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Bulgaria

Executive Summary

Bulgaria is seen by many investors as an attractive low-cost investment destination, with government incentives for new investment. The country offers some of the least expensive labor in the European Union (EU) and low and flat corporate and income taxes. However, Bulgaria has the lowest labor productivity rate in the EU, and a rapidly shrinking population could exacerbate the trend.

In 2021 Bulgaria continued to suffer from the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns, although the impact on the economy was less severe than in many other European countries. In 2021 the government updated the budget to include more public funding of COVID-related measures, such as increased pensions. Tourism, logistics, the service industries, and the automotive sector were particularly hard hit by the pandemic. The Bulgarian economy declined 4.4 percent in 2020, rebounded to 4.2 percent growth in 2021, and is projected to grow by 4.8 percent in 2022. This recovery is being driven by higher consumption and public investment funds. The war in Ukraine and rising energy and food prices, however, threaten these growth expectations.

Bulgaria is expected to receive EUR 6.2 billion over a six-year period (2021-2026) from the EU’s post-COVID recovery grant funds to improve its economy in areas such as green energy, digitalization, and private sector development.

The government expects to adopt the Euro in early 2024, after having joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II) in July 2020 and the EU’s Banking Union in October 2020. The adoption of the euro will eliminate currency risk and help reduce transaction costs with some of the country’s key European trading partners.

There are no legal limits on foreign ownership or control of firms. With some exceptions, foreign entities are given the same treatment as national firms and their investments are not screened or otherwise restricted. There is strong growth in software development, technical support, and business process outsourcing. The Information Technology (IT) and back-office outsourcing sectors have attracted a number of U.S. and European companies to Bulgaria, and many have established global and regional service centers in the country. The automotive sector has also attracted U.S. and foreign investors in recent years.

Foreign investors remain concerned about rule of law in Bulgaria. Along with endemic corruption, investors cite other problems impeding investment including difficulty obtaining needed permits, unpredictability due to frequent regulatory and legislative changes, sporadic attempts to negate long-term government contracts, and an inefficient judicial system. The new government coalition which came to power in December 2021 cited rule of law reform as its highest priority.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 78 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 35 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2021 USD 608 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 9,630 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment 

5. Protection of Property Rights 

8. Responsible Business Conduct 

In 2007 the government adopted a National Corporate Governance Code to encourage companies to adhere to the principles of responsible business conduct (RBC).  In 2019, the government approved a Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy for the period until 2023. The non-governmental Bulgarian Network for Social and Corporate Responsibility (CSR – csr.bg)  promotes CSR among Bulgarian companies and highlights good business practices.

There is a growing awareness of RBC standards and business’ obligation to proactively conduct due diligence to ensure they are doing no harm, with larger international firms generally further along than smaller domestic companies. Bulgarian companies are more frequently building RBC awareness through events organized in partnership with employer associations.

Bulgarian NGOs continued to report the exploitation of children in certain industries, particularly small family-owned shops, textile production, restaurants, construction businesses, and periodical sales. Children living in vulnerable situations, particularly Roma children, were exposed to harmful and exploitative work in the informal economy, mainly in agriculture, construction, and the service sector.

Bulgaria is not a member of either the OECD or the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

9. Corruption

Corruption remains a significant issue in Bulgaria. Bulgaria ranks 78th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index for 2021, the worst in the EU.  Human trafficking, and narcotics and contraband smuggling all contribute to corruption.  With the gradual introduction of technologies in public administration, including e-filing and the electronic issuance of certificates, some progress has been made in addressing petty corruption.  However, high-level corruption, particularly in public procurement, remains a serious concern.  The high-profile prosecutions that do take place are often seen as selective or politically motivated and typically end in acquittals after a lengthy judicial process.  The lack of serious convictions against senior officials and the need for reforms in the criminal justice sector remained high on the public agenda throughout 2021 when it took three elections to finally form a government. While the new governing coalition has demonstrated political will to undertake serious reforms, including to reorganize the Anti-Corruption Commission and increase its powers, it is yet to pass new laws and build capacity to secure final convictions for public corruption.

The Anti-Corruption Commission, established in 2018 on the foundations of several previously independent bodies for asset recovery and conflict of interest prevention, has been marred by leadership scandals and an insignificant anti-corruption record. The Anti-Corruption Fund (acf.bg), a civic organization created in 2017, conducts its own investigation of cases suspected either of corruption or conflict of interest among Bulgarian senior politicians and policy makers.

Bulgaria has ratified the Anti-Bribery Convention and is a participating member of the OECD Working Group on Bribery. Bulgaria has also ratified the Council of Europe’s Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure, and Confiscation of Proceeds of Crime (1994) and Civil Convention on Corruption (1999). Bulgaria has signed and ratified the UN Convention against Corruption (2003); the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption; and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.  In 2018, the Bulgarian Parliament adopted the Anti-Money Laundering Act, which transposes the 2015 EU Directive on the prevention of the use of the financial system for the purposes of money laundering and terrorist financing.  The new law required registered business groups to declare by May 2019 their beneficial owners. Some companies continue to avoid ownership publication by registering shell entities in tax heavens and offshore zones. Local capacity to detect suspicious and potentially illicit money flows remains low as evidenced by a 2019 case involving millions in money transfers from a Venezuelan state-run oil company through the Bulgarian banking system.

Conflict of interest is legally defined in the Law on Combatting Corruption and Illegal Asset Forfeiture, Article 52: “Conflict of interest exists when the contracting authority, its employees or employees outside its structure who are involved in the preparation or award of the contract or who may influence the outcome of the contract have an interest, which may lead to a benefit and which could be considered to affect their impartiality and independence in connection with the award of the public contract.” Article 81 also defines conflict of interest as “receiving a material benefit” by senior public officials and related persons. In 2021 authorities levied fines on individuals in 22 conflict of interest cases.

Bribery is a criminal act under Bulgarian law both for the giver and for the receiver. Individuals who mediate and facilitate a bribe are also held accountable, but according to observers, enforcement of this provision has been arbitrary as prosecutors have de facto discretion not to charge individuals who opt to cooperate as witnesses.

10. Political and Security Environment 

Daily anti-government protests that took place throughout the summer of 2020 in Sofia generated sporadic reports of excessive force by protestors and police, but otherwise there has been no significant political violence in recent years.

11. Labor Policies and Practices 

The Bulgarian Constitution recognizes workers’ rights to join trade unions and to organize. The National Council for Tripartite Cooperation (NCTC) provides a forum for dialogue among the government, employer organizations, and trade unions on issues such as cost-of-living adjustments and social security contributions. Currently, there are five nationally recognized employer organizations, based on membership thresholds. Bulgaria has two large trade union confederations represented at the national level, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria (CITUB) and the Confederation of Labor Podkrepa (Support). CITUB, the larger of the two, has an estimated membership of about 300,000. Podkrepa has a large share of unionized labor in education.

There are very few restrictions on trade union activity, but employees in smaller private firms are often not represented.  Unionized labor is most commonly seen in the highly subsidized railway and postal sectors.  Under the Bulgarian Labor Code, employer-employee relations are regulated by employment contracts. Collective labor contracts can be concluded at the sectoral level, enterprise level, regional, and municipal levels. The Labor Code addresses worker occupational safety and health issues and mandates a minimum wage (set by the Council of Ministers).  The minimum wage in 2022 is BGN 710 (USD 405) per month.  The Bulgarian Labor Code provides for benefits for departing employees depending on the reason for termination of the employment contract and on whose initiative the termination was enacted.  In cases of forcible termination, the employee is normally entitled to compensation from the employer, generally up to one month of gross salary.

Disputes between labor and management can be referred to the courts, but resolution is often slow.  The National Institute for Conciliation and Arbitration (NICA) has developed a framework for collective labor dispute mediation and arbitration. However, NICA-sponsored collective labor dispute resolutions remain few.

The Bulgarian labor market continues to be rigid in classifying different forms of employment (part-time, per-hour, etc.). Driven by business disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020 the Bulgarian Labor Code was amended to allow businesses to reclassify full-time workers as part-time while the state of emergency is in force. The Bulgarian Labor Code limits overtime work to 300 hours per calendar year. Undeclared work is the most common informal labor market practice. The share of the informal economy has decreased from 36.7 percent in 2010 to 22.5 percent in 2020.

An EU “Blue Card” work permit can be obtained by high-skilled foreigners who have a visa or a long-term residence permit in Bulgaria. The long-term residence permit and the “Blue Card” are issued for a period of up to four years. As of March 2022, Ukrainians and members of their families with the right to temporary protection under Art. 1a, para. 3 of the Asylum and Refugees Act have the right to work in Bulgaria without a labor permit. Persons with temporary protection status can register as jobseekers with the Labor Office Directorate at their permanent or current address. Additional information about the procedure for obtaining temporary protection can be found here: (www.aref.government.bg/bg/node/499) . Ukrainian citizens have the right to seasonal work of up to 90 days in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, hotels and restaurants in Bulgaria without interruption for 12 months. For this purpose, registration with the Employment Agency is required based on a declaration submitted by the employer. As of March 2022, Bulgarian business have estimated they have the capacity to employ up to 200,000 new workers, including for eligible Ukrainians, mostly in the IT, textile, and construction sectors.

Bulgarians’ literacy rate (aged 15 and older) is 98.4 percent, have an average 14.4 years of schooling, and have strong backgrounds in engineering, medicine, economics, and the sciences, but there is a shortage of professionals with management skills as well as of skilled workers. Foreign and local investors have also complained of a mismatch between the educational system and the labor market’s demands. Employers have also been slow to offer training. Emigration, particularly among young skilled professionals, has exacerbated the shortages. Bulgaria slipped two places to 56th in the UN Human Development Index for 2020, the lowest score among EU countries.

The Roma community makes up an estimated 10 percent of the total population and a higher percentage of the labor force. These numbers are increasing as a result of demographic trends. The Roma community is subject to discrimination and is socially marginalized, with lower levels of educational attainment. Consequently, Roma are overrepresented among unskilled workers and in the grey economy. Large numbers of Roma also seek unskilled, seasonal employment in other EU member states.

Croatia

Executive Summary

Croatia’s EU membership has enhanced its economic stability and provided new opportunities for trade and investment. Characteristics that make Croatia an attractive destination for foreign investment include a geostrategic location with diverse topography and temperate climate, well-developed infrastructure, and a well-educated multilingual workforce. The Croatian government settled a longstanding investment dispute with a U.S. investor in December 2021.  Historically, the most promising sectors for investment in Croatia have been tourism, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, and banking. Investment opportunities are growing in Croatia’s robust IT sector, and the coming years will offer new opportunities related to the energy transition. Croatia also offers visas for so-called “digital nomads” to work in Croatia for up to one year without having to pay local taxes.

Despite the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy experienced a robust rebound of 10.4 percent growth in 2021.  Tourism in 2021 exceeded all expectations, and the sector, which accounts for as much as 20 percent of GDP, achieved 88 percent of record-breaking 2019 revenues. Throughout the pandemic, the government distributed more than $1.5 billion in job-retention and economic stabilization measures that significantly helped maintain employment. Unemployment in January 2022 was at 7.8 percent. In early 2022, the government announced nearly $800 million worth of measures to help citizens and businesses cope with rising energy costs. The European Commission estimates the Croatian economy will grow 4.8 percent in 2022 and 3.0 percent in 2023.

Croatia will receive more than $30 billion in EU funding through 2030, including approximately $7 billion through the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), which has the potential to provide a significant boost to the economy if the government directs the funds to productive activities that stimulate job creation and economic growth. The government intends to spend approximately 40 percent of RRF funds in support of climate-related and clean energy objectives, including initiatives to improve energy efficiency in public and private buildings, accelerate development of renewable sources of energy, modernize the electricity distribution and transmission grid to facilitate the integration of renewable energy sources, and promote greater investments in geothermal energy. Croatia joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II) in July 2020, and the government expects to enter the eurozone on January 1, 2023. Croatia also received an invitation from the OECD in early 2022 to begin the accession process.

The Croatian government has taken some positive steps to improve the business climate, but it has been slow to reform the judiciary, which is most often mentioned as one of the greatest barriers to investment. In addition, the economy is burdened by a large government bureaucracy, underperforming state-owned enterprises, and low regulatory transparency. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated digitalization efforts, which has helped decrease excessive bureaucratic procedures for both citizens and companies. Government reforms also seek to liberalize the services market, diversify capital markets and improve access to alternative financing, and reform tax incentives for research and development. Croatia’s labor laws provide strong protections to workers and there are no risks to doing business responsibly in terms of labor laws and human rights. The government is willing to meet at senior levels with interested investors and to assist in resolving problems.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perception Index 2021 63 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2021/index/hrv 
Global Innovation Index 2021 48 of 128 https://www.wipo.int/edocs/pubdocs/en/wipo_pub_gii_2021.pdf 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2021 $295 million https://www.hnb.hr/en/statistics/statistical-data/rest-of-the-world/foreign-direct-investments 
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $27,185 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.PP.KD 

 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

5. Protection of Property Rights

8. Responsible Business Conduct

There is a general awareness of societal expectations regarding responsible business conduct which is regulated by law.  The Croatian Financial Services Supervisory Agency has established a Corporate Governance Code of Ethics for all Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) participants, and the Company Act, Audit Law, Accounting Law and Credit Institutions Law are the sources for corporate governance provisions.  Publicly listed companies are required to upload their annual corporate governance reports on the ZSE website.  The Governance Code lays out guidelines for ensuring transparency of business operations, avoidance of conflicts of interest, efficient internal control, and effective division of responsibilities.

No high profile or controversial instances of private sector labor rights violations have occurred in Croatia.  There were no claims during the last five years by indigenous or other communities that a government entity improperly allocated land or natural resources. Forced labor, forced evictions of indigenous peoples, or arrests of and violence against environmental defenders are not permitted by law. The government effectively implements and enforces domestic laws to maintain consumer and environmental protection and avoid infringement of human and labor rights. Sometimes these regulations exceed EU standards.  Croatia implements all EU legislation which requires a due diligence approach to responsible business conduct.  Labor unions are considered watchdogs for responsible business conduct and draw attention to issues they find to be impeding on labor, environmental, or consumer rights in the business sector. In terms of security, the government employs private security companies for security of buildings. Security for defense purposes is handled by Croatian state authorities, such as the army or police forces. Croatia became a signatory of the Montreaux Document on Private Military and Security Companies in May 2013. Croatia is not currently a supporter of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers, nor a member of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers Association.

Although Croatia is not a member, Croatia supports the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas and considers minerals from conflict affected areas to be illegal.  Croatia does not participate in the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative.  Various laws related to forest and water management, concessions, and environmental protection are implemented in extractive and mining businesses to maintain high environmental and human rights standards.  All procedures for mining or extraction tenders are publicly available and transparent.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of the Treasury

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Croatia has a suitable legal framework, including laws and penalties, to combat corruption.  The Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Act define the tools and sanctions available to the investigative authorities to fight corruption and both acts provide for asset seizure and forfeiture.  In terms of a corruption case, where the defendant has assets that are determined to be disproportionate to his/her lawful income, it is presumed by law that the defendant’s property was acquired through criminal means. In such cases, the onus is on the defendant to prove the legal origin of the assets in question.  Financial gain, if it is in possession of a third party in such cases can also be confiscated if it is determined the gain was not acquired in good faith. However, the good faith principle does not apply to a spouse, relatives, or family members.  Croatian laws and provisions regarding corruption apply equally to domestic and foreign investors, to public officials, their family members and political parties.  The Croatian Criminal Code covers such acts as trading in influence, abuse of official functions, bribery in the private sector, embezzlement of private property, money laundering, concealment and obstruction of justice.  The Act on the Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime provides broad authority to prosecute tax fraud linked to organized crime and corruption cases.

The Croatian Parliament adopted a new Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2021-2030 to strengthen existing anti-corruption administrative and legal mechanisms. It also aims to identify new, systemic solutions to raise awareness of the harmful effects of corruption, increase citizen involvement, and utilize civil society and the media as indispensable institutional partners to prevent and fight corruption. Croatian prosecutors have secured corruption convictions and launched investigations against a number of high-level former government officials, former ministers, other high-ranking officials, and senior managers from state-owned enterprises, although many such convictions have later been overturned.

The Law on Public Procurement is harmonized with EU legislation and prescribes transparency and fairness for all public procurement activities.  Government officials use public speeches to encourage ethical business.  The Croatian Chamber of Economy created a Code of Business Ethics which it encourages all companies in Croatia to abide by, but it is not mandatory. The Code can be found in Croatian at:   https://www.hgk.hr/documents/kodeksposlovneetikehrweb581354cae65c8.pdf .

Additional laws for the suppression of corruption include: the State Attorney’s Office Act; the Public Procurement Act; the Act on Procedure for Forfeiture of Assets Attained Through Criminal Acts and Misdemeanors; the Budget Act; the Conflict of Interest Prevention Act; the Corporate Criminal Liability Act; the Money Laundering Prevention Act; the Witness Protection Act; the Personal Data Protection Act; the Right to Access Information Act; and the Act on Civil Services. Other regulations include the Code of Ethics for Civil Servants and the Code of Judicial Ethics. Whistleblowers are protected by the Law on the Protection of Irregularities, as well as by provisions in the Labor Law and the Civil Servants Act.

Croatia has requested to join the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. Croatia is a member and currently chairs the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO), a peer monitoring organization that allows members to assess anticorruption efforts on a continuing basis.  Croatia has been a member of INTERPOL since 1992.  Croatia cooperates regionally through the Southeast European Co-operative Initiative (SECI), the Southeast Europe Police Chiefs Association (SEPCA), and the Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative (RAI).  Croatia is a member of Eurojust, the EU’s Judicial Cooperation Unit, and is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Corruption.

Croatian legislation provides protection for NGOs involved in investigating or drawing attention to corruption.  GONG, a non-partisan citizens’ organization founded in 1997, which also acts as a government watchdog, monitors election processes, educates citizens about their rights and duties, encourages communication between citizens and their elected representatives, promotes transparency within public services, manages public advocacy campaigns, and assists citizens in self-organizing initiatives.  A new anti-corruption association, Udruga Pomak, was formed by a group of prominent whistleblowers to advocate for greater whistleblower protections.  Even though the law provides for the protection of whistleblowers, in practice there are still issues.

The business community has identified corruption in the healthcare and construction sectors, as well as lack of transparency in the public procurement process as obstacles to foreign investment.

10. Political and Security Environment

The risk of political violence in Croatia is low.  Following the breakup of Yugoslavia and the subsequent wars in the region, Croatia has emerged as a stable, democratic country and is a member of NATO and the EU.  Relations with neighboring countries are generally fair and improving, although some disagreements regarding border demarcation and residual war-related issues persist.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Croatia has an educated, highly skilled, and relatively high-value labor force compared to regional averages, but labor remains relatively low cost compared to the entire EU.  Employment is regulated by the constitution, international conventions, treaties, labor law, collective agreements, and employment agreements. A list of International Labor Organization conventions implemented into labor legislation can be found at https://www.ilo.org/dyn/normlex/en/fp=NORMLEXPUB:11200:0::NO::P11200_COUNTRY_ID:102700 . There are no recent reliable reports on the size of the grey economy, but estimates range from 10 percent to 35 percent of GDP.  According to the latest report available from the Croatian Employment Agency, unemployment in the third quarter of 2021 decreased to 6.3 percent from 7.5 for the same period in 2020 due to the government’s financial support packages for job retention throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the latest available statistics from the Croatian Bureau of Statistics, of the total number of employed persons in December 2021, 47.8 percent were women and 52.2 percent were men.

The Labor Law governs employment and prescribes general labor regulations.  Among other items, the Labor Law prohibits discrimination, defines various types of leave including maternity, and provides terms for striking, salaries, and other labor related issues.  The government is committed to increasing jobs, especially for youth, through various programs funded by the EU.  Companies report that Croatia’s labor law makes it relatively expensive to hire and dismiss employees in comparison to the United States and other countries in Europe at the same level of development.

There are currently labor shortages reported in the construction, food production, and tourism sectors.  The Law on Foreigners was amended in November 2020 to abolish employment quotas for foreign workers. Foreign or migrant workers do not play a significant role in any sector yet, but there are growing numbers of foreign workers in the construction sector.  Croatia continues to experience a brain drain, with an estimated 60,000 Croatians (mostly young and educated) leaving the country annually.  The government has indicated, however, that a significant number of Croatians returned to Croatia during the COVID-19 pandemic as jobs became scarce in other EU countries. The Government maintains the www.mjere.hr  website with information regarding measures to keep workers in Croatia.  These measures are divided into nine categories and include financial support for employers and the self-employed, as well as for training and seasonal work programs.  A large portion of the funding is intended to support active employment, while a portion will fund specialized programs for groups that have a hard time entering the labor market.

Croatian law does not require the hiring of Croatian nationals.  Employers are bound by law to offer severance pay to individuals laid off due to restructuring or down-sizing.  The labor law defines the conditions and amounts of severance pay.  To be eligible for severance: 1) the employer must terminate the employee, 2) the termination must not be the result of behavioral issues, and 3) the employee must have been employed for two consecutive years.  The Croatian Employment Agency provides unemployment payments for those laid off due to economic reasons.

Labor laws are strictly implemented and not waived to retain or attract investment.  Collective bargaining is a common tool, mostly implemented by unions, which overwhelmingly represent workers associated with government spending and state-owned enterprises.  The http://baza.kolektivni-ugovori.info/ website provides an updated database of collective agreements signed in 1995 to date. The Labor Law provides a mechanism for resolving collective and individual labor disputes by arbitration. No appeal is permitted against an arbitration award.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2021 $65,675 2020 $56.8 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2021 $295 million N/A N/A BEA data available at

https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 

Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2021 $85.84 million N/A N/A BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2021 57.7% N/A N/A UNCTAD data available at

https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/World%20Investment%20Report/Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx 

* GDP for 2021 estimate and FDI   for Q1-Q3 2021 at www.hnb.hr Note:  U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis do not have GDP or FDI data available for 2020 at time of publishing.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data (through 2020)
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $37,922 100% Total Outward $5,983 100%
The Netherlands $6,615 17.4% Slovenia $1,646 27.5%
Austria $5,096 13.4% Bosnia Herzegovina $1,405 23.4%
Luxembourg $4,308 11.4% Serbia $1,045 17.5%
 Germany $3,923 10.3% Switzerland $296 4.9%
Italy $3,659 9.6% Montenegro $290 4.8%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

*FDI at  www.hnb.hr    for Q1-Q3 2020

Estonia

Executive Summary

Estonia is a safe and dynamic country for investment, with a business climate very similar to the United States. As a member of the EU, the Government of Estonia (GOE) maintains liberal policies in order to attract investments and export-oriented companies. Creating favorable conditions for foreign direct investment (FDI) and openness to foreign trade has been the foundation of Estonia’s economic strategy. The overall freedom to conduct business in Estonia is well protected under a transparent regulatory environment.

  • Estonia is among the leading countries in Eastern and Central Europe regarding FDI per capita. By 2021, Estonia had attracted in total USD 38 billion (stock) of investment, of which 27 percent was made into the financial sector, 17 percent into real estate, 15 percent into retail and wholesale sector, and 13 percent into science and technology. United States FDI stock in Estonia is USD 451 million, and Estonian FDI stock in United States totals USD 349 million.
  • The Estonian economy has recovered strongly from the pandemic crisis. The country’s GDP grew 8.3 percent in 2021, one of the fastest recoveries in Europe. Although Estonia is tightly connected to international value chains, it has experienced relatively few impacts from global supply chain issues so far, but the war in Ukraine is likely to have a more significant impact on supply chains in the region than the COVID crisis.
  • In the area of climate and environmental policies, Estonia is working toward decarbonizing its economy including reducing its dependency on oil shale in electricity generation, increasing the energy efficiency of buildings, and introducing carbon free transport. The green transition in the business sector will require support from the government to help ensure Estonia adheres to the principles of circular economy.
  • Estonia’s government has not yet set limitations on foreign ownership, and foreign investors are treated on an equal footing with local investors. However, the government is currently developing a framework to screen incoming FDI for national security concerns, which could have some impact on foreign investments. There are no investment incentives available to foreign investors.
  • Foreign investors have not faced significant challenges with corruption, though Estonia has had some cases in local municipalities.
  • The Estonian income tax system, with its flat rate of 20 percent, is considered one of the simplest tax regimes in the world. Deferral of corporate taxation payment shifts the time of taxation from the moment of earning the profits to that of their distribution. Undistributed profits are not subject to income taxation, regardless of whether these are reinvested or merely retained. This may change for companies with an annual turnover of more than 750 million euros depending on the EU’s implementation of the OECD’s global minimum tax agreement.
  • Estonia offers opportunities for businesses in a number of economic sectors including information and communication technology (ICT), green energy, wood processing, and biotechnology. Estonia has strong trade ties with Finland, Sweden, and Germany.
  • Estonia suffers a shortage of labor, both skilled and unskilled.
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings 
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 13 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
Global Innovation Index 2021 21 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in Partner Country ($M USD, stock positions) 2021 $451 https://statistika.eestipank.ee/#/en/p/146/r/2293/2122 
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $23,170 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

5. Protection of Property Rights

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The majority of OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises are incorporated into Estonian legislation. The non-profit organization, Responsible Business Forum in Estonia, aims to further corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Estonia, and is a partner in the CSR360 Global Partner Network. CSR360 ) is a network of independent organizations, which work as the interface of business and society to mobilize business towards socially responsible aims.

The Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications works closely with CSR on educating private businesses and SOEs on responsible business conduct, recognizing best practices, and factoring RBC policies or practices into its procurement decisions.

Estonia generally enforces the labor, human rights, employment rights, consumer protection, and environmental protection related laws effectively and these requirements cannot be waived to attract foreign investment. These laws apply also to the private security industry. Estonia has adhered to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises since 2001. The National Contact Point can be accessed here:

https://www.mkm.ee/en/objectives-activities/economic-development/oecd-guidelines-and-surveillance%20 

Natural resource extraction related revenues, including mining licenses, are less than 0.6 percent of government budget revenues and less than 0.3 percent of the GDP. The revenues are reflected in the national budget.

Here you can find a summary of the strength of minority shareholder protections against misuse of corporate assets by directors for their personal gain: http://www.doingbusiness.org/data/exploreeconomies/estonia/protecting-minority-investors/ 

9. Corruption

Estonia has laws, regulations, and penalties to combat corruption, and while corruption is not unknown, it has generally not been reported to pose a major problem for foreign investors. Both offering and taking bribes are criminal offenses which can bring imprisonment of up to five years. While “payments” that exceed the services rendered are not unknown, and “conflict of interest” is not a well-understood issue, surveys of American and other non-Estonian businesses have shown the issue of corruption is not a serious concern.

In 2021, Transparency International (TI) ranked Estonia 13th out of 180 countries on its Corruption Perceptions Index.

Anti-corruption policy and implementation are coordinated by the Ministry of Justice and the strategy is implemented by all ministries and local governments. The Internal Security Service is effective in investigating corruption offences and criminal misconduct, leading to the conviction of several high-ranking state officials. Until recently corruption was most commonly associated with public sector activities. Recently the government-initiated efforts to educate private sector businesses about the risks of business-to-business corruption, for example within procurement activities.

Estonia cooperates in fighting corruption at the international level and is a member of GRECO (Group of States Against Corruption). Estonia is a party to both the Council of Europe (CoE) Criminal Law Convention on Corruption and the Civil Law Convention. The Criminal Law Convention requires criminalization of a wide range of national and transnational conduct, including bribery, money-laundering, and accounting offenses. It also incorporates provisions on liability of legal persons and witness protection. The Civil Law Convention includes provisions on compensation for damage relating to corrupt acts, whistleblower protection, and validity of contracts, inter alia.

More info on the corruption level in different sectors in Estonia can be found at: Estonia – Transparency.org 

10. Political and Security Environment

Civil unrest generally is not a problem in Estonia, and there have been no incidents of terrorism. Public gatherings and demonstrations may occur on occasion in response to political issues, but these have proceeded, with very few exceptions, without incidence of violence in the past.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Estonia has a small population – 1.31 million people. The average monthly Estonian salary at the end of 2021 was about USD 1,900. About 75 percent of the workforce is employed in the services sector. With an aging population and a negative birth rate, Estonia, like many other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, faces demographic challenges affecting its long-term supply of labor. Improving labor efficiency is a key focus for Estonia in the short-to-mid-term. At the end of 2021, the unemployment rate was 5.2 percent. More on the labor market: Labour Market Review 2/2021 | Publications | Eesti Pank 

The Law of Obligations Act, the Individual Labor Dispute Resolution Act, and the Occupational Health and Safety Act address employment and labor issues. Labor laws may not be waived in order to attract or retain investment. Labor laws are generally strict, and the principle of employee protection is applied in which the worker is considered the economically weaker party. Upon termination of an employment contract due to a lay-off, an employer must pay an employee compensation in the amount of one month’s average wage. In addition, an insurance benefit shall be paid to an employee by the Estonian Unemployment Insurance Fund depending on the length of service.

Trade union membership remains low compared to most countries in the EU. Estonia has ratified all eight ILO Core Conventions.

Estonian labor regulations on labor abuses, health and safety standards, labor disputes etc. are effectively monitored by the Estonian Labor Inspectorate: http://www.ti.ee/en/ 

Hungary

Executive Summary

Hungary continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and now faces rising inflation and economic uncertainty due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Despite a growing deficit and energy prices, as well as a continued skilled labor shortage and corruption concerns, ratings agencies in 2021 maintained Hungary’s sovereign debt at BBB, two notches above investment grade, with a stable outlook. In December 2021, the Finance Ministry forecasted 5.9 percent economic growth and a 4.9 percent budget deficit for 2022. Analysts since then have revised their forecasts and project 2 percentage points lower economic growth for this year.

Hungary, an EU member since 2004, currently has a population of 9.7 million and a GDP of $155 billion. Fellow EU member states and the United States are Hungary’s most important trade and investment partners, although Asian influence is growing; foreign direct investment (FDI) from Asian sources was five percent of total FDI in 2019 and now accounts for over 30 percent of new foreign direct investment in 2020.

Macroeconomic indicators were generally strong before the COVID-19 pandemic, with GDP growing by 4.9 percent in 2019. Following a 5.1 percent pandemic-induced contraction in 2020, Hungary’s GDP increased by 6.4 percent in 2021. As the Government of Hungary (GOH) increased spending to support the economy and other priorities, the 2021 budget deficit reached approximately 7.5 percent of GDP, which pushed up public debt close to 80 percent of GDP.

Hungary’s central location in Europe and high-quality infrastructure have traditionally made it an attractive destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).  Between 1989 and 2019, Hungary received approximately $97.8 billion in FDI, mainly in the banking, automotive, software development, and life sciences sectors.  The EU accounts for 89 percent of all in-bound FDI. The United States is the largest non-EU investor, whereas in terms of annual investment, South Korea was the largest investor overall in 2021. The GOH actively encourages investments in manufacturing and other sectors promising high added value and/or employment, such as research and development, defense, and service centers.

Despite these advantages, Hungary’s regional economic competitiveness has declined in recent years.  Since early 2016, multinationals have identified shortages of qualified labor, specifically technicians and engineers, as the largest obstacle to investment in Hungary.  In certain industries, such as finance, energy, telecommunication, pharmaceuticals, and retail, unpredictable sector-specific tax and regulatory policies have favored national and government-linked companies.  Additionally, persistent corruption and cronyism continue to plague the public procurement sector. According to Transparency International’s (TI) 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Hungary placed 73rd worldwide and ranked 26th out of the 27 EU member states, outperforming only Bulgaria.

Analysts remain concerned that the GOH may intervene in certain priority sectors to unfairly promote domestic ownership at the expense of foreign investors.  In September 2016, Prime Minister (PM) Viktor Orban announced that at least half of the banking, media, energy, and retail sectors should be in Hungarian hands. Since then, observers note that through various tax changes the GOH has pushed several foreign-owned banks out of Hungary. GOH efforts have helped increase Hungarian ownership in the banking sector to close to 60 percent, up from 40 percent in 2010.  In the energy sector, foreign-owned companies’ share of total revenue fell from 70 percent in 2010 to below 50 percent by 2022. Foreign media ownership has decreased drastically as GOH-aligned businesses have consolidated control of Hungary’s media landscape: the number of media outlets owned by GOH allies increased from around 30 in 2015 to nearly 500 in 2018.  In November 2018, the owners of 476 pro-GOH media outlets, constituting between 80 and 90 percent of all media, donated those outlets to the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA) run by individuals with ties to the ruling Fidesz party.

Ostensibly in response to the COVID crisis, the Hungarian government has had uninterrupted state-of-emergency (SOE) powers since November 2020 with authority to bypass Parliament and govern by decree. Parliament passed the first SOE legislation in March 2020 as part of its COVID-19 pandemic response; this legislation did not have a sunset clause, and the government repealed it in June 2020. The GOH passed a second SOE law in November 2020, this time for a 90-day period. Following the expiration of the first 90-day term, the Parliament extended the SOE in February, May, September and most recently in December 2021 – until June 2022 – without any support from opposition parties. As part of the emergency measures, the GOH extended measures for national security screening of foreign investments from December 31, 2020, until December 31, 2022, and may extend this deadline further.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perception Index 2021

    73 of 180

http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021    34 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020      $13,295  https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020     $15,890 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

5. Protection of Property Rights

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Hungary encourages multinational firms to follow the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which promotes a due diligence approach to responsible business conduct (RBC).  The government has established a National Contact Point (NCP) in the Ministry of Finance for stakeholders to obtain information or raise concerns in the context of RBC. The Hungarian NCP has organized events to promote OECD guidelines among the business community, trade unions, government agencies, and NGOs.  Members of the Hungarian NCP include representatives of the Ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Innovation and Technology, and Agriculture. The Hungarian NCP submits annual reports to the OECD Investment Commission, except for 2020 when its activity was strongly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, see:   http://oecd.kormany.hu/a-magyar-nemzeti-kapcsolattarto-pont  .

In recent years, the Hungarian NCP has organized several conferences, the last one in January 2020, to promote RBC and OECD guidelines. It announced in 2017 its intention to formulate a new National Action Plan on Businesses and Human Rights.  According to the first National Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Action Plan formulated in 2015, key RBC priorities of the GOH included the employment of discriminated, disadvantaged, and disabled groups, environmental protection, and the expansion of sustainable economy.  Hungary’s NCP peer review is scheduled in 2023. The Hungarian Public Relations Association, CSR Hungary, and other NGOs are involved in elaborating the second National Action Plan. The Hungarian NCP reviews complaints from trade unions against multinational companies’ subsidiaries operating in Hungary and coordinates with relevant NPCs of the multinational company’s home country. RBC does not typically play a role in GOH procurement decisions, although the 2015 Public Procurement Act integrates concepts of CSR, responsible business conduct, and good practice.

Several NGOs and business associations promote RBC and CSR.  The one with the most members, CSR Hungary Forum, created in 2006, established an annual award and trademark in 2008 to recognize business CSR efforts; others include the Hungarian Public Relations Association, “Kovet.”

According to a 2018 survey conducted by CSR Hungary, 60 percent of businesses have a CSR policy and 44 percent of businesses attribute a CSR orientation to increased competitiveness.  However, only about 34 percent of multinational and SOEs and 9 percent of SMEs report formally formulating a CSR action plan. According to a 2021 study on corporate social responsibility in Hungary, stakeholder pressure is weak, and they expect increased state-level intervention in CSR issues.

In 2017, Hungary’s independent agencies for labor rights protection, consumer protection, cultural heritage protection, and environment protection were merged into relevant ministries and county-level government offices.  Environmental NGOs criticized the transformation of the system and warned about the lack of independent agencies.

Climate Issues

In January 2020, the GOH approved and published its new long-term energy strategy and an EU-required National Energy and Climate Plan – both of which focused heavily on decarbonization and sustainable climate policy. According to the documents, Hungary aims to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 (compared to the 1990 level), an additional 10 percent by 2040, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.  Given that Hungary emits 33 percent less CO2 than it did in 1990, the real cut would be seven percent in the next eight years and 17 percent in the next 20 years. The seven percent cut would be easily achieved with the phase-out of the lignite coal fired Matra Power Plant by 2025. Experts have noted that the plan to have Hungary cut the remaining 50 percent (to achieve carbon neutrality) in the 2040-2050 period is an ambitious goal. Although in December 2020, the GOH committed itself to the new EU goal (“Fit for 55”) of reducing carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030, the details of achieving the more ambitious goal are to be worked out. The GOH estimates the total costs of Hungary achieving climate neutrality by 2050 at $145 billion.

Private sector contributions to reach the climate goals include increasing Hungary’s solar power capacity from the currently available more than 2000 MW to 6000 MW by 2030 and to 10,000 MW by 2040. In energy efficiency, the GOH’s aim is to limit Hungary’s total final energy demand on the 2005 level by 2030. To reach this goal, the GOH introduced a tax incentive for businesses investing into energy efficiency. Although the GOH strategies stress the great potential in decreasing the energy demand of households, so far there have been only limited efforts.

Despite the February 2021 ruling of the European Court of Justice saying that Hungary had “systematically and persistently” breached legal limits on air pollution, the GOH still has failed to take any efficient measures to deal with the problem. Although the GOH maintains an extensive system of national parks and nature reserves, there are no other government policies, or regulatory incentives helping to preserve biodiversity. The second National Climate Change Strategy adopted in 2018 contains the National Adaptation Strategy which is based on the climate vulnerability assessment of ecosystem and industrial sectors.

Although Hungary’s Public Procurement Act of 2015 allows the government to consider environmental and green growth aspects, the GOH has not yet issued a decree governing the detailed rules of green procurements. Hungary is one of the five EU member states without a national action plan on green public procurements according to the State Audit Office. In April 2021, Hungary’s Public Procurement Authority launched a sustainability working group and in September 2021 issued a Green Codex to provide some guidelines on green procurements.

9. Corruption

The Hungarian Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior are responsible for combating corruption.  Although a legal framework exists to support their efforts, critics have asserted that the government has done little to combat grand corruption and rarely investigates cases involving politically connected individuals, even when recommended to do so by the European Antifraud Office (OLAF). Hungary is a party to the UN Anticorruption Convention and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and has incorporated their provisions into the penal code, as well as subsequent OECD and EU requirements on the prevention of bribery.  Parliament passed the Strasbourg Criminal Law Convention on Corruption of 2002 and the Strasbourg Civil Code Convention on Corruption of 2004. Hungary is a member of GRECO (Group of States against Corruption), an organization established by members of Council of Europe to monitor the observance of their standards for fighting corruption.  GRECO’s reports on evaluation and compliance are confidential unless the Member State authorizes the publication of its report.  For several years, the GOH has kept confidential GRECO’s most recent compliance reports on prevention of corruption with respect to members of parliament, judges, and prosecutors, and a report on transparency of party financing.

Following calls from the opposition, NGOs, and other GRECO Member States, and a March 2019 visit by senior GRECO officials to Budapest, the GOH agreed to publish the reports in August 2019. The reports revealed that Hungary failed to meet 13 out of 18 recommendations issued by GRECO in 2015; assessed that Hungary’s level of compliance with the recommendations was “globally unsatisfactory,” and concluded that the country would therefore remain subject to GRECO’s non-compliance procedure. The compliance report on transparency of party financing noted some progress but added that “the overall picture is disappointing.” A November 2020 GRECO report came to the same conclusion, adding that Hungary had made no progress since the prior year on implementing anticorruption recommendations for MPs, judges, and prosecutors.

In December 2016, the GOH withdrew its membership in the international anti-corruption organization the Open Government Partnership (OGP).  Following a letter of concern by transparency watchdogs to OGP’s Steering Committee in summer 2015, OGP launched an investigation into Hungary and issued a critical report.  The OGP admonished the GOH for its harassment of NGOs and urged it to take steps to restore transparency and to ensure a positive operating environment for civil society. The GOH, only the second Member State to be reprimanded by the organization, rejected the OGP report conclusions and withdrew from the organization.

In recent years, the GOH has amplified its attacks on NGOs including transparency watchdogs, accusing them of acting as foreign agents and criticizing them for allegedly working against Hungarian interests.  Observers assess that this anti-NGO rhetoric endangered the continued operation of anti-corruption NGOs crucial to promoting transparency and good governance in Hungary. In 2017 and 2018, Parliament passed legislations that many civil society activists criticized for placing undue restrictions on NGOs. In its June 2018 and November 2021 rulings, the European Court of Justice found both legislations in conflict with EU law.

Transparency International (TI) is active in Hungary.  TI’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index rated Hungary 73 out of 180 countries.  Out of the 27 EU member states, Hungary ranked 26th, outperforming only Bulgaria. TI has noted that state institutions responsible for supervising public organizations were headed by people loyal to the ruling party, limiting their ability to serve as a check on the actions of the GOH.  TI and other watchdogs note that data on public spending remains difficult to access since the GOH amended the Act on Freedom of Information in 2013 and 2015. Moreover, according to watchdogs and investigative journalists, the GOH, state agencies, and SOEs are increasingly reluctant to answer questions related to public spending, resulting in lengthy court procedures to receive answers to questions.  Even if the court orders the release of data, by the time it happens, the data has lost significance and has a weaker impact, watchdogs warn. In some cases, even when ordered to provide information, state agencies and SOEs release data in nearly unusable or undecipherable formats.

U.S. firms – along with other investors – identify corruption as a significant problem in Hungary.  According to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Competitiveness Report, businesses considered corruption as the second most important obstacle to making a successful business in Hungary.

State corruption is also high on the list of EC concerns with Hungary.  The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has found high levels of fraud in EU-funded projects in Hungary and has levied fines and withheld development funds on several occasions.  Over the past few years, the EC has suspended payments of EU funds several times due to irregularities in Hungary’s procurement system.

TI and other anti-corruption watchdogs have highlighted EU-funded development projects as the largest source of corruption in Hungary.  A TI study found indications of corruption and overpricing in up to 90 percent of EU-funded projects. Reports by Corruption Research Center (CRCB) from April and May 2020 found – after analyzing more than 240,000 public procurement contracts from 2005-2020 – that companies owned by individuals with links to senior government officials enjoy preferential treatment in public tenders and face less competition than other companies. The studies also revealed that the share of single-bidder public procurement contracts was over 40 percent in 2020, and that the corruption risk reached its highest level since 2005. In a March 2022 report CRCB found that in the 2011-2021 period, more than 20 percent of the EU-funded public contracts were won by 42 companies owned by 12 entrepreneurs closely affiliated with the government. In 2020, a year which was particularly difficult for many businesses because of the Covid-crisis, this small group of entrepreneurs won almost one-third of the EU-funded public tenders.

Hungary has legislation in place to combat corruption.  Giving or accepting a bribe is a criminal offense, as is an official’s failure to report such an incident.  Penalties can include confiscation of assets, imprisonment, or both. Since Hungary’s entry into the EU, legal entities can also be prosecuted.  Legislation prohibits members of parliament from serving as executives of state-owned enterprises. An extensive list of public officials and many of their family members are required to make annual declarations of assets, but there is no specified penalty for making an incomplete or inaccurate declaration.  It is common for prominent politicians to be forced to amend declarations of assets following revelations in the press of omission of ownership or part-ownership of real estate and other assets in asset declarations. Politicians are not penalized for these omissions.

Transparency advocates claim that Hungarian law enforcement authorities are often reluctant to prosecute cases with links to high-level politicians.  For example, they reported that, in November 2018, Hungarian authorities dropped the investigation into $50 million in EU-funded public lighting tenders won by a firm co-owned by a relative of the prime minister, despite concerns raised by OLAF about evidence of conflict of interest and irregularities involving the deal. According to media reports, OLAF concluded that several of the tenders were won due to what it considered organized criminal activity. In December 2021, the Prosecutor General’s Office charged a senior government politician for accepting bribes to influence cases at the request of the president of the Court Bailiff Chamber. The senior government official resigned immediately but kept his position as an MP and was left at large for the time of the investigation.

Annual asset declarations for the family members of public officials are not public and only parliamentary committees can investigate them if there is a specified suspicion of fraud.  Transparency watchdogs warn that this makes the system of asset declarations inefficient and easy to circumvent as politicians can hide assets and revenues in their family members’ names.

The Public Procurement Act of 2015 initially included broad conflict of interest rules on excluding family members of GOH officials from participating in public tenders, but Parliament later amended the law to exclude only family members living in the same household.  While considered in line with the overarching EU directive, the law still leaves room for subjective evaluations of bid proposals and tender specifications to be tailored to favored companies.

While public procurement legislation is in place and complies with EU requirements, private companies and watchdog NGOs expressed concerns about pervasive corruption and favoritism in public procurements in Hungary.  According to their criticism, public procurements in practice lack transparency and accountability and are characterized by uneven implementation of anti-corruption laws.  Additionally, transparency NGOs calculate that government-allied firms have won a disproportionate percentage of public procurement awards.  The business community and foreign governments share many of these concerns.  Multinational firms have complained that competing in public procurements presents unacceptable levels of corruption and compliance risk.  A 2019 European Commission study found that Hungary had the second-highest rate (40 percent) of one-bidder EU funded procurement contracts in the European Union.  In addition, observers have raised concerns about the appointments of Fidesz party loyalists to head quasi-independent institutions such as the Competition Authority, the Media Council, and the State Audit Office. Because it is generally understood that companies without political connections are unlikely to win public procurement contracts, many firms lacking such connections do not bid or compete against politically connected companies.

The GOH does not require private companies to establish internal codes of conduct.

Generally, larger private companies and multinationals operating in Hungary have internal codes of ethics, compliance programs, or other controls, but their efficacy is not uniform.

Resources to Report Corruption

GOH Office Responsible for Combatting Corruption:

National Protective Service
General Director Zoltan Bolcsik
Phone: +36 1 433 9711
Fax: +36 1 433 9751
E-mail: nvsz@nvsz.police.hu  

Transparency International Hungary
1055 Budapest
Falk Miksa utca 30. 4/2
Phone: +36 1 269 9534
Fax: +36 1 269 9535
E-mail: info@transparency.hu  

10. Political and Security Environment

The security environment is relatively stable.  Politically motivated violence or civil disturbance is rare.  Violent crime is low, with street crimes the most frequently reported crimes in the country. Political violence is not common in Hungary.  The transition from communist authoritarianism to capitalist democracy was negotiated and peaceful, and free elections have been held consistently since 1990.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Hungary’s civilian labor force of 4.7 million is highly educated and skilled.  Literacy exceeds 98 percent and about two-thirds of the work force has completed secondary, technical, or vocational education.  Hungary’s record low 3.3 percent unemployment rate at the end of 2019 increased to 3.8 percent in December 2021 as a result of the pandemic, but it is lower than the EU average of 7.3 percent.  Hungary’s employment rate for the population aged 15-64 years was 73.9 percent in 2021, higher than the EU average of 68.3 percent. Hungary is particularly strong in engineering, medicine, economics, and science training, although emigration of Hungarians from these sectors to other EU member states has increased in recent years. In the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, out-migration temporarily declined but resumed during the second half of 2020.

Multinationals increasingly cite a skilled labor shortage as their biggest challenge in Hungary and note that Hungarian vocational institutions and universities need to adapt more quickly to changes in the marketplace.  An increasing number of young people are attending U.S.- and European-affiliated business schools in Hungary. Foreign language skills, especially in English and German, are becoming more widespread, yet Hungary still has the lowest level of foreign language proficiency in the EU.  According to 2018 data, only 37 percent of working-age Hungarians speak at least one foreign language, while the EU average is 66 percent.

As the unemployment rate has declined, certain sectors have begun to face shortages of skilled and highly educated employees.  As Hungarians increasingly seek work abroad, shortages of highly educated and skilled labor are negatively affecting growth in certain regions and industries.  In addition, declining OECD Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) scores may signal that the workforce is losing its ability to learn new skills and adapt to changing market conditions. The government is attempting to address labor shortage by increasing the minimum wage, offering retraining programs, incentivizing employment of young mothers and pensioners by lowering employer-paid welfare contributions, and reforming the education and vocational training system.  Shortages of skilled workers, particularly in the IT, financial, and manufacturing sectors, are more acute in the northwest and central regions of the country. In the eastern half of the country, unemployment levels are above average, even though the cost of labor is lower. Wages in Hungary are still significantly lower than those in Western Europe, despite the recent increase in minimum wage. Average Hungarian labor productivity is lower than the EU average but exceeds that of other Central and Eastern European economies.

In 2016, the government, trade unions, and employer representatives signed a three-year agreement to increase the minimum wage for unskilled and skilled workers. The deal also included a more than 50-percent cut in the business tax for large companies from 19 percent to 9 percent as of 2017, as well as gradually lowering the payroll tax from 21.5 percent in 2016 by 2 percent each year, down to 15.5 percent as of July 2020, to offset increasing labor costs. In subsequent years the parties signed annual minimum wage agreements which increased the minimum wage by 8 percent in 2020, by 3.6 percent in 2021, and as of January 2022, by 20 percent. The GOH also facilitates the employment of workers from neighboring countries, primarily ethnic Hungarian minority communities in those countries. The GOH requires hiring of nationals in certain strategic sectors and some areas of public administration.

Labor law stipulates a severance payment in case of lay-off, as well as under certain conditions for an employee terminating a work contract.  The government pays unemployment benefits for three months and offers the services of local employment offices. The GOH did not extend this benefit beyond the normal three months during the pandemic. Labor laws are uniform and there are no waivers available to attract or retain investment.  Collective bargaining is increasingly common in large companies, education, public transport, retail, and medical services.

The 2012 changes to the Labor Law transferred some collective bargaining rights from trade unions to work councils (Although work councils have a similar mission to those of labor unions, each firm has its own work council, and thus lacks the collective reach of an industry-wide trade union).  Hungary’s trade union membership rate is below 10 percent, while the EU average is 25 percent. About 20 percent of businesses have a collective bargaining agreement on labor conditions and benefits, well below the EU average of about 80 percent. During the COVID-19 pandemic the government passed regulations that allow businesses to unilaterally terminate collective bargaining agreements, which led to a few strikes, which have been resolved by negotiations. Beginning in 2021, the GOH decreased state support to trade unions and implemented budget changes to allow discretional funding to each trade union, which replaced the previously uniform system. Hungary has ratified all eight International Labor Organization (ILO) core conventions.

Labor dispute resolution includes mediation as well as court procedures.  Employees, however, typically agree with employers outside court or mediation procedures. In 2019, a six-day strike at Audi Hungary was resolved with an agreement between employers and employees for a 15- to 20-percent wage increase.  The success of this high-profile strike has led to a series of short-term strikes, or threats of strikes, at other companies. Most of these strikes have been resolved quickly with wage increase concessions from management and changes in overtime payment and conditions.  All recent strikes have been peaceful and complied with Hungarian labor laws.

Hungary has been a member of the ILO since 1955.  Hungary’s labor law and practice are in line with international labor standards.  Discussions between the ILO and the GOH are ongoing on certain provisions of the 2012 modification of Hungary’s labor law, including the freedom of expression, registration of trade unions, and minimum level of public service in case of strike.

Hungary passed amendments to its Labor Code in December 2018 that increased the amount of overtime an employer can request and gives employers up to three years to reconcile and pay for overtime.  These highly unpopular changes led to a series of large protests throughout Hungary and currently are being reviewed by the European Commission. As a part of its COVID-19 economic response plan, the government decreed in 2020 that employers can implement flexible working hours and a 24-month working time frame to calculate overtime without prior agreement from the employee or union. Local labor organizations complained that the move rolled back hard-won concessions from the 2018 labor reform and that certain businesses abuse overtime possibilities to compensate for shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, infection with HIV or other communicable diseases, or social status. The labor code provides for the principles of equal treatment. The government failed to enforce these regulations effectively. Penalties were not commensurate with those under laws related to civil rights.

Observers asserted that discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to Roma, women, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ persons. According to NGOs, there was economic discrimination against women in the workplace, particularly against job seekers older than 50 and those who were pregnant or had returned from maternity leave. The country does not mandate equal pay for equal work. A government decree requires companies with more than 25 employees to reserve 5 percent of their work positions for persons with physical or mental disabilities. While the decree provides fines for noncompliance, many employers generally paid the fines rather than employ persons with disabilities. The National Tax and Customs Authority issued “rehabilitation cards” to persons with disabilities, which granted tax benefits for employers employing such individuals.

Roma were the country’s largest ethnic minority. According to the 2011 census, approximately 315,000 persons (3 percent of the population) identified themselves as Roma. A University of Debrecen study published in 2018, however, estimated there were 876,000 Roma in the country, or approximately 9 percent of the country’s population. There were approximately 1,300 de facto segregated settlements in the country where Roma constituted the majority of the population. Romani communities are not socially integrated with broader Hungarian society and are characterized by considerably lower indicators on most socioeconomic measures than the majority population. Conditions for the community deteriorated since the collapse of communism in 1989-90 but were rooted in centuries of social exclusion. Lacking advanced education and employment skills, many Roma occupied the margins of society and experienced long-term unemployment, which bred a cycle of poverty and welfare dependence.

Kazakhstan

Executive Summary

Kazakhstan has made significant progress towards creating a market economy since gaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It has attracted significant foreign investment to develop its abundant mineral, petroleum, and natural gas resources. As of October 2021, the stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) totaled $170 billion, including $40.4 billion from the U.S., according to official central bank statistics. Publicly available information indicates that U.S. investments in the hydrocarbons sector alone far exceed this official statistic.

While Kazakhstan’s vast hydrocarbon and mineral reserves remain the backbone of the economy, the government continues to make incremental progress toward diversification into other sectors.  The COVID-19 pandemic gave impetus to efforts by the Government of Kazakhstan (GOK) to remove bureaucratic barriers to trade and investment.  The GOK maintains an active dialogue with foreign investors through the President’s Foreign Investors Council and the Prime Minister’s Council for Improvement of the Investment Climate.  Kazakhstan is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

Widespread civil unrest in January raised concerns about the country’s political and economic stability. President Tokayev has since assured foreign investors that the GOK will ensure a stable investment climate and meet its commitments to investors. He also pledged to reduce the outsized role of monopolies and oligopolies in the economy. President Tokayev announced political and economic reforms in March that may bring positive changes to the country’s investment climate by increasing privatization and combatting corruption.

Given Kazakhstan’s long border and extensive economic ties with Russia, Russian aggression against Ukraine and ensuing sanctions against Russia affect Kazakhstan’s investment climate. Some investors will likely be deterred from investing in Kazakhstan, while others may find Kazakhstan an attractive alternative to doing business in Russia. The GOK has expressed a commitment to complying with the western sanctions against Russia and has invited western investors to relocate from Russia to Kazakhstan.

Despite President Tokayev’s assurances, concerns remain that some of the underlying economic causes of the January unrest remain unaddressed and sanctions on Russia may exacerbate existing structural weaknesses to cause high inflation, currency devaluation, and logistical impediments to imports and exports. Despite institutional and legal reforms, corruption, excessive bureaucracy, arbitrary law enforcement, and limited access to a skilled workforce in certain regions continue to present challenges.  The government’s tendency to increase its regulatory role in relations with investors, to favor an import-substitution policy, to limit the use of foreign labor, and to intervene in companies’ operations continues to concern foreign investors.  Foreign firms cite the need for better rule of law, deeper investment in human capital, improved transport and logistics infrastructure, a more open and flexible trade policy, a more favorable work-permit regime, and a more customer-friendly and consistent tax administration.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 102 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 79 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M, historical stock positions) N/A N/A https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $8,710 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

5. Protection of Property Rights

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Entrepreneurs, the government, and non-governmental organizations are aware of the expectations of responsible business conduct (RBC). Kazakhstan continues to make steady progress toward meeting the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and the government promotes the concept of RBC. The OECD National Contact Point is the Ministry of National Economy.

The Entrepreneurial Code has a section on social responsibility, which is defined as a voluntary contribution for the development of social, environmental, and other spheres. This creates conditions for RBC but cannot force entrepreneurs to take socially responsible actions. The code considers charitable contributions as a form of social responsibility and envisions tax preferences for entrepreneurs engaged in charitable activities. The government encourages companies to donate to the Khalkyna (To the People of Kazakhstan Fund).

The government signed on to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2007.  Kazakhstan produces EITI reports that disclose revenues from the extraction of its natural resources.  Companies disclose what they have paid in taxes and other payments, and the government discloses what it has received; these two sets of figures are then compared and reconciled.  In 2019, the EITI Board reported that Kazakhstan had made considerable improvements since 2017 by providing additional information on local content, social investment, and transportation of oil, gas, and minerals.

9. Corruption

Kazakhstan’s rating in Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index is 37/100, where 100 is very clean and 0 is highly corrupt. According to Transparency International, the January civil unrest underscored the dangers of ignoring corruption. The Anti-Corruption Agency has focused on sectors like agriculture and healthcare, leaving out the largest industries. President Tokayev announced in January that the government would do more to combat corruption. Within months, several investigations began against wealthy and powerful individuals, including relatives of First President Nazarbayev.

According to the State Department’s Human Rights Report, the government selectively prosecuted officials who committed abuses, especially in high-profile corruption cases. Nonetheless, corruption remained widespread, and impunity existed for many in positions of authority as well as for those connected to law enforcement entities. The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Corruption was widespread in the executive branch, law enforcement agencies, local government administrations, the education system, and the judiciary, according to human rights NGOs. Journalists and advocates for fiscal transparency report frequent harassment and administrative pressure.

The Criminal Code imposes criminal liability and punishment for corruption, forbids suspended sentences for corruption-related crimes, and provides for lifelong bans on employment in the civil service with mandatory forfeiture of title, rank, grade, and state awards for those convicted of corruption-related crimes. The Law on Public Service mandates public servants adhere to rule of law principles including anti-corruption and professionalism of civil service. However, the Law on the First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan—Leader of the Nation establishes blanket immunity for First President Nursultan Nazarbayev and members of his household from arrest, detention, search, or interrogation.

Kazakhstan’s Anti-Corruption Agency prepares an annual report on countering corruption. Kazakhstan ratified the UN Convention against Corruption. It participates in the Istanbul Anti-Corruption Action Plan of the OECD Anti-Corruption Network, the International Association of Anti-Corruption Agencies, and the International Counter-Corruption Council of CIS member-states. Kazakhstan is a member of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO).

Corruption continues to be observed in nearly all sectors, including extractive industries, infrastructure projects, state procurements, and banking. The International Finance Corporation’s Enterprise Survey for Kazakhstan, conducted in 2019 with over 1,400 small, medium, and large enterprises, found that 12 percent of respondents had experienced at least one bribe payment request across six different transactions including paying taxes, obtaining permits or licenses, and obtaining utility connections.

10. Political and Security Environment

During violent civil unrest in January, at least 237 individuals were killed and there were many instances of theft, looting, and arson. More than 1,000 government and commercial buildings were damaged in Almaty and several other cities and rioters briefly seized Almaty International Airport. President Tokayev stated that the initial economic damages were estimated at $2-3 billion. After restoring order, President Tokayev assured foreign investors that the GOK would ensure a stable investment climate.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The OECD Skills Strategy project showed in 2021 that the country is improving rapidly in the use of skills at work, particularly digital skills.  However, the skills of youth remain substantially below the OECD average. Adults also possess comparatively weak foundational and problem-solving skills, as the culture of adult learning is under-developed.

The State Program of Education and Science Development 2020-2025 seeks to reduce the gap in educational achievement between urban and rural schools and to improve lifelong learning.

Many large investors rely on foreign workers to fill the void.  The government regulates foreign labor; foreign workers must obtain work permits.

The GOK has made it a priority to ensure that Kazakhstani citizens are well represented in foreign enterprise workforces.  The government is particularly keen to see Kazakhstanis hired into the managerial and executive ranks of foreign enterprises.

Kazakhstan joined the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1993 and has ratified 24 out of 189 ILO conventions.

The Constitution and Labor Code guarantee basic workers’ rights, including occupational safety and health, the right to organize, and the right to strike.  On May 4, 2020, the government enacted amendments to labor-related laws, including the trade union law, to bring them closer to compliance with ILO standards. The three independent labor unions – the Federation of Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan (FTUK), Commonwealth of Trade Unions of Kazakhstan Amanat, and Kazakhstan Confederation of Labor (KCL) – had over three million members, or 40 percent of the workforce, as of March 1, 2020. According to the FTUK, as of January 2021, 1.5 million workers, or 90.2 percent of FTUK members, labored with collective bargaining agreements in 2020. The number of collective agreements countrywide increased 19.1 percent from 120,200 in 2019 to 143,571 in 2020, the latest data available.

The Labor Code describes a mechanism for resolution of individual labor disputes via direct negotiations with an employer, mediation commission, and court.  It identifies a mechanism for resolution of collective labor disputes via direct negotiations with an employer, mediation commission, labor arbitration, and the court. Workers’ right to strike are limited. Courts have the power to declare a strike illegal at the request of an employer or the Prosecutor General’s Office.  Employers may fire striking workers after a court declares a strike illegal.  Please see additional details at the Human Rights Report at:  https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/kazakhstan/.

Complaints about low wages, poor social benefits, and substandard working conditions resulted in over 363 strikes and labor disputes in 2021 and dozens in the first three months of 2020. Workers typically ended strikes after the companies’ management agreed to a partial increase of wages and bonuses.

The average salary for men was 21.7 percent higher than that for women in 2021. The official unemployment rate is 4.9 percent, or around 450,000 unemployed people out of 9.2 million working-age Kazakhstanis.  In March, KPMG estimated that the real unemployment rate was 10 percent in 2019, 12 percent in 2020, and may increase to 20 percent in 2022.

The GOK reported in 2020 that 1.22 million citizens (or about 13.5 percent) of the country’s workforce worked in the informal economy. Informal workers were concentrated in the retail trade, transport services, agriculture, real estate, beauty and hair dressing salons, and laundry and dry-cleaning businesses. Small entrepreneurs and their employees for the most part worked without health, social, or pension benefits, and did not pay into the social security system.

Latvia

Executive Summary

Located in the Baltic region of northeastern Europe, Latvia is a member of the EU, Eurozone, NATO, OECD, and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Latvian government recognizes that, as a small country, it must attract foreign investment to foster economic growth, and thus has pursued liberal economic policies and developed infrastructure to position itself as a transportation and logistics hub. As a member of the European Union, Latvia applies EU laws and regulations, and, according to current legislation, foreign investors possess the same rights and obligations as local investors (with certain exceptions). Any foreign investor is entitled to establish and own a company in Latvia and apply for a temporary residence permit.

Latvia provides several advantages to potential investors, including:

Regional hub: Latvia is a transportation and logistics hub between West and East, providing strategic access to both the EU market and to Russia and Central Asia. Latvia’s three ice-free ports are connected to the country’s rail and road networks and to the largest international airport in the Baltic region (Riga International Airport). Latvia’s road network is connected to both European and Central Asian road networks. Railroads connect Latvia with the other Baltic States, Russia, and Belarus, with further connections extending into Central Asia and China.

Workforce: Latvia’s workforce is highly educated and multilingual, and its culture promotes hard work and dependability. Labor costs in Latvia are the fifth lowest in the EU.

Competitive tax system: Latvia ranked second in the OECD’s 2021 International Tax Competitiveness Index Rankings. To further boost its competitiveness, the Latvian government has abolished taxes on reinvested profits and has established special incentives for foreign and domestic investment. There are five special economic zones (SEZs) in Latvia: Riga Free Port, Ventspils Free Port, Liepaja Special Economic Zone, Rezekne Special Economic Zone, and Latgale Special Economic Zone, which provide various tax benefits for investors. The Latgale Special Economic Zone covers a large part of Latgale, which is the most economically challenged region in Latvia, bordering Russia and Belarus.

Despite the continued COVID-19 pandemic, Latvia’s GDP increased by 4.8 percent in 2021, rebounding from the 3.6 percent contraction in 2020. According to the government, growth in manufacturing and services sectors contributed to the economic growth. The most competitive sectors in Latvia remain woodworking, metalworking, transportation, IT, green tech, healthcare, life science, food processing, and finance. Recent reports suggest that some of the most significant challenges investors encounter in Latvia are a shortage of available workforce, demography, quality of education, and a significant shadow economy.

Latvia has made significant progress combatting money laundering since its non-resident banking sector first came under increased regulatory scrutiny in 2018 because of inadequate compliance with international AML standards. In late 2019 and early 2020, MONEYVAL and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) concluded that Latvia had developed and implemented strong enough reforms for combating financial crimes to avoid inclusion on FATF’s so-called “grey list.” The Government of Latvia continues work to restore confidence in its financial institutions and has passed several pieces of additional reform legislation. Latvia also became the first member state under the MONEYVAL review to successfully implement all 40 FATF recommendations.

Some investors note a perceived lack of fairness and transparency with Latvian public procurements. Several companies, including foreign companies, have complained that bidding requirements are sometimes written with the assistance of potential contractors or couched in terms that exclude all but “preferred” contractors.

The chart below shows Latvia’s ranking on several prominent international measures of interest to potential investors.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 36 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 38 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2021 219 EUR* https://statdb.bank.lv/lb/Data/128/128
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 17,880 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

*These figures significantly underestimate the value of U.S. investment in Latvia due to the fact that these do not account for investments by U.S. firms through their European subsidiaries.

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

5. Protection of Property Rights

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Awareness of and implementation of due diligence principles of corporate social responsibility (CSR)/Responsible Business Conduct is developing among producers and consumers. Two of the most active promoters of CSR are the American Chamber of Commerce in Latvia and the Employers’ Confederation of Latvia. The Latvian Ministry of Welfare also promotes CSR. Several other initiatives promote CSR, such as the Institute for Corporate Sustainability and Responsibility (https://www.incsr.eu/ ), the Corporate Social Responsibility Platform ( http://www.ksalatvija.lv/en ), and the Human Development Award (http://www.cilvekaizaugsme.lv/home/ ).

Latvia adheres to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Latvia’s national point of contact for the guidelines can be found here: https://www.mfa.gov.lv/en/policy/economic-affairs/oecd/latvian-national-contact-point-for-the-oecd-guidelines-for-multinational-enterprises . Latvia also promotes the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011.

9. Corruption

Latvian law enforcement institutions, foreign business representatives, and non-governmental organizations have identified corruption and the perception of corruption as persistent problems in Latvia. According to the 2021 Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, Latvia ranks 36th out of 180 countries (in order from the lowest perceived level of public sector corruption to the highest).

To strengthen its anti-corruption programs, the Latvian government has adopted several laws and regulations, including the Law on the Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorism and Proliferation Financing and the Law on Prevention of Conflicts of Interest in the Work of Public Officials. The Conflicts of Interest Law imposes restrictions and requirements on public officials and their relatives. Several provisions of the law deal with the previously widespread practice of holding several positions simultaneously, often in both the public and private sector. The law includes a comprehensive list of state and municipal jobs that cannot be combined with additional employment. Moreover, the law expanded the scope of the term state official to include members of boards and councils of companies with state or municipal capital exceeding 50 percent. Additionally, Latvia is a member of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption (FRECO). In line with OECD and GRECO recommendations, the government is working to strengthen anti-corruption policy and enforcement while improving the functioning of the independent Corruption Prevention and Combatting Bureau (KNAB).

Under Latvian law, it is a crime to offer, accept, or facilitate a bribe. Although the law stipulates heavy penalties for bribery, a limited number of government officials have been prosecuted and convicted of corruption to date. The law also provides the possibility of withdrawing charges against a person giving a bribe in cases where the bribe has been extorted or in cases where the person voluntarily reports these incidents and actively assists the investigation. In addition, the Latvian government has adopted a whistleblower law that requires all government agencies and large companies to establish protocols to accept whistleblower disclosures and protect whistleblowers from reprisals.

KNAB is the institution with primary responsibility for preventing and combating corruption and carrying out enforcement activities in response to suspected or alleged corruption. It is subordinated to the Cabinet of Ministers and supervised by the Prime Minister.

KNAB has also established a Public Consultative Council to help increase public participation in implementing its anti-corruption policies, increasing public awareness, and strengthening connections between the agency and the public. More information is available at: https://www.knab.gov.lv/en/knab/consultative/public/ . The Prosecutor General’s Office also plays an important role in fighting corruption.

There is a perceived lack of fairness and transparency in the public procurement process in Latvia. Several companies, including foreign companies, have complained that bidding requirements are sometimes written with the assistance of potential contractors or couched in terms that exclude all but preferred contractors.

A Cabinet of Ministers regulation provides for public access to government information, and the government generally provided citizens such access. There have been no reports the government has denied noncitizens or foreign media access to government information.

10. Political and Security Environment

There have been no reports of political violence or politically motivated damage to foreign investors’ projects or installations. The likelihood of widespread civil disturbances is very low. While Latvia has experienced peaceful demonstrations related to political issues, there have been few incidents when these have devolved into crimes against property, such as breaking shop windows or damaging parked cars. U.S. citizens are cautioned to avoid any large public demonstrations since even peaceful demonstrations can turn confrontational. The Embassy provides periodic notices to U.S. citizens in Latvia, which can be found on the Embassy’s web site: https://lv.usembassy.gov/.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

The official rate of registered unemployment in January 2022, according to Eurostat, was 7.3 percent (https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Unemployment_statistics ). The Latvian State Employment Agency reported 6.9 percent unemployment at the end of January 2022. Unemployment is significantly higher in rural areas. A high percentage of the workforce has completed at least secondary or vocational education. Foreign managers praise the high degree of language skills, especially Russian and English, among Latvian workers. However, foreign managers have reported a shortage of mid- and senior-level managers with “Western” management skills.

Companies must keep wages above the legally specified minimum of EUR 500 per month, as of January 2021. Union influence on the wage setting process is limited. Trade unions do not have significant influence on the labor market. Additional information on trade unions in Latvia is available here: http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations/Countries/Latvia .

One challenge employers have faced since Latvia joined the EU is that many skilled employees can find better employment opportunities in other EU countries. Unofficial statistics suggest that more than 240,000 people have moved from Latvia to other EU countries since May 1, 2004. Despite the fact that the macroeconomic situation has stabilized, skilled and unskilled workers continue to emigrate. The government is implementing a strategy to entice people who have left Latvia to return.

According to several reports, there is a significant shortage of workers in manufacturing, wholesale and retail, transport and storage, and ICT sectors. The largest share of registered unemployment is comprised of persons with only primary or secondary education who do not possess specialized skills. To address this problem, the Latvian government has approved a list of highly skilled professions that employers may use to recruit professionals abroad to work in Latvia: https://www.em.gov.lv/en/news/18513-the-government-supports-the-application-of-simplified-conditions-for-the-attraction-of-highly-qualified-foreign-professionals .

The Labor Law addresses discrimination issues, provides detailed provisions on the rights and obligations of employees’ representatives, and created the Conciliation Commission, a mechanism that can be used in the workplace to resolve labor disputes before going to arbitration. Victims of sexual harassment in the workplace can also submit a complaint to the Office of the Ombudsman and the State Labor Inspectorate.

Full-time employees in Latvia work 40 hours a week. Normally, there are five working days per week, but employers may schedule a sixth workday without offering premium pay. Employees are entitled to four calendar weeks of annual paid vacation per year. Employers are prohibited from entering into an employment contract with a foreign individual who does not have a valid work permit.

Latvia is a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and has ratified all eight ILO Core Conventions.

Latvia’s shadow economy – largely driven by undeclared wages and business earnings – continues to be a major challenge. The annual Stockholm School of Economics Riga “Shadow Economy Index” shows that in 2020 the shadow economy grew by 1.6 percentage points and reached 25.5 percent of GDP. The detailed report is available here: https://www.sseriga.edu/shadow-economy-index-baltic-countries .

Lithuania

Executive Summary

Lithuania is strategically situated at the crossroads of Europe and Eurasia. It offers investors a diversified economy, EU rules and norms, a well-educated multilingual workforce, advanced IT infrastructure and a stable democratic government. The Lithuanian economy has been growing steadily since the 2009 economic crisis but contracted in 2020 due to economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it recovered relatively rapidly in 2021, reaching 5.1 percent GDP growth thanks to budget surpluses and accumulated financial reserves prior to the crisis, as well as a well-diversified economy. The country joined the Eurozone in January 2015 and completed the accession process for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in May 2018. Lithuania’s income levels are lower than in most of the EU. Based on the average net monthly wage, Lithuania is 23rd of 27 EU member states. According to Bank of Lithuania statistics, at the end of 2021, the United States was Lithuania’s 15th largest investor, with cumulative investments totaling $366 million (1.3 percent of total FDI).

The new government elected at the end of 2020 has continued prior governments’ efforts to improve the business climate and lower barriers to investment. In 2013, the government passed legislation which streamlined land-use planning, saving investors both time and money. In July 2017, the government introduced the new Labor Code which is believed to better balance the interests of both employees and employers, and in 2020 it introduced a law on exemption of profit tax for the period of up to 20 years for large and significant investment to the country.

The government provides equal treatment to foreign and domestic investors and sets few limitations on their activities. Foreign investors have the right to repatriate or reinvest profits without restriction and can bring disputes to the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes. Lithuania offers special incentives, such as tax concessions, to both small companies and strategic investors. Incentives are also available in seven Special Economic Zones located throughout the country.

U.S. executives report some burdensome procedures to obtain business and residence permits, and limited instances of low-level corruption in government. Transportation barriers, especially insufficient direct air links with some European cities, remain a hindrance to investment, as does the lack of transparency in government procurement.

Lithuania offers many investment opportunities in most of its economy sectors. The sectors which to date attracted most investment include Information and Communication Technology, Biotech, Metal Processing, Machinery and Electrical Equipment, Plastics, Furniture, Wood Processing and Paper Industry, Textiles and Clothing. Lithuania also offers opportunities for investment in the growing sectors of Real Estate and Construction, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), Shared Services, Financial Technologies, Biotech and Lasers.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 34 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/
research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 39 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 $182 https://apps.bea.gov/international/
factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 19,620 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/
NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

5. Protection of Property Rights

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Although Lithuania has a strong private sector, the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is still relatively new in Lithuania. However, over the past few years many companies, especially those in Vilnius, have developed more robust CSR programs. There are an increasing number of private-public partnerships and social projects where the private sector is involved in supporting volunteerism, environmental restoration, and scholarships. Furthermore, successful participation in the European Union market requires higher standards of CSR. Foreign investors in Lithuania have played a very important role in promoting CSR. In 2009, the government developed and approved a National Corporate Social Responsibility Development Program aimed at promoting CSR. Also, in the past few years there has been growing interest from both government and NGOs in promoting CSR values by organizing competitions and awards ceremonies such as the Social and Labor Ministry’s annual Socially Responsible Business Awards Ceremony, Confederation of Industrialists’ Awards, and others. Also, after Lithuania acceded to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 2017, more business organizations and the legal community have started to promote the importance of companies adopting anti-bribery compliance programs.

9. Corruption

A 2019 Eurobarometer study on Businesses’ attitudes towards corruption in the EU shows that corruption is becoming less of an obstacle for business in Lithuania. Only 15 percent of business executives identified corruption as a problem in Lithuania, twice fewer than in 2015. Out of 27 EU countries, Lithuania was ranked seventh for corruption being the least pressing issue in business. Additionally, the Lithuanian Map of Corruption 2019 survey initiated by the Special Investigations Service (STT) – Lithuania’s anti-corruption law enforcement agency – also showed the positive anti-corruption trends in business environment over the past decades. However, nepotism and cronyism – hiring relatives and friends – are still the most prevalent forms of corruption that hinder business development.

More than 50 governmental institutions regulate commerce in one way or another, creating opportunities for corrupt practices. Large foreign investors report few problems with corruption. On the contrary, most large investors report that high-level officials are often very helpful in solving problems fairly. In general, foreign investors say that corruption is not a significant obstacle to doing business in Lithuania and describe most of the bureaucrats they deal with in Lithuania as reasonable and fair. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) perceive themselves as more vulnerable to petty bureaucrats and commonly complain about extortion. SMEs often complain that excessive red tape virtually requires the payment of “grease money” to obtain permits promptly. Business owners maintain that some government officials, on the other hand, view SMEs as likely tax-cheats and smugglers, and treat the owners and managers accordingly.

Paying or accepting a bribe is a criminal act. Lithuania established in 1997 the Special Investigation Service (Specialiujų Tyrimų Tarnyba) specifically to fight public sector corruption. The agency investigates approximately 100 cases of alleged corruption every year. The STT has a strong track record in investigating and prosecuting corruption cases, but has identified corruption prevention as an area for improvement, which Lithuania’s new anti-corruption law that entered into effect in 2022 aims to address. The law codifies the responsibilities of public institutions to enforce stricter standards of openness and transparency. The law also establishes a network of trained anti-corruption officials throughout all levels and areas of government, implements stricter personnel screening procedures, and standardizes metrics to measure anti-corruption performance.

Transparency International (TI)has a national chapter in Lithuania. TI ranked Lithuania 34th out of 180 in its 2021 Perceptions of Corruption Index with a score of 61 out of 100 (TI considers countries with a score below 50 to have serious problems with corruption.). Medical personnel and local government officials, among others, were cited by TI as prone to corruption.

Lithuania ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2006 and acceded to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 2017.

Resources to Report Corruption

Special Investigation Service
Jakšto g. 6, 01105 Vilnius, Lithuania
Tel: 370-5266333
Fax: 370-70663307
Email: pranesk@stt.lt 

Sergejus Muravjovas, Executive Director
Transparency International
Didžioji st. 5, LT–01128, Vilnius, Lithuania
Tel: 370 5 212 69 51
info@transparency.lt  | skype: ti_lithuania

10. Political and Security Environment

Since its independence in 1991, Lithuania has not witnessed any incidents involving politically motivated damage to projects and/or installations.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Lithuanian labor is relatively inexpensive compared to Western Europe. However, employment regulations are often stricter than those in other EU countries, according to some foreign investors. By law, white-collar workers have a 40-hour workweek. Blue-collar workers have a 48-hour workweek with premium pay for overtime. Maternity leave in Lithuania is granted for up to 126 days, and the government compensates 100 percent of the mother’s salary. A father is also allowed to take paternity leave for one month. His salary is compensated 100 percent as well. Sick leave in Lithuania is granted up to 14 days at any one time and no more than 90 days a year. For the first two days, the salary compensation is 80 – 100 percent, paid by the employer, with the rest of the days being compensated by SODRA (Lithuanian Social Security body) at 80 percent of salary. Lithuania is a member of International Labor Organization (ILO) and has ratified its core conventions.

The government adjusts the monthly minimum wage periodically. Since January 2022, Lithuania’s minimum monthly wage is $817. The average monthly wage is $1,880.

The ability of Lithuanians to work legally in EU countries generated a sizable outflow of labor, causing a domestic shortage of skilled construction workers, truck drivers, shop assistants, medical nurses, and medical specialists. In March, 2021 unemployment rate stood at 6.7 percent.

Lithuania’s management-labor relations are good. Labor unions are not considered overly influential in Lithuania, according to some foreign investors. More than half of workers at Lithuanian fertilizer firm Achema went on strike in February 2022 in the first major strike since 1991. The primary dispute was over the signing of a collective bargaining agreement with management on wages and other conditions. .

Lithuania has one of the best-educated workforces in Central and Eastern Europe. Lithuania ranks fourth among the EU states in terms of population with higher education and first in the Baltic States. Lithuania is one of the five EU members with the highest percentage of people speaking at least one foreign language. Ninety percent of Lithuanians can speak at least one other language – usually English, Polish, and/or Russian – apart from their mother tongue.

Major Lithuanian companies specializing in IT, biotechnology, and laser technology cooperate closely with the leading Lithuanian technological universities, which provide companies with R&D services and offer students specialized on-the-job training programs. This way companies are able to attract a large number of qualified specialists for both local and international projects. Some technology companies, however, have noted challenges in finding highly- skilled workers with advanced technical degrees.

In 2017, the parliament passed a new Labor Code. These changes aim to encourage foreign investment and job creation by simplifying some employment conditions and clarifying other requirements. The new law decreases the advanced notice required when employers terminate an employment contract, and adds new contract options for employers, such as project-based contracts and job-sharing contracts. The law also clarifies previous informal practices by requiring non-union employers to form works councils to represent employee interests and requiring employers to establish and publicize standard company compensation policies.

Romania

Executive Summary Title

Romania welcomes all forms of foreign investment. The government provides national treatment for foreign investors and does not differentiate treatment due to source of capital. Romania’s strategic location, membership in the European Union (EU), relatively well-educated workforce, competitive wages, and abundant natural resources make it a desirable location for firms seeking to access European, Central Asian, and Near East markets. U.S. investors have found opportunities in the information technology, automotive, telecommunications, energy, services, manufacturing, healthcare, consumer products, insurance, and banking sectors.

Since the 1989 revolution, Romania has embarked on an uneven, but ascending economic growth path. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Romania’s economy declined by 3.9 percent in 2020, and rebounded with a 5.9 percent real GDP growth rate in 2021. As of February, the European Commission (EC) projected 4.2 percent real GDP growth for Romania in 2022. However, spillover effects from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rising global energy prices, and an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have led several international financial institutions to adjust the growth rate downwards, predicting closer to 3 percent GDP growth in 2022.

On March 9, 2022, Romania lifted all COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Romania supported businesses and workers by broadening eligibilities for unemployment benefits, enabling employers to adopt flexible work models, and instituting a temporary credit and lease payment moratorium.

Romania stands to receive 27 billion EUR in grants and loans from “Next Generation EU” funding via the National Resilience and Recovery Plan (NRRP). The NRRP funding, which will be disbursed between 2021 to 2026, aims to support Romania’s green transition, digitalization efforts, and health system resilience. However, a demonstrated lack of administrative capacity to absorb and implement projects using EU funding may impact Romania’s ability to absorb the funds and dampen the NRRP’s impact.

As an EU member state, Romania’s climate objectives align with EU strategies, including the 2030 Agenda and the European Green Deal. However, legacy environmental issues limit Romania’s ability to deliver on biodiversity and clean air goals. Environmental challenges include poor air quality, inadequate waste management practices, and insufficient protective measures for natural areas. Illegal logging remains a concern despite progress towards improved traceability of extracted wood.

The investment climate in Romania remains a mixed picture, and potential investors should undertake due diligence when considering any investment. The European Commission’s 2020 European Semester Country Report for Romania pointed to persistent legislative instability, unpredictable decision-making, low institutional quality, and corruption as factors eroding investor confidence. Frequent reorganizations of public institutions also contributed to a significant degree of instability.

The government’s sale of minority stakes in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in key sectors, such as energy generation and exploitation, has stalled since 2014. In 2020, the Romanian government enacted a two-year ban on the sale of state equities of SOEs. Successive governments have weakened enforcement of the state-owned enterprise (SOE) corporate governance code by resorting to appointments of short-term interim managers to bypass the leadership requirements outlined in the corporate governance code. Instability in the management of SOEs hinders the ability to plan and invest.

Consultations with stakeholders and impact assessments are required before enacting legislation. However, these requirements have been unevenly followed, and public entities generally do not conduct impact assessments. Frequent government changes have led to rapidly changing policies and priorities that serve to complicate the business climate. Romania has made significant strides to combat corruption, but it remains an ongoing challenge.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 66 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 48 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country historical stock positions) 2020 $3.93B https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $12,580 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

5. Protection of Property Rights

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Romania adhered to the OECD Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprise in 2004. The government regularly sends representatives to the working sessions of the OECD Investment Committee and its Working Party on Responsible Business Conduct. Romania established an OECD National Contact Point in 2005 to promote the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Romania’s investment promotion agency, InvestRomania, currently serves as the contact point.

Several NGOs in Romania monitor, advocate, and raise concerns on RBC issues. No high-profile cases of private sector impact on human rights were recorded in 2020. However, the National Council for Combating Discrimination (CNCD), the government agency responsible for applying domestic and EU anti-discrimination laws, imposed several fines on companies for discrimination against their own staff or prospective employees. The cases involved discrimination based on gender, disability, HIV status, or ethnicity and harassment over labor union membership and childcare leave. The government has not fully implemented a law which prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, transportation, and access to health care. Romania does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) but has adhered to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas since 2012.

Organized crime investigators conducted inquiries related to lack of due diligence and non-transparent supply chains for timber and other wood products. In 2021, prosecutors investigated non-compliant wood shipments transitioning the port of Constanta. Violence against environmentalists and journalists monitoring the forestry sector has been well-documented. On September 16, 2021, a group attacked two journalists and an environmental activist while they were documenting illegal logging in Romania. Forestry worker unions claimed that more than 650 rangers and technical workers were attacked, threatened, or had their property destroyed between 2017-2019, and that six died during the same period.

9. Corruption

Romania’s fight against high- and medium-level corruption, a model in Southeastern Europe over the past decade, suffered significant setbacks between 2017 and late 2019 due to a concerted campaign under a previous Social Democratic Party (PSD)-led government that aimed to weaken anti-corruption efforts, the criminal and judicial legislative framework, and judicial independence. Professional associations, NGOs, the EU, and NATO-allied governments raised concerns about legislative initiatives that furthered this trend during that period. In Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Romania placed 45 out of 100, up one spot since 2020, placing Romania among the lowest ranked of the EU member states. The current governing coalition lists justice reform and the fight against corruption among its official priorities, but it remains to be seen whether it will achieve tangible results.

Domestic and international rule-of-law experts and law enforcement observe that many of the amendments to the criminal code introduced by the former PSD-led government between 2017-2019 remain in place today and continue to weaken the investigative tool kit in the fight against corruption. The current governing coalition (PSD-PNL-UDMR) has said it hopes to bring the new “Justice Laws” to parliament for debate in 2022 with the aim of reversing most of these provisions of the 2017-2019 Justice Laws.

The European Commission under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), and the Council of Europe’s (COE) Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) prepared 2021 reports that leave some room for optimism. The June 2021 CVM report, which covered activities from October 2019, noted the GOR committed to reaching all CVM objectives in 2020, but progress has been limited. A May 18, 2021, ruling by the EU’s Court of Justice confirmed that the recommendations of the CVM are mandatory for Romania. GRECO’s 2021 report, while acknowledging some progress, assessed Romania’s compliance with its recommendations for fighting corruption as “very low.” The OECD 2022 economic survey also warned that corruption remained a major problem in Romania, arguing that past modifications of Justice Laws and the pressures targeting DNA prosecutors have weakened anticorruption efforts.

A major issue signaled by the CVM, GRECO, and the Venice Commission remains the controversial Section to Investigate Offenses in the Judiciary (SIIJ). The DNA’s 2020 performance report for the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) showed that the failure to incorporate Constitutional Court decisions in the legislative framework has negatively affected the agency’s efficiency. The existence of the SIIJ continued to be a source of discontent for DNA and civil society. In March 2022, President Iohannis signed into law a bill passed by Parliament that aimed to dismantle the structure. The Venice Commission published a subsequent opinion criticizing the GOR’s hasty adoption of the bill. Against international recommendations, the law dismantled the SIIJ and created a new structure to handle the cases, rather than returning the corruption and organized crime files to DNA and DIICOT. Civil society representatives and the main opposition party, Save Romania Union (USR), warned that the new structure envisioned to take the place of SIIJ could be even more damaging to judicial independence. The Romania chapter of the EC’s 2020 report on rule of law within the EU, mentioned in the 2021 CVM, noted that in 2020 the government continued to affirm its commitment to judicial reform after the reversals between 2017 and 2019.

In December 2021, the Government adopted an Anticorruption Strategy for 2021-2025. The document represents a political commitment to support all relevant institutions fighting corruption and was also a milestone in Romania’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan. The strategy focuses on asset recovery and strengthening the National Agency for Managing Seized Assets (ANABI). Conflicts of interest, respect for standards of ethical conduct, and integrity in public office remained concerns for all three branches of government. Individual executive agencies enforced sanctions slowly, and agencies’ inspection bodies were generally inactive.

Romania implemented the revised EU Public Procurement Directives in 2016 by passing new laws to improve and make public procurements more transparent. The National Agency for Public Procurement (ANAP) has general oversight over procurements and can draft legislation, but procurement decisions remain with the procuring entities. State entities as well as public and private beneficiaries of EU funds are required by law to follow public procurement legislation and use the e-procurement system. Sectoral procurements, including private companies in energy and transportation, must follow the public procurement laws and tender via the e-procurement website. The April 2021 EU Country Report for Romania, which included data on the public procurement system in Romania for the period between 2018-2020, noted that the practical application of innovation-driven public procurement solutions remained a challenge.

In October 2016, the “Prevent” IT system, an initiative sponsored by the National Integrity Agency (ANI) for ex-ante checks of conflicts of interests in public procurement, was signed into law. The mechanism aims to avoid conflicts of interest by automatically detecting conflicts of interest in public procurement before the selection and contract award procedure. According to ANI, between January-December 2021, the system checked over 7,800 public procurement procedures to prevent conflicts of interest.

National laws prohibit bribery and other acts of corruption, both domestically and for Romanian companies doing business abroad. The judiciary remains mostly paper-based and inefficient although digitization progressed some during the pandemic. Romania loses several cases each year in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) due to excessive trial length. The National Agency for Fiscal Administration (ANAF) has a mandate to ensure that all taxes are collected and prevent fiscal and customs frauds. Asset forfeiture laws exist, but a functioning regime remains under development.

While private joint stock companies use internal controls, ethics, and compliance programs to detect and prevent bribery, since 2017 the government has rolled back corporate governance rules for state-owned enterprises and has repeatedly resorted to profit and reserves distribution in dividends to bolster the budget. U.S. investors have complained of both government and business corruption in Romania, most frequently naming the customs service, municipal officials, and local financial authorities. According to the EC’s February 2020 European Semester Country Report for Romania, corruption continued to be a major problem for the business environment in Romania. A 2019 business Eurobarometer survey showed that 88 percent of businesses consider corruption to be a serious problem for their company when doing business in Romania. Since 2013, the share of companies that perceived corruption as a problem increased in Romania by 23 percentage points, the largest increase in the EU and in stark contrast with the EU average which continued to decrease (to 37 percent). Overall, 97 percent of businesses thought that corruption was widespread in Romania and 87 percent said it was widespread in public procurement managed by national authorities.

Romania is a member of the Southeast European Law Enforcement Center (SELEC). NGOs enjoy the same legal protections as any other organizations, but NGOs involved in investigating corruption receive no additional protections. The United States welcomes participation from private and public sector entities on anti-corruption programs and trainings.

10. Political and Security Environment

Romania does not have a history of politically motivated damage to foreign investors’ projects or installations. Major civil disturbances are rare, though some have occurred in past years. In 2021, the extreme-right party Alliance for the Unity of Romanians (AUR) capitalized on widespread discontent with the government’s response to the pandemic, a sluggish economy, and surging energy prices to organize a series of protests. The current coalition, one in a series of coalitions over the past two years, supports economic reform and a business-friendly environment, but it is uncertain how much progress the coalition will make on its goals.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Romania has traditionally boasted a large, skilled labor force at comparatively low wage rates in most sectors. The labor pool has tightened in highly skilled professions, in particular the information technology and health sectors, due to emigration and a deteriorating primary and secondary education system that fails to adequately prepare many graduates, particularly in rural areas, for university. The university system is generally regarded as good, particularly in technical fields, though foreign and Romanian business leaders have urged reform of outdated higher education curricula to better meet the needs of a modern, innovation-driven market. Payroll taxes remain steep. As a result, an estimated 25 to 30 percent of the labor force works in the underground economy as “independent contractors” where their salaries are neither recorded, nor taxed. Even for registered workers, underreporting of actual salaries is common.

The total unemployment rate in Romania increased during the COVID-19 pandemic from 4.9 percent in 2019 to 6.1 percent in 2020, and was 5.3 percent as of Q3 2021. The registered unemployment rate, which covers jobless individuals registered with the labor offices, stood at 2.8 percent in October 2021, down from 3.3 the previous year. At 69.2 percent in 2020, the labor force participation rate – the portion of the working age population (15-64 years) who are employed or actively seeking employment – remained among the lowest in the EU. Romanian employers in the engineering, machinery, IT services, and healthcare sectors reported difficulties in hiring and retaining employees as Romania faces a shortage of medium- to high-skill workers. As Romania’s emigration crisis deepens, other industries, including food service and construction, also face worker shortages. According to the EC, Romanians were the largest working age group of EU citizens residing in other member states in 2020 (18.6 percent of the working age resident population, up from 11.5 in 2010). Many emigrants are young and well- qualified, constraining the supply of skilled labor remaining in Romania. The World Bank estimated that between 2000 and 2018, Romania’s population fell from 22.5 million to 19.5 million with emigration accounting for more than 75 percent of the decline. Romania faces a shortage of healthcare staff as doctors and nurses continue to seek work abroad, motivated not only by the higher salaries, but also by the country’s antiquated medical system.  According to the Ministry of Health, roughly 10,000 doctors left Romania between 2017 and 2018.

The government lacks a comprehensive strategy to remedy labor shortages despite taking steps in recent years to attract and retain talent. Employees in some sectors benefit from fiscal incentives. For example, IT professionals are eligible for certain income tax exemptions. In 2018, the GOR introduced an additional income tax and social contributions exemption for a period of ten years for construction sector employees. The provision also introduced a specific minimum wage of RON 3,000 (USD 728) for construction workers. In 2017, the GOR adopted a unitary wage law to establish a more consistent framework for wages across the public sector. The law provided for a salary increase of at least 25 percent for most public sector employees; wages for some workers in the healthcare sector doubled in nominal terms as of March 2018. Unions and businesses continue to debate specific applications of the Unitary Wage Law.

The Labor Code regulates the labor market in Romania, controlling contracting, jurisdiction, and the application of regulations. It applies to both national and foreign citizens working in Romania or abroad for Romanian companies. As an EU member state, Romania has no government policy that requires the hiring of nationals, but it has annual work permit quotas for other non-EU nationals. As of 2020, employers are exempt from obtaining General Immigration Inspectorate (IGI) approval for nationals from Moldova, Ukraine, and Serbia for full-time labor contracts of up to nine months per year. For 2022, the government increased the annual work permits to 100,000, up from 50,000 permits approved for 2021. Work permits are valid for one year and are renewable with an individual work contract. Employers pay a EUR 100 tax for most foreign workers, except for seasonal workers and those present in Romania on student visas, for whom the tax is EUR 25. The government also reduced the cost of employing non-EU citizens in 2018, no longer requiring employers to pay a minimum wage equivalent to the gross average wage. Normal minimum wage law applies with the exception that highly skilled non-EU workers must receive at least twice the gross minimum wage. Foreign companies still resort to expensive staff rotations, special consulting contracts, and non-cash benefits.

Since the 1989 revolution, labor-management relations have occasionally been tense, the result of economic restructuring and personnel layoffs. Trade unions, much better organized than employers’ associations, are vocal defenders of their rights and benefits. Employers are required to make severance payments for layoffs according to the individual labor contracts, company terms and conditions, and the applicable collective bargaining agreements. The Labor Code discerns between layoffs and firing; severance payments are due only in case of layoffs. There is no treatment of labor specific to special economic zones, foreign trade zones, or free ports.

Romanian law allows workers to form and join independent labor unions without prior authorization, and workers freely exercise this right. Labor unions are independent of the government. Unions and employee representatives must typically notify the employer before striking and must take specific steps provided by law before launching a general strike, including holding discussions and attempting reconciliation with management representatives. Companies may claim damages from strike organizers if a court deems a strike illegal. Labor dispute mechanisms are in place to mediate any conflicts between employers and employees regarding economic, social, and professional interests. Unresolved conflicts are adjudicated in court according to the civil code. An employee, employer, or labor union may initiate proceedings. In 2021, employees from auto manufacturing, transportation, and the medical sectors went on strike or protested publicly. They sought higher pay, better working conditions, and sufficient staffing.

Union representatives allege that few incidents of anti-union discrimination are officially reported because it is difficult to prove that employers laid-off employees in retaliation for union activities. The government has generally respected the right of association, and union officials state that registration requirements stipulated by law are complicated, but generally reasonable. The current law permits, but it does not impose, collective labor agreements for groups of employers or sectors of activity. Companies with more than 21 employees may use collective bargaining, which provides for written agreements between employees and the employer or employers’ association. According to the Ministry of Labor, companies and employees had finalized 3,829 collective labor agreements as of Q3 2021 compared to 5,742 in 2020. Since 2014, parliament has periodically considered reintroducing collective bargaining nationwide, a practice that previously established minimum pay and working conditions for the entire economy, but which the Social Dialogue Act eliminated in 2011.

As an EU and International Labor Organization (ILO) member state, Romania observes international labor rights. National law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but enforcement is not uniform or effective. As penalties are insufficient to deter violations, reports indicated that such practices continued to occur, often involving Roma, disabled persons, and children. The minimum age for most forms of employment is 16, but children may work with the consent of parents or guardians at age 15, provided the tasks correlate with their abilities. Employment in harmful or dangerous jobs is forbidden for those under the age of 18; the government maintains a list of dangerous jobs in which the employment of minors is restricted.

Romania does not waive or derogate labor laws and regulations to attract or retain investments. Since 2011, employers have had more flexibility to evaluate employees based on performance, and hiring and firing procedures have been significantly relaxed. Romania aims to ensure that its labor market is dynamic, sustainable, resilient, pro-active, and based on social innovation by 2027 with a 75 percent employment rate for of people aged 20-64. As of March 2022, Romania had yet to finalize its National Labor Strategy for 2021-2027.

The minimum wage has more than tripled in nominal terms since 2012, rising from RON 700 (USD 170) to RON 2,550 (USD 583) per month in 2022. Romania no longer requires a differentiated minimum wage for employees with a university degree. Starting in 2022, employers can only pay the minimum wage for the first two years of an employment contract. The measure has a transition period of two years, and employees currently paid the minimum wage will be eligible for wage growth in 2024. Despite these measures, Romania had the highest rate of employed persons at risk of poverty among EU member states: 14.9 percent in 2020.

Wage increases have outpaced productivity growth since 2016. This led to a marked growth in hourly labor costs, which posted a 6.39 percent nominal increase in Q3 2021 as compared with the same period in 2020. On January 31, the Romanian Competition Council opened an investigation into unlawful wage setting practices by the automotive industry. The Council investigated informal “no-poach” agreements that decreased competition among companies and created artificial labor market access barriers, particularly for automotive engineers.

In December 2017, the GOR shifted the burden of mandatory payroll deductions for pensions, healthcare, and income taxes from employers to employees. To avoid reductions in employee net pay and retain labor in a tight market, many companies increased salaries to offset employee losses. Other companies, wary of further possible changes, offered monthly bonuses rather than formally amending employee contracts.

Separately, in December 2019, parliament reduced payroll taxes for part-time workers. The bill reversed 2017 provisions when, in an effort to curtail underreporting of work, the government increased the minimum payroll taxes that employers must pay for their part-time employees to equal those for a full-time employee earning minimum wage. Coupled with the change in the legal tax incidence of social contributions described above, the law had the unintended consequence that some employees owed more in social contributions than their monthly earnings. In February 2018, the GOR issued an ordinance allowing part-time workers to pay social contributions for their actual gross income only, mandating that the employer make up the difference. Effective January 1, 2020, part-time employees are taxed based on their actual earnings, and employers do not cover additional charges. In 2018, the GOR passed new legislation specifying how the labor code applies to companies employing teleworkers and defining the distinction between teleworkers and employees who work full-time from home.

In response to COVID-19 restrictions, the GOR extended the categories of employees eligible for unemployment benefits to independently registered businesspeople, lawyers, and individuals with income deriving from copyright and sports activities. In August 2020, the GOR adopted a flexible work scheme model that required employers to cover half of full-time wages. In turn, the GOR paid 75 percent of the difference between the gross wage and the basic wage paid to the employee based on actual working hours. The law also allows for one caretaker of school-age children to receive paid days off during school closures. As of 2022, the GOR had extended furlough provisions for businesses affected by COVID-19 restrictions. The GOR has announced plans to ensure that additional medical staff hired on temporary contracts since the onset of the pandemic can remain in the medical system in the long run to cover staff gaps. On March 9, 2022, Romania lifted all COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data
Economic Data Year    Amount Year Amount  
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (USD) 2020    $249B 2020 $249B www.worldbank.org/en/country

https://insse.ro/cms/

Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical Source* USG or International Statistical Source USG or International Source of Data
U.S. FDI in 2020 partner country (stock positions, USD)** 2020  

$1.26B


$7.52B

 

 

2020 $3.93B BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States (stock positions, USD) N/A N/A 2020 $80M BEA data available at ttps://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % of host GDP N/A N/A 2020 0.93% UNCTAD data available at

https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html     

* Host Country Data Sources:

BNR: https://www.bnr.ro/  ONRC: https://www.onrc.ro/ 

** The BNR calculated 2020 U.S. FDI in Romania at USD 1.26 billion when using the immediate investor origin principle, and at USD 7.52 billion when using the final investor origin principle. Separately, the Romanian National Trade Register Office (ONRC) calculated 2021 U.S. FDI in Romania at USD 1.22 billion when using only registered capital.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment (as of December 31, 2020)
Total Inward $110,743 100%
1. The Netherlands $24,392 22.0%
2. Germany $13,505 12.2%
3. Austria $13,247 12.0%
4. Italy $9,335 8.4%
5. France* $6,883 6.2%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

* The BNR estimated the United States to be #5 when accounting for investments made by foreign subsidiaries of origin country companies.

Serbia

Executive Summary

Serbia’s investment climate has modestly improved in recent years, driven by macroeconomic reforms, financial stability, and fiscal discipline. Attracting foreign investment is an important priority for the government. In 2020, Serbia improved four places to number 44 on the World Bank’s Doing Business index. Serbia launched a new 30-month Policy Coordination Instrument (PCI) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in June 2021. U.S. investors in Serbia are generally positive due to the country’s strategic location, well-educated and English-speaking labor force, competitive labor costs, generous investment incentives, and free-trade arrangements with the EU and other key markets. U.S. investors generally enjoy a level playing field. The U.S. Embassy in Belgrade often assists investors when issues arise, and Serbian leaders are responsive to investment concerns. In 2021, the United States and Serbia signed a new Investment Incentive Agreement that may facilitate opportunities in a variety of sectors. Challenges remain, particularly bureaucratic delays and corruption, as well as loss-making state-owned enterprises (SOEs), a large informal economy, and an inefficient judiciary. Political influence on the economy is also a concern; this issue was highlighted in January 2022 when the government abruptly withdrew licenses related to a major proposed lithium-mining project in response to public protests.

The Serbian government has identified economic growth and job creation as top priorities and has passed significant reforms to labor law, construction permitting, inspections, public procurement, and privatization that have helped improve the business environment. If the government delivers on promised reforms during its EU accession process, business opportunities should continue to grow. Sectors that stand to benefit include agriculture and agro-processing, solid-waste management, sewage, environmental protection, information and communications technology (ICT), renewable energy, health care, mining, and manufacturing. In April 2021, Serbia adopted its first renewable energy law, which should contribute to scaling up renewable energy capacities. Companies and officials have noted that the adoption of reforms has sometimes outpaced implementation. Digitizing certain government functions (e.g., construction permitting, tax administration, and e-signatures) has not yet brought a dramatic improvement in processing times and may not be consistently implemented. The government is slowly making progress on resolving troubled SOEs, through bankruptcy or privatization actions where possible. The government plans to privatize 64 more companies and is also slowly reducing Serbia’s bloated public-sector workforce, mainly through attrition and hiring caps.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022 initially had a limited economic impact on Serbia, and the banking system remains well capitalized and liquid; but inflation, as well as energy and agricultural supply disruptions are likely if the war continues, despite Serbia’s refusal to join U.S. and EU sanctions on Russian entities. Public fear of price spikes and shortages initially led to sporadic panic buying at supermarkets and gas pumps, but fuel and other consumer goods have remained available. Russia continues to supply natural gas and crude oil to Serbia, but supplies are vulnerable due to heavy Russian influence in the sector and the potential effect of sanctions. Serbia’s trade with Russia is otherwise limited, but agricultural exports could suffer from contraction or loss of the Russian market due to sanctions and resulting financial and logistical barriers.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021  96 of 180 https://www.transparency.org/en/cpi/2021/index/srb
Global Innovation Index 2021  54 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M, historical stock positions) 2019 $149 million https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 $7,420 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

5. Protection of Property Rights

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) and Corporate Social Responsibility are relatively new concepts in Serbia, and until recently many Serbian companies viewed them mainly as public-relations tools. The Serbian government has no formal mechanism in place to encourage companies to follow a due-diligence approach to RBC. The Council for Philanthropy held its first session in September 2018. The Council, chaired by the Prime Minister and founded with grant support from USAID, aims to use public policy to create a more encouraging environment for corporate giving in Serbia. Members of the Council include ten government ministers, the Belgrade Mayor, the Director of the Tax Administration, several NGOs, and 29 member companies as of April 2020. Donors have pointed to issues that have a negative impact on philanthropy, including a lack of tax incentives for donors, no available VAT exemptions for in-kind donations, the lack of a system for monitoring donations from companies, and the absence of official data on charities.

The USAID project “Framework for Giving Activity,” which recently ended, strengthened philanthropy and charitable giving in Serbia. The activity focused on improving the legal and policy framework related to charitable giving to make giving easier and more transparent.

According to the 2019 World Giving Index published by the Charities Aid Foundation, Serbia was ranked 123rd out of 126 countries listed in a 10-year aggregate survey of number of people who donate to charity or participate in volunteer work: HYPERLINK “https://www.cafonline.org/docs/default-source/about-us-publications/caf_wgi_10th_edition_report_2712a_web_101019.pdf” https://www.cafonline.org/docs/default-source/about-us-publications/caf_wgi_10th_edition_report_2712a_web_101019.pdf

The Law on Public Procurement allows the government to ask bidders to fulfill additional conditions, especially those related to social and environmental issues, and allows the government to consider criteria such as environmental protection and social impact when evaluating bids.

The UN Development Program’s Global Compact initiative has 118 participants in Serbia and has organized a number of educational events intended to strengthen RBC capacity in Serbia. The list of members is available at: http://www.ungc.rs/srb/clanovi .

Several local organizations, such as the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), the Foreign Investors’ Council, and the Serbian Chamber of Commerce (PKS) promote the concept of RBC among the Serbian business community and the public. PKS presents a national award to Socially Responsible Businesses. The Trag Foundation supports the Serbian Philanthropy Forum, a networking body for donors (including numerous corporate actors). The NGO Smart Kolektiv provides consulting services in RBC and established in 2016, with USAID support, an RBC Index which is the first national platform for assessing responsible business conduct in Serbia.

The Responsible Business Forum Serbia is a network of socially responsible companies that contribute to the development of the community, stimulating the development of corporate social responsibility and the establishment of firm and lasting socially responsible practices in the business sector. It was established in 2008 by 14 leading companies in Serbia. More information about the Forum is available at: https://odgovornoposlovanje.rs/vesti .

Multinational companies often bring international best practices in RBC, with U.S. companies among the most active. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many large companies donated money and goods to help government combat the crisis; more info is available at: https://odgovornoposlovanje.rs/vesti .

Allegations of labor-rights violations are uncommon in Serbia. However, in December 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for an investigation into forced labor at the construction site for the Chinese-owned LingLong tire-manufacturing plant in Zrenjanin, in northern Serbia. Media and anti-trafficking NGOs reported that approximately 500 Vietnamese workers were living in poor accommodations and lacked access to sufficient food and water, their passports having been confiscated upon arrival.

According to a 2016 OECD study on small and medium enterprises, Serbia has no national strategy that targets environmental policy toward small and medium-size enterprises. See http://www.oecd.org/education/sme-policy-index-western-balkans-and-turkey-2016-9789264254473-en.htm . Serbia’s 2011 Corporate Law introduced contemporary corporate standards, but business associations indicate that implementation is inconsistent.

The government does not maintain a national point of contact for OECD’s Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, including OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas. The government does not participate in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

Serbia has a private sector security industry but is not a signatory of the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies. Serbia is also not a supporter of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers and is not a participant in the International Code of Conduct Association.

9. Corruption

Surveys consistently show that corruption remains an issue of concern in many areas. Serbia’s global ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index declined to 96 in 2021 from 91 in 2020. In Serbia’s EU accession process, the European Commission has repeatedly noted that Serbia must do more to fight corruption. Arrests and investigations on corruption charges generally focus on low or mid-level technocrats, and corruption-related trials are typically drawn out and subject to a lengthy appeal process.

Serbia is a signatory to the Council of Europe’s Civil Law Convention on Corruption, and it has ratified the Council’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and the UN Convention against Corruption. Serbia also is a member of the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), a peer-monitoring organization that provides peer-based assessments of members’ anti-corruption efforts. Twenty-five local governments in Serbia participated in USAID’s anti-corruption program, which ended in 2022, and introduced and increased transparency measures in their processes.

The government has worked to bring its legal framework for preventing and combating corruption in line with EU norms. A dedicated state body, the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption, plays a preventative role in fighting corruption, while dedicated Anticorruption Police and prosecutors investigate and prosecute cases of corruption. The Criminal Code specifies numerous bases for prosecution of corruption and economic offenses, including but not limited to giving or accepting a bribe, abuse of office, abuse of a monopoly, malfeasance in public procurement, abuse of economic authority, fraud in service, and embezzlement. However, a new National Strategy for Fighting Corruption to replace the expired 2013-2018 version has yet to be drafted – a concern frequently raised by the European Commission and Serbia’s Anti-Corruption Council, an advisory body to the government.

In 2018, Serbia’s Parliament strengthened anti-corruption laws through three pieces of legislation: The Law on Organization and Jurisdiction of State Organs in Suppressing Organized Crime, Terrorism, and Corruption for the first time established specialized anti-corruption prosecution units and police and judicial departments, mandated the use of task forces, and introduced liaison officers and financial forensic experts. The Law on Asset Forfeiture was amended to expand coverage to new criminal offenses, and amendments to the Criminal Code made corruption offenses easier to prosecute. Following these legal changes, specialized anti-corruption departments started operations in March 2018 in Novi Sad, Belgrade, Kraljevo, and Niš to prosecute offenders who have committed crimes of corruption valued at less than RSD 200 million ($2 million). Cases valued above this level are handled by the Organized Crime Prosecutor’s Office.

Serbia’s Law on the Prevention of Corruption, which went into effect in 2020, requires income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials, and it regulates conflicts of interest for public officials. Disclosures cover assets of officials, spouses, and dependent children. Declarations should be publicly available on the website of the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption, and failures to file or to fully disclose income and assets are subject to administrative and/or criminal sanctions. Significant changes to assets or income must be reported annually, upon departure from office, and for a period of two years after separation. Independent media reported cases where high-level officials allegedly did not comply with asset disclosure laws by failing to report assets.

The Law on Public Procurement, adopted in 2020, introduced mandatory use of an online public-procurement portal. While the portal noticeably improved transparency and procedures, independent watchdogs reported that more than half of completed public procurement tenders since the implementation of the new law have resulted in only one offer, which indicated continued issues with transparency of public procurement procedures or the establishment of non-competitive procurement processes that favor certain vendors.

Serbian authorities do not require private companies to establish internal codes of conduct related to corruption or other matters, but some professional associations (e.g., for attorneys, engineers, and doctors) enforce codes of conduct for their members. Private companies often have internal controls, ethics codes, or compliance programs designed to detect and prevent bribery of government officials. Large companies often have internal programs, especially in industries such as tobacco, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and industries regularly involved in public procurement.

In 2020, the Parliament adopted a Parliamentary Code of Conduct, aimed at addressing GRECO recommendations regarding conflict of interest and other issues of ethics among parliamentarians. However, the code lacks meaningful independent enforcement mechanisms.

Serbian law does not provide protection for non-governmental organizations involved in investigating corruption. However, the criminal procedure code provides witness protection measures, and Serbia enacted a Whistleblower Protection Law in June 2015, under which individuals can report corruption in companies and government agencies and receive court protection from retaliation by their employers. Whistleblowers in high profile cases against state-owned enterprises have claimed they do not receive adequate protections under the existing law.

U.S. firms interested in doing business or investing in Serbia are advised to perform due diligence before concluding business deals. Legal audits generally are consistent with international standards, using information gathered from public books, the register of fixed assets, the court register, the statistical register, as well as from the firm itself, chambers, and other sources. The U.S. Commercial Service in Belgrade can provide U.S. companies with background information on companies and individuals via the International Company Profile (ICP) service. An ICP provides information about a local company or entity, its financial standing, and reputation in the business community, and includes a site visit to the local company and a confidential interview with the company management. For more information, contact the local office at belgrade@trade.gov  and visit www.export.gov/serbia . The U.S. Commercial Service also maintains lists of international consulting firms in Belgrade, local consulting firms, experienced professionals, and corporate/commercial law offices, in addition to its export promotion and advocacy services for U.S. business.

Some U.S. firms have identified corruption as an obstacle to foreign direct investment in Serbia. Corruption appears most pervasive in cases involving public procurement, natural resource extraction, government-owned property, and political influence/pressure on the judiciary and prosecutors.

The Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative maintains a website with updates about anti-corruption efforts in Serbia and the region: http://rai-see.org/ .

10. Political and Security Environment

Since October 2000, Serbia has had democratically elected governments that have committed publicly to supporting regional stability and security. Governments, however, frequently call early elections at the local and national level, which often leave politicians and elected officials focused on the next campaign. Serbia held parliamentary elections in June 2020. President Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) won an overwhelming majority, with more than 60 percent of the vote and obtained 188 of 250 parliamentary seats. Vucic and his party benefitted from prolific media access unavailable to other parties, the effectively blurred distinction between campaign and official activities, and the inability of other parties to campaign during the COVID-19 state of emergency. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) concluded that, aside from state-of-emergency restrictions, candidates were able to campaign, and fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly were respected. However, the advantage enjoyed by the governing party, the decision of some opposition parties to boycott the elections, and limited policy debate narrowed the choice and information available to voters, according to ODIHR.

The government has made EU membership a primary goal. Serbia has opened 22 of 35 chapters in the EU accession acquis and provisionally closed two. After a long delay in Serbia’s accession process the European Commission in 2021 recommended opening a new “cluster” of accession chapters, pointing to some progress in judicial and rule-of-law reform.

Protests are not uncommon, particularly in urban areas, and most protests are peaceful. In late 2021 and in early 2022, environmental activists staged regular nationwide protests that occasionally blocked highways or resulted in a few minor incidents of violence, although police response to these protests was restrained. Past protests, particularly in Belgrade, were at times violent, with protestors attempting to enter the parliament building during protests against COVID lockdown measures in 2020. Press noted that in addition to concerns regarding COVID, many of the demonstrators during these protests were also protesting political corruption.

Although previous years had seen some assaults against participants in LGBTQI events in Serbia, following its seventh successive incident-free Pride Parade, Serbia was selected to host EuroPride in 2022. Although this indicates some confidence that a recurrence of wide-scale violence against Serbia’s LGBTQI community is unlikely, discrimination and physical attacks continue.

Criminal activity linked to transnational organized crime groups is a regular phenomenon in Serbia. Sport hooliganism is often associated with organized crime, and violent hooliganism remains a concern at matches of rival soccer teams within Serbia. A significant police operation in January 2021 against a major organized crime group linked to Belgrade’s Partizan football club resulted in the arrest of the group’s leader, who was suspected of multiple crimes. Several ultra-nationalist organizations in Serbia have harassed Serbian political leaders, local NGOs, minority groups, migrants, and media outlets considered to be pro-Western, but these incidents are infrequent.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

In the last quarter of 2021, according to Serbia’s Statistics Office, the country had a total active labor force of approximately 3.23 million people, of which approximately 2.9 million were employed (55.6% men and 44.4% women) and 316,700 were unemployed. The formal employment rate was 50%, and the informal employment rate was 13.7%, with most of the total informally employed in services and agriculture. Unemployment in the last quarter of 2021 stood at 9.8%. Youth unemployment remained relatively high at 28.7%. Emigration of younger high-skilled working-age citizens is a serious concern, and the share of youth in the total population drops from year to year. The leading sector for employment is manufacturing, followed by government and public administration, agriculture and forestry, fishery, trade, transport, construction, and hospitality services.

The socioeconomic status of women is significantly worse than that of men. The largest number of discrimination complaints relate to disability, age, and gender. According to the Statistics Office, the wage gap between women and men is 8.8% in favor of men. Other reports showed women’s career advancement was slower, and that women were underrepresented in most professions and faced discrimination related to parental leave.

The presence of foreign workers is increasing, especially in construction. After the initial success of the 2018 Law on Simplified Work Engagement on Seasonal Jobs in Selected Areas, in the field of Agriculture, the government is considering expanding the scope of law from agriculture to other areas, including forestry and fisheries, construction, tourism and hospitality, and domestic work. NGOs and the International Labor Organization (ILO) have raised concerns that the proposed amendments could result in stripping migrant and seasonal workers of labor rights, including the right to form unions and mechanisms for redress of abuse.

Demand for IT experts (web developers, programmers, designers) is significantly higher than supply. The National Employment Service (NES) administers various employment support schemes, including new employment, apprenticeship, and re-training programs. For more details see http://www.ras.gov.rs/en/invest-in-serbia/why-serbia/financial-benefits-and-incentives/  and http://rav.org.rs/business-environment/incentives .

Serbia’s labor costs are relatively low compared to European averages. In December 2021, the average net take-home salary was approximately $693 per month, while the minimum wage was approximately $324 per month. Investors routinely cite low labor costs, as well as a highly educated, multilingual workforce, as advantages to doing business in Serbia, while availability of skilled labor is limited by large-scale emigration. Approximately 57% of the workforce has completed secondary education, while some 26% have completed higher education.

Amendments to the Labor Law in 2014 simplified procedures for hiring and dismissing workers and changed rules for collective bargaining and the extension of collective agreements to non-negotiating parties. The law also changed severance payment requirements, so that the employer pays severance based on the years of service with that specific employer, rather than on the employee’s total years of employment, as was the case previously. Employees may be hired for up to 24 months on a provisional basis before it is required to engage them permanently.

The official mechanism for tripartite labor dialogue is the Social and Economic Council, an independent body with representatives of the government, the Serbian Association of Employers, and trade unions. The Council is authorized to conclude an umbrella collective agreement at the national level covering basic employment conditions for all companies in Serbia. Additional information about the Council is available at http://www.socijalnoekonomskisavet.rs/ .

Serbia has ratified all eight ILO core conventions, including Forced Labor (No. 29), Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize (No. 87), Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining (No. 98), Equal Remuneration (No. 100), Abolition of Forced Labor (No. 105), Discrimination (No. 111), Minimum Age (No. 138), and Worst Forms of Child Labor (No. 182).

The Department of Labor’s report on the World Forms of Child Labor in Serbia can be found online at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/serbia .

The Staff Leasing Law, which came into force in 2020, regulates leased employees’ status, the staffing agencies, and recipient employers. Under the law, employers may hire up to 10% of their workforce with fixed-term contracts through an agency, with no limit on those with indefinite-term employment contracts.

Slovenia

Executive Summary

Several factors make Slovenia an attractive location for foreign direct investment (FDI): modern infrastructure with access to important EU transportation corridors, a major port on the Adriatic Sea with access to the Mediterranean, a highly educated and professional workforce, proximity to Central European and Balkan markets, and membership in the Schengen Area, EU, and Eurozone.  With a small domestic market of just over two million people, Slovenia’s economy is heavily dependent on foreign trade and susceptible to international price and currency fluctuations as well as economic conditions among its major trading partners.

In recent years, Slovenia’s economic growth rate has outpaced those of most other EU member states, and the country has enjoyed rising incomes, growing domestic consumption, falling unemployment, low inflation, and burgeoning consumer confidence.  However, in 2020, GDP contracted by 4.2 percent to EUR 46.9 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The pandemic impacted certain industries, including retail and hospitality sectors, more severely than others.  Overall, the economy faired relatively well, with a series of government COVID-19 stimulus measures – worth approximately EUR 2.5 billion (USD 2.9 billion) – mainly focused on preserving jobs.  Slovenia’s economy rebounded in 2021 with GDP growth of 8.1 percent, exceeding the eurozone average. However, Slovenia is expecting more modest GDP growth in 2022 and 2023, with the Bank of Slovenia estimating growth of 4.0 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively. The central bank warned that the country was experiencing supply chain issues as well as labor shortages and expressed concern about rising inflation and energy prices. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is expected to exacerbate inflationary pressures, making a slowdown more likely.

Despite a number of privatizations in the banking sector in 2019 and 2020, approximately 25 percent of Slovenia’s economy remains state-owned or state-controlled based on consultations with economic and financial experts. While estimates of the percentage of state involvement in the economy vary, most experts agree that it is among the highest among EU member states. There is widespread skepticism in some quarters toward privatization and foreign direct investment, despite general awareness of FDI’s importance to economic growth, job creation, and developing new technologies.  Potential investors in Slovenia may face significant challenges, including a lack of transparency in economic and commercial decision-making, time-consuming bureaucratic procedures, opaque public tender processes, regulatory red tape, and a heavy tax burden for high earners.

According to Bank of Slovenia figures, FDI in Slovenia totaled EUR 16.6 billion (35.3% of GDP) in 2020, a 2.4 percent increase over the previous year.  The relatively modest growth in investment flows were largely attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Slovenia’s most important sources for direct foreign investment were Austria (25.6 percent), Luxembourg (13.0 percent), Switzerland (10.7percent), Germany (8 percent), and Italy (7.3 percent).  However, Bank of Slovenia data indicated U.S. companies accounted for 9.4 percent of total inward foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2020, EUR 66 million (USD 72.5 million) invested directly and an additional EUR 1.48 billion (USD 1.63 billion) invested indirectly through U.S. subsidiaries in other European countries.  This combined investment of EUR 1.55 billion (USD 1.78 billion) placed the United States as Slovenia’s third largest source of direct and indirect foreign investment, behind Austria (EUR 2.58 billion) and Germany (EUR 2.40 billion).  The most important sectors for FDI were manufacturing (33.5 percent), financial and insurance activities (22.5 percent), wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles (17.1 percent).

Although firms with foreign owners represented just 1.8 percent of all Slovenian firms in 2020, firms with FDI accounted for 24.2 percent of capital, 25.9 percent of assets, and 23.5 of corporate sector employees.  Their capital and workforce generated EUR 29.0 billion in net sales revenue and EUR 1.1 billion in operating profit.  Foreign companies accounted for 47.7 percent of corporate sector exports and 52.5 percent of corporate sector imports.

Slovenia, in line with the European Union (EU), committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels) and achieving climate neutrality by 2050. Slovenia’s long-term climate strategy, approved in July 2021, includes a provision specifying that the country will use nuclear energy in the long term, clarifying the country’s energy future and committing to produce a large percentage of its energy supply domestically. In July 2021, the EU approved Slovenia’s national recovery and resilience plan, allowing funds up to EUR 2.5 billion (EUR 1.8 billion in grants and 700 million in loans) to be drawn from the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility.  42.5 percent of the funds are earmarked for green transition projects.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 41 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 32 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 265 https://www.bea.gov/data/economic-accounts/international
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 25,360 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

5. Protection of Property Rights

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The concept of Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) has become increasingly popular among Slovenia’s business community, but the due-diligence approach is not yet commonly recognized. However, to raise their public profiles and improve their images among the public, larger international companies have increasingly undertaken activities such as sponsoring sports teams and community events in the name of corporate social responsibility. Larger Slovenian companies have also focused on developing environmentally-friendly images by implementing green technologies and adhering to high environmental standards.

As an OECD member, Slovenia adheres to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and encourages foreign and local enterprises to follow generally accepted RBC principles, including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Slovenia’s Ministry of Economic Development and Technology is the National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines.

Slovenia effectively and fairly enforces domestic laws pertaining to human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, environmental protections, and other laws and regulations to protect individuals from adverse business impacts. Independent NGOs, labor unions, and business associations promote and monitor RBC and are able to conduct their work freely. The government adopted a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights in November 2018 to strengthen activities to ensure that human rights are respected in business activities throughout the value chain and encourage cooperation between government, businesses, unions, NGOs, and other stakeholders. Slovenia is not a signatory to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights, but adheres to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Mineral Supply Chains.

Slovenia is a signatory of The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies since 2012.

9. Corruption

Slovenia has no bribery statute comparable to the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. However, Chapter 24 of the Slovenian Criminal Code (SCC) provides statutory provisions for criminal offenses in the economic sector. Corruption in the economy may take many forms, including collusion among private firms or public officials using influence to appoint patrons to the boards of SOEs.

The SCC calls for criminal sanctions against officials of private firms for forgery or destruction of business documents, unauthorized use or disclosure of business secrets, insider trading, embezzlement, acceptance of gifts under certain circumstances, money laundering, and tax evasion.

Articles 241 and 242 of the SCC make it illegal for a person performing a commercial activity to demand or accept undue rewards, gifts, or other material benefits that will ultimately result in harm or neglect to a business organization.

Under Article 261 of the SCC, public officials cannot request or accept a gift to perform or omit an official act within the scope of their official duties. The acceptance of a bribe by a public official may result in a fine or imprisonment of no less than one year, with a maximum sentence of five years. The law also stipulates the seizure of the accepted gift or bribe.

Article 262 holds the gift’s donor accountable, making it illegal for natural persons or legal entities to bribe public officials with gifts. Violation of this article carries a sentence of up to three years. In cases in which the gift giver discloses the attempted bribery before it is detected or discovered, punishment may be reduced.

The State Prosecutor’s Office is responsible for the enforcement of anti-bribery laws. The number of cases of actual bribery is small and generally limited to instances involving inspection and tax collection. The Prosecutor’s Office has reported that obtaining evidence is difficult in bribery cases, making it equally difficult to prosecute. In 2010, the government established the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (CPC), an independent state body with a broad mandate to investigate corruption, prevent breaches of ethics, and ensure the integrity of public officials. The CPC is not part of Slovenia’s law enforcement or prosecution system, and its employees do not have traditional police powers. However, the CPC has broad legal powers to access and subpoena financial and other documents, question public servants and officials, conduct administrative investigations, and direct law enforcement bodies to gather additional information and evidence within the limits of their authority. The CPC may also issue fines for violations.

In 2011, to combat Slovenia’s ongoing problems with corruption and non-transparent procedures in public procurement, authorities established a new government-wide Public Procurement Agency under the Ministry of Justice to carry out all public procurements over established EU thresholds, including goods and services above EUR 40,000 (USD 47,000) and projects above EUR 80,000 (USD 93,000). In June 2012, the Ministry of Finance took over the agency’s duties and employees. In 2016, the Directorate for Public Procurement was established under the Ministry of Public Administration to oversee public procurements. By law, the National Review Commission provides non-judicial review of all public procurements.

Corruption remains an ongoing problem, although its prevalence is relatively limited and there is no evidence that corruption has been an obstacle to FDI. However, U.S. companies continue to report challenges in some sectors, such as a strong preference for incumbent vendors and tenders written in a way to favor a predetermined winner. Such practices prevent U.S. companies from competing on a level playing field in the public procurement process. The small size of Slovenia’s political and economic elite contributes to a lack of transparency in government procurement and widespread cronyism in the business sector. Several prominent national and local political figures have been charged or tried for corruption in public procurements. Slovenia convicted its first senior public official for accepting a bribe in 2001 and its first member of parliament in 2010. In 2008, investigators accused several public officials, including the prime minister, of accepting bribes from the Finnish defense contractor Patria related to an armored personnel carrier procurement. Although three defendants, including the current prime minister, were convicted in 2013, the convictions were annulled on appeal. In February 2021, four orthopedic surgeons and a salesperson were convicted and sentenced to prison in one of the largest healthcare corruption trials in Slovenia.  The court found that the doctors received a bribe in exchange for continuing to use medical supplies made by a particular producer. The court decision is currently under appeal, but the case marks one of the first convictions for corruption in the national healthcare system.

The CPC has instituted a new system for tracking corruption in public procurement at the municipal level and has uncovered numerous violations since implementation. The CPC also operates with a broad mandate to prevent and investigate breaches of ethics and integrity involving holders of public office. The president of Slovenia appoints the leadership of CPC, which reports to the National Assembly.

Slovenia ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2008.

Slovenia is a party to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

10. Political and Security Environment

Except for its brief, 10-day war of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, there have been no significant incidents of political violence in Slovenia since independence.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic upheaval, Slovenia’s unemployment rate had fallen steadily since 2014 and reached a ten-year low of 4.5 percent at the end of 2019. Although inflation prior to the crisis remained low at about two percent, private sector contacts reported increasing difficulties in finding qualified staff, which might be expected to put upward pressure on wages and salaries. The government’s COVID-19 stimulus measures focused on preserving jobs, mitigating the brunt of the impact of the pandemic on the labor market. In 2020, the unemployment rate rose slightly to 4.97 percent.

Slovenia fully harmonized its labor legislation with the EU in 2004. In line with this legislation, Slovenia maintains strict rules on issuing work permits to non-EU applicants. The 2001 Employment of Aliens Act introduced a quota system for work permits and simplified the procedure for obtaining such permits for foreigners who have worked and lived in Slovenia for an extended period.

Slovenia’s wage-setting practice follows the “social partners” model, designed to contain upward pressure by centralizing wage decisions. In practice, however, high wage expectations have pushed Slovenia’s wage levels above those of its neighbors in the Western Balkans. Despite these pressures, Slovenia’s well-educated labor force and position as a productive transition economy allows it to remain competitive in niche markets.

In 2003, Slovenia adopted an Employment Relationship Act that defines a full-time workweek as 36 to 40 hours (made up of six to eight-hour days, including a 30-minute lunch break). The act increases protections for critical working groups (including women and children) and eases the conditions under which an employer may terminate employees. Amendments to the act adopted in 2013 further eased the conditions for termination of employment. In December 2020, a provision allowing employers to unilaterally terminate workers once formal conditions for retirement were met was included in the government’s COVID-19 stimulus package and passed in the National Assembly, but is currently being reviewed by the courts. Slovenia’s labor force performs well in higher value-added activities that utilize its skilled technicians and engineers at a competitive cost. Despite the introduction of policies offering greater labor market flexibility, however, labor market rules and regulations remain quite rigid, and investors find that laying off workers is more difficult than in the United States.

Low unemployment and demands from public sector unions have placed upward pressure on wages. In November 2015, the National Assembly endorsed a motion sponsored by trade unions to exempt bonuses for night, weekend, and holiday work from the minimum wage and force employers to pay these wages separately. The National Assembly approved legislation in December 2018 to phase in a ten percent minimum wage increase over two years, from its previous after-tax level of EUR 638 per month (USD 691) to EUR 667 (USD 723) in 2019 and EUR 700 (USD 759) in 2020. In addition, the National Assembly agreed to exempt some salary bonuses from taxation. Given such rapid increases in the minimum wage, Slovenia has lost its cost competitiveness in many sectors.

In December 2018, the government initialed an agreement with public sector unions to increase salaries, pensions, and bonuses for most public employees, averting fears of public sector strikes while increasing public expenditures by EUR 308 million in 2019-20. Several public sector unions rejected the agreement as insufficient however, including those representing judicial workers, accountants, municipal traffic wardens, soldiers, and some healthcare workers. In November 2019, the National Assembly adopted changes to the retirement law to remove differential treatment for men and women and encourage older workers to remain in the job market.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2020 $53.59 2020 $53.59 https://data.worldbank.org/country/slovenia 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $75 2020 $265 BEA data available at

https://www.bea.gov/international/di1usdbal 

Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $57 2018 $5 BEA data available at

https://www.bea.gov/international/di1fdibal 

Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 35% 2020 39% UNCTAD data available at

https://unctad.org/topic/investment/world-investment-report 

*Bank of Slovenia; published in October 2021

N.B.: The Bank of Slovenia (BoS), in its official data, lists U.S. FDI at approximately EUR 66 million in 2020, or 0.4 percent of total inward FDI. However, this amount does not reflect significant investments by U.S. firms not listed as U.S. in origin by the BoS, as U.S. funds are often routed through third-country subsidiaries. In 2017, the BoS began reporting FDI according to the ultimate investing country or originating country of capital. It estimated that USD 1.71 billion (EUR 1.55 billion euros) or 9.4 percent of Slovenia’s total FDI originated in the United States in 2020, putting the United States behind Austria andGermany as a source of foreign investment in Slovenia.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 20,319 100% Total Outward 8,533 100%
Austria 5,210 26% Croatia 2,808 33%
Luxembourg 2,648 13% Serbia 1,531 18%
Switzerland 2,176 11% Bosnia-Herzegovina 672 8%
Germany 1,629 8% Russian Federation 522 6%
Italy 1,493 7% North Macedonia 515 6%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Source: IMF’s Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (2020) https://data.imf.org/regular.aspx?key=61227424 

Comment: IMF data are consistent with Bank of Slovenia data.

Note: The Bank of Slovenia has made an additional breakdown of inward FDI according to the ultimate source of capital. It shows that Germany, the United States, Japan, the Russian Federation, and Mexico are all much more important investor countries in Slovenia than is suggested by the breakdown by the immediate partner country. The U.S. ranks third with 1.48 billion euros (USD 1.71 billion) in 2020.

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