Top investor Austria criticises Croatia

Businessmen have slammed the economic circumstances in Croatia as Austria aims to remain the busiest investor in the Southeast European state.Burgenland Economy Chamber chief Peter Nemeth said today (Thurs) Croatia’s political system “hasn’t arrived in the present yet” due to bureaucratic barriers for entrepreneurs interested in investing in the country. He added that he considered the risks of expanding into Croatia as “substantial.”Nemeth headed a delegation of businessmen from the Austrian province of Burgenland meeting firm chiefs and and high-profile politicians in Croatian capital Zagreb earlier this week.Animal feed industry investor Stefan Jagisch criticised a decline in Croat business partners’ payment morale in the past two years when Croatia was plagued by the economic crisis. The Austrian – who has been active in the country for 15 years – said many people he was dealing with would let deadlines expire.Reinhard Schweifer of Eisenstadt-based electricity provider BEWAG said he would describe the circumstances to invest and expand in Croatia as “difficult.””You have to carefully observe the environment in which you intend to do business,” he said.BEWAG runs a wind power project in Croatia and has been operating in the country’s internet and phone sector via its subsidiary company Hrvatska. The company is currently looking for firms interested in taking over Hrvatska as it carries out a vast restructuring process which will result in a merger with gas provider BEGAS.Austria was the top investor in Croatia last year. Around 750 Austrian firms are represented in the country which hopes to join the European Union (EU) in 2013. The Austrian government coalition of Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) is an outspoken supporter of a Croatian accession. Especially Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger of the conservative ÖVP has campaigned in favour of such a move. Polls have shown that a majority of Austrians would appreciate a Croatian membership, while scepticism dominates when people are being asked about whether Turkey should join the EU.Asked in which regards Croatia must do better, SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann said last year: “The legal system must be adapted to EU standards. I’ve heard many complaints from Austrian businessmen.”However, the SPÖ chief – who met with Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor for talks in Vienna last December – also said Croatia was a “role model for the whole (Balkan) region.”Faymann announced: “Croatia has always been an important trade partner of Austria. The economic ties between Croatia and Austria are strong. I’m convinced both countries will recover from the effects of the recession.”