government Lesson on Innovation and Car Industry

As Jasmina Trstenjak/Filip Pavic/Novac writes on the 1st of May, 2019, the Republic of Croatia does have a chance in the car industry, and it can improve its investment portfolio with certain active and proactive measures, open up opportunities for the development of new industries, and not miss this third train, since it has already missed two. Rimac Automobili, the company of one of Croatia's most successful entrepreneurs, Mate Rimac, is more than ready to help if Croatia truly wants to attract the car industry to Croatia. With some work put in to it, it's possible.

The above is one of the key messages given by Mate Rimac, the founder and CEO of Rimac Automobili, which was part of the "Croatia E-mobility Forum", held recently at the Esplanade Hotel in Zagreb and organised by the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) and Jutarnji List, during which spoke about "How Croatia can attract the automotive industry".

In his presentation, among other things, analysed the countries that make up Central and Eastern Europe, what the automotive industry brought to them (growth, jobs, contribution to GDP...), which attracted investors, just how Croatia stands in this aspect. He also noted some key trends that are already transforming the car industry.

The automotive industry is completely changing, therefore the use of cars will eventually alter too. People will, at some point, no longer be car owners, they might not even bother to learn to drive, but all this will open up many new doors. Trends show that many cars will become autonomous by 2030, they will all be connected to the internet, more electrification will occur, and the car sharing will become more common. Mate Rimac discussed these points, full of experience as his own company, which has grown into a powerful technology company over the past decade and attracted more investment than all the technology companies in Croatia.

So far, Rimac Automobili has attracted more than 60 million euros in foreign investment, and that's not even counting the European Investment Bank (EIB), which has provided the company with a 30 million euro loan last year. The last investor in Rimac Automobili was no less than Porsche, and that was the very first time Porsche invested in another company.

''We don't want this to be the last investment, but we need to attract investments. Not only because of us, but also because of the state, so that the automotive industry invests in other things in Croatia. This year, a big investor will enter into the structure of our company. It's a 150 million euro investment, and the details on that will be known in a few weeks,'' revealed Rimac. He also emphasised the significance and the power of the branch in which he works - if the automotive industry was a country, it would be the fourth largest in the entire world!

However, rather unsurprisingly, Croatia is lagging behind quite significantly when compared to others, the automotive industry has spread very well across the whole of Europe and Croatia is almost the only exception. Two waves of investment in the region have already been and gone. The first was in the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, the second was in Romania and Slovakia, and now a lot is being invested in neighbouring Serbia.

In the aforementioned countries, the automotive industry started practically from scratch and through the investments of other manufacturers, unassuming little Slovakia has become the largest car maker per capita in the world today. Therefore, in his extensive presentation, Rimac also commented on the way companies choose their sites, what their criteria are, and, when comparing Croatia with other countries, he found that Croatia is not one of the best candidates at all.

''Croatia has thirteen billion dollars worth of exports, with four million people. Slovakia has a million residents and more than 78 billion dollars in exports, out of which, 20 billion dollars of exports are in cars and parts alone. Let's look at some closer neighbors. Slovenia, with more than two million inhabitants, is exporting more than Croatia, and once again, their main export products are cars, and for us, it's wood,'' said Rimac, adding that these countries attracted companies with their favourable labour costs, but also for their talents and good faculties, infrastructure and available capital.

He also noted that Croatia has less than a billion dollars of automotive revenue, while, let's say, the Czech Republic has 41 billion dollars, and it has a strong potential. Thus, Croatia has less than half a percent of GDP, and the Czech Republic accounts for more than five percent of its GDP directly from the automotive industry, which is indeed a very defeating comparison. In the CEE region, investments have occurred thanks to generally cheap labour, and although much of it has well and truly bypassed Croatia, Mate Rimac is certain that there is a way to attract this industry still. Not necessarily with cheaper labour, but also with new opportunities.

''Hundreds of e-car models are coming onto the market. They're developed during a period of four to seven years and what's going on in the labs today will be on the roads within several years. There is a tremendous opportunity since today's share of three percent in sales will jump to 60 percent in the coming decades. That's why there's a lot of investment going on in the automotive industry, in startups and in technology companies. So far, more than 25 billion dollars has been invested through investment ventures, and this is where that industry is heading. There are investments in the development of batteries, in companies that make sensors and the like. The portfolio is bigger than it used to be. Also, there's a lot of heavy investment in development, and budgets are larger,'' noted Rimac.

Rimac also added that not everything is so black, although Croatia is of course late ''to the party'', and is missing out on the opportunity to join the development of the automotive industry by modelling itself on the countries of the CEE region. That industry, he says, is growing steadily, and countries are committed to receiving investments and attracting firms.

''We don't want just any investment, but those that give maximum benefit. But it's not about how much the state will encourage these industries to come. The state must first determine in which direction it wants to go, which industries it has, and then work proactively. England has a great initiative and it does very well because it has a complex program for the automotive industry, it works proactively, runs research centres, test sites... Therefore, proactive measures and projects are needed if there's a desire to go in that direction,'' Rimac said.

The presentation outlined nineteen action measures that the Croatian state should take to accelerate the automotive industry's progress in Croatia.

He mentioned that employees should be allowed to enter into company ownership and there should be a reduction in income taxes on high salaries.

Universities should make sure their programs include more machine learning, artificial intelligence, and electrical engineering.

Universities should employ professors from the STEM sector with scientific reputations, Rimac believes, and invest in equipping faculties and linking universities with actual investors.

In addition, the state should implement tax incentives for R&D-oriented companies, as well as meet with relevant engineers, as well as take a more proactive role in industrial development in co-operation with potential foreign investors.

As far as infrastructure is concerned, it's very important to encourage international contacts with cities that have developed automotive and innovation hubs and additionally invest in the 5G network for all households.

When it comes to specific measures for the automotive industry, among the measures listed above, it's necessary for foreign automotive employees to have temporary housing and job search support provided to the employee's life partner.

Additionally, one of the measures implies the establishment of an international school, where teaching will be conducted in foreign languages.

As far as the infrastructure of the auto industry itself is concerned, Rimac says that the testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads should be legalised, there should be an institute for electric and autonomous vehicles established, as well as an institute for artificial intelligence, as well as centres of competence and innovation hubs.

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Click here for the original article by Jasmina Trstenjak/Filip Pavic for Novac/Jutarnji

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