Greek firms to invest 2 bln euros in Serbia by 2010

BELGRADE (Reuters) – Greek companies plan to double their investment in Serbia by 2010, especially if the country achieves political stability and gets on the path to European Union membership, businessmen said yesterday. «At least 50 Greek companies are waiting to invest in Serbia,» Vassilios Ntertilis, chairman of the Hellenic Business Association of Serbia, told a news conference. «The planned investment is certainly 2 billion euros over the next two years.» The association groups 120 Greek businesses established in Serbia – mainly in telecommunications, finance, tourism, real estate and textile sectors – with an estimated investment to date of some 2 billion euros and a 25,000-strong work force. Ntertilis said some were still waiting for the outcome of a general election next month, as «before they invest, some want to be convinced of political stability and a stable legal framework.» Greek investors are looking into Serbia’s real estate and retail trade sectors and some smaller financial industry deals. But political stability, reforms and further progress toward the EU remain crucial to ensuring investment, said Christos Panagopoulos, the Greek ambassador to Belgrade. «I would appeal to the Serbian authorities to speed up reforms and the progress to the EU as much as possible,» Panagopoulos said. Serbia needs 3 to 5 billion euros a year in foreign investment to finance its burgeoning current account gap, which approached $7 billion in 2007 or 16.2 percent of GDP. Since the fall of late autocrat Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, the nation has attracted around $12 billion in various investment and privatization revenues. But investors have been reluctant to commit since the start of 2008, due to growing political uncertainty and nationalist sentiment fueled by the Western-backed secession of Kosovo. The outgoing coalition of nationalist and pro-Western parties collapsed over whether Serbia should pursue EU membership despite EU support for Kosovo. Opinion polls show the May 11 election will be a neck-and-neck race between the hardline Radicals and the pro-Western Democratic Party.

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