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REGIONAL REPORTTHE BALKANS


After a period of its history that many would like to forget, this once troubled part of the world is repairing and renewing its shattered infrastructure and modernising itself physically, socially and politically, reports Chris Lewis.


the EU finds itself in straitened economic circumstances, so progress on major projects such as the rebuilding of bridges or creation of a modern power infrastructure – to name but two – has been slow and uncertain. This has created a window of


T


opportunity for China to become involved and the country is financing a number of schemes under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). There are echoes of the past here. In


Albania, the communist dictator Enver Hoxha courted Mao’s China in the 1960s and 70s, primarily to keep the small isolated country away from the influence of the Soviet Union and to kick-start the country’s industrialisation programme. That though is now in the dimly


remembered past, Albania having embraced a version of western capitalism some time ago, although much of its industrial base has meanwhile rusted away. Lately, though, economic growth is


returning to the region, albeit patchy and somewhat slow in many cases. Economically, politically and physically


the Balkan countries are diverse but most of them are seeing similar rates of economic development. In fact, growth in most of the Balkan


states has strengthened to around 3-5 percent in the past year, according to the World Bank. Kosovo and Albania, for example, are


projected to grow at around 4 percent this year. At 3.8 percent, Montenegro is also


The EU’s straitened economic circumstances have created a window of opportunity for China to become involved and the country is financing a number of schemes under its Belt and Road initiative.


www.heavyliftpfi.com


he Balkans have put their troubled pasts behind them and are attempting to rebuild, physically and socially. Unfortunately, they are doing so at a time when much of


doing well while Serbia has rebounded and is growing at 3.5 percent annually. With healthier public finances, many of


the Balkan countries have seen increased capital investment. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia, meanwhile, have enjoyed rapidly rising exports. Many countries are also pursuing major


infrastructure projects, the World Bank noted. Industry analyst Focus Economics also


sees “ongoing healthy momentum” in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and North Macedonia.


Power shortfall Energy production is a microcosm of the issues faced by the wider economy of the Balkans, with an ageing infrastructure unable to satisfy rapidly rising demand. A report by Croatia’s Energy Institute


points out that power producers are grappling with old plant, a lack of investment, and low levels of efficiency in the face of continuously rising consumption. All countries in the region face an electricity production shortfall and are therefore net importers of power. Serbia sits astride the South Stream


natural gas pipeline from Russia to Western Europe but local and regional gas networks are underdeveloped. There are, however, plans for a major expansion, particularly in Albania, Bosnia and Macedonia. Dave Roosen, director at Rijeka,


Croatia-based forwarder R&B Global Projects, said that there is plenty of potential for new projects throughout the Balkan region, but that does not always get translated into actual schemes. Most projects are highly dependent on


external finance, frequently from the European Union (EU). Even though capital continues to flow in, delays getting projects off the ground are common. It is a hard market to predict, said


Roosen, “really impossible for the next 12 months. You can say that it is growing, and growing, but then that can suddenly change.” Major ventures such as shipyards, mines or production facilities, can and do go


May/June 2019 77


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