Category Archives: Economy

Serbia and the E.U.: Who Needs Who More?

Sigh… When I started this blog, I promised myself that I would stay away from anything political because Belgrade and Serbia have been manipulated by everyone’s politics too much for too long. I am sad to say – can’t do it. Must be a genetic thing, a mild form of Tourrette’s perhaps, but I’m going to have to speak my mind.

I don’t have much in the sense of a formal education.  However, for an autodidact, I’ve got a good head on my shoulders and an above average understanding of the world around me. When I come across articles like the one I ran into today on The Sofia Echo, about Serbia possibly applying for E.U. membership by the end of this year and how great that would be for the Serbian people – it just pisses me off. First I’ll tell you why it pisses me off and then I’d be very grateful to anyone out there who could tell me I’m wrong and explain it to me.

Aside from the ton of reading and the mandatory interest in politics one must have to be able to survive in Serbia, I grew up in Portugal in the 80’s and 90’s. For those of you who don’t know, from the early 1930’s, Portugal was under the totalitarian regime of the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar. As dictators go, Salazar is probably the most underrated of them all. After an almost 40 year dictatorship, the man died in 1970. His regime fell in 1974. I think that about covers the extent of his power. Thus, the Portugal I was raised in went through a much longer and tougher transition than the Serbia I’ve been raising my child in since 2000. And someone in Serbia’s current government might want to give someone in Portugal a call, because they’re making the same time altering mistakes that some of their democratic “revolutionary” predecesors made. Or at least read a book on the subject. Just a suggestion.

Portugal joined the European Union in 1986 and a lot of things went downhill from there. Soon enough, those wonderful, sunkissed, organic tomatoes were replaced by the imported, greenhouse crap that tastes like soaked cardboard. Portuguese wineries had to modify entire winemaking processes to meet E.U. regulations. Other E.U. laws and requirement have had serious negative influence on both Portuguese agriculture and tourism, two major industries in this country’s economy. I really don’t see how Serbia’s fate in the E.U. would be any different.

Organic tomatoes grown in Melides (Alentejo, Portugal)

I’m just going to say it. I firmly believe that, especially now with the economic mess they’ve gone and gotten themselves (yes, themselves) into, the E.U. needs Serbia more than Serbia needs the E.U..  Stop gasping and gaping at the screen, for pitty sake, and think about it.

Serbia, as it is today, is that good looking, ingenious kid that was born on the wrong side of the tracks. Think “Good Will Hunting”.  Serbia has the know-how, the infrastructure, the experience, the raw materials… you name it. Need highly educated experts? Got it. Or is cheap production and workforce what you’re looking for? Got that too. Someone who understands your newest technology and can implement it? Yup, that too. In fact, we’ve dabbled in mass production and innovative technology a few times ourselves. We just don’t have the financial resources. You know – the cash, the bread, the greenback, the moolah? Yeah, the stuff the E.U. pretends it still has.

Oh, and you know what else? We’ve got this cute little thing going on with Russia, called tariff-free export. And maybe you’ve heard this too – Russia and a few other countries in the region (that we’ve got this rockin’ relationship and trade agreements with) happen to make up a market of 200+ million consumers in one of the fastest growing FMCG markets in the world. What was that? That same market has been declining in Western Europe and North America? Shuddup! Really? And production costs have been rising there too? Wow.  And our guys are expecting trade with Russia to increase up to 60% this year. Who would’ve thunk it?

Simpo furniture factory in Vranje, Serbia

Simpo furniture factory in Vranje, Serbia

Wait. I just got this great idea. There are already a few European companies outsourcing production here, but it would be so much more practical if Serbia was an E.U. member state. Then any European company could move their production and other elements of their business here, where it’s all cheaper, high quality and close to home. Getting rid of those pesky tariffs and customs regulations would help and it really would give the Serbian economy an initial boost so the good ol’ boys in the current government would look good. At least as long as they’re in office. Hey, but let’s not let everyone in on this. Let’s pretend Serbia hasn’t entered the E.U. untill now because of lack of full cooperation with the ICTY. Then let’s pretend that some E.U. countries will support its candidacy out of their genuine concern for the people of Serbia and the fact that Serbian citizens don’t have the average European salary and can’t always travel freely. If the citizens of Serbia realize the E.U. really needs them, God forbid, they might up the ante on this one.

This time, in the article I read this morning, that genuine concern comes from Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt. Sweden happens to be the current holder of the E.U. presidency. Funny coincidence too. The massive Ikea, a Swedish company, signed a strategic partnership with Serbian furniture manufacturer Simpo in May of this year. Ikea’s aim, as they stated then, is to outsource production here and enter the Russian market while covering demand in South Eastern Europe as well. And Tetra Pak, the food processing and packaging giant of Swedish origins, has been outsourcing production to the Tipoplastika factory in Gornji Milanovac (Central Serbia) for years now. Guess what. Just this January, Tetra Pak management declared this very production plant as the best among their 42 plants in the world. Hey, I just read this stuff. You do the math.