NEWS AND EVENTS

From January 2018, Romanian government decided to raise minimum salary to about 410 EUR gross. Although the increase is relative small, considering the previous emolument for “minimum contracts” was around 313 EUR gross, the measure was welcomed by employees’ associations. Their representatives, however, expressed their dismay at the almost irrelevant increase in real terms, estimated around a meagre 4,3% (or 11 EUR more every month).

In the first ten months of 2017, Bulgarian export reached 43,5mln of lev (about 22mln EUR), increasing by 12,5% compared to the same period last year. The information is reported by the National Institute for Statistics of Bulgaria, that, also remarked how in October alone, the country exported for a total value of 4,9mln of lev, an increase of 14,5%. In the same timespan considered, import also registered a raise of 15,4%, for a total value of 48,2mln of lev. Therefore, the trade balance for foreign trade is in negative territories, recording a deficit of 4,7mln lev.

A combination of technology, tradition and investment attractiveness: there are the key elements of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which are often underestimate, but of extreme importance also in east-west relationship.

Independent again after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have taken important steps forwards to improve their respective economies and to join the European Single Market. Once accepted as full members in the EU under the provisions of the Eastern Enlargement 2004-2007, they rather quickly adopted the euro, the first countries to do so from the former Eastern block after Slovakia that joined the Eurozone on the 1st January 2009 (Estonia, 1st January 2011, Latvia,1st of January 2014 and finally Lithuania, 1st January of 2015).

While emigration is a concern for the macroeconomic wellbeing, – it is impossible to minimize the strong outgoing flux of educated and not educated workers from the Baltic area to Western Europe and its pernicious effect on the future of the countries, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are slowly converging with the oldest members of the European Community as economic and quality of life indexes are concerned. To better understand the deep-seated issue of immigration, it is enough to look at one data, the Net Migration Net, a number that expresses the difference between in going and outgoing migrants, calculated in 5 years span. Estonia emerged from the 2007-2012 timeframe with a minus 11,50, Latvia with a -73,442 and Lithuania with a -169,529. More over if the numbers are adjusted for 1000 habitants, the returning picture are far more dramatic: Estonia, the best of the three in this special chart, shows a worrying but not catastrophic -8,9, while its neighbors far way worse, Latvia placing second with -36,10 and Lithuania placing dead last with -56,74.

Usually countries sporting such marked adverse changes are considered nations deeply troubled and unable to provide for their citizens. In the best cases, the reasons could be structural weaknesses (e.g. lack of opportunities for the young) or, in the worst cases, the origin of the woes could be traced back to violent and damaging political instability (e.g. uncertainty, fragile institutions, widespread dissent and dissatisfaction towards the political class), yet, in the Baltic countries the situation is quite different. Starting from new and resolved measures to find a long-lasting solution to the hemorrhage of economic migrants and moving towards a more far-reaching plan to eventually curb the emigration plague, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian governments are actively pursuing new paths. Despite mixed results as today, one of these projects, “Create For Lithuania”, has been able to attract 100 high-level professionals that decided to come back to their country of origin lured by freshly created jobs in the public administration. Unfortunately, crucial vacancies remain: while the project is a step in the right direction, health professionals (mostly physicians) and low ad very low skilled workers failed to qualify for the incentives offered by the government, causing continuous manpower shortage in their sectors. The natural and more visible consequence is that the unemployed rate never falls behind the alert level, not even during positive conjuncture.

Nevertheless, emigration doesn’t come only with bleakness and negativity but carries latent opportunities that can be taken advantage of. In our specific case, the lack of human resources, understood as a key issue, pushed Baltic enterprises to innovate and invest in the informatics and automation sector, reaching, as in Estonia, an almost unchallenged primacy in the Eurozone.

Through a full-fledged digitalization of the bureaucracy, -Estonia’s government is considering extending the reforms to the financial economy-, and a decisive drive to develop the EstCoin, Estonia’s answer to the Bitcoin, to attract foreign entrepreneurs, Tallinn is making the entrance of businessmen interested in developing the promising services sector easier and easier.

In Latvia and Lithuania, the market has shown to be slower to adapt to a digital revolution, yet it is not unlikely that, in the following years, the urgency to tackle the inequality between the higher-than-the-average salaries and the dipping productivity, will encourage the two countries to create the blueprint to successfully reduce the distance from Estonia and, at the same time, hopefully make the export competitive.

The main area of investments are renewable energies and sources, woodworking, the heavy industry and services sector but a burgeoning real estate and construction sector represents a new, stimulating opportunity. To this day, for example, Vilnius is offering architects to move in to the city to redevelop and renovate historical buildings.

Moving to discuss the tax system, investments are encouraged and supported, as reported by the governmental agencies promoting Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian economic potential, by a lax and not onerous taxation. The best placed is Estonia, offering a flat tax of 20% and a 25% levy on the dividends distributed by enterprises, no real estate tax, complete exemption for the earning generated abroad by Estonia-based companies (first country for fiscal easiness, among the best ten countries for economic freedom), but also Latvia can offer a nurturing ambience for business, considering a flat tax locked at 15% and a complete exemption for the dividends earned by EU citizens, while, Lithuania, though not as welcoming as its neighbors, meets the would-be investors with a promising 15% flat tax aimed at both private individuals and companies and a 5% tax for small and medium-sized enterprises with an annual turnover of 345,000 euro and less than 10 employees.

At the legal frame-work a totally informatized banking system and an easiness to open new ventures, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been placed again  among the best 25 countries in the Ease of Doing Business Index by the World Bank -, are to be added to the equation. Although a slight downturn affected Estonia this year (the country slipped down one spot, from the 11th to the 12th), the other two republics have improved or confirmed their status as top-ranked nations, Lithuania gaining the 14th spot (up from the 17th) and Latvia confirming a strong 21st. To put the data in perspective, Austria and Germany, usually listed as extremely business-friendly, place themselves at the 19th spot (Austria) and just a bit higher, at the 17th (Germany). Italy is quite far behind, classified at the 50th spot.

Moreover, to further encourage investments, a deep and far-reaching logistic and intermodal network has been developed to connect the Baltic region to the two most important economic partners, the European Union and Russia. Although the latter is still the privileged spokesman due to economic ties that reach back to the Soviet years, the efforts undertaken by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to increase the operations between them and the Western countries are quite remarkable. Yet, it is essential not to underestimate the structural weaknesses by which the Baltic republics can be undermined, as their shared nature of small and export-oriented economies exposes them to exogenous shocks, frequently coming from Scandinavian market contractions that could negatively affect future economic forecasts. To make the matter worse, the Baltic countries can only resort to flimsy defenses as their need to maintain the openness of market and the asymmetric nature of the shocks weaken their ability to manage, overcome or oppose the perturbing event.

Moving on to the relations between Italy and the Baltic countries, export is constantly on the raise, increasing by 8% in Estonia (year turnover of 410,3mln), 5,3% in Latvia (year turnover of 470mln) and Lithuania recording the best data, an affirming 16,9% (and the biggest turnover of 1,357bln) that confirms Italy’s status as one of the country’s favorite partners (firs EU country after Germany for global-export quota, with 5,4% of the total marked revenue). Import has also registered similar improvements on a yearly basis, with Lithuania again leading the pack with a 11,6% increase (531mln) and Latvia closing the 2016 with a promising and auspicious 4,3%.  The only sour note, the sharp decline of Estonia’s import that was reduced by 14% from 2015, for an annual turnover of just 113mln.

Encouraging signs are coming from Italian food and beverages export sector as well, comprising high-quality wines-, that, especially in the region around Riga, has been showing a spike in the demand. At the same time, Italy has been consolidating its position as one of the leading suppliers of optic and informatics equipment.

Concerning the import from the region, woods and wooden produces, alcohol and tobacco (+42,5 on an annual basis, 7mln of turnover), textile products and animal origin products (mostly Lithuania) are the main goods traded by the Baltic republics. Italian presence in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is concentrated in the retail trade, technic and scientific professions and lately, ventures have been launched in the informatics and services sector (programming and consultancy, primarily in Estonia) and in the real estate market.

To conclude, it is pivotal to be aware of the potential richness of the Baltic area that, as a part of the Eurozone, establishes itself as a viable option for foreign entrepreneurs looking for opportunity for growth. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania’s peculiar position, -a bridge between Eastern and Post-Soviet markets and the older members of the European Single Market-, an agile and swift bureaucracy and presence of duty-free zones surely represent alluring features and it’s not unlikely that, in the following years, the three Baltic republics could assume a role of economic pivot in wider Eastern Europe region.

On December the 4th, the round table on “Illyria-Illyrcum: mythical space, historic space: possible future European Cultural Route from the Karst to Dalmatia” took place at the Biblioteca Statale “Stelio Crise”. The event was organized and promoted by ACCOA, the Croatian Community in Trieste and by Paola Lucchesi, founder of the Center for Sustainable Development of the Una Valley of Bihac.

The meeting opened with the welcome addresses of Gian Carlo Damir Murkovic, president of ACCOA and the Croatian Community, followed by an introductory presentation cured by Paola Lucchesi, instrumental in setting the coordinates in which the following speeches would move and establishing the present and future goals.

Among the latter, the construction of an international working group stood out as the first step to the presentation of the candidacy for the European Cultural Route award. The project as it is will involve four countries, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Italy, a territory stretching from the Krast to Dalmatia. Overcoming the East-West border, both physically and mentally, is another of the aim of the theme that, beside encouraging a conscious tourism, is determined to reinterpret those lands’ past seeking a conjoined historical memory, open to contaminations. For this reason, participants to the event were drawn both from the academical world and from people that have made the fight to hold tourists responsible their life’s mission, making for a diverse and stimulating array of speeches.

Under Luca Caburlotto’s moderation (director of the Museum Center of Friuli Venezia Giulia, MIBACT) the presentations have reflected this variety of experiences and life background. Topics were varied: from the historical and geographical excursus of professor Paola Porunuzzi from the University of Udine, titled “Castellieri on the Karst Plateau and in Istria, how to get them discovered by the public concerned; to the examples brought by Maurizio M. Netto, member of Repubblica Nomade, an Italian association that has made walking expedition all around Europe a weapon to fight the battle for a more united, inclusive and cohesive European Union and Tihomir Dakic from the Center for Environment of Banja Luka, in the front row to promote a form of slow and sustainable tourism.

In particular, professor Paronuzzi’s speech briefly and swiftly reminded the centrality of the Trieste-born researcher Carlo Marchesetti as a pioneer in the rediscovery of the Castellieri culture (Castellieri were pre-Roman settlements scattered from Italy to Bosnia) and as author of some of the most relevant studies on the topic.

In the middle, the accurate contribution by Sanjin Mihelic, director of the Archeological Museum of Zagreb, that presented a precise reconstruction of the Japodes, and the presentations by Franco Juri, from the Museum of the Sea of Piran, about the cultural heritage of his town and by Morana Vukovic from the Archeological Museum of Zadar about the Liburnes, titled “LIburnes: the people who taught the Romans how to build ships”.

What emerged from this richness of prompts and sparks returned the image of a territory that shared a noteworthy cultural and historical heritage, known to the insiders, but scarcely valued. This revaluation could offer to areas deeply affected by negative economical conjuncture and by growing unemployment rate and emigration, a chance to move the first steps towards a long-term development. The repercussions on the social fabric are not to be underestimated, for a new reading of the history stressing unity rather than ethno-national differences, could contribute to a lasting resolution to the issue that have plagues above all Croatia and Bosnia after the bloody conflicts that broke out in those lands. As professor Paolo Paronuzzi clarified towards the end of his presentation, Castellieri culture rose to prominence, finding itself at the center of the archeological debate, during the early 80’s, to quickly fading away and being abandoned, despite the overwhelming quantity of sites on the territory (only Trieste has more than one hundred settlements recorded).

The reclamation of those localities is therefore essential and, as Tihomir Dakic precisely remarked, the theme will be located on cyclo-routes already built and lauded by international medias, stretching from Slovenia to the Serbian capital, Beograd and connected to Italy and North Europe by the newly-constructed Alpe-Adria cyclo-route.

To sum up the afternoon, the attendees confirmed their strong interested in collaborating, sharing a mutual commitment to support the project through the necessary steps.

At the end of the debate, president Murkovic expressed his satisfaction for the conclusions reached at the event, underlining again the high level of expertise of the participants that offers hope for the good outcome of the initiative.

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