Ernst Bode, Executive Director, Messer Tehnogas AD

Serbia Has Yet To Realise Its Potential

Serbia has enormous growth potential, but many obstacles have yet to be removed. Reasonable legislation, a trim and efficient public administration and a professional, reliable and functional court system are among the most sought-after conditions for businesses to flourish

We spoke with Ernst Bode about Messer’s experience as a longterm investor in Serbia, unfinished reform tasks, and the role of the Foreign Investors Council in the Serbian economy’s transition process.

From today’s perspective, how important was the establishment of the Foreign Investors Council for the improvement of the investment environment and the development of a constructive dialogue between the business community and state institutions?

– I believe the FIC has really been very successful in being a corrective factor and providing some reality checks, so it became the voice not only of foreign investors but of the real sector as a whole, benefitting both foreign and domestically-owned companies. The annual FIC White Book provides evidence of all that has been done, and its concept has been copied several times by others in Serbia.

When it comes to the pace of reforms, were you a bigger optimist back in the early 2000s; and how close do you think Serbia is now to its goal of constructing a functional market economy?

– Yes, I guess we were all bigger optimists in 2000. In the meantime, we all became realists. Undoubtedly a lot has been done and many things have been achieved, but this is a process that sometimes, unfortunately, goes from one extreme to the other. After all, many things have changed for the better.

However, let’s not deceive ourselves: 5th October 2000 was 17 years ago! A lot more could have been done and remains to be done. I believe the biggest issue for the future is to tackle the court system and ensure it functions reliably for everyone again.

The FIC has been very successful in being the voice of the real sector, benefitting both foreign and domestically-owned companies. I hope it will play an even more important role in the future as a voice of reason for the economy

In which areas of reform is the FIC’s work most important for Serbia today?

– It is important in almost all areas dealt with by the FIC. Maybe I would see a priority as being legal issues and issues regarding property and land registers.

As an investor, what are your strongest reasons for remaining faithful to Serbia?

–My company operates successfully and we are satisfied with our financial performance. I wish for Serbia’s enormous growth potential, which is in reach, to be raised. As I see it, we are really not talking about a few percentage points of growth, but rather continuous high single-digit and low double-digit growth rates that could at least double the GDP in a very reasonable timeframe. And I believe it wouldn’t need too much to kick-start that process.

In your opinion, what should be the priorities of the Serbian Government when it comes to removing obstacles to investing?

– We need reasonable legislation, trim and efficient public administration and a professional, reliable and functional court system. All in all, I guess building efficient and reliable institutions is the challenge of time.

How do you see the future of the Foreign Investors Council?

– I hope the FIC will play an even more important role in the future as a voice of reason for the economy, both of Serbian companies with foreign capital and Serbian companies with domestic capital.

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