The Slovenia Times

Slovenia's path to the cutting edge


The most burning question of today is: What does the European Union represent and where is it heading? There is, however, a bottom-line and it is simple-the EU needs to reform and invest. Lack of reform is holding back a much stronger rebound for EU economies, limiting company potential and hindering job creation. This is highlighted in the most recent survey of the European Investment Bank.

To get a thorough understanding of how companies of all sizes and in all main sectors of the economy operate, the Bank's economists carried out a survey of more than 12,500 firms from all of the EU's 28 Member States, with 416 firms from Slovenia. We wanted to find where the problems are so that we can try to fix them.

Positive highlights

There are some positive highlights from across the EU. The survey found that 84% of Slovenian firms made an investment in the last financial year, with the Europe-wide level a little lower at 79%. It's encouraging that the number of companies planning to boost investment this year is greater than the number of businesses planning to limit their investment activities.

Slovenia's results are particularly good, particularly in light of the aftermath of the country's banking crisis. Positive results for Slovenia's companies are the result of the structural reforms and corporate sector restructuring which has been implemented since the crisis.

Against this backdrop, the EIB supports companies that want to invest. Last year we provided a EUR 50m loan to Gorenje for research and development aimed at connecting Gorenje devices to the "Internet of things", bringing everyday tools online, allowing them to send and receive data. Swift changes in technology means that companies such as the Velenje-based maker of domestic appliances have to invest a lot to be ahead of the curve.

Worrying signs

Nonetheless, there are worrying signs across the continent. Companies that have invested too little in the past three years to prepare for future expansion amount to 15% of the total. In Slovenia, this number is higher at 28%.

Although corporate investment activity in Europe is recovering, it is at a very sluggish pace. Only one third of Slovenian firms expect to increase their investment this year which is in line with the European average but is a very subdued upswing.

All this amplifies the significance of the EIB's role. During the crisis, the EIB played an exceptionally counter-cyclical role, dramatically increasing financing for investment. With the economic cycle moving into a more positive phase, we need to continue investing heavily because the legacy of the crisis is a backlog of necessary investment. We must address this backlog if Europe wants to keep up with the global technological challenges and remain competitive in the long run.

Much remains to be done to address Europe's investment gap which is why the Investment Plan for Europe, which the EIB is helping to implement, is so important.

The investment gaps will not go away by themselves and so we decided to strengthen the second pillar of the Investment plan, the European Investment Advisory Hub (EIAH) and its presence at the local level. We believe that the "EIAH Going Local" approach and cooperation with local partners will help unlock the potential of bankable projects for European firms.

Innovation focus

The EIB is focused on innovation. Without innovation, Europe will not become more competitive, nor will it be able to maintain its current advantages. The results of our survey show that, for European companies, expanding capacity is not the main investment goal. What they want instead is to upgrade their existing capital stock. Just 44% of existing machinery and equipment is seen as "state-of-the-art" across the continent.

Slovenia's numbers in this area are good. Slovenian firms say that 50% of their machinery is state-of-the-art. Compare this to Bulgaria, for example, where only 26% of firms could say the same of their machinery.

Nonetheless, Slovenian firms recognise the need to pick up the pace of investment. Investments at nine out of 10 Slovenian firms were mostly for capacity expansion last year rather than for replacing outdated equipment.

The EIB can help by stimulating investment appetite, taking on more risk-all this to catalyse private investment. We are already half way toward our initial target of EUR 315bn of mobilised investment by 2018 under the Investment Plan for Europe.

In 2016 the Investment Plan backed EUR 10m of the EIB's total EUR 140m Slovenian investment. That translates into EUR 390m of mobilised investment.

A place for skills

Equipment is not the only thing needing update and modernisation. The skills of European workers must be improved-we need this desperately. The lack of skilled workers is a major factor for Slovenia and for the entire Central and Eastern European region, highlighting the need for investment in human capital.

The investment survey also shows that to boost innovation, to create jobs and make Europe competitive globally, regulatory reform is vital. The EU is far from the fully harmonised, coherent, barrier-free, investment-friendly place we all wish to see. Companies struggle to navigate an ocean of inconsistent cross-border rules.

Regulators and legislators, both at the national and the EU level, must come together and accelerate the pace of reform. This is the only way to ensure that future economic surveys like the one we've just completed, show a brighter picture for Slovenia and all of Europe.


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