That is not to say that Slovenia is not punching above its weight when it comes to the regional or even global reach of its logistics firms. With only two million people, it is not bigger than the average capital of an EU member state, yet it boasts the leading maritime port in the region as well as an airport with ambitions of becoming a multimodal logistics hub.
The fact that government has significant stakes in all important logistics firms in the country should make it easier for policy makers to follow the advice of many logistics experts who think that Slovenia should act as one big logistics platform. In this way, it would be able to offer state-of-the-art logistics services with high added value to companies who would view Slovenia as the gateway to European markets.
The integration of the country’s logistics industry, however, leaves much to be desired. The government has not yet found a strategy for the development of the logistics sector; this leaves municipalities all around the country free to dream up their own logistics centres. Instead of clearly identifying priority projects, the government acts as it is ready to support any good project with a clear market rationale behind it.
At a time when funds are scarce, such behaviour is irresponsible. Economies of scale, costs savings and freeing up funds to invest in services higher up the value chain can only be realized if a relatively small number of priority projects are identified and successfully integrated into an overarching framework with a clear strategic goal.
Hold me tight
Some think that the idea of a Slovenian logistics holding is just the thing. Merging Luka Koper, the operator of Slovenia’s only port in Koper, Aerodrom Ljubljana, the operator of the country’s leading airport, Slovenian Railways and Intereuropa, a logistics firm focusing on road freight transport, into one logistics behemoth would be a complex process fraught with difficulties and inevitable battles between entrenched lobbies. Yet such an integrated holding would be an attractive partner for strategic investors from abroad, which have to date not been exactly enthusiastic about entering Slovenia’s logistics sector.
There are rumours that Deutsche Bahn (DB), Germany’s leading logistics services provider, has expressed interest in working with its Slovenian counterparts. As a partner to a would-be Slovenian logistics holding, DB could bring new services, know-how and deeper integration into global trade flows, allowing the country’s logistics sector to overcome its main difficulty: the relative lack of services with high added value.
Every man for himself
As things stand at the moment, every company is fending for itself, not necessarily focusing on how to coordinate its investment cycle with the others. Take Luka Koper, for example. Plans for the expansion of the port have recently been made public; if followed through, the capacity of the port would increase by a third. Yet the port’s link with the hinterland, the Koper-Divača railroad, is overburdened as it is.
Successive governments have long said that building a second track from the coast to Ljubljana is one of Slovenia’s priorities. However, nobody knows exactly how much the project will cost and when it will be finished. Observers say that the upgrade could be finished by 2015, costing up to EUR 4bn. The second track would allow the port of Koper to expand its operations without worrying about railway congestion and thus gain an advantage over competitors from Italy and Croatia.
Time’s running out
The heads of Slovenian logistics companies warn that neighbouring countries are not passive. If Slovenia does not expedite its logistics strategy and start investing, its current advantages may start to wither in the eyes of companies that today are bringing millions of tons of cargo to Slovenia’s port, roads and railroads.