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Bulgaria

Executive Summary

Bulgaria continues to be 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 EU, and in the medium term, productivity is further at risk due to a rapidly shrinking population.

The government expects to adopt the Euro in early 2024, following its joining 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.

In 2020 Bulgaria suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic and related shutdowns, although the impact on the economy was less severe than in many other European countries. Deficit spending in 2020 was three percent of GDP, the lowest in the EU. Tourism, logistics, the service industries, and the automotive sector were particularly hard hit by the pandemic. The Bulgarian economy declined 4.2 percent in 2020, and is expected to rebound in 2021, with estimates ranging between 2.5 and 4.1 percent growth. This recovery is expected to be driven by higher wages, EU-funded post-COVID public investment funds, and export increases.

Bulgaria will 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 including green energy, digitalization, and private sector development.

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.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 69 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 61 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 37 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 756 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 9,750 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

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.

The Invest Bulgaria Agency (IBA), the government’s investment attraction body, provides information, administrative services, and incentive assessments to prospective foreign investors. Its website http://www.investbg.government.bg contains general information for foreign investors. IBA serves as a one-stop shop for foreign investors and certifies proposed investments for eligibility for administrative services.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

There are no limits to foreign and domestic private entities establishing and owning businesses in Bulgaria.  The Offshore Company Act lists 28 activities (including government procurement, natural resource exploitation, national park management, banking, insurance) banned for business by companies registered in offshore jurisdictions with more than 10 percent foreign participation. The law, however, allows those companies to do business if the physical owners of the parent company are Bulgarian citizens and known to the public, if the parent company’s stock is publicly traded, or if the parent company is registered in a jurisdiction with which Bulgaria enjoys a bilateral tax treaty for the avoidance of double taxation (including the United States).

Bulgaria has no specific law or coordinated mechanism in place for screening individual foreign investments.  A potential foreign investment can be scrutinized on the grounds of its potential national security risk or through the Law on the Measures against Money Laundering. As each ministry is responsible for screening investments within its purview, interagency coordination is lacking, and there are no common standards. Since the full adoption of the EU investment screening regulation in October 2020, Bulgaria has fulfilled the preliminary requirements of the EU mechanism for cooperation in prescreening new FDI.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

There have been no recent Investment Policy Reviews of Bulgaria by multilateral economic organizations.  In 2019, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published reviews of Bulgaria’s healthcare sector and state-owned enterprises.  As part of Bulgaria’s Action Plan for deeper cooperation, in January 2021 OECD published an Economic Assessment of Bulgaria in which it acknowledged the successful integration of Bulgarian manufacturing firms into global production chains and sound macroeconomic policies prior to the pandemic. At the same time the report highlighted as key policy challenges Bulgaria’s high income inequality, relative poverty, and an aging and rapidly shrinking population. In February 2021 OECD published a study of Bulgarian municipalities that acknowledged solid progress in local governance standards but also noted insufficient progress in bridging regional disparities.

Business Facilitation

Bulgaria typically supports small- and medium-sized business creation and development in conjunction with EU-funded innovation and competitiveness programs and with a special emphasis on export capacity.  The state-owned Bulgarian Development Bank has committed to supporting small- and medium-sized businesses in Bulgaria, including through the post-COVID-19 recovery period.  Typically, a new business is expected to register an account with the state social security agency and, in some cases, with the local municipality as well. Electronic company registration is available at: https://portal.registryagency.bg/commercial-register. Women receive equitable treatment to men, and the Bulgarian law does not discriminate against minorities doing business.

Bulgaria dropped two places to 61st (out of 190 surveyed economies worldwide) in the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business (DB) report, scoring lowest in the Getting Electricity category, in 151st place, and in the Starting a New Business category, in 113th place.  The relatively large number of administrative procedures for a business to complete either of these actions, along with the associated delays, contributed to the low scores in both categories.  It took an average of 23 days to start a limited liability company in Bulgaria in 2020, compared to the OECD (high income) average of 9.2 days and peer average of 11.9 days.

Outward Investment

There is no government agency for outward investment promotion, and no restrictions exist for local businesses to invest abroad.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Bulgaria has a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States, which obligates the parties to uphold national treatment and includes provisions for investor-state dispute settlement through international arbitral bodies. The BIT also includes an annex side letter on protections for intellectual property rights. With Bulgaria’s accession to the EU, Bulgaria and the United States exchanged notes in 2003 to make Bulgaria’s obligations under the BIT compatible with its EU obligations and finalized the process in January 2007.

As of 2019, Bulgaria also has bilateral investment treaties signed with the following countries: Albania, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan (not in force), Bahrain (not in force), Belarus, Belgium, China, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana (not in force), Greece, Hungary, India (terminated), Indonesia (terminated), Iran, Israel, Italy (terminated), Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Northern Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Mongolia (not in force), Montenegro, Morocco, Nigeria (not in force), North Korea (not in force), Oman, Pakistan (not in force), Poland, Portugal, Qatar (not in force), Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sudan (not in force), Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Thailand, The Netherlands, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Yemen.

Bulgaria has a bilateral tax treaty with the United States.  As of 2019, Bulgaria has signed bilateral double taxation treaties with the United States and the following countries: Albania, Algeria, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain Belarus, Belgium, Canada, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Northern Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, North Korea, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Thailand, The Netherlands Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

In general, the regulatory environment in Bulgaria is characterized by complexity, lack of transparency, and arbitrary or weak enforcement.  These factors create incentives for public corruption.  Public procurement rules are at times tailored to match certain local business interests.  Bulgarian law lists 38 operations subject to licensing. The law requires all regulations to be justified by defined need (in terms of national security, environmental protection, or personal and material rights of citizens), and prohibits restrictions merely incidental to the stated purposes of the regulation. The law also requires the regulating authority, or the member of Parliament sponsoring the draft law containing the regulation, to perform a cost-benefit analysis of any proposed regulation. This requirement, however, is often ignored when Parliament reviews draft bills. With few exceptions, all draft bills are made available for public comment, both on the central government website and the respective agency’s website, and interested parties are given 30 days to submit their opinions. The government maintains a web platform, www.strategy.bg , on which it posts draft legislation. Тhe government posts all its decisions on pris.government.bg 

In addition, the law eliminates bureaucratic discretion in granting requests for routine economic activities and provides for silent consent (default judgement in favor of the requestor) when the government does not respond to a request in the allotted time. Local companies in which foreign partners have controlling interests may be requested to provide additional information or to meet additional mandatory requirements in order to engage in certain licensed activities, including production and export of arms and ammunition, banking and insurance, and the exploration, development, and exploitation of natural resources. The Bulgarian government licenses the export of dual-use goods and bans the export of all goods under international trade sanctions lists.  The Bulgarian government’s budget is assessed as transparent and in accordance with international standards and principles.  Central government debt and debt guarantees are published monthly, and debt obligations by individual state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are published every three months on the website of the Ministry of Finance.

International Regulatory Considerations

Bulgaria became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December 1996. Under the provisions of Article 207 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (Lisbon Treaty), common EU trade policies are exclusively the responsibility of the EU and the European Commission, which coordinates them with the 27 member states.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The 1991 Constitution serves as the foundation of the legal system and creates an independent judicial branch comprised of judges, prosecutors, and investigators. The judiciary continues to be one of the least trusted institutions in the country, with widespread allegations of nepotism, corruption, and undue political and business influence.  Despite some recent improvements, the busiest courts in Sofia continue to suffer from serious backlogs, limited resources, and inefficient procedures that hamper the swift and fair administration of justice. Trials often take years to complete because of the inefficient procedures laid out in the criminal procedure code.

There are three levels of courts. Bulgaria’s 113 regional courts exercise jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases. Above them, 29 district courts (including the Sofia City Court and the Specialized Court for Organized Crime and High Level Corruption) serve as courts of appellate review for regional court decisions and have trial-level (first-instance) jurisdiction in serious criminal cases and in civil cases where claims exceed BGN 25,000 (USD 15,375), excluding alimony, labor disputes, and financial audit discrepancies, or in property cases where the property’s value exceeds BGN 50,000 (USD 30,750). Six appellate courts review the first-instance decisions of the district courts. The Supreme Court of Cassation is the court of last resort for criminal and civil appeals. There is a separate system of 28 specialized administrative courts which rule on the legality of local and national government decisions, with the Supreme Administrative Court serving as the court of final instance. The Constitutional Court, which is separate from the rest of the judiciary, issues final rulings on the compliance of laws with the Constitution.

Bulgaria’s legislation has been largely aligned with EU directives to provide adequate means of enforcing property and contractual rights. In practice, however, investors regularly complain about regulatory impediments, prosecutorial intervention in administrative cases, and inconsistent jurisprudence.  Overall, the government’s handling of investment disputes has been slow, interagency coordination is poor, and intervention at the highest political level is often required.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The 2004 Investment Promotion Act stipulates equal treatment of foreign and domestic investors. The law encourages investment in manufacturing and high technology, knowledge intensive services, education, and human resource development. It creates investment incentives by helping investors purchase land, providing state financing for basic infrastructure and training new staff, and facilitating tax incentives and opportunities for public-private partnerships (PPPs) with the central and local governments. The most common form of PPPs are concessions, which include the lease of government property for private use for up to 35 years for a construction and service concession and up to 25 years for other types of concession. The term of the concession may be extended by a maximum of one third of the original term.

Foreign investors must comply with the 1991 Commercial Law, which regulates commercial and company enterprise law, and the 1951 Law on Obligations and Contracts, which regulates civil transactions.

The Invest Bulgaria Agency (IBA) is the government’s investment attraction body and serves as a one-stop-shop for foreign investors. It provides information, administrative services, and incentive assessments to prospective foreign investors.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Commission for Protection of Competition (the “Commission”) oversees market competition and enforces the Law on the Protection of Competition (the “Competition Law”). The Competition Law, enacted in 2008, is intended to implement EU rules that promote competition. The law forbids monopolies, restrictive trade practices, abuse of market power, and certain forms of unfair competition. Monopolies can only be legally established in enumerated categories of strategic industries. In practice, the Competition Law has been applied inconsistently, and some of the Commission’s decisions are questionable and appear subject to political influence.

Expropriation and Compensation

Private real property rights are legally protected by the Bulgarian Constitution. Only in the case where a public need cannot be met by other means may the Council of Ministers or a regional governor expropriate land, in which case the owner is compensated at fair market value. Expropriation actions by the Council of Ministers, by regional authorities, or by municipal mayor can be appealed at a local administrative court. In its Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States, Bulgaria committed to international arbitration to judge expropriation claims and other investment disputes.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Bulgaria is a signatory to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York convention) and the 1961 European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration. Bulgaria is a member state to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Bulgaria accepts binding international arbitration in disputes with foreign investors.  There are more than 20 arbitration institutions in Bulgaria, the Arbitration Court of the Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) is the oldest.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Arbitral awards, both foreign and domestic, are enforced through the judicial system. The party must petition the Sofia City Court for a writ of execution and then execute the award according to the general framework for execution of judgments. Foreclosure proceedings may also be initiated.

Bulgarian law instructs courts to act on civil litigation cases within three months after a claim is filed. In practice, however, dispute settlement can take years.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The 1994 Commercial Law Chapter on Bankruptcy provides for reorganization or rehabilitation of a legal entity, maximizes asset recovery, and provides for fair and equal distribution among all creditors. The law applies to all commercial entities, except public monopolies or state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The 2015 Insurance Code regulates insurance company failures, while bank failures are regulated under the 2002 Bank Insolvency Act and the 2006 Credit Institutions Act. The 2014 bankruptcy of the country’s fourth-largest bank, Corporate Commercial bank, was a test case that showed serious deficiencies in the process of recovery and preservation of bank assets during bankruptcy proceedings.

Non-performance of a financial obligation must be adjudicated before the bankruptcy court can determine whether the debtor is insolvent. There is a presumption of insolvency when the debtor is unable to perform an executable obligation under a commercial transaction or public debt or related commercial activities, has suspended all payments, or is able to pay only the claims of certain creditors. The debtor is deemed over-indebted if its assets are insufficient to cover its short-term monetary obligations.

Bankruptcy proceedings may be initiated on two grounds: the debtor’s insolvency, or the debtor’s excessive indebtedness. Under Part IV of the Commercial Law, debtors or creditors, including state authorities such as the National Revenue Agency, can initiate bankruptcy proceedings. The debtor must declare bankruptcy within 30 days of becoming insolvent or over-indebted. Bankruptcy proceedings supersede other court proceedings initiated against the debtor except for labor cases, enforcement proceedings, and cases related to receivables securitized by third parties’ property. Such cases may be initiated even after bankruptcy proceedings begin.

Creditors must declare to the trustee all debts owed to them within one month of the start of bankruptcy proceedings. The trustee then has seven days to compile a list of debts. A rehabilitation plan must be proposed within one month after publication of the list of debts in the Commercial Register. After creditors’ approval, the court endorses the rehabilitation plan, terminates the bankruptcy proceeding, and appoints a supervisory body for overseeing the implementation of the rehabilitation plan. The court must endorse the plan within seven days and put it forward to the creditors for approval. The creditors must convene to discuss the plan within a period of 45 days. The court may renew the bankruptcy proceedings if the debtor does not fulfill its obligations under the rehabilitation plan.

The Bulgarian National Bank may revoke the operating license of an insolvent bank when the bank’s own capital is negative, and the bank has not been restructured according to the procedure defined in Article 51 in the Law on the Recovery and Resolution of Credit Institutions and Investment Firms.  The license of a bank may be withdrawn under the conditions set out in Article 36, par. 1 of the Law on Credit Institutions.

Bulgaria ranks 61 out of 190 economies in the Resolving Insolvency category of the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 Report.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The 2004 Investment Promotion Act (revised in 2018) stipulates equal treatment of foreign and domestic investors.  The law encourages investment in manufacturing, services, high technology, education, and human resource development via a range of incentives, which include: helping investors purchase municipal or state-owned land without tender, providing state financing for basic infrastructure and for training new staff, and reimbursing the employer’s portion of social security payments.  The law also provides tax incentives and fast-track administrative procedures for public-private partnerships.  Priority investors may receive incentives such as below-market prices when acquiring property rights (full or limited) from the central or municipal government, government grants for research and development (R&D) and education projects, and institutional support for establishing PPPs.  The government policy for investment promotion excludes a number of sectors classified as strategic.

Additional investment incentives include a two-year valued-added tax (VAT) exemption on equipment imports for investment projects over EUR 2.5 million, provided the project will be implemented within a two-year period and create at least 20 new jobs. Corporate income tax exemption can also be granted for manufacturing projects, with no minimum investment requirement, that are implemented in high unemployment areas (25 percent higher than average nationwide unemployment) and create at least 10 jobs, of which at least fifty percent are created in productive sector.

The government does not have a practice of issuing guarantees or jointly financing foreign direct investment projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The role of Free Trade Zones vastly diminished following Bulgaria’s full integration into the EU single market in 2007.  At the same time, EU integration encouraged local authorities to seek partnerships with the private sector and provide resources (i.e., land, infrastructure, etc.) for the development of industrial zones and technological parks.  Industrial zones or technology parks with the necessary technical infrastructure to attract new investment can be designated as nationally significant projects by a Council of Ministers decision on a proposal made by the Minister of Economy.  A 2021 Industrial Parks Act defines an ‘industrial park’ as an area located in one or more municipalities with favorable conditions. The government’s industrial park policy is conducted by the Council of Ministers, the Minister of Economy, and local municipalities. The Ministry of Economy keeps an electronic registry of all industrial parks.

The Trakia Economic Zone in south-central Bulgaria is one of the largest industrial area in Southeast Europe, attracting over EUR 2 billion in investment and sustaining over 30,000 jobs.  In addition, the state-owned National Industrial Zones Company (NIZC) currently operates fully functioning industrial zones in Sofia, Burgas, Vidin, Ruse, Svilengrad, Stara Zagora and Varna.  Under construction are future industrial zones in Suvorovo (Varna), Telish (Pleven), Kardzhali and Karlovo. Investors in these economic zones benefit from established infrastructure, location, and transport logistics. The common thread among all these economic zones is that they are either located in regions with sufficient available labor, in poor regions where the government provides special investment incentives, or at important cross-border junctures. Sofia Tech Park has partnered with the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, several local universities, and several local groups in what is expected to become the largest R&D center and high-tech incubator in Bulgaria.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Bulgaria does not impose export performance or local content requirements as a condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding an investment. Employment visas and work permits are required for most expatriate personnel from non-EU countries. Many U.S. companies have experienced difficulties obtaining work permits for their non-Bulgarian, non-EU employees.  Recently adopted changes in the Law on Labor Migration and Labor Mobility no longer mandate Bulgarian employers to have canvassed the local labor market before hiring non-EU labor. Non-EU workers with long-term residence permits cannot exceed 35 percent of the total workforce in Bulgarian small- and medium-sized companies, or 20 percent in large firms.  In 2017 the government simplified procedures and reduced issuance time for work visas for non-EU workers.  Furthermore, it is possible for non-EU students who have completed their education in Bulgaria to continue working in the country without having to reenter the country.

Some government ministries have mandated that for the purchase of new software that the winning bidder should submit the source code as well. U.S. companies have found this requirement to be unreasonable and discriminatory.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Bulgaria assigned the rights of land use back to its original owners in early 1990s.  Restrictions still exist on ownership of agricultural land by non-EU citizens.  Companies whose shareholders are registered offshore are banned from acquiring or owning Bulgarian agricultural land.

Mortgages are recorded centrally with the Bulgarian Registry Agency, at registryagency.bg .

In the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report, Bulgaria climbed one place to 66th, out of 190 countries, in the category of registering property.

Intellectual Property Rights

The 1993 Copyright Act defines copyrightable work as any work of literature, art and science that is the result of creative activity, including: literary works, publications and computer programs; musical works; stage productions; films and other audiovisual works; fine arts, including applied art, design and folk artistic crafts; architectural works and spatial development plans; photographic works; and works created in a manner similar to photographic works. Under Bulgarian law, translations and reprocessing of existing works and folklore works, periodicals, encyclopedias, collections, anthologies, bibliographies, databases that include two or more works or materials are also eligible for copyright protection. The law allows rightsholders to form organizations for the collective management of rights. The law does not require registration for copyrighted works.

Bulgarian patent law has been harmonized with EU law for patents and utility model patent protection.  However, in patent procedures there have been reports of conflicts of interest and delays in decision-making and informing patent holders.  These issues, coupled with a lack of accountability of the Bulgarian Patent Office, have weakened patent protection in the country.

Bulgaria is a member of the Convention on Granting of European Patents (European Patent Convention) and a contracting state of the European Patent Office (EPO). Bulgaria has also signed the London agreement for facilitating the validation process, but has yet to amend its own law accordingly. Bulgaria is also part of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). Bulgaria grants the right to exclusive use of inventions for 20 years from the date of patent application, subject to payment of annual fees. Patent holders can also file for a supplementary protection certificate (SPC) to extend the protection duration. Innovations can also be protected as utility models (small inventions), which are registered without verification of novelty or industrial applicability. Validity of a utility model registration is four years, which can be extended for two more three-year periods.

Under Bulgarian law, new and original industrial designs can be granted certificates from the Patent Office and entered into the state register, with no required verification by the Patent office for novelty or originality.  The term of protection is 10 years, renewable for up to 25 years. Bulgaria is a contracting state of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Deposit of Industrial Designs.

Compulsory licensing — allowing competitors to enter the market despite a valid patent — may be ordered under certain conditions, including failure to use. Disputes arising from the creation, protection, or use of inventions and utility models can be settled under administrative, civil, or arbitration procedures.

Pursuant to the 1996 Protection of New Plant Varieties and Animal Breeds Act, the Patent Office can issue a certificate protecting new plant varieties and animal breeds for between 25 and 30 years. Responding to long-standing industry concerns, the Bulgarian government included in its Drug Law a provision to provide data exclusivity (i.e., protection of confidential data submitted to the government to obtain approval to market pharmaceutical products).

Bulgaria is a member of the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and their International Registration.  Bulgaria enforces EU legislation for protecting geographical indications (GIs) and Traditional Specialties Guaranteed (TSG).

A new Law on Marks and Geographical Indications took effect in December 2019, updating procedures for trademark registration.  Trademarks and service marks are protected via registration with the Bulgarian Patent Office, or registration as a European Union Trademark, or an international registration under the Madrid Agreement and the Madrid Protocol that designates Bulgaria. A trademark is normally granted within ten months of application filing.  Pending applications are published to allow for objections.  Rejections can be appealed to the Patent Office’s Disputes Department. Decisions of this department can be appealed to the Sofia Administrative Court within three months. The right of exclusive use of a trademark is granted for ten years from the date of submitting the application. Extension requests must be filed during the final year of validity and can be renewed up to six months after expiration. Protection may be terminated at third-party request if a trademark is not used for a five-year period.

Trademark infringement is a significant problem in Bulgaria for U.S. cigarette and apparel producers, and smaller-scale infringement affects other U.S. products. Bulgarian legislation provides for criminal, civil, and administrative remedies against trademark violation. Bulgaria has implemented simplified border control procedure for the destruction of seized fake goods without civil or criminal trial.  In addition to civil penalties prescribed by the Trademarks and Geographical Indications Act (TGIA), the Criminal Code prohibits use of a third person’s trademark without the proprietor’s consent.  In practice, criminal convictions for trademark and copyright infringement are rare and sentencing tends to be lenient.  Legal entities cannot be held liable under the Criminal Code.

In April 2019 a new law on trade secret protection was adopted.  The law allows for civil action for trade secret infringement. There is no special court for cases related to trade secrets.

Bulgarian customs maintain a section on its official web site customs.bg instructing rightsholders of the procedure for filing IPR infringement cases. In 2020, customs received a total of 1,442 rightsholder complaints of suspected copyright infringement, acting on 1,020 of these, a 57 percent increase over 2019. Customs reported seized counterfeit goods mainly originated from Turkey, China, Hong Kong, and the United Arab Emirates.

In 2018, Bulgaria was removed from USTR’s Special 301 Watch List after demonstrating improvement in its enforcement of IPR law.  Online and broadcast piracy, however, remain a copyright enforcement issue in Bulgaria. While cyber police are generally responsive to reports of online copyright infringements, investigation of computer-based IPR crimes is slow, and very few have resulted in criminal convictions.

The 2020 Notorious Markets Report lists an online provider of pirated content which is reportedly hosted in Bulgaria.

For additional information about national laws and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Bulgarian Stock Exchange (BSE), the only securities-trading venue in Bulgaria, operates under a license from the Financial Supervision Commission and is majority-owned by the Ministry of Finance. The 1999 Law on Public Offering of Securities regulates the issuance of securities, securities transactions, stock exchanges, and investment intermediaries.   The law is aimed at providing investor protection and at developing a transparent local capital market. In 2004 BSE performed its first IPO transaction. In 2018 BSE acquired 100 percent of the Independent Bulgarian Energy Exchange (IBEX), Bulgaria’s first independent electricity platform trader.

Since its 2007 entry in the EU, Bulgaria has aligned its regulation of securities markets with EU standards under the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID).  The BSE is a full member of the Federation of European Stock Exchanges (FESE) and operates under the Deutsche Boerse’s trading platform Xetra.  The BSE’s total market capitalization comprised 25 percent of Bulgaria’s GDP in 2020, up slightly from 2019.

Bulgarian companies strongly prefer to obtain financing from local banks instead of drawing from the local financial markets. At the end of 2018, the Financial Supervision Commission approved the ‘SME beam market,’ a special market that provides small and medium-sized businesses the opportunity to more easily raise new capital.

Foreign investors can access credit on the local market.

Money and Banking System

The Bulgarian bank system is well capitalized and liquid. As of the end of September 2020, the total capital adequacy ratio was 22.9 percent, above the EU average and adequately shielding domestic banks against potential macroeconomic risks. In 2020 the Bulgarian National Bank imposed a temporary payment deferral of existing loans as an anti-COVID-19 measure. As of September 2020, there were 24 banks (including 6 branches), with total assets of BGN 119.2 billion (USD 73.9 billion), equivalent to 100.4 percent of GDP. The market share of EU-owned banks amounted to 74.9 percent, the share of local banks was 22.1 percent, and the share of non-EU banks was 3.1 percent. The top five banks’ weight in the banking system was 66.2 percent in September 2020. Non-performing loans were equal to 8.6 percent of the total loan portfolio of the banking system.

The Bulgarian government has raised funds by issuing both Euro-denominated and Leva- denominated bonds.  Commercial banks and private pension funds and insurance companies are the primary purchasers of these instruments. EU-based banks are eligible to be primary dealers of Bulgarian government bonds.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Bulgaria operates a Currency Board Arrangement (CBA) whereby the lev (BGN) is fixed to Euro, exchanging EUR 1 for BGN 1.95583. This CBA prohibits the central bank from bailing out insolvent domestic banks or paying for the government’s deficit spending. Foreign exchange is freely accessible. The Foreign Currency Act stipulates that anyone may import or export up to EUR 10,000 or its foreign exchange equivalent without filling out a customs declaration. The import or export of over EUR 10,000 or its equivalent in Bulgarian leva or another currency across the border to or from a non-EU country must be declared to the customs authorities; in the case of an EU country, it must be declared if requested by the customs authorities. Exporting over BGN 30,000 (USD 18,750) in cash requires a declaration about the source of the funds, supported by documents certifying that the exporter does not owe taxes (unless the funds were earlier imported and declared).  When there is evidence for existing debt obligations of over BGN 5,000 (USD 3,125), customs authorities will prevent the transfer of funds.

In 2014, United States and Bulgaria signed an intergovernmental agreement that implements provisions of the Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act (FATCA), which targets tax non-compliance by U.S. persons who do business with Bulgarian financial institutions. Parliament ratified the agreement in 2015.

Bulgaria joined the Eurozone’s precursor mechanism ERM II in July 2020 and the EU Banking Union in October 2020.

Remittance Policies

There is no official policy regarding remittances. Remittances are an increasingly important source of funding for Bulgarian families with relatives overseas. Over the last several years, remittances have exceeded the new flow of FDI in the country. In 2020, due to COVID-19, that trend reversed, with Bulgarians working in other countries remitting only EUR 340 million, compared with EUR 2.1 billion in new FDI. According to Bulgarian National Bank data, this remittances sum marked a 72 percent decline compared to EUR 880 million in 2019.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Bulgaria does not have a sovereign wealth fund.  The government maintains a multiannual fiscal savings reserve, a farmer subsidy fund, and an electricity price premium fund. Their annual budgeting is compliant with the government’s budget plans.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Upon EU accession, Bulgaria was recognized as a market economy, in which the majority of the companies are private.  Significant state-owned enterprises (SOEs) remain, however, such as railways and the postal service.  SOEs also predominate in the healthcare, infrastructure, and energy sectors; many of these are collectively managed by the same holding company (also an SOE).  Some of the SOEs receive annual government subsidies for current and capital expenditures, regardless of their actual performance.  SOEs’ budgets and audit reports are posted on the Ministry of Finance website. The list of all SOEs can be found on:  http://www.minfin.bg/bg/page/948 .  According to the Bulgarian National Statistical Institute (NSI), there is a sizeable state-owned sector consisting of approximately 350 SOEs held by the central government and 580 by subnational governments.  In 2019, the government participation in the overall economy equalled 9.3 percent.

In 2019 Parliament approved the State Enterprise Act, introducing updated corporate standards and management practices.  The law lists timeline and criteria for SOE senior management approval.  SOEs are typically run by government elected boards.

Public and private sector companies are equally treated vis-à-vis bidding on concessions, taxation, or other government-controlled processes.  Bulgaria became party to the WTO’s Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) upon its entry into the EU in 2007.

Privatization Program

No major privatizations are currently planned in Bulgaria. Parliament must approve government proposals to privatize any company with over 50 percent government ownership.  All majority or minority state-owned properties are eligible for privatization, with the exception of those included in a specific list, including water management companies, state hospitals, and state sports facilities. The sale of specific parts of such companies follows a Council of Ministers decision or a decision of the Agency for Public Enterprises and Control, after a proposal made by the government-owned majority holder of the company. State-owned military manufacturers can be privatized with Parliamentary approval.

Municipally owned property can be privatized upon decision by a municipal council or authorized body, and upon publication of the municipal privatization list in the national gazette.

The 2010 Privatization and Post-Privatization Act created a single Privatization and Post-Privatization Agency responsible for privatization oversight.  The new State Enterprise Act in 2019 reshuffled and renamed the agency into the Agency for Public Enterprises and Control (www.appk.government.bg/bg/17).

Foreign investors can participate in privatization programs.

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) (https://csr.bg/) promotes CSR among Bulgarian companies and reports 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 OECD or the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

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 practice conflict of interest allegations are rarely prosecuted and sanctioned by law.

Bulgaria has laws, regulations, and specialized institutions to combat corruption, including an Anti-Corruption Commission with a broad mandate to investigate conflict of interest and seek asset recovery. 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.  With the gradual introduction of technologies in public administration, including e-filing and electronic issuance of certificates, some progress has been made in addressing petty corruption.  

However, high-level corruption, particularly in public procurement and use of EU funds, remains a serious concern.  Political will and investigative capacity remain limited, and Bulgaria has yet to secure a final conviction of a senior official for corruption.  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.  Bulgaria ranks 69th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index for 2020, the worst showing in the EU.   Human trafficking, narcotics, and contraband smuggling all contribute to corruption.

In 2018, the government established the Commission on Corruption Prevention and Illegal Assets Forfeiture, commonly referred to as the Anti-Corruption Commission, incorporating previously independent bodies combating corruption.   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.

Resources to Report Corruption

Mr. Sotir Tsatsarov, Chairman
Commission on Corruption Prevention and Illegal Assets Forfeiture
6, Sveta Nedelya Sq. Sofia, 1000  ca
ciaf@caciaf.bg

Mr. Boyko Stankushev
Director and Member of the Managing Board
Mr. Philip Gunev
Chairman of the Managing Board
Anticorruption Fund
71, Knyaz Boris Str., Office 2
acf@acf.bg

Mr. Ognyan Minchev, Board President
Transparency International Bulgaria
PO Box 72, Sofia
mbox@transparency.bg 

10. Political and Security Environment

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

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Bulgarians average 11.4 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 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 21.5 percent in 2020.

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.

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 2021 is BGN 650 (USD 406) 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.

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 $68,830 N/A N/A www.worldbank.org/en/country 
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:
BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $861.5 2019 $756 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $9.1 2016 $5 BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 75.6 2019 75.3 UNCTAD data available at https://stats.unctad.org/
handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html  

* Source for Host Country Data:  Bulgarian National Bank

Bulgaria’s FDI flows for 2020 were USD 2.6 billion (EUR 2.1 billion), or 3.5 percent of 2020 GDP, compared to USD 1.4 billion, or 1.9 percent of GDP, in 2019.

Note: For inward investment, the Netherlands holds the top place largely because various companies, most notably Russia’s Lukoil, channel investments to Bulgaria through Dutch subsidiaries.  While official data routinely lists the United States as the 13th largest source of FDI into Bulgaria, a 2018 study by AmCham and the Institute for Market Economics, which accounted for investment flows via European subsidiaries of U.S. companies, put the United States in sixth place.  Marshall Islands is popular tax haven for Bulgarian oligarchs.

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 52,026 100% Total Outward 2,966 100%
The Netherlands 9,658 18.6% Romania 316 10.7%
Austria 4,752 9.1% Marshall Islands 303 10.2%
Germany 3,549 6.8% Greece 247 8.3%
Italy 3,005 5.8% Serbia 235 7.9%
UK 2,893 5.6% Germany 234 7.9%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

Bulgarian owners often use Luxembourg to incorporate companies.   An independent international media investigation in February 2021 revealed some BGN 1 billion (USD 617 million) in assets by Bulgarian-owned companies in Luxembourg.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 11,067 100% All Countries 2,272 100% All Countries 8,796 100%
Romania 1,309 11.8% United States 642 28.3% Romania 1,299 14.8%
United States 1,275 10.9% Luxembourg 639 28.1% United States 632 7.2%
Luxembourg 711 6.4% Ireland 230 10.1% Poland 630 7.2%
Germany 684 6.2% Germany 176 7.7% Spain 581 6.6%
Poland 638 5.8% Austria 125 5.5% Germany 508 5.8%

14. Contact for More Information

Liam Sullivan
Deputy Political/Economic Section Chief
Embassy Sofia
sullivanll@state.gov

Croatia

Executive Summary

Croatia’s EU membership has enhanced its economic stability and provided new opportunities for trade and investment.  Despite having access to a substantial amount of EU funds, the Croatian economy has yet to gain the full benefits of membership in terms of growth and sustainability. Croatia will receive more than $30 billion in EU funding through 2030, 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 growth. Croatia joined the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II) in July 2020, and the government is committed to eurozone accession by mid-2024.

The Croatian economy had experienced a five-year period of growth and stability, but the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with three devastating earthquakes that caused more than $20.3 billion worth of damage to Zagreb and central Croatia led the economy to contract by 8.4 percent in 2020.  The budget deficit reached approximately 7.4 percent in 2020. 8.4 percent in 2020. The tourism sector, which directly accounts for 12 percent of Croatia’s GDP and indirectly as much as 20 percent, achieved only 50 percent of the prior year’s revenues. The government doled out more than $1.5 billion in job-retention and economic stabilization measures. Unemployment in January 2021 was at 7.1 percent, only slightly higher than the average rate in 2019. The European Commission estimates that the Croatian economy will grow 5.3 percent in 2021 and 4.6 percent in 2022.

The economy is burdened by a large government bureaucracy, underperforming state-owned enterprises, and low regulatory transparency, all of which contribute to poor performance and relatively low levels of foreign investment. The Croatian government has taken some positive steps to reduce para-fiscal fees and taxes and to simplify procedures for opening a business. However, it has been slow to implement additional steps to reduce barriers to investment, streamline bureaucracy and public administration, and reform the judiciary. The government continues to implement economic reforms designed to create sustainable economic growth and development, to connect education to the labor market, and to sustain public finances.

The government is willing to meet at senior levels with interested investors and to assist in resolving problems.  Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, elected to a second consecutive term in July 2020, is a former member of the European Parliament and has signaled his commitment to wide-ranging structural reforms in line with recommendations from the EU and global financial institutions. His government is working with the World Bank and other international institutions to improve the business climate and to attract investment.  Relative strengths in the Croatian economy include low inflation, a stable exchange rate, and developed infrastructure.

Historically, the most promising sectors for investment in Croatia have been tourism, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and banking. Investment opportunities are growing in Croatia’s robust IT sector, and the coming years will offer new opportunities related to energy transition. Starting in 2020, Croatia offers visas for so-called “digital nomads” to work in Croatia without having to pay local taxes in order to attract individuals with bigger spending capabilities and connections to strong IT sectors abroad.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 63 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 51 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 41 of 128 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $184 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita (USD) 2019 $28,388 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Croatia is generally open to foreign investment and the Croatian government continues to make efforts, through financial incentives, to attract foreign investors.  All investors, both foreign and domestic, are guaranteed equal treatment by law, with a handful of exceptions described below.  However, bureaucratic and political barriers remain.  Investors agree that an unpredictable regulatory framework, lack of transparency, judicial inefficiencies, lengthy administrative procedures, lack of structural reforms, and unresolved property ownership issues weigh heavily upon the investment climate.

Croatia is partnered with the World Bank on the “Croatia Business Environment Reform” project which intends to help Croatia implement various business reforms. The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development Directorate for Internationalization assists investors.  For more information, see:  http://investcroatia.gov.hr/ .  The Strategic Investment Act fast-tracks and streamlines bureaucratic processes for large projects valued at USD 10.7 million or more on the investor’s behalf.  Various business groups, including the American Chamber of Commerce, Foreign Investors’ Council, and the Croatian Employers’ Association, are in dialogue with the government about ways to make doing business easier and to keep investment retention as a priority.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Croatian law allows for all entities, both foreign and domestic, to establish and own businesses and to engage in all forms of remunerative activities.  Article 49 of the Constitution states all entrepreneurs have equal legal status.  However, the Croatian government restricts foreign ownership or control of services for a handful of strategic sectors:  inland waterways transport, maritime transport, rail transport, air to ground handling, freight-forwarding, publishing, ski instruction, and primary mandated healthcare.  Apart from these, the only regulatory requirements to market access involve occupational licensing requirements (architect, auditor, engineer, lawyer, veterinarian, etc.), about which detailed information can be found at  http://psc.hr/en/sectoral-requirements/ .  Over 90 percent of the banking sector is foreign owned.

Croatia does not have a foreign investment screening mechanism, but the government designated the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development Internationalization Directorate as the “National Contact Point” for reviewing direct investments and responding to requests for information from EU Member States or the European Commission, per European Union Directive 2019/452.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last published an investment climate review for Croatia in June 2019: https://www.oecd.org/publications/oecd-investment-policy-reviews-croatia-2019-2bf079ba-en.htm .

The latest available World Bank Group “Doing Business” Economic Profile of Croatia was published in 2020: https://www.doingbusiness.org/content/dam/doingBusiness/country/c/croatia/HRV.pdf .

The European Commission’s Country Report Croatia 2020 assesses the country’s economic situation and outlook: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1584545612721&uri=CELEX%3A52020SC0510 .

Business Facilitation

The Croatian government offers two e-government options for on-line business registration,  www.hitro.hr   and  start.gov.hr  , both of which provide 24-hour access.  Start.gov.hr provides complete business registration for a limited liability company (d.o.o.), simple limited company (j.d.o.o.) or company, without any need to physically enter a public administration office.  The procedure guarantees a short turnaround on requests and provides deadlines by which the company can expect to be registered.  The Start.gov.hr procedure eliminates fees for public notaries, proxies, seals, and stamps, and reduces court registration fees by 50 percent.  Hitro.hr also provides on-line services but maintains offices in 60 Croatian cities and towns for those who want to register their business in person.

In 2020, the Global Enterprise Registration website ( www.GER.co ) rated Croatia’s business registration process 4 out of 10, while the latest available 2020 World Bank Ease of Doing Business report ranks Croatia as 114 out of 190 countries in this category.  The government pledged to improve conditions for business registration and continues to identify areas for removing burdensome regulations and processes.   Croatia’s business facilitation mechanism provides for equitable treatment to all interested in registering a business, regardless of gender or ethnicity.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) provides an outline of investment facilitation proposals at  https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/country-navigator/53/croatia .

Outward Investment

Croatian foreign direct investment totals approximately USD 24.6 million in the United States, according to Croatian National Bank figures.  The government does not promote or incentivize outward investment.  Croatia has no restrictions on domestic investors who wish to invest abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Croatian legislation, which is harmonized with European Union legislation (acquis communautaire), affords transparent policies and fosters a climate in which all investors are treated equally. Nevertheless, bureaucracy and regulation can be complex and time-consuming, although the government is working to remove unnecessary regulations. The complete text of all legislation is published both on-line and in the National Gazette, available at:  www.nn.hr  .  There are no informal regulatory processes, and investors should rely solely on government-issued legislation to conduct business.

The Croatian Parliament promulgates national legislation, which is implemented at every level of government, although local regulations vary from county to county.  Members of Government and Members of Parliament, through working groups or caucuses, are responsible for presenting legislation.  Responsible ministries draft and present new legislation to the government for approval. When the Government approves a draft text, it is sent to Parliament for approval.  The approved act becomes official on the date defined by Parliament and when it is published in the National Gazette. Citizens maintain the right to initiate a law through their district Member of Parliament.  New legislation and changes to existing legislation which have a significant impact on citizens are made available for public commentary at https://esavjetovanja.gov.hr/ECon/Dashboard .  The Law on the Review of the Impact of Regulations defines the procedure for impact assessment, planning of legislative activities, and communication with the public, as well as the entities responsible for implementing the impact assessment procedure.

Croatia adheres to international accounting standards and abides by international practices through the Accounting Act, which is applied to all accounting businesses.  Publicly listed companies must adhere to these accounting standards by law.

Croatian courts are responsible for ensuring that laws are enforced correctly.  If an investor believes that the law or an administrative procedure is not implemented correctly, the investor may initiate a case against the government at the appropriate court.  However, judicial remedies are frequently ineffective due to delays or political influence.

The Enforcement Act defines the procedure for enforcing claims and seizures carried out by the Financial Agency (FINA), the state-owned company responsible for offering various financial services to include securing payment to claimants following a court enforced order.  FINA also has the authority to seize assets or directly settle the claim from the bank account of the person or legal entity that owes the claim. Enforcement proceedings are regulated by the Enforcement Act, last amended in 2017, and by laws regulating its execution, such as the Act on Implementation of the Enforcement over Monetary Assets, amended in 2020.  The legislation incorporates European Parliament and European Commission provisions for easily enforcing cross-border financial claims in both business and private instances.  Enforcement proceedings are conducted on the basis of enforcement title documents which specify the creditor and debtor, the subject, type, scope, and payment deadline.

More information can be found at  www.fina.hr  . Various types of regulation exist, which prescribe complicated or time-consuming procedures for businesses to implement.  Reports on public finances and public debt obligations are available to the public on the Ministry of Finance website at:  http://www.mfin.hr/en  .

Public finances and debt obligations are transparent and available on the Ministry of Finance website, in Croatian only, at  https://mfin.gov.hr/proracun-86/86  .

International Regulatory Considerations

Croatia, as an EU member, transposes all EU directives.  Domestic legislation is applied nationally and – while local regulations vary from county to county — there is no locally-based legislation that overrides national legislation.  Local governments determine zoning for construction and therefore have considerable power in commercial or residential building projects.  International accounting, arbitration, financial, and labor norms are incorporated into Croatia’s regulatory system.

Croatia has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 2000. Croatia submits all draft technical regulations to the WTO, in coordination with the European Commission.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The legal system in Croatia is civil and provides for ownership of property and enforcement of legal contracts.  The Commercial Company Act defines the forms of legal organization for domestic and foreign investors. It covers general commercial partnerships, limited partnerships, joint stock companies, limited liability companies and economic interest groupings.  The Obligatory Relations Act serves to enforce commercial contracts and includes the provision of goods and services in commercial agency contracts.

The Croatian constitution provides for an independent judiciary.  The judicial system consists of courts of general and specialized jurisdictions.  Core structures are the Supreme Court, County Courts, Municipal Courts, and Magistrate/Petty Crimes Courts.  Specialized courts include the Administrative Court and High and Lower Commercial Courts.  A Constitutional Court determines the constitutionality of laws and government actions and protects and enforces constitutional rights. Municipal courts are courts of first instance for civil and juvenile/criminal cases.  The High Commercial Court is located in Zagreb and has appellate review of lower commercial court decisions.  The Administrative Court has jurisdiction over the decisions of administrative bodies of all levels of government. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the country and, as such, enjoys jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases.  It hears appeals from the County Courts, High Commercial Court, and Administrative Court. Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable and adjudicated in the national court system.

On January 1, 2021 the government established a High Criminal Court, headquartered in Zagreb, which will be responsible for adjudication of second instance appeals against decisions made by County Courts in cases that involve criminal acts.

The Ministry of Justice and Public Administration continues to pursue a court reorganization plan intended to increase efficiency and reduce the backlog of judicial cases.  The World Bank approved a USD 110 million loan to Croatia for the Justice for Business Project in March 2020, specifically for the purpose of supporting ICT infrastructure upgrades, court process improvements, and other reforms that will improve justice sector services to improve the business climate.  This effort will be led by the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration, in coordination with the Economy Ministry and the Construction Ministry, from 2020 to 2024.

Reforms are underway, but significant challenges remain in relation to land registration, training court officers, providing adequate resources to meet the court case load, and reducing the backlog and length of bankruptcy procedures.  Investors often face problems with unusually protracted court procedures, lack of clarity in legal proceedings, contract enforcement, and judicial efficiency.  Croatian courts have decreased the number of civil, criminal. and commercial cases and decreased the disposition time for resolution of those cases, however there is still a significant case backlog.  The 2020 European Commission Country Report for Croatia assessed that the length of court proceedings continues to be a burden for business.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

There are no specific laws aimed at foreign investment; both foreign and domestic market participants in Croatia are protected under the same legislation. The Company Act defines the forms of legal organization for domestic and foreign investors. The following entity types are permitted for foreigners: general partnerships; limited partnerships; branch offices; limited liability companies; and joint stock companies. The Obligatory Relations Act regulates commercial contracts.

The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development Internationalization Directorate ( https://investcroatia.gov.hr/en/ ) facilitates both foreign and domestic investment. The directorate’s website offers relevant information on business and investment legislation and includes an investment guide.

According to Croatian commercial law a number of significant or “strategic” business decisions must be approved by 75 percent of the company’s shareholders.  Minority investors with at least 25 percent ownership plus one share have what is colloquially called a “golden share,” meaning they can block or veto “strategic” decisions requiring a 75 percent vote. The law calls for minimum 75 percent shareholder approval to remove a supervisory board member, authorize a supervisory board member to make a business decision, revoke preferential shares, change company agreements, authorize mergers or liquidations, and to purchase or invest in something on behalf of the company that is worth more than 20 percent of the company’s initial capital. (Note: This list is not exhaustive.)

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Competition Act defines the rules and methods for promoting and protecting competition.  In theory, competitive equality is the standard applied with respect to market access, credit, and other business operations, such as licenses and supplies.  In practice, however, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and government-designated “strategic” firms may still receive preferential treatment. The Croatian Competition Agency is the country’s competition watchdog, determining whether anti-competitive practices exist and punishing infringements.  It has determined in the past that some subsidies to SOEs constituted unlawful state aid, however state aid issues are now handled by the Ministry of Finance.  Information on authorities of the Agency and past rulings can be found at  www.aztn.hr .  The website includes a “call to the public” inviting citizens to provide information on competition-related concerns.

Expropriation and Compensation

Croatian Law on Expropriation and Compensation gives the government broad authority to expropriate real property in economic and security-related circumstances, including eminent domain. The Law on Strategic Investments also provides for expropriation for projects that meet the criteria for “strategic” projects.  However, it includes provisions that guarantee adequate compensation, in either the form of monetary compensation or real estate of equal value to the expropriated property, in the same town or city.  The law includes an appeals mechanism to challenge expropriation decisions by means of a complaint to the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration within 15 days of the expropriation order.  The law does not describe the Ministry’s adjudication process.  Parties not pleased with the outcome of a Ministry decision can pursue administrative action against the decision, but no appeal to the decision is allowed.

Article III of the U.S.-Croatia Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) covers both direct and indirect expropriations.  The BIT bars all expropriations or nationalizations except those that are for a public purpose, carried out in a non-discriminatory manner, in accordance with due process of law, and subject to prompt, adequate, and effective compensation.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

In 1998 Croatia ratified the Washington Convention that established the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).  Croatia is a signatory to the following international conventions regulating the mutual acceptance and enforcement of foreign arbitration: the 1923 Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses; the 1927 Geneva Convention on the Execution of Foreign Arbitration Decisions; the 1958 New York Convention on the Acceptance and Execution of Foreign Arbitration Decisions; and the 1961 European Convention on International Business Arbitration.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The Croatian Law on Arbitration addresses both national and international proceedings in Croatia. Parties to arbitration cases are free to appoint arbitrators of any nationality or professional qualifications and Article 12 of the Law on Arbitration requires impartiality and independence of arbitrators.  Croatia recognizes binding international arbitration, which may be defined in investment agreements as a means of dispute resolution.

The Arbitration Act covers domestic arbitration, recognition and enforcement of arbitration rulings, and jurisdictional matters.  Once an arbitration decision has been reached, the judgment is executed by court order.  If no payment is made by the established deadline, the party benefiting from the decision notifies the Commercial Court, which becomes responsible for enforcing compliance. Arbitration rulings have the force of a final judgment but can be appealed within three months.

In regard to implementation of foreign arbitral awards, Article 19 of the Act on Enforcement states that judgments of foreign courts may be executed only if they “fulfill the conditions for recognition and execution as prescribed by an international agreement or the law.”  The Act on Enforcement serves to decrease the burden on the courts by passing responsibility for the collection of financial claims and seizures to the Financial Agency (FINA), which is responsible for paying claimants once the court has rendered a decision ordering enforcement.  FINA also has the authority to seize assets or directly settle the claim from the bank account of the person or legal entity that owes the claim. More information can be found at  www.fina.hr .

Article Ten of the U.S.-Croatia BIT sets forth mechanisms for the resolution of investment disputes, defined as any dispute arising out of or relating to an investment authorization, an investment agreement, or an alleged breach of rights conferred, created, or recognized by the BIT with respect to a covered investment.

Croatia has no history of extra-judicial action against foreign investors. There are currently two known cases, pending for years, regarding U.S. investor claims before Croatian courts. Both investors have also announced plans to file claims at international arbitration courts, citing the U.S.-Croatia BIT as the basis for the action.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Alternative dispute resolution is implemented at the High Commercial Court, at the Zagreb Commercial Court, and at the six municipal courts around the country.  In order to reduce the backlog, non-disputed cases are passed to public notaries.

Both mediation and arbitration services are available through the Croatian Chamber of Economy. The Chamber’s permanent arbitration court has been in operation since 1965.  Arbitration is voluntary and conforms to UNCITRAL model procedures.  The Chamber of Economy’s Mediation Center has been operating since 2002 – see  http://www.hok-cba.hr/hr/center-za-mirenje-hoka  .

There are no major investment disputes currently underway involving state-owned enterprises, other than a dispute between the Croatian government and a Hungarian oil company over implementation of a purchase agreement with a Croatian oil and gas company. There is no evidence that domestic courts rule in favor of state-owned enterprises.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Croatia’s Bankruptcy Act corresponds to the EU regulation on insolvency proceedings and United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on Cross-Border Insolvency.  All stakeholders in the bankruptcy proceeding, foreign and domestic are treated equally in terms of the Bankruptcy Act.  The last available World Bank Ease of Doing Business 2020 rating for Croatia in the category of resolving insolvency was 63 out of 190 countries.  Bankruptcy is not considered a criminal act.

The Financial Operations and Pre-Bankruptcy Settlement Act helps expedite proceedings and establish timeframes for the initiation of bankruptcy proceedings.  One of the most important provisions of pre-bankruptcy is that it allows a firm that has been unable to pay all its bills to remain open during the proceedings, thereby allowing it to continue operations and generate cash under financial supervision in hopes that it can recover financial health and avoid closure.

The Commercial Court of the county in which a bankrupt company is headquartered has exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy matters. A bankruptcy tribunal decides on initiating formal bankruptcy proceedings, appoints a trustee, reviews creditor complaints, approves the settlement for creditors, and decides on the closing of proceedings.  A bankruptcy judge supervises the trustee (who represents the debtor) and the operations of the creditors’ committee, which is convened to protect the interests of all creditors, oversee the trustee’s work and report back to creditors.  The Act establishes the priority of creditor claims, assigning higher priority to those related to taxes and revenues of state, local and administration budgets.  It also allows for a debtor or the trustee to petition to reorganize the firm, an alternative aimed at maximizing asset recovery and providing fair and equitable distribution among all creditors.

In April 2017, the Croatian government passed the “Law on Extraordinary Appointment of Management Boards for Companies of Systematic Importance to the Republic of Croatia,” when it became clear that Croatia’s largest corporation, Agrokor, was in crisis and would likely go bankrupt. The Law allowed the Government, in this instance, to install an Emergency Commissioner to restructure the company, which resulted in the creation of the Fortenova Group that took on the core business of the former Agrokor food and retail company.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Investment Promotion Act (IPA), amended in 2021, offers incentives to investment projects in manufacturing and processing activities, development and innovation activities, business support activities and high added value services.  The incentives are either tax refunds or cash grants.  After they are approved for implementation, they are not distributed immediately.  Those who receive cash grants are required to provide documentation proving they have fulfilled the criteria per which the request was granted for every year they have received approval for the incentive.  Tax refunds are provided to companies on an annual basis, based on information provided in tax returns.  Incentive measures can be combined or used individually.

The IPA provides the following incentive measures: tax refunds for microenterprises; tax advantages for small, medium and large enterprises; cash grants for eligible costs of new jobs linked to the investment project; cash grants for eligible training costs linked to the investment project; additional aid for development and innovation activities, business support and high value-added services; cash grants for capital costs of investment projects; cash grants for labor intensive investment projects; incentives for investments which utilize inactive government-owned property; and incentives to modernize business processes through automation and digitalization of production and manufacturing processes.

All incentive measures can be used by entrepreneurs.  Entrepreneurs are defined as individuals subject to Croatian corporate income tax or companies registered in Croatia investing the minimum amount of USD 59,000 in fixed assets, and creating at least three new jobs for microenterprises or 10 new jobs for companies investing in information computer technology (ICT) systems and software development centers, or USD 177,000 in fixed assets and creating at least five new jobs for small or medium enterprises, and large companies, and USD 590,000 in fixed assets for modernizing and increasing business process productivity.

Substantial tax cuts on profits are available depending on the size of the investment and the number of new jobs created.  A 50 percent reduction applies for up to ten years for companies that invest up to USD 1.18 million and create at least five new jobs (three jobs for microenterprises or 10 jobs for companies investing in ICT system and software development centers).  This reduction increases to 75 percent for companies investing USD 1.18-USD 3.54 million and creating at least 10 new jobs, and up to 100 percent for companies that invest over USD 3.54 million and create at least 15 new jobs.

Profit tax reductions are also available for investments modernizing the manufacturing industry.  These projects must include a minimum fixed asset investment of USD 590,000, all employees must be retained for the project duration, and the per-employee productivity after three3 years must increase at least 10 percent compared to the one-year period prior to the project.  A 50 percent profit tax rate reduction applies for companies that invest up to USD 1.18 million,75 percent for companies investing USD 1.18 to -USD 3.54 million, and up to 100 percent for companies that invest over USD 3.54 million.

Cash grants for new jobs created can be up to USD 10,600 per new position, depending on the location of the investment and category of the person employed.  Financial support of 10 percent of expenses, which is not subject to reimbursement, or up to USD 3,500per new position can be used to create jobs in counties with unemployment levels up to 10 percent.  This support increases to 20 percent or up to USD 7,000 per position in counties with unemployment levels from 10 to 20 percent, and up to 30 percent or USD 10,600 per new position in counties with unemployment levels above 30 percent.

There are also programs to reimburse costs for employee education and training connected to an investment project which can cover up to 50 percent of the of education and training costs for large companies, up to 60 percent for medium sized companies or if training is given to workers with disabilities, or up to 70 percent for small businesses and microenterprises. Incentives for education cannot exceed 70 percent of eligible costs of education and training.

Additional incentives for job creation are available for development and innovation activities that affect the development of new products or significantly improve existing products, production series, manufacturing processes, and/or production technologies. There are also incentives for business support activities such as customer support, outsourced business activities centers, or logistics and distribution centers, as well as ICT systems and software development centers. Finally, the government offers support for activities such as hospitality and tourism accommodation facilities categorized as at least four stars. Support services for the above-listed types of accommodations with high value are added in a range of categories; nautical tourism projects; and amusement and theme park projects; as well as for creative services, and industrial engineering services.

Additional incentives for job creation are offered for labor-intensive investment projects within the first three years of the project start date.  Cash grants for job creation are increased by 25 percent for projects creating 100 or more positions, by 50 percent for projects creating 300 or more jobs, and by up to 100 percent or the total cost (or up to the maximum allowed limit) for creating 500 or more jobs.

Cash grants for the capital costs of investment projects are approved for investments over USD 5.9 million which generate 50 new positions within 3 years of the start of the investment. They cover 10 percent of the cost of new factory construction, production facility construction, or the purchase of new equipment (up to USD 590,000) in counties where the unemployment rate is from 10-20 percent.  This incentive increases to 20 percent of the investment cost (up to USD 1.18 million) in counties where the unemployment rate is above 20 percent, with the condition that at least 40 percent of the investment is in machines or equipment and that at least 50 percent of those machines or equipment are of high-value technology.  There are also grants for buying equipment or machinery for research and development activities up to 20 percent of the cost of the equipment, or up to USD 590,000.

There are incentives for investment projects which revitalize inactive state-owned property and provide free land leases for investors investing USD 3.2 million and creating at least 15 new jobs. Additional information regarding the types of incentives offered by the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development can be found at https://investcroatia.gov.hr/ .

The Act on Strategic Investment Projects went into effect in November 2013 and was amended in 2018. This Act facilitates and accelerates administrative procedures for projects deemed to be of strategic interest for Croatia based on a number of conditions listed in the Act.  Strategic projects can include private, public-private, or public investments in economy, mining, energy, tourism, transport, infrastructure, electronic communication, postal services, environmental protection, public utilities, agriculture, forestry, water management, fishery, health care, culture, audio-visual activities, science, defense, judiciary, technology, construction, and education.

The minimum amount for an investment to be considered strategic is approximately USD 11.8 million, which is significantly less than the previous minimum of USD 23.6 million.  All investments over this amount may be considered strategic and will be entitled to accelerated permitting and registration procedures.  Investments may also be treated as strategic if they are valued at USD 1.4 million or more, and are implemented in assisted areas, or if they are implemented on the islands or are in the agriculture, fisheries, and forestry sector.  A guide and application materials for private investors interested in applying for status under the Act on Strategic Investment Projects can be found at:  https://investcroatia.gov.hr/en/ .

The Construction Act allows investors to secure permits through an e-licensing system. The investor may obtain a license valid for three years, which allows for a three percent change in the dimensions of the project from start to finish. The e-licensing system can be accessed at  https://dozvola.mgipu.hr/ .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

There are 10 operational duty-free zones (called “free zones” in the EU) in Croatia.  Contact information for each of the zones can be found at:  https://www.croatianfreezones.org/primjer-stranice . Both domestic and foreign investors are afforded equal treatment in the zones.  After Croatia entered the European Union in 2013, many of the zones that operated throughout Croatia were slowly transitioned to industrial/business zones. Investment incentives are available in these zones.  For more information regarding these zones go to  http://investcroatia.gov.hr/lokacije-za-investiranje/ .

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Croatian law does not impose performance requirements on or mandate employment requirements for foreign or domestic investors, nor are senior management or board of directors’ positions mandated in private companies.  In regard to U.S. investors, Article VII of the U.S.-Croatia BIT prohibits mandating or enforcing specified performance requirements as a condition for a covered investment.

Although procedures for obtaining business visas are generally clear, they can be cumbersome and time-consuming.  Foreign investors should familiarize themselves with the provisions of the Act on Foreigners.  Questions relating to visas and work permits should be directed to the Croatian Embassy or a Croatian Consulate in the United States.  The U.S. Embassy in Zagreb maintains a website with information on this subject at  https://hr.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/entry-residence-requirements/.

The amended Law on Foreigners also allows for digital nomads, defined as “a third country national who is employed or performs work through communication technology for a company or their own company that is not registered in the Republic of Croatia and does not work or provide services to employers in the Republic of Croatia.” Temporary stay for this purpose is granted for up to one year and cannot be extended.

There are no government-imposed conditions for investment, nor are there “forced localization” policies for investors in terms of goods and technology.  There are no performance requirements, or associated enforcement procedures.  Foreign IT providers are not required to turn over source code or give access to surveillance.  There are no measures that prevent companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country’s territory.  There are no requirements for investors to maintain or store data within the territory of Croatia.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The right to ownership of private property is enshrined in the Croatian Constitution and in numerous acts and regulations.  A foreign natural or legal person incorporated under Croatian law is considered to be a Croatian legal person and has the right to purchase property.  The Ownership and Property Rights Act establishes procedures for foreigners to acquire property by inheritance as well as legal transactions such as purchases, deeds, and trusts.  Croatia has a well-functioning banking system, which provides mortgages, while courts and cadaster offices handle property records.

However, real property ownership can be particularly challenging in Croatia owing to unique titling issues, separate ownership of buildings and the land on which they sit, reciprocity laws, special treatment of agricultural land and coastal regions, and zoning disputes more generally.  For all of these reasons, investors should seek competent, independent legal advice in this area. The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of English-speaking attorneys ( https://hr.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/attorneys/). The Ministry of Economy Directorate for Investment, Industry and Innovation helps those seeking information about property status in Croatia.

For more information, see:  http://investcroatia.gov.hr/ .

While the cadaster offices reliably maintain records, there is a portion of property in Croatia which has changed hands without appropriate documentation for various reasons, including avoidance of paying the title transfer fees or hiding wealth.  Historically, individuals and companies spent years in court attempting to resolve improper real estate documentation.  For this reason, potential buyers should seek to verify that the seller possesses clear title to both the land and buildings (which can be titled and owned separately).

In order to acquire property by means other than inheritance or as an incorporated Croatian legal entity, foreign citizens must receive the approval from the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration.  Approval can be delayed, owing to a lengthy interagency clearance process.  While EU citizens are afforded the same rights as Croatian citizens in terms of purchasing property, the right of all other foreigners to acquire property in Croatia is based on reciprocity.

In the case of the United States, reciprocity exists on a (sub-federal) state-by-state basis.  Croatia’s Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs has confirmed the existence of positive reciprocity for real estate purchases for residents of the following states:  Alabama, Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

Alternatively, for U.S. citizens from Arkansas, Hawaii, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Vermont, property acquisition is only allowed with the condition of Croatian permanent residence.  Residents of other states could face longer waiting periods.  The Foreign Ministry has confirmed that Croatian nationals can purchase real estate throughout the United States without restrictions. A foreign investor, incorporated as a Croatian legal entity, may acquire and own property without ministry approval, with the caveat that the purchase by any private party of certain types of land (principally land directly adjacent to the sea or in certain geographically designated areas) can be restricted to foreign investors for purposes of national security.

Inheritance laws have led to situations in which some properties have claims by dozens of legal owners, some of whom are deceased and others who have emigrated and cannot be found.

It is also important to verify the existence of necessary building permits, as some newer structures in coastal areas have been subject to destruction at the owner’s expense and without compensation for not conforming to local zoning regulations.  Investors should be particularly wary of promises that structures built without permits will be regularized retroactively.  The Act on Legalization of Buildings and Illegal Construction is intended to resolve ambiguities regarding ownership of real estate.

Land ownership is distinct from ownership of buildings or facilities on the land.  Investors interested in acquiring companies from the Ministry of Physical Planning, Construction, and State Assets should seek legal advice to determine whether any deal also includes the right to ownership of the land on which a business is located, or merely the right to lease the land through a concession.  Property may be mortgaged. Inconsistent regulations and restrictions on coastal property ownership and construction have also provided challenges for foreign investors in the past.  Croatian law restricts construction and commercial use within 70 meters of the coastline.

When purchasing land for construction purposes, potential buyers should determine whether the property is classified as agricultural or construction land.  The Agricultural Land Act provides for additional fees for re-zoning of up to 50 percent of the value of the land that is diverted from agriculture to construction purposes.  The Agricultural Land Agency works with local governments to review potential agricultural land purchases.  The sale of privately owned farmland is treated solely as the subject of a sales agreement between the parties.  Buyers of this type of land should still proceed with caution and be aware of potentially unresolved legacy issues with land ownership.  Land in Croatia is either publicly or privately owned and cannot be transferred to squatters solely based on physical presence.

The Ministry of Justice and Public Administration and the State Geodetic Office co-manage the National Program for Resolving Land Registration and Cadaster Issues.  This program includes a One Stop Shop system, which is a single point for accessing land registry and cadaster data.  For more information see  http://www.uredjenazemlja.hr/default.aspx?id=17   where information is available in English.

Croatia is also working with the World Bank on implementation of the Integrated Land Administration System project (ILAS) to modernize the land administration and management system in order to improve the efficiency, transparency and cost effectiveness of government services.  Croatia continues to process a backlog of cases and potential investors should seek a full explanation of land ownership rights before purchasing property.

Note that Croatia’s land records are also available online (see www.pravosudje.hr  and https://www.katastar.hr/en/#/ ). Katastar.hr includes information on over 14 million pieces of land throughout the country and provides information in English.

The last published World Bank Ease of Doing Business 2020 report ranked Croatia as 38th out of 190 countries on ease of registering property, up 13 spots from the 2019 ranking of 51st.

There is no property tax in Croatia.

Intellectual Property Rights

Croatian intellectual property rights (IPR) legislation includes the Patent Act amended in January 2020, the Trademark Act, the Industrial Design Act, the Act on the Geographical Indications of Products and Services, the Act on the Protection of Layout Design of Integrated Circuits, and the Act on Copyrights and Related Rights, which was entirely rewritten in 2020.  The Law on Protecting Unpublished Information with Market Value went into force in 2018.  These acts define the process for protecting and enforcing IPR in Croatia.  Texts of these laws are available on the website of the State Intellectual Property Office at https://www.dziv.hr/en/ip-legislation/national-legislation/ ).  All of the laws are harmonized with EU legislation.  The Law on Protecting Unpublished Information with Market Value went into force in 2018.

Croatian law enforcement officials keep public records of seized counterfeit goods.  According to a 2020 report from the Customs Office, officials stopped 581 international imports related to IPR violations, that resulted in a total of 805 procedures for temporary detainment of goods for a total of 427,873 items.  Customs also issued 169 domestic violations and seized 95,933 counterfeit goods.  They initiated seven criminal proceedings against individuals involved in violation of trademark rights.  Croatian customs officials and the Ministry of Interior work together to locate and seize infringing goods.

Although some areas of IPR protection and enforcement remain problematic, Croatia is currently not included in the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.  Problem areas are piracy of digital media and counterfeiting.  Due to its geographic location, Croatia is also a transit route for various illegal products bound for other countries in the region.  There have been no problems reported with regard to registration of IPR in Croatia by American companies.  The American Chamber of Commerce maintains dialogue with the Croatian government on IPR issues.

As a WTO member, Croatia is party to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  Croatia is also a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.  For a list of international conventions to which Croatia is a signatory, consult the State Intellectual Property Office’s website at  http://www.dziv.hr/hr/zakonodavstvo/medjunarodni-ugovori/ .

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at  http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Croatia’s securities and financial markets are open equally to domestic and foreign investment. Foreign residents may open non-resident accounts and may do business both domestically and abroad.  Specifically, Article 24 of the Foreign Currency Act states that non-residents may subscribe, pay in, purchase, or sell securities in Croatia in accordance with regulations governing securities transactions.  Non-residents and residents are afforded the same treatment in spending and borrowing.  These and other non-resident financial activities regarding securities are covered by the Foreign Currency Act, available on the central bank website ( https://www.hnb.hr/en/ ).

Securities are traded on the Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE), established in 1991.  Regulations that govern activity and participation in the ZSE can be found (in English) at:  https://zse.hr/en/legal-regulations/234 .  There are three tiers of securities traded on the ZSE.  The Capital Markets Act regulates all aspects of securities and investment services and defines the responsibilities of the Croatian Financial Services Supervisory Agency (HANFA). The Capital Market Act was amended in 2019 and went into force on February 22, 2020.  The amendments include the increase from USD 5.4 million to USD 8.7 million for mandatory publication of share prospectus, changes to administrative obligations, and a decrease in fees for issuing securities.  These amendments also give HANFA more authority over corporate management of those companies listed on the capital market.  All legislation associated with the Capital Market act can be found (in English) at:  http://www.hanfa.hr/regulations/capital-market/ .

There is sufficient liquidity in the markets to enter and exit sizeable positions.  There are no policies that hinder the free flow of financial resources.  There are no restrictions on international payments or transfers.  As such, Croatia is in accordance with IMF Article VIII.  The private sector, both domestic and foreign owned, enjoys open access to credit and a variety of credit instruments on the local market, on market terms.

Money and Banking System

The banking sector is mostly privatized and is highly developed, competitive, and increasingly offering diverse products to businesses (foreign and domestic) and consumers.  French, German, Italian, and Austrian companies own over 90 percent of Croatia’s banks. In 2016, Addiko Bank became the first U.S. bank registered in Croatia by taking over all of Hypo Bank’s holdings in Croatia.  The banking sector suffered no long-term consequences during the 2008 global banking crisis. According to conclusions from an IMF Virtual Visit with Croatia in November 2020, the banking sector is generally considered to be one of the strongest sectors of the Croatian economy, “comparable to other Central and Eastern European Countries.”   As of September 2020, there were 20 commercial banks and three savings banks, with assets totaling USD 68.24 billion.

The largest bank in Croatia is Italian-owned Zagrebacka Banka, with assets of USD 18.4 billion and a market share of 27.01 percent. The second largest bank is Italian-owned Privredna Banka Zagreb, with assets totaling USD 14.02 billion and 20.54 percent market share.  The third largest is Austrian Erste Bank, with assets totaling USD 10.9 billion and a 15.96 percent market share.  According to a December 2020 European Commission report, the non-performing loans (NPL) ratio for Croatia was 5.5 percent in the second quarter of 2020, putting Croatia among the top ten of EU countries for NPL in 2020. The country has a central bank system and all information regarding the Croatian National Bank can be found at  https://www.hnb.hr/en/ . Non-residents are able to open bank accounts without restrictions or delays.  The Croatian government has not introduced or announced any current intention to introduce block chain technologies in banking transactions.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Croatian Constitution guarantees the free transfer, conversion, and repatriation of profits and invested capital for foreign investments. Article VI of the U.S.-Croatia Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) additionally establishes protection for American investors from government exchange controls. The BIT obliges both countries to permit all transfers relating to a covered investment to be made freely and without delay into and out of each other’s territory.  Transfers of currency are additionally protected by Article VII of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Articles of Agreement ( http://www.imf.org/External/Pubs/FT/AA/index.htm#art7  ).

The Croatian Foreign Exchange Act permits foreigners to maintain foreign currency accounts and to make external payments.  The Foreign Exchange Act also defines foreign direct investment (FDI) in a manner that includes use of retained earnings for new investments/acquisitions, but excludes financial investments made by institutional investors such as insurance, pension and investment funds.  The law also allows Croatian entities and individuals to invest abroad.  Funds associated with any form of investment can be freely converted into any world currency.

The exchange rate is determined by the Croatian National Bank through “managed floating.”  The National Bank intervenes in the foreign exchange market to ensure the Euro-Croatian kuna rate remains stable as an explicit and longstanding policy.  On July 10, 2020 the European Central Bank and European Commission announced that Croatia had fulfilled its commitments and the Croatian kuna (HRK) was admitted into the Banking Union and European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM II), with the exchange rate between the kuna and the euro (EUR) pegged at EUR 1 to 7.53450 HRK. Any risk of currency devaluation or significant depreciation is generally low.

Remittance Policies

No limitations exist, either temporal or by volume, on remittances.  The U.S. Embassy in Zagreb has not received any complaints from American companies regarding transfers and remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Croatia does not own any sovereign wealth funds.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

There are currently a total of 58 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that are either wholly state-owned or in which the state has a majority stake.  The SOEs are managed through the Ministry of Physical Planning, Construction, and State Assets or the Center for Restructuring and Sale (CERP).  The Ministry of Physical Planning, Construction, and State Assets oversees 39 “special state interest” SOEs, including 19 wholly state-owned, 13 majority state-owned companies, six listed as “legal entities of special interest,” and one with less than 50 percent state ownership.  CERP oversees the other 19 SOEs, of which 11 are wholly state-owned and eight are majority state-owned.

These SOEs cover a range of sectors including infrastructure, energy, real estate, finance, transportation, and utilities.  The latest figures available, from 2019, show that SOEs employ a total of 72,256 people and have net revenues totaling USD 9.95 billion and assets of USD 46.6 billion.  The government appoints the members of SOE management and supervisory boards, making the companies very susceptible to political influence.

CERP also oversees 306 companies; of these, the state owns up to 10 percent of 220 companies, from 10 to 49 percent of 67 companies,50-99 percent of 8 companies, and 100 percent of 11 companies.  By statute, CERP must divest the state from these companies.  Lists of SOEs are published on the websites of the Ministry of Physical Planning, Construction, and State Assets at  https://imovina.gov.hr/  and on CERP’s website at  http://www.cerp.hr/ .

County and city level governments have majority ownership in approximately 500 companies, mostly utilities; however, exact data is not available.  The latest available European Commission 2020 Country Report for Croatia assesses that Croatia made slow progress in selling off holdings in non-strategic companies, and its targets are not ambitious.  The European Commission and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) continue to provide support to Croatia through the Structural Reform Support Program for strengthening the functioning of state-owned enterprises and improvement of corporate governance: https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/funding-opportunities/funding-programmes/overview-funding-programmes/structural-reform-support-programme-srsp_en . The EC notes that this project created an early warning system to allow Croatian authorities to “identify when a state-owned enterprise is having financial difficulties and to prepare and implement plans to improve financial and operational performance.”  The EC concluded “this reform will make state-owned enterprises more resilient and allow the State to act as an informed and active owner.”

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) Staff Virtual Visit with Croatia in November 2020 concluded that “streamlining the role of the state, predominantly through improved SOE governance is necessary.”

The Corporate Governance Code is available at https://zse.hr/en/corporate-governance-code/1780 .   Croatia is not a member of the OECD but adheres to OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict Affected and High-Risk Areas.

Privatization Program

Croatia continues to slowly pursue privatization of SOEs through the Ministry of Physical Planning, Construction, and State Assets and the CERP.  There are no restrictions against foreigners participating in privatization tenders.  When Croatia initiated its privatization process in the late 1990’s foreign investors purchased assets in the banking and telecommunications sectors, as well as Croatia’s largest pharmaceutical company. The bidding process is public, tenders are published online, and terms are clearly defined in tender documentation, however, problems with bureaucracy and timely judicial remedies can significantly slow progress for projects.  There is no privatization timeline; however, the government views privatization as a means to reduce the budget deficit and increase output.  The Ministry of Physical Planning, Construction, and State Assets drafted the 2021 plan for Management of State Owned Property, as part of the National Strategy for Management of State Owned Property 2019-2025 (only in Croatian: https://narodne-novine.nn.hr/clanci/sluzbeni/2019_10_96_1863.html ).

Tenders are in Croatian and can be found at  https://imovina.gov.hr/vijesti/8 .

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 existing code, drafted in 2007 by ZSE in cooperation with the Croatian Financial Services Supervisory Agency (HANFA) for companies listed on the ZSE, was updated in a project between the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, ZSE, and HANFA, which created significant progress on 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.  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 in order to maintain consumer and environmental protection and avoid infringement of human and labor rights. Sometimes these regulations even exceed European Union 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 that 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, however security for defense purposes is handled by official 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 Labor

9. Corruption

Croatia has a suitable legal framework, including regulations and penalties, to combat corruption.  The Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Act define the tools available to the investigative authorities to fight corruption.  The criminal code also provides for asset seizure and forfeiture.  In terms of a corruption case, it is assumed that all of a defendant’s property was acquired through criminal offences unless the defendant can prove the legal origin of the assets in question.  Financial gain in such cases is also confiscated if it is in possession of a third party (e.g., spouse, relatives, or family members) and was not acquired in good faith.  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 Law on Public Procurement is entirely 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 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; the Act on Public Services; the Code of Conduct for Public Officials; and the Code of Conduct for Judges. Whistleblowers are protected by the Law on Whistleblower Protections, as well as by provisions in the Labor Law and Law on Civil Servants.

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.  The Partnership for Social Development is another nongovernmental organization active in Croatia dealing with the suppression of corruption.

The business community continues to identify corruption in the healthcare and construction sectors, as well as the public procurement process as obstacles to FDI.  During the years ahead of EU accession, Croatia invested considerable efforts in establishing a wide-ranging legal and institutional anti-corruption framework.  The government is currently implementing the Strategy for Combatting Corruption from 2015-2020. The Ministry of Justice and Public Administration will submit for Parliamentary approval by mid-2021 a new Strategy for Combating Corruption that will cover a ten-year period.  Croatian prosecutors have secured corruption convictions 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.

Resources to Report Corruption

The State Prosecutor’s Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime (USKOK) is tasked with directing police investigations and prosecuting cases.  USKOK is headquartered in Zagreb, with offices in Split, Rijeka, and Osijek.  In addition, the National Police Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime (PN-USKOK) conducts corruption-related investigations and is based in the same cities.  Specialized criminal judges are situated in the four largest county courts in Zagreb, Rijeka, Split, and Osijek, and are responsible for adjudicating corruption and organized crime cases.  The cases receive high priority in the justice system, but still encounter excessive delays.  The Ministry of Interior, the Office for Suppression of Money Laundering, the Tax Administration, and the Anti-Corruption Sector of the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration, all have a proactive role in combating and preventing corruption.

Contact information below:

Office of the State Attorney of the Republic of Croatia
Gajeva 30, 10000 Zagreb, Republic of Croatia
+385 1 4591 855
tajnistvo.dorh@dorh.hr

Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime
Vlaska 116, 10000 Zagreb, Republic of Croatia
+385 1 2375 654
tajnistvo@uskok.dorh.hr

GONG
Trg Bana Josipa Jelacica 15/IV, 10000 Zagreb, Republic of Croatia
+385 1 4825 444
gong@gong.hr

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 as compared to regional averages, but remains relatively low cost as compared to the entire EU.  Employment is regulated by the constitution, international conventions, treaties, labor law, collective agreements, and employment agreements.

There are no recent reliable reports on the size of the grey economy, but estimates range from 10 percent to 35 percent of GDP.  Unemployment in January 2021 was at 7.1 percent, only slightly higher than the average rate in 2019, due to the government’s financial support packages for job retention throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance and Development Finance Programs

Development projects in Croatia may be eligible for International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) political risk insurance.  Additionally, Croatia is a member of the World Bank Group’s Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). For more information see  www.miga.org .

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 $58,789 2019 $64,690 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $120.6 2019 $184 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2020 $30.12 2018 $19 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 67% 2020 55% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/webflyer/
world-investment-report-2021

* GDP for 2019  and FDI at www.hnb.hr. Note:  U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) does not have GDP or FDI data available for 2020 at time of publishing. 2018 is the last available date for Host Country FDI in the U.S.

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 $39,375 100% Total Outward $$5,546 100%
Austria $5,562 14.12% Bosnia Herzegovina  $1,545 27.8%
The Netherlands  $5,192 13.2% Slovenia $1,232 22.2%
Luxembourg $4,476 11.4% Serbia $1,052 18.9%
Germany $4,159 10.6% Montenegro $315 5.7%
Italy 3,416 10.3% Poland $236 4.2%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

*FDI at www.hnb.hr

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

For more information on the investment climate in Croatia, you may contact:

Political-Economic Section
U.S. Embassy Zagreb
Ulica Thomasa Jeffersona 2, 10010 Zagreb
Tel (+385 1) 661-2200
E-mail:  InvestmentClimateCroatia@state.gov 

Czech Republic

Executive Summary

The Czech Republic is a medium-sized, open economy with 74.4 percent of its GDP based on exports, mostly from the automotive and engineering industries.  According to the Czech Statistical Office, most of the country’s exports go to the European Union (EU), with 32.6 percent going to Germany alone.  The United States is the Czech Republic’s largest non-EU export destination.  Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, Czech GDP dropped by 5.6 percent in 2020 according to the Czech Statistical Office.  The Ministry of Finance is forecasting 3.1 percent growth for 2021.

President Zeman signed the “Bill on Screening of Foreign Investments” into law January 22, 2021.  The law gives the government the ability to screen greenfield investments and acquisitions by non-EU investors and will enter into force on May 1, 2021.

The Czech Republic has taken strides to diversify its traditional investments in engineering into new fields of research and development (R&D) and innovative technologies.  EU structural funding has enabled the country to open a number of world-class scientific and high-tech centers.  EU member states are the largest investors in the Czech Republic.

On November 27, 2019, a Digital Services Tax (DST) proposal drafted by the Ministry of Finance was introduced in the Czech Parliament.  The proposal would levy a seven percent tax on revenues from online advertising, online marketplace services, and services transmitting user data for companies with global annual revenues of more than €750 million ($893 million) and Czech-based revenue of more than 100 million crowns ($4.5 million).  In addition, companies that do not generate more than 10% of their total European revenue from covered services in the Czech Republic would be exempt from the tax.  The second reading of the bill is currently pending in the Czech Parliament’s lower house.  Although the legislation calls for a seven percent tax rate, there is a proposed amendment to decrease the rate to five percent.  The bill will need to go through two more readings in the lower house before it moves to the Parliament’s upper house, and then to the Czech President for approval.  If the Czech Parliament passes the DST bill, the earliest possible implementation date would be July 1, 2021.

The United States announced on February 15, 2020 plans to provide up to USD1 billion in financing through the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to Central and Eastern European countries of the Three Seas Initiative to reinforce energy security and economic growth in the region.  The DFC approved December 2020 the first tranche of the U.S. support for the Three Seas Fund amounting to USD300 million.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) agreed March 24, 2021 to a request from the Czech cabinet to return as an investor to the Czech Republic after a 13-year pause to help mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.  The EBRD plans to be involved in investment projects in the Czech Republic temporarily (maximum five years) and will primarily focus on private sector assistance.

The economic fallout from COVID-19 resulted in the Czech Republic’s highest historic state budget deficit of 367 billion crowns ($16.7 billion) in 2020, in comparison to the originally planned deficit of 40 billion crowns ($1.8 billion).  As of February 28, 2021, the Czech Republic has appropriated 25.5 percent of GDP (approximately $65 billion) for the COVID-19 response, including $24 billion (9.4 percent of GDP) in direct support, $1.4 billion (0.5 percent of GDP) in tax and levy deferrals, and $40 billion (15.5 percent of GDP) in loan guarantees.

The Czech Republic fully complies with EU and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) standards for labor laws and equal treatment of foreign and domestic investors.  Wages continue to trail those in neighboring Western European countries (Czech wages are roughly one-third of comparable German wages).  Wage growth slowed following the coronavirus pandemic.  While wages rose about 6 to 8 percent annually in 2018 and 2019, there was only 4.4 percent growth in 2020, according to the Czech Statistical Office.  In 2020, wages decreased primarily in the hospitality sector and real estate but grew in health care.  While the unemployment rate rose to 3.3 percent in 2020 due to COVID-19, it remained the lowest in the EU.

Table 1:  Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 49 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 41 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings  
Global Innovation Index 2020 24 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator   
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 4,815 http://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/   
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 21,940 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

The Czech government actively seeks to attract foreign investment via policies that make the country a competitive destination for companies to locate, operate, and expand.  The Czech investment incentives legislation (amended Act No. 72/2000 Coll., effective as of September 6, 2019) creates incentive payments for high value-added investments that focus on R&D and create jobs for university graduates.  The law eliminates incentives for investments targeting low-skilled labor and establishes more favorable rules for technological investments in sectors such as aerospace, information and communication technology, life sciences, nanotechnology, and advanced segments of the automotive industry.  In addition, due to COVID-19, the government approved November 30, 2020 an amendment to this statute, which enables producers of personal protective equipment, medical devices, and pharmaceuticals to more easily obtain investment incentives.

CzechInvest, the government investment promotion agency that operates under the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MOIT), negotiates on behalf of the Czech government with foreign investors.  In addition, CzechInvest provides assistance during implementation of investment projects, consulting services for foreign investors entering the Czech market, support for suppliers, and assistance for the development of innovative start-up firms.  There are no laws or practices that discriminate against foreign investors.

The Czech Republic is a recipient of substantial FDI.  Total foreign investment in the Czech Republic (equity capital + reinvested earnings + other capital) equaled USD171.3 billion at the end of 2019, compared to USD164 billion in 2018.

As a medium-sized, open, export-driven economy, the Czech market is strongly dependent on foreign demand, especially from EU partners.  In 2020, 83.5 percent of Czech exports went to fellow EU member states, with 32.6 percent to the Czech Republic’s largest trading partner, Germany, according to the Czech Statistical Office.  Since emerging from recession in 2013, the economy had enjoyed some of the highest GDP growth rates of the European Union until the COVID-19 outbreak. While GDP growth reached 2.4 percent in 2019, there was a 5.6 percent GDP decline in 2020.  The Ministry of Finance is forecasting 3.1 percent growth for 2021.

The Czech Republic has no plans to adopt the euro as it believes having its own currency and independent monetary policy is helpful to manage an economic crisis like the current one caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The slow pace of legislative and judicial reforms has posed obstacles to investment, competitiveness, and company restructuring.  The Czech government has harmonized its laws with EU legislation and the acquis communautaire.  This effort involved positive reforms of the judicial system, civil administration, financial markets regulation, protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights, and in many other areas important to investors.

While there have been many success stories involving American and other foreign investors, a handful have experienced problems, for example in the media industry.   Both foreign and domestic businesses voice concerns about corruption.

Long-term economic challenges include dealing with an aging population and diversifying the economy away from  manufacturing toward a more high-tech, services-based, knowledge economy.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign individuals or entities can operate a business under the same conditions as Czechs.  Foreign entities need to register their permanent branches with the Czech Commercial Register.  Some professionals, such as architects, physicians, lawyers, auditors, and tax advisors, must register for membership in the appropriate professional chamber.  In general, licensing and membership requirements apply equally to foreign and domestic professionals.

In response to the European Commission’s September 2017 investment screening directive, the Czech government drafted foreign investment screening legislation.  The law will come into effect on May 1, 2021 and gives the government the ability to review greenfield investments and acquisitions by non-EU foreign investors.  The law allows MOIT to screen FDI in virtually any sector of the Czech economy but specifies four high-risk sectors for which investment screening is mandatory: critical infrastructure, ICT systems used for critical infrastructure, military equipment, and sensitive dual use items.  Outside these critical sectors, non-EU investors are under no obligation to report acquisitions or greenfield investments, but MOIT can retroactively review investments at any point within five years according to security concerns that may arise.  Screening of acquisitions is triggered when a non-EU buyer attempts to make a purchase that would give it at least 10% of the voting rights of a Czech company.  However, screening is possible at an even lower threshold in cases where the foreign investor has additional means of exerting potentially malign control over a Czech company, such as through appointment of staff to key positions.  Furthermore, the law gives regulators considerable leeway to designate an investor as “non-EU” if the investor is “indirectly controlled” by non-EU business or individuals.

As of early 2012, U.S. and other non-EU nationals could purchase real estate, including agricultural land, in the Czech Republic without restrictions.  However, following the implementation of the investment screening law as of May 1, 2021, land purchases by non-EU investors may be screened if located near critical infrastructure, such as military installations.  Enterprises are permitted to engage in any legal activity with the previously noted limitations in sensitive sectors.  The right of foreign and domestic private entities to establish and own business enterprises is guaranteed by law.  Laws on auditing, accounting, and bankruptcy are in force, including the use of international accounting standards (IAS).

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The OECD last conducted an economic survey of the government in 2020.

Business Facilitation

Individuals must complete a number of bureaucratic requirements to set up a business or operate as a freelancer or contractor.  MOIT provides an electronic guide on obtaining a business license, presenting step-by-step assistance, including links to related legislation and statistical data, and specifying authorities with whom to work (such as business registration, tax administration, social security, and municipal authorities), available at: https://www.mpo.cz/en/business/licensed-trades/guide-to-licensed-trades/.  MOIT also has established regional information points to provide consulting services related to doing business in the Czech Republic and EU.  A list of contact points is available at:  https://www.businessinfo.cz/en/starting-a-business/starting-up-points-of-single-contact-psc/addresses-points-of-single-contact-psc/.

The average time required to start a business is 25 days according to the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ Index.  The Czech Republic’s Business Register is publicly accessible and provides details on business entities including legal addresses and major executives.  An application for an entry into the Business Register can be submitted in a hard copy, via a direct entry by a public notary, or electronically, subject to meeting online registration criteria requirements.  The Business Register is publicly available at:  https://or.justice.cz/ias/ui/rejstrik.  The Czech Republic’s Trade Register is an online information system that collects and provides information on entities facilitating small trade and craft-oriented business activities, as specifically determined by related legislation.  It is available online at:  http://www.rzp.cz/eng/index.html.

Outward Investment

The Czech government does not incentivize outward investment.  The volume of outward investment is lower than incoming FDI.  According to the latest data from the Czech National Bank, Czech outward investments amounted to USD 45.1 billion in 2019, compared to inward investments of USD 171.3 billion.  However, according to the Export Guarantee and Insurance Corporation (EGAP), Czech companies increasingly invest abroad to get closer to their customers, save on transport costs, and shorten delivery times. As part of EU sanctions, there is a total ban on EU investment in North Korea as of 2017.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

The Czech Republic and the United States have shared a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) for decades.  The government of Czechoslovakia signed the original BIT with the United States in 1992, and the Czech Republic adopted this treaty in 1993, after the breakup of Czechoslovakia.  The Czechs amended the treaty in 2003, along with other new EU entrants that had U.S. BITs, following negotiations with the European Commission about conflicts within the EU acquis communautaire.

Several dozen countries have signed and ratified investment agreements with the Czech Republic, and some are in the process of ratification.  The full list of agreements, including ratification dates, can be found on the Ministry of Finance website in Czech language only at:  http://www.mfcr.cz/cs/legislativa/dohody-o-podpore-a-ochrane-investic/prehled-platnych-dohod-o-podpore-a-ochra.  The list of all BITs between the Czech Republic and other countries is available in English at:  https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/international-investment-agreements/countries/55/czechia.

A bilateral U.S.-Czech Convention on Avoidance of Double Taxation has been in force since 1993.  In 2007, the U.S. and Czech governments signed a bilateral Totalization Agreement that exempts Americans working in the Czech Republic from paying into both the Czech and U.S. social security systems.  The agreement took effect January 1, 2009.  In 2013, the U.S. and Czech governments signed a Supplementary Totalization Agreement amending the original agreement to reflect new Czech legislation on health insurance.  In 2014, the United States and the Czech Republic signed an Agreement on Improvement of International Tax Compliance and to implement the U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA).

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Tax, labor, environment, health and safety, and other laws generally do not distort or impede investment.  Policy frameworks are consistent with a market economy.  Fair market competition is overseen by the Office for the Protection of Competition (UOHS) (http://www.uohs.cz/en/homepage.html).  UOHS is a central administrative body entirely independent in its decision-making practice.  The office is mandated to create conditions for support and protection of competition and to supervise public procurement and state aid.

All laws and regulations in the Czech Republic are published before they enter into force.  Opportunities for prior consultation on pending regulations exist, and all interested parties, including foreign entities, can participate.  A biannual governmental plan of legislative and non-legislative work is available online, along with information on draft laws and regulations (often only in the Czech language).  Business associations, consumer groups, and other non-governmental organizations, including the American Chamber of Commerce, can submit comments on laws and regulations.  Laws on auditing, accounting, and bankruptcy are in force.  These laws include the use of international accounting standards (IAS) for consolidated corporate groups.  Public finances are transparent.  The government’s budget and information on debt obligations are publicly available and published online.

International Regulatory Considerations

Membership in the EU requires the Czech Republic to adopt EU laws and regulations, including rulings by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Czechoslovakia was a founding member of the GATT in 1947 and a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Since the Czech Republic’s entry into the EU in 2004, the European Commission – an independent body representing all EU members – oversees Czech equities in the WTO and in trade negotiations.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Czech Commercial Code and Civil Code are largely based on the German legal approach, which follows a continental legal system where the principal areas of law and procedures are codified.  The commercial code details rules pertaining to legal entities and is analogous to corporate law in the United States.  The civil code deals primarily with contractual relationships among parties.

The Czech Civil Code, Act. No. 89/2012 Coll. and the Act on Business Corporations, Act No. 90/2012 Coll. (Corporations Act) govern business and investment activities.  The Act on Business Corporations introduced substantial changes to Czech corporate law such as supervision over the performance of a company’s management team, decision-making process, and remuneration and damage liability.  Detailed provisions for mergers and time limits on decisions by the authorities on registration of companies are covered, as well as protection of creditors and minority shareholders.

The judiciary is independent of the executive branch.  Regulations and enforcement actions are appealable, and the judicial process is procedurally competent, fair, and reliable.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

The Foreign Direct Investment agenda is governed by the Civil Code and by the Act on Business Corporations.  In addition, the newly adopted investment screening law, which comes into effect on May 1, 2020, will give the government the ability to screen greenfield investments and acquisitions by non-EU investors for national security considerations.

The Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade maintains a “one-stop-shop” website available in Czech only at https://www.businessinfo.cz/ which aids foreign companies in establishing and managing a foreign-owned business in the Czech Republic, including navigating the legal requirements, licensing, and operating in the EU market.

Competition and Anti-Trust Laws

The Office for the Protection of Competition (UOHS) is the central authority responsible for creating conditions that favor and protect competition.  UOHS also supervises public procurement and monitors state aid (subsidy) programs.  UOHS is led by a chairperson who is appointed by the president of the Czech Republic for a six-year term.

Expropriation and Compensation

Government acquisition of property is done only for public purposes in a non-discriminatory manner and in full compliance with international law.  The process of tracing the history of property and land acquisition can be complex and time-consuming, but it is necessary to ensure clear title.  Investors participating in privatization of state-owned companies are protected from restitution claims through a binding contract with the government.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

The Czech Republic is a signatory and contracting state to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nations of Other States (ICSID Convention).  It also has ratified the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Arbitral Awards (New York Convention of 1958), which obligates local courts to enforce a foreign arbitral award if it meets the legal criteria.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The 1993 U.S.-Czech Bilateral Investment Treaty contains provisions regarding the settling of disputes through international arbitration.  In the past 10 years the Czech Republic has been involved in 29 known arbitral disputes with foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Mediation is an option in nearly every area of law including family, commercial, and criminal.  Mediators can be contracted between the parties to the dispute and found through such sources as the Czech Mediators Association, the Czech Bar Association, or the Union for Arbitration and Mediation Procedures of the Czech Republic.  A number of other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and entities work in the area of mediation.  Directive 2008/52/EC allows those involved in a dispute to request that a written agreement arising from mediation be made enforceable.  The results of mediation may be taken into account by the public prosecutor and the court in their decision in a given case.  The local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The government amended the bankruptcy law on June 1, 2019, expanding the categories of debtors qualified for debt discharge.   In addition, to protect businesses affected by COVID-19 from bankruptcy, the government passed in April 2020 a law that puts a moratorium on filings for debt collection against all companies until the end of August 2020. This period was later extended through June 30, 2021.  The law also suspended companies’ obligations to file for bankruptcy until the end of June 2021 if they are not able to meet their liabilities.  Furthermore, in response to an EU directive on insolvency, the Czech government proposed an amendment to the bankruptcy law which is currently subject to approval by the Parliament.  The amendment would shorten the debt relief period for individuals from five to three years.  The directive requires the Czech Republic to update its legislation by July 17, 2021.

The Czech Republic ranked 16th in the 2020 edition of the World Bank’s Doing Business Report for ease of resolving insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The Czech Republic offers incentives to foreign and domestic firms alike that invest in the manufacturing sector, technology and R&D centers, and business support centers.  The amended Act No. 72/2000 Coll. came into force September 6, 2019 and shifted availability of incentive programs from all types of investments to only those requiring R&D and that create jobs for university graduates, as well as in specialized sectors such as aerospace, information and communication technology, life sciences, nanotechnology and advanced segments of the automotive industry.  Incentives are funded from the Czech Republic’s national budget as well as from EU Structural Funds.  The government provides investment incentives in the form of corporate income tax relief for 10 years, cash grants for job creation up to USD 8,000 per job, cash grants for training up to 50 percent of training costs, and cash grants for the purchase of fixed assets up to 20 percent of eligible costs.  In response to COVID-19, the government approved November 30, 2020, an amendment to this law, which enables producers of personal protective equipment and medical products to more easily obtain investment incentives, because the state considers these products strategic for the protection of citizens’ lives and health during the pandemic.  In addition, to prevent businesses from delaying investments due to high uncertainty caused by COVID-19, the latest amendment also lowers thresholds for obtaining investment incentives, primarily for small and medium-sized investors.  The latest amendment also makes it possible for companies affected by COVID-19 to apply for an extension of the period for fulfilment of the general terms and conditions of investment incentives.  In addition, in 2019, the Czech Republic significantly expanded film industry incentives provided through the state organization Czech Film Fund.  The new incentives cover up to 20% of eligible costs of foreign filmmakers.

The government does not have a common practice of issuing guarantees or jointly financing FDI projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Both Czech and EU laws permit foreign investors involved in joint ventures to take advantage of commercial or industrial customs-free zones into which goods may be imported and later exported without depositing customs duties.  Free trade zone treatment means duties need to be paid only in the event that the goods brought into the free trade zone are introduced into the local economy.  Since the Czech Republic became part of the single customs territory of the European Community and now offers various exemptions on customs tariffs, the original tariff-driven use of these free trade zones has declined.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The host government does not mandate local employment.  There are no government-imposed conditions on permission to invest.  The host government does not follow “forced localization.”

The visa process for non-EU foreign investors and their employees is time consuming and slow, but the requirements are the same for domestic, EU, and non-EU companies.

The Czech Republic abides by EU law governing data localization and performance.  The Czech Republic strongly supported creating the EU Regulation on free flow of non-personal data which came into effect in May 2019, stating that it would boost the competitive data economy and accelerate the development of artificial intelligence.

The July 16, 2020 ruling of the EU’s highest court in the Schrems II case, which invalidated the legal basis for the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework, has put a significant burden on companies transferring personal data from the Czech Republic to the United States.

The Lower house of the Czech Parliament passed the “Bill on Digitalization of Public Authorities (“Cloud Bill”) March 5, 2021, marking the latest step in the country’s efforts to move government data to the cloud.  The bill is now subject to approval by the Senate and signature by the President.  The Czech government proposed the legislation to enable government ministries to partner with global cloud service providers to migrate government data to the cloud.  The legislation seeks to operationalize a “Cloud Catalogue” of cloud service providers that are certified as secure and trustworthy partners for government data.  The draft legislation mandates that sensitive government data be stored in the EU but allows global cloud services providers (including U.S. companies) to transfer data overseas for routine maintenance purposes. The legislation also allows cloud service providers managing Czech government data to comply with the U.S. CLOUD Act, which gives U.S. law enforcement agencies the right to access personal data stored outside the United States.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Real estate (land and buildings) located in the Czech Republic must be registered in the national Cadastral Register under the Cadastral Office.  The Cadastral Register contains information on plots of land and buildings, housing units and non-residential premises, liens, and other information and is publicly available online in Czech only at:  https://nahlizenidokn.cuzk.cz/.  Transfer of ownership title to real estate (e.g., sale and purchase agreement) is effective from the date of execution of a written agreement and registration of the transfer of the ownership title in the Cadastral Register.  The Czech Republic ranked 32nd for ease of registering property in the 2020 World Bank’s Doing Business Index.

There is a negligible proportion of land that does not have clear title.  If property legally purchased becomes unoccupied, property ownership does not revert to squatters.

Intellectual Property Rights

The Czech Republic is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty.  Domestic legislation protects all intellectual property rights (IPR), including patents, copyrights, trademarks, industrial designs, and utility models.  Amendments to the trademark law and the copyright law have brought Czech law into compliance with relevant EU directives and the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  The Criminal Code sets the maximum penalty of eight years of imprisonment for trademark, industrial rights, and copyright violations.  The Customs Administration of the Czech Republic and the Czech Commercial Inspection have legal authority to seize counterfeit goods.  Information on seizures of counterfeit goods and cases of IPR infringement are tracked by the Customs Administration.  Information is available in Czech at https://www.celnisprava.cz/cz/statistiky/Stranky/dusevni-vlastnictvi.aspx.

The Czech Republic was removed from the Watch List of the U.S. Trade Representative Special 301 Report in 2011.  While online piracy in the Czech Republic has been cited by some U.S. entities as an area of concern, the legal framework for protecting and enforcing IPR has been tested and proven successful in punishing infringers.  In response to the 2019 EU Copyright Directive, the Czech government proposed in November 2020 an amendment to their Copyright Act.  The amendment will clarify the right of copyright holders to receive payment for online distribution of their content by third parties.  The EU Copyright Directive requires the Czech Republic to update its legislation by June 7, 2021.  The Czech Republic is not listed as hosting any physical markets in USTR’s 2020 Notorious Markets Report, but it reportedly hosts a website containing infringing content.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IPR offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Czech Republic is open to portfolio investment.  There are 55 companies listed on the Prague Stock Exchange (PSE).  The overall trade volume of stocks decreased from CZK142.55 billion (USD6.5 billion) in 2018 to CZK108.78 billion (USD5 billion) in 2019, with an average daily trading volume of CZK435.12 million (USD19.9 million).

In March 2007, the PSE created the Prague Energy Exchange (PXE), which was later re-named to Power Exchange Central Europe, to trade electricity in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and, later, Hungary, Poland, and Romania.  PXE’s goal is to increase liquidity in the electricity market and create a standardized platform for trading energy.  In 2016, the German power exchange EEX acquired two thirds of PXE shares.  Following the acquisition, the PXE benefited from both an increased number of traders and increased trade volume.

The Czech National Bank, as the financial market supervisory authority, sets rules to safeguard the stability of the banking sector, capital markets, and insurance and pension scheme industries, and systematically regulates, supervises and, where appropriate, issues penalties for non-compliance with these rules.

The Central Credit Register (CCR) is an information system that pools information on the credit commitments of individual entrepreneurs and legal entities, facilitating the efficient exchange of information between CCR participants.  CCR participants consist of all banks and branches of foreign banks operating in the Czech Republic, as well as other individuals included in a special law.

As an EU member country, the local market provides credits and credit instruments on market terms that are available to foreign investors.

The Czech Republic respects IMF Article VIII.

Money and Banking System

Large domestic banks belong to European banking groups.  Most operate conservatively and concentrate almost exclusively on the domestic Czech market.  Despite the COVID-19 crisis, Czech banks remain healthy.  Results of regular banking sector stress tests, as conducted by the Czech National Bank, repeatedly confirm the strong state of the Czech banking sector which is deemed resistant to potential shocks.  Results of the most recent stress test conducted by the Czech National Bank are available at https://www.cnb.cz/en/financial-stability/stress-testing/banking-sector/.  As of January 31, 2021, the total assets of commercial banks stood at CZK8,661 billion (approximately USD395 billion), according to the Czech National Bank.  Foreign investors have access to bank credit on the local market, and credit is generally allocated on market terms.

The Czech National Bank has 10 correspondent banking relationships, including JP Morgan Chase Bank in New York and the Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto.  The Czech Republic has not lost any correspondent banking relationships in the past three years, and there are no relationships in jeopardy.

The Czech Republic does not currently regulate cryptocurrencies.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange Policies

The COVID-19 outbreak caused the Czech crown to significantly depreciate, primarily in Q1 – Q2 2020.  Between February and May 2020, the Crown depreciated from CZK25 to CZK27.3 per EUR and from CZK22.9 to CZK25 per USD.  However, the crown recovered to CZK25.8 per EUR and CZK21.4 per USD by February 2021.

The CZK is fully convertible and floats freely.  The Czech National Bank supervises the foreign exchange market and its compliance with foreign exchange regulations.  The law permits conversion into any currency.

Remittance Policies

All international transfers of investment-related profits and royalties can be carried out freely.  The U.S.-Czech Bilateral Investment Treaty guarantees repatriation of earnings from U.S. investments in the Czech Republic.  However, a 15 percent withholding tax is charged on the repatriation of profits from the Czech Republic.  This tax is reduced under the terms of applicable double taxation treaties.  There are no administrative obstacles to removing capital.  The average delay for remitting investment returns meets the international standard of three working days.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Czech government does not operate a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The Ministry of Finance administers state ownership policies.  State-owned enterprises (SOEs) are structured as joint-stock companies, state enterprises, national enterprises, limited liability companies, and limited partnerships.  SOEs are owned by the individual ministries but are managed according to their business organizational structure as defined by law and are required to publish an annual report, disclose their accounting books, and submit to an independent audit.  Potential conflicts of interest are covered by existing Act No. 159/2006 on Conflicts of Interest, and Act No. 14/2017 on Amendments to the Act on Conflict of Interest.  Legislation on the civil service, which took effect January 1, 2015, established measures to prevent political influence over public administration, including operation of SOEs.

Private enterprises are generally allowed to compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to access to markets, credit, government contracts and other business operations.  SOEs purchase or supply goods and services from private sector and foreign firms.  SOEs are subject to the same domestic accounting standards, rules, and taxation policies as their private competitors, and are not given any material advantages compared to private entities.  State-owned or majority state-owned companies are present in several (strategic) sectors, including the energy, postal service, information and communication, and transport sectors.

The Czech Republic has 52 wholly owned SOEs and three majority owned SOEs (excluding those in liquidation).  Wholly owned SOEs employ roughly 78,000 people and own more than CZK487 billion (approximately USD 22.2 billion) in assets.  A list of all companies with a percentage of state ownership is available in Czech at:  https://www.komora.cz/legislation/167-19-strategie-vlastnicke-politiky-statu-t-20-12-2019/.

As an OECD member, the Czech Republic promotes the OECD Principles of Corporate Governance and the affiliated Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs.  SOEs are subject to the same legislation as private enterprises regarding their commercial activities.

Privatization Program

As a result of several waves of privatization, the vast majority of the Czech economy is now in private hands.  Privatizations have generally been open to foreign investors.  In fact, most major SOEs were privatized with foreign participation.  The government evaluates all investment offers for SOEs.  Many competitors have alleged non-transparent or unfair practices in connection with past privatizations.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The concept of responsible business conduct (RBC) is now widely understood, and every year is implemented by more companies in the Czech Republic.  As an adherent to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (MNE) and to the United Nations Guiding Principles of Business and Human Rights, government promotes corporate social responsibility (CSR) and encourages local as well as foreign enterprises to adopt a ‘due diligence’ approach to RBC principles.  The Czech National Contact Point (NCP) has operated since 2013 at MOIT:  https://www.mpo.cz/dokument75865.html.  The NCP working group consists of representatives of the government, employer organizations (Confederation of Industry and Trade), employee organizations (Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions), and NGOs.  The NCP closely and actively cooperates with other regional NCPs to share best practices, procedures, and experience.

In conjunction with the UN Commission on Business and Human Rights, in 2019 the Czech government approved a National Action Plan (NAP) for CSR for the years 2019-2023.  The major goal of the NAP is to establish fundamental principles and to motivate businesses and public administration to voluntarily implement specific CSR projects.  In 2015, the Sustainable Development Section of the Quality Council of the Czech Republic created a national Informational CSR Portal that provides businesses, NGOs, representatives of state administration, and the public with updates related to CSR in the Czech Republic.

The government strictly and effectively enforces legislation in the area of human rights, labor rights, consumer protection, and environmental protection to protect individuals from adverse business impacts.  Domestic standards are generally very high.  Negligence or failure to comply with this legislation results in serious consequences.

Shareholders are protected by legislation that clearly describes legal processes, organizational structures, administration, and management of all business components, including stakeholders.

Companies are not required to publicly disclose information about their RBC or CSR activities.  Various local NGOs monitor and advise CSR programs, such as the Association for Corporate Social Responsibility, the Business Leaders Forum, and Business for Society.  The Association for CSR is the host entity in the Czech Republic for the UN Global Compact, a UN strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with 10 universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labor, environment, and anti-corruption.

Payments for extraction of minerals in the Czech Republic abide by the Mining Law, which requires that payments are processed for extracted minerals as well as for mined areas.  International trade with oil, natural gas, and minerals is not subject to any special legislation; it follows the general rules of international trade.  The Czech Republic is not an Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)-compliant country or an EITI candidate.  The Czech government adheres to the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Afflicted and High-Risk Areas.  MOIT is responsible for implementation and compliance.

The Czech Republic joined The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies on November 14, 2013.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Current law criminalizes both payment and receipt of bribes, regardless of the perpetrator’s nationality.  Prison sentences for bribery or abuse of power can be as high as 12 years for officials.  There have been several successful cases prosecuting corruption, though some experts have noted proceedings can be lengthy and subject to delays.  The National Center for Organized Crime (NCOZ) is primarily responsible for investigating high-level corruption cases, however some experts have raised concerns about cumbersome procedural requirements.  Anti-corruption laws authorize seizures of proceeds or instruments of crime and apply equally to Czech and foreign investors.

Czech law obliges legislators, members of the cabinet, and other selected public officials to declare their assets annually.  Summarized declarations are available online and complete declarations are available upon request from the Ministry of Justice, which can impose penalties of up to CZK50,000 (approximately USD2,280) for non-compliance.  The law also requires judges, prosecutors and directors of research institutions to disclose their assets, however their declarations are not publicly available for security reasons.

In addition to the financial disclosure law, the government regulates political parties financing, public procurements, and the register of public contracts.  The law on the register of public contracts requires all national, regional, and local authorities as well as private companies to make publicly available all newly concluded contracts (including subsidies and repayable financial assistance) valued at CZK50,000 (USD2,280) or more within 30 days; noncompliance renders contracts null and void.  Additionally, as of November 2019, major state-owned companies are required to publish all contracts, except in limited circumstances.  The Registry of Contracts has a website in Czech only at: https://smlouvy.gov.cz/.

Public procurement law requires every contracting authority to post winning contracts on its website within 15 working days of signing.  Subject to limited exceptions, the law mandates more than one bidder for all public procurements and requires bidders to disclose their ownership structure prior to bidding.  In addition to general conflict-of-interest law, the procurement law also addresses some conflict-of-interest issues related to government procurements.  The European Commission and the latest Council of Europe Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) evaluation report identified areas where Czech conflict-of-interest legislation could be strengthened.  In response, the Czech Republic approved an amendment to the Czech conflict-of-interest law.  Other actions, such as strengthening rules regarding lobbying, implementing new rules to improve transparency in the work of parliamentary committees and subcommittees, and making changes to the selection and dismissal procedures for judicial officials are in the drafting or approval process with the date of final approval uncertain.

President Zeman signed the “Beneficial Ownership Bill” into law on January 22, 2021.  The law is a part of a transposition of an EU convention on anti-money laundering and counterterrorism financing and requires transparency regarding the real (or “beneficial”) ownership of companies seeking subsidies or public contracts.  The law bars anonymously owned companies from applying for public subsidies or tenders, although it does not empower officials to challenge discrepancies or irregularities in a company’s ownership structure, absent a court finding.

According to a law which came into force in January 2020, candidates filling supervisory board positions in state-owned companies must be selected in a clear, transparent process that prioritizes technical expertise and is reviewed by an advisory committee whose members are apolitical experts.  Separately, the government recommends companies maintain internal codes of conduct that, among other things, prohibit bribery of public officials.

The government ratified the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 2000 and the UN Convention against Corruption in 2014.  According to the 2017 OECD Phase 4 Evaluation Report, the Czech Republic should take steps to improve enforcement of its foreign bribery laws, enhance efforts to detect, investigate, and prosecute foreign bribes, increase protections for whistleblowers, and better implement the criminal liability of the legal entities law.

Several NGOs such as Frank Bold, Transparency International, and Anticorruption Endowment receive corruption reports online.  The reports most frequently involve minor offenses, such as attempts to bribe police officers or other public officials to receive benefits or avoid liability.  While there is not a specific law to protect NGOs involved in investigating corruption, NGO activities are protected under the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedom that protects civil society and free speech.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency responsible for combating corruption:

Conflict of Interest and Anti-Corruption Department
Anti-Corruption Unit
Ministry of Justice of the Czech Republic
Vyšehradská 16
12800 Prague 2
www.justice.cz
+420 221 997 595
korupce@msp.justice.cz

Contact at “watchdog” organizations:

Transparency International Czech Republic
Sokolovska 260/143
+420-224 240 895
posta@transparency.cz
www.transparency.cz

Frank Bold
Udolni 33, Brno
tel: +420 545 213 975
info@frankbold.org
www.frankbold.org

Anticorruption Endowment
Nadacni Fond Proti Korupci
Revoluční 8, building A, 5th floor, 110 00 Praha 1
+420 226 209 047
info@nfpk.cz
www.nfpk.cz

10. Political and Security Environment

The risk of political violence in the Czech Republic is extremely low.  Two historic political changes – the Velvet Revolution, which ended the communist era in 1989, and the division of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993 – occurred without loss of life or significant violence.  The political institutions underpinning parliamentary democracy generally function smoothly.  Elections have resulted in orderly and peaceful changes of government.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

A historically strong and well-developed machinery industry, one of the key drivers of Czech exports, requires a wide range of technically qualified staff, including the entire spectrum of professions from manual workers to engineers and designers.  The rapidly growing electronics and information technology sectors are also creating demand for highly skilled workers.  Despite the COVID-19 crisis, key economic growth and export-driven industries are facing the challenge of demand for highly skilled technical workers that exceeds supply.  Robotic automation and digitalization are also impacting many industries.

The wide availability in the Czech Republic of an educated, relatively low-wage labor force on the doorstep of Western Europe was a major attraction for foreign investors in the 1990s.  While the wage gap continues to narrow and the income convergence process reflects the Czech Republic’s economic growth in recent years, Czech wages still trail significantly those of neighbors like Germany and Austria.  In 2020, wage levels increased by an average of 4.4 percent, according to the Czech Statistical Office.  While the unemployment rate rose to 3.3 percent in 2020 due to COVID-19 according to the Ministry of Finance, it remained the lowest in the EU.  According to Eurostat, the Czech Republic’s unemployment rate was 3.2 percent in January 2021, compared to the EU-27 average of 7.3 percent.  However, unemployment rates vary significantly between regions.  In February 2021, the unemployment rate was the lowest in the Pardubice region (3.17 percent) and highest in the Karlovy Vary region (6.02 percent).

Unemployment insurance and other social safety net programs exist for workers laid off for economic reasons.  Labor laws differentiate between layoffs and firing.

Czech law guarantees Czech workers’ right to form and join independent unions of their choice without authorization or excessive requirements.  It permits them to conduct their activities without interference.  The right to freely associate covers both citizens and foreign workers.  The law also provides for collective bargaining.  It prohibits anti-union discrimination and does not recognize union activity as a valid reason for dismissal.  Workers in most occupations have the legal right to strike if mediation efforts fail, and they generally exercise this right.

Strikes can be restricted or prohibited in essential service sectors such as healthcare, electricity/water supply services, air traffic control, and the oil, natural gas, and nuclear energy sectors.  Members of the armed forces, prosecutors, and judges may not form trade unions or strike.  Only trade unions may legally represent workers, including non-members.  Labor dispute resolutions are carried out in civil court proceedings.  There were no strikes in the last year that posed an investment risk.

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 $258,002 2019 $250,681 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $1,727.6 2019 $4,815 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/
direct-investment-and-multinational-
enterprises-comprehensive-data
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $717.7 2019 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 2019 65.3% 2019 69.2% UNCTAD data available at
https://unctad.org/en/Pages/DIAE/
World%20Investment%20Report/
Country-Fact-Sheets.aspx
 
*Sources:  Czech Statistical Office (www.czso.cz), Czech National Bank (https://www.cnb.cz/cnb/obiee_pzi).

As of 2015, the Czech National Bank records cross-border equity capital stocks for quoted shares (in line with the ESA 2010 and BPM6 international manuals) at market value instead of book value, rather than valuing FDI as the sum of historical flows, which is the methodology used by the United States.  This explains the large discrepancy between U.S. and Czech figures for 2019.

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 170,044 100% Total Outward 44,075 100%
Netherlands 30,914 18% Netherlands 13,838 31%
Luxembourg 30,306 18% Luxembourg 10,197 23%
Germany 25,973 15% Slovakia 3,875 9%
Austria 17,432 10% Cyprus 3,417 8%
France 11,940 7% United Kingdom 3,147 7%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.

The IMF rankings for the top five sources and destinations of FDI stock are consistent with data from the Czech National Bank.  IMF and Czech National Bank figures for inward direct investment vary by up to 4 percent and figures for outward direct investment vary by up to 16 percent.  These statistical distortions are a result of the global adoption of the revised OECD Benchmark Definition for FDI, which is designed to discount investment flows from special purpose entities.

The top sources and destinations of Czech FDI represent a combination of major EU trading partners and favored tax regimes.  In the early 1990s, the Netherlands became a popular location for corporate registration for domestic and foreign businesses active in the Czech Republic.  In recent years, the main rationale for registering a business in the Netherlands was favorable corporate income taxes, stimulating rapid development of offshore corporate structures in the Czech Republic.  While this has dissipated (corporate income tax rates in the Czech Republic and Netherlands are nearly equal), the Netherlands remains a popular platform for large corporations given its robust network of investment agreement protections.  Luxembourg attracts Czech businesses for similar reasons.  Among other FDI partner countries, Cyprus offers one of the lowest corporate income tax rates in the EU (currently 12.5 percent) and tax exemption of dividends.

Table 4:  Sources of Portfolio Investment  
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 32,450 100% All Countries 18,067 100% All Countries 14,384 100%
Luxembourg 6,093 19% Luxembourg 5,056 28% Netherlands 2,063 14%
United States 3,823 12% United States 2,770 15% Slovakia 2,046 14%
Austria 3,419 11% Belgium 2,068 11% Austria 1,832 13%
Slovakia 2,508 8% Ireland 1,588 9% Poland 1,507 10%
Netherlands 2,297 7% Austria 1,587 9% United States 1,052 7%

The Czech National Bank does not provide its own statistical data on portfolio investments by individual countries but provides a reference to IMF data on its website.  As far as portfolio investment assets for all countries, the 2019 IMF results are consistent with the Czech National Bank’s data.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section – U.S. Embassy Prague
Trziste 15, 118 01 Prague 1
+420 257 022 000
PragueInvestmentClimate@state.gov

Hungary

Executive Summary

With a population of 9.7 million, Hungary has an open economy and GDP of approximately $61 billion.  Hungary has been a member of the European Union (EU) since 2004, and fellow member states are its most important trade and investment partners in addition to the United States. Foreign direct investment (FDI) from Asian sources has increased in the past decade, accounting for about five percent of the total FDI stock in 2019 and over a third 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. In 2020, however, Hungary’s GDP decreased by 5.1 percent. As the Government of Hungary (GOH) increased spending to support the economy and other priorities, the 2020 budget deficit reached approximately nine percent of GDP, which pushed up public debt to over 80 percent of GDP. Ratings agencies in 2020 maintained Hungary’s sovereign debt at BBB, two notches above investment grade, with a stable outlook. In 2020, the Finance Ministry forecasted 5 to 5.5 percent economic growth and a 6.5 percent budget deficit for 2021.

Hungary’s central location in Europe and high-quality infrastructure have 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. The GOH actively encourages investments in manufacturing and sectors promising high added value and/or employment, including research and development, defense, and service centers.  To promote investment, the GOH lowered the corporate tax rate to nine percent in 2017, among the lowest rates in the EU. Hungary’s Value-Added Tax (VAT), however, is the highest in Europe at 27 percent.

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 sector. According to Transparency International’s (TI) 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, Hungary placed 69th worldwide and tied with two other countries for 25th place out of 27 EU member states.  In 2016, the GOH withdrew from the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a transparency-focused international organization, after refusing to address the organization’s concerns about transparency and good governance. Both foreign and domestic investors report pressure to sell their businesses to government-affiliated investors.  Those who refuse to sell claim they face increased tax audits or spurious regulatory and court challenges.

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. Observers note that through various tax changes the GOH has pushed several foreign-owned banks out of Hungary. The GOH has claimed it has increased 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 the end of 2019. Foreign media ownership also has decreased drastically in recent years 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.

As part of its COVID-19 pandemic response, the Parliament passed state of emergency (SOE) legislation in March and November 2020 that gave the GOH broad authority to bypass Parliament and govern by decree. The first SOE law did not have a sunset clause and remained in effect until June 2020 when the GOH repealed it. The GOH passed a second SOE law in November, this time for a 90-day period. Following the expiration of the 90-day term, the Parliament extended the SOE for another 90 days in February 2021. As part of the emergency measures, the GOH also extended measures for national security screening of foreign investments from December 31, 2020, until June 30, 2021, and may further extend this deadline.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 69 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 52 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 35 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 6,114 USD Amount https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 16,500USD amount http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Hungary maintains an open economy and its high-quality infrastructure and central location in Europe attract foreign investment. The GOH actively promotes Hungary to attract FDI, in manufacturing and export-oriented sectors. According to some reports, however, government policies have resulted in some foreign investors selling their stakes to the government or state-owned enterprises in other sectors, including banking and energy.  In 2019, net annual FDI amounted to $5.2 billion, and total gross FDI totaled $97.8 billion.

As a bloc, the EU accounts for approximately 89 percent of all FDI in Hungary in terms of direct investors, and 62 percent in terms of ultimate controlling parent investor.  In terms of ultimate investor – i.e., country of origin – the United States was the second largest investor after Germany in 2019. In terms of direct investor location, Germany was the largest investor, followed by the Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, and then the United States. The majority of U.S. investment falls within the automotive, software development, and life sciences sectors.  Approximately 450 U.S. companies maintain a presence in Hungary. According to Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA) data, U.S. foreign direct investment produced more jobs in Hungary in 2020 than investment from any other country.

Total, cumulative FDI from Asian sources has approximately doubled since 2010, accounting for over five percent of total FDI stock in 2019. South Korea made several major new investments in the manufacturing sector in 2019. According to HIPA, South Korea, Japan, China, India, and other Asian countries accounted for about 40 percent of the value of new foreign investment projects in Hungary in 2020.

The GOH has implemented a number of tax changes to increase Hungary’s regional competitiveness and attract investment, including a reduction of the personal income tax rate to 15 percent in 2016, the corporate income tax rate to 9 percent in 2017, and the gradual reduction of the employer-paid welfare contribution from 27 percent in 2016 to 15.5 percent in 2020.  As of 2016, the GOH streamlined the National Tax and Customs authority (NAV) procedure to offer fast-track VAT refunds to customers categorized as “low-risk.”

Many foreign companies have expressed displeasure with the unpredictability of Hungary’s tax regime, its retroactive nature, slow response times, and the volume of legal and tax changes.  According to the European Commission (EC), a series of progressively-tiered taxes implemented in 2014 disproportionately penalized foreign businesses in the telecommunications, tobacco, retail, media, and advertisement industries, while simultaneously favoring Hungarian companies.  Following EC infringement procedures, the GOH phased out most discriminatory tax rates by 2015 and replaced them with flat taxes. Another 2014 law required retail companies with over $53 million in annual sales to close if they report two consecutive years of losses.  Retail businesses claimed the GOH specifically set the threshold to target large foreign retail chains.  The EC likewise determined that the law was discriminatory and launched an infringement procedure in 2016, leading the GOH to repeal the law in November 2018.

In 2017, the GOH passed a regulation that gives the government preemptive rights to purchase real estate in World Heritage areas.  The rule has been used to block the purchase of real estate by foreign investors in the most desirable areas of Budapest. In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH issued a decree that levied sector-specific taxes on the banking and retail sectors to fund crisis economic support. This progressive tax on retail grocery outlets is structured such that it applies mainly to large foreign retail firms.

In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH issued a decree that levied sector-specific taxes on the banking and retail sectors to fund crisis economic support. This progressive tax on retail grocery outlets is structured such that it applies mainly to large foreign retail firms.

The GOH publicly declared its intention to reduce foreign ownership in the banking sector in 2012. Accordingly, various GOH initiatives have reduced foreign ownership from about 70 percent in 2008 to 40.5 percent by the end of 2020. These initiatives included a 2010 bank tax; a 2012 financial transaction tax levied on all cash withdrawals; and regulations enacted between 2012-2015 that obligated banks to retroactively compensate borrowers for interest rate increases on foreign currency-denominated mortgage loans, even though these increases were spelled out in the original contracts with customers and had been permitted by Hungarian law.

While the pharmaceutical industry is competitive and profitable in Hungary, multinational enterprises complain of numerous financial and procedural obstacles, including high taxes on pharmaceutical products and operations, prescription directives that limit a doctor’s choice of drugs, and obscure tender procedures that negatively affect the competitiveness of certain drugs.  Pharmaceutical firms have also taken issue with GOH policies to weigh the cost of pharmaceutical procurement as heavily as efficacy when issuing tenders for public procurement.

The Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA), under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, encourages and supports inbound FDI.  HIPA offers company and sector-specific consultancy, recommends locations for investment, acts as a mediator between large international companies and Hungarian firms to facilitate supplier relationships, organizes supplier training, and maintains active contact with trade associations.  Its services are available to all investors. For more information, see:  https://hipa.hu/main .

Foreign investors generally report a productive dialogue with the government, both individually and through business organizations.  The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) enjoys an ongoing high-level dialogue with the GOH and the government has adopted many AmCham policy recommendations in recent years.  In 2017, the government established a Competitiveness Council, now chaired by the Minister of Finance, which includes representatives from multinationals, chambers of commerce, and other stakeholders, to increase Hungary’s competitiveness.  Many U.S. and foreign investors have signed MOUs with the GOH to facilitate one-on-one discussions and resolutions to any pending issues. The GOH has regularly consulted foreign businesses and business associations as it has developed economic support measures during the pandemic. For more information, see:  https://kormany.hu/kulgazdasagi-es-kulugyminiszterium/strategiai-partnersegi-megallapodasok  and  https://www.amcham.hu/ .

The U.S.-Hungary Business Council (USHBC) – a private, non-profit organization established in 2016 – aims to facilitate and maintain dialogue between American corporate executives and top government leaders on the U.S.-Hungary commercial relationship.  The majority of significant U.S. investors in Hungary have joined USHBC, which hosts roundtables, policy conferences, briefings, and other major events featuring senior U.S. and Hungarian officials, academics, and business leaders. For more information, see:  https://www.us-hungarybusinesscouncil.com/ .

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign ownership is permitted with the exception of some “strategic” sectors including farmland and defense-related industries, which require special government permits.  As part of its economic measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH passed a decree which requires foreign investors to seek approval for foreign investments in Hungary.

Foreign law firms and auditing companies must sign a cooperation agreement with a Hungarian company to provide services on Hungarian legal or auditing issues. According to the Land Law, only private Hungarian citizens or EU citizens resident in Hungary with a minimum of three years of experience working in agriculture or holding a degree in an agricultural discipline can purchase farmland.  Eligible individuals are limited to purchasing 300 hectares (741 acres). All others may only lease farmland. Non-EU citizens and legal entities are not allowed to purchase agricultural land. All farmland purchases must be approved by a local land committee and Hungarian authorities, and local farmers and young farmers must be offered a right of first refusal before a new non-local farmer is allowed to purchase the land.  For legal entities and those who do not fulfill the above requirements , the law allows the lease of farmland up to 1200 hectares for a maximum of 20 years. The GOH has invalidated any pre-existing leasing contract provisions that guaranteed the lessee the first option to purchase, provoking criticism from Austrian farmers. Austria has reported the change to the European Commission, which initiated an infringement procedure against Hungary in 2014.  In March 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that the termination of land use contracts violated EU rules, opening the way for EU citizens who lost their land use rights to sue the GOH for damages. In 2015, the EC launched another – still ongoing – infringement procedure against Hungary concerning its restrictions on acquisitions of farmland.

The GOH passed a national security law on investment screening in 2018 that requires foreign investors seeking to acquire more than a 25-percent stake in a Hungarian company in certain sensitive sectors (defense, intelligence services, certain financial services, electric energy, gas, water utility, and electronic information systems for governments) to seek approval from the Interior Ministry.  The Ministry has up to 60 days to issue an opinion and can only deny the investment if it determines that the investment is designed to conceal an activity other than normal economic activity. In 2020, as part of the measures to mitigate the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH passed an additional regulation requiring foreign investors to seek approval from the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MIT) for greenfield or expansion of existing investments.

On April 6, Hungary’s Ministry of Interior (MOI) blocked an Austria’s Vienna Insurance Group from buying Dutch insurer Aegon’s Hungarian subsidiary, scuttling a four-country acquisition. The GOH granted the specific power to block this type of sale to the MOI in November 2020 under emergency COVID-related legislation, just one day before the parties agreed to the sale, after months of open negotiations.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Hungary has not had any third-party investment policy reviews in the last three years.

Business Facilitation

In 2006, Hungary joined the EU initiative to create a European network of “point of single contact” through which existing businesses and potential investors can access all information on the business and legal environment, as well as connect to Hungary’s investment promotion agency.  In recent years, the government has strengthened investor relations, signed strategic agreements with key investors, and established a National Competitiveness Council to formulate measures to increase Hungary’s economic competitiveness.

The registration of business enterprises is compulsory in Hungary.  Firms must contract an attorney and register online with the Court of Registration.  Registry courts must process applications to register limited liability and joint-enterprise companies within 15 workdays, but the process usually does not take more than three workdays.  If the Court fails to act within the given timeframe, the new company is automatically registered. If the company chooses to use a template corporate charter, registration can be completed in a one-day fast track procedure.  Registry courts provide company information to the Tax Authority (NAV), eliminating the need for separate registration. The Court maintains a computerized registry and electronic filing system and provides public access to company information.  The minimum capital requirement for a limited-liability company is HUF 3,000,000 ($10,800); for private limited companies HUF 5,000,000 ($17,900), and for public limited companies HUF 20,000,000 ($71,400). Foreign individuals or companies can establish businesses in Hungary without restrictions.

Further information on business registration and the business registry can be obtained at the GOH’s information website for businesses:  http://eugo.gov.hu/starting-business-hungary  or at the Ministry of Justice’s Company Information Service:  https://ceginformaciosszolgalat.kormany.hu/elektronikus-cegeljaras , and the Tax Authority https://en.nav.gov.hu/taxation/registration/specific_rules.html .

Hungarian business facilitation mechanisms provide equitable treatment for women. They offer no special preference or assistance for them in establishing a company.

Outward Investment

The stock of total Hungarian investment abroad amounted to $36.8 billion in 2019.  Outward investment is mainly in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, services, finance and insurance, and science and technology.  There is no restriction in place for domestic investors to invest abroad. The GOH announced in early 2019 that it would like to increase Hungarian investment abroad and it is considering incentives to promote such investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Generally, legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are consistent with international and EU standards.  However, some executives in Hungarian subsidiaries of U.S. companies express concerns about a lack of transparency in the GOH’s policy-making process and an uneven playing field in public tendering.  In recent years, there has been an uptick in the number of companies, including major U.S. multinational franchises and foreign owners of major infrastructure, reporting pressure to sell their businesses to government-affiliated investors.  Those that refuse to sell report an increase in tax audits, fines, and spurious regulatory challenges and court cases. SMEs increasingly report a desire to either remain small (and therefore “under the radar” of these government-affiliated investors) or relocate their businesses outside of Hungary.

For foreign investors, the most relevant regulations stem from EU directives and the laws passed by Parliament to implement them.  Laws in Parliament can be found on Parliament’s website (https://www.parlament.hu/en/web/house-of-the-national-assembly).  Legislation, once passed, is published in a legal gazette and available online at  www.magyarkozlony.hu .  The GOH can issue decrees, which also have national scope, but they cannot be contrary to laws enacted by Parliament.  Local municipalities can create local decrees, limited to the local jurisdiction.

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, in March 2020, the Parliament passed a bill that established an indefinite state of emergency (SOE) in Hungary, allowing the GOH to govern by decree without parliamentary approval. The GOH used this decree to levy new sector-specific taxes, to take control of a Hungarian company that had been in an ownership dispute with the GOH, and to reallocate competencies and tax collection duties from an opposition-led municipality to a county-level body led by the ruling Fidesz party. The GOH did not include a sunset clause for the SOE – which resulted in criticism from foreign governments and domestic opposition parties – but repealed it in June 2020. During the second wave of the epidemic , the GOH passed separate SOE legislation with a 90-day sunset clause in November 2020 and extended it for another 90 days in February 2021. Interested investors are encouraged to contact Embassy points of contact for the most up-to-date information.

Hungarian financial reporting standards are in line with the International Accounting Standards and the EU Fourth and Seventh Directives.  The accounting law requires all businesses to prepare consolidated financial statements on an annual basis in accordance with international financial standards.

The GOH rarely invites interested parties to comment on draft legislation.  Civil society organizations have complained about a loophole in the current law that allows individual Members of Parliament to submit legislation and amendments without public consultation.  The average deadline for submitting public comment is often very short, usually less than one week. The Act on Legislation and the Law Soliciting Public Opinion, both passed by Parliament in 2010, govern the public consultation process.  The laws require the GOH to publish draft laws on its webpage and to give adequate time for all interested parties to give an opinion on the draft. However, implementation is not uniform and the GOH often fails to solicit public comments on proposed legislation.

The legislation process – including key regulatory actions related to laws – are published on the Parliament’s webpage.  Explanations attached to draft bills include a short summary on the aim of the legislation, but regulators only occasionally release public comments.

Regulatory enforcement mechanisms include the county and district level government offices, whose decisions can be challenged at county-level courts.  The court system generally provides efficient oversight of the GOH’s administrative processes.

The GOH does not review regulations on the basis of formal scientific or data-driven assessments, but some NGOs and academics do.  A 2017 study by Corruption Research Center Budapest (CRCB) found that in the 2010-2013 period the annual average number of new laws passed by Parliament increased, while the average time spent debating new laws in Parliament decreased significantly.  Their analysis assessed that the accelerating lawmaking process in Hungary in the 2010-2013 period had negative effects on the stability of the legal environment and the overall quality of legislation.

Hungary’s budget was widely accessible to the general public, including online through the Parliament and Finance Ministry websites and the Legal Gazette.  The government made budget documents, including the executive budget proposal, the enacted budget, and the end-of-year report publicly available within a reasonable period of time.  Modifications to a current budget, which in 2020 were quite substantial because of the pandemic, are not consolidated with the initial budget law and do not include economic analysis of the effects of those modifications. Information on debt obligations was publicly available, including online through the Hungarian Central Bank ( https://www.mnb.hu/en ) and Hungarian State Debt Manager’s (https://akk.hu/ ) websites.

International Regulatory Considerations

As an EU Member State, all EU regulations are directly applicable in Hungary, even without further domestic measures.  If a Hungarian law is contrary to EU legislation, the EU rule takes precedence. As a whole, labor, environment, health, and safety laws are consistent with EU regulations.  Hungary follows EU foreign trade and investment policy, and all trade regulations follow EU legislation. Hungary participates in the WTO as an EU Member State.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Hungarian legal system is based on continental European (German-French and Roman law) traditions.  Contracts are enforced by ordinary courts or – if stipulated by contract – arbitration centers. Investors in Hungary can agree with their partners to turn to Hungarian or foreign arbitration courts.

Apart from these arbitration centers, there are no specialized courts for commercial cases; ordinary courts are entitled to judge any kind of civil case.  The Civil Code of 2013 applies to civil contracts.

The Hungarian judicial system includes four tiers: district courts (formerly referred to as local courts); courts of justice (formerly referred to as county courts); courts of appeal; and the Curia (the Hungarian Supreme Court).  Hungary also has a Constitutional Court that reviews cases involving the constitutionality of laws and court rulings. Following Parliament’s passage of a bill on changes in the court system in December 2019, in April 2020 public administration and labor courts were dissolved, and first-level public administration and labor cases were transferred to county-level courts of justice. Although the current COVID-19 SOE law does not cover the court system, the GOH issued a decree in March 2020 on the operation of the courts to protect the health of court employees and customers. According to guidelines issued by the National Judicial Office in November 2020, individual access to court buildings is limited; those participating in court sessions need to follow social distancing rules and wear masks; and clients are encouraged to submit documents in electronic form.

Although the GOH has criticized court decisions on several occasions, ordinary courts are considered to generally operate independently under largely fair and reliable judicial procedures.  Recently, an increasing number of current and former judges have raised concerns about growing GOH influence over the court system and intimidation of judges by court administration. The European Commission’s 2020 Rule of Law Report, issued in September 2020, cited judicial independence in Hungary as a source of concern. Most business complaints about the court system pertain to the lengthy proceedings rather than the fairness of the verdicts.  The GOH has said it hopes to improve the speed and efficiency of court proceedings with an updated Civil Procedure Code that entered into force in January 2018.

Regulations and law enforcement actions pertaining to investors are appealable at ordinary courts or at the Constitutional Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Hungarian law protects property and investment.  The Hungarian state may expropriate property only in exceptional cases where there is a public interest; any such expropriations must be carried out in a lawful way, and the GOH is obliged to make immediate and full restitution for any expropriated property, without additional stipulations or conditions.

The GOH passed a national secuirty law on investment screening in 2018 that requires foreign investors seeking to acquire more than a 25 percent stake in a Hungarian company in certain “sensitive sectors” (defense, intelligence services, certain financial services, electric energy, gas, water utility, and electronic information systems for governments) to seek approval from the Interior Ministry.  (Please see above section on limits on foreign control for more details).

There is no primary website or “one-stop shop” which compiles all relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors.  The Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA), however, facilitates establishment of businesses and provides guidance on relevant legislation.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Hungarian Competition Authority, tasked with safeguarding the public interest, enforces the provisions of the Hungarian Competition Act.  Since EU accession in 2004, EU competition law also binds Hungary. The Competition Authority is empowered to investigate suspected violations of competition law, order changes to practices, and levy fines and penalties.  According to the Authority, since 2010 the number of competition cases has decreased, but they have become more complex. Out of more than 60 cases over the past year, only a few minor cases pertained to U.S.-owned companies.  Hungarian law does not consider conflict of interest to be a criminal offense. Citing evidence of conflict of interest and irregularities, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) recommended opening a criminal investigation into a high-profile USD 50 million EU-funded public procurement project, but Hungarian authorities declined to prosecute the case.

Expropriation and Compensation

Hungary’s Constitution provides protection against uncompensated expropriation, nationalization, and any other arbitrary action by the GOH except in cases of threat to national security.  In such cases, immediate and full compensation is to be provided to the owner. There are no known expropriation cases where the GOH has discriminated against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives.  There have been some complaints from other foreign investors within the past several years that expropriations have been improperly executed, without proper remuneration. Parties involved in these cases turned to the domestic legal system for dispute settlement.

There is no recent history of official GOH expropriations, but many critics raised concerns that the 2014 tobacco and advertising taxes were an indirect expropriation attempt because they disproportionately targeted foreign firms with the apparent intent to force them to seek a buy-out from a domestic firm.  The GOH reversed these taxes in response to a 2015 European Commission injunction. Increasing reports of the use of government regulatory and tax agencies to pressure businesses to sell to government-affiliated investors has also raised concerns.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Hungary is a signatory to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention), proclaimed in Hungary by Law 27 of 1978.  Hungary also is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention), proclaimed in Hungary by Law 25 of 1962. There is not specific legislation providing for enforcement other than the two domestic laws proclaiming the New York and ICSID Conventions.  According to Law 71 of 1994, an arbitration court decision is equally binding to that of a court ruling.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Hungary is signatory to the 1965 Washington Convention establishing the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and to UN’s 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  Under the New York Convention, Hungary recognizes and enforces rulings of the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration.

Hungary shares no Bilateral Investment Treaty or Free Trade Agreement with the United States.  Since 2000 Hungary has been the respondent in some 16 known investor-State arbitration claims , although none of these involve U.S. investors.

Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the GOH.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

In the last few years, parties have increasingly turned to mediation as a means to settle disputes without engaging in lengthy court procedures.  Law 71 of 1994 on domestic arbitration procedures is based on the UNCITRAL model law.

Investment dispute settlement clauses are frequently included in investment contract between the foreign enterprise and GOH.  Hungarian law allows the parties to set the jurisdiction of any courts or arbitration centers. The parties can also agree to set up an ad hoc arbitration court.  The law also allows investors to agree on settling investment disputes by turning to foreign arbitration centers, such as the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), UNCITRAL’s Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), or the Vienna International Arbitral Centre.  In Hungary, foreign parties can turn to the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry arbitration court, which has its own rules of proceedings ( https://mkik.hu/en/court-of-arbitration ) and in financial issues to the Financial and Capital Market’s arbitration court. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign or domestic arbitral awards.  An arbitral ruling may only be annulled in limited cases, and under special conditions.

Domestic courts do not favor State-owned enterprises (SOEs) disproportionately.  Investors can expect a fair trial even if SOEs are involved and in case of an unfavorable ruling, may elevate the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).  Investors do not generally complain about non-transparent or discriminatory court procedures.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Act on Bankruptcy Procedures, Liquidation Procedures, and Final Settlement of 1991, covers all commercial entities with the exception of banks (which have their own regulatory statutes), trusts, and State-owned enterprises, and brought Hungarian legislation in line with EU regulations.  Debtors can initiate bankruptcy proceedings only if they have not sought bankruptcy protection within the previous three years. Within 90 days of seeking bankruptcy protection, the debtor must call a settlement conference to which all creditors are invited. Majority consent of the creditors present is required for all settlements.  If agreement is not reached, the court can order liquidation. The Bankruptcy Act establishes the following priorities of claims to be paid: 1) liquidation costs; 2) secured debts; 3) claims of the individuals; 4) social security and tax obligations; 5) all other debts. Creditors may request the court to appoint a trustee to perform an independent financial examination.  The trustee has the right to challenge, based on conflict of interest, any contract concluded within 12 months preceding the bankruptcy.

The debtor, the creditors, the administrator, or the Criminal Court may file liquidation procedures with the court.  Once a petition is filed, regardless of who filed it, the Court notifies the debtor by sending a copy of the petition.  The debtor has eight days to acknowledge insolvency. If the insolvency is acknowledged, the company declares if any respite for the settlement of debts is requested.  Failure to respond results in the presumption of insolvency. Upon request, the Court may allow up to of 30 days for the debtor to settle the debt.

If the Court finds the debtor insolvent, it appoints a liquidator.  Transparency International (TI) has raised concerns about the transparency of the liquidation process because a company may not know that a creditor is filing a liquidation petition until after the fact.  TI also criticized the lack of accountability of liquidator companies and what it considers unusually short deadlines in the process. The EU has also criticized the Hungarian system as being creditor-unfriendly, since bankruptcy proceedings typically only recover 44 cents on the dollar, compared to the OECD average of 71 cents on the dollar.

Bankruptcy in itself is not criminalized, unless it is made in a fraudulent way, deliberately, and in bad faith to prevent the payment of debts.

Law 122 of 2011 obliges banks and credit institutions to establish and maintain the Central Credit Information System to assess creditworthiness of businesses and individuals to facilitate prudent lending ( http://www.bisz.hu ).

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Hungary has a well-developed incentive system for investors, the cornerstone of which is a special incentive package for investments over a certain value (typically over EUR 10 million or $11 million).  The incentives are designed to benefit investors who establish manufacturing facilities, logistics facilities, regional service centers, R&D facilities, and bioenergy facilities, or those who make tourism industry investments.  Incentive packages may consist of cash subsidies, development tax allowances, training subsidies, and job creation subsidies. The incentive system is compliant with EU regulations on competition and state aid and is administered by the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA) and managed by the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MIT) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). The government provides non-refundable subsidies to foreign investments in less developed areas and certain sectors including research and development, innovation, and high-tech manufacturing, based on case-by-case government decisions. In 2020, the GOH extended additional incentives or support to foreign investments as part of its economic response to the pandemic. For more information please see: https://hipa.hu/tovabbi-kedvezo-modositasok-a-vissza-nem-teritendo-tamogatasi-rendszerben .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Foreign trade zones were eliminated as a result of EU accession.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Hungary does not mandate the hiring of local employees. The number of work permits issued for third-country nationals is limited by law, but in recent years, this limit was well above the actual number of registered third-country employees.  Residency and work permits are issued by the Immigration Office and the local labor offices.

As of 2019, for investments in certain strategic sectors including the military, intelligence, public utilities, financial services, and electronic information systems, the Ministry of Interior issues investment permits, and in other key sectors, the Ministry for Innovation and Technology.  There are no laws in place requiring the fulfilment of special labor force related conditions to get investment permits. However, in certain cases, the GOH has established retention of workforce as a condition to award state grants to investors.

Hungary has no forced data localization policy.  Foreign IT providers do not need to turn over source code or provide access to encryption.  Hungary follows EU rules on transfer of personal data outside the economy. Storage of personal data is regulated by a data protection law and falls under the authority of a Data Protection Ombudsman.

There are no general performance requirements for investors in Hungary.  However, investors may receive government subsidies in the event they meet certain performance criteria, such as job creation or investment minimums, which are available to all enterprises registered in Hungary and are applied on a systematic basis.  To comply with EU rules, the GOH no longer grants tax holidays based on investment volume. There is no requirement that investors must purchase from local sources, but the EU Rule of Origin applies. Investors are not required to disclose proprietary information to the GOH as part of the regulatory process.

Hungary, as an EU Member State, follows the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on transmitting data outside of the EU and local data storage requirements.  The National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information is responsible for enforcing GDPR rules.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Hungary maintains a reliable land registry, which provides public information for anyone on the ownership, mortgage, and usufruct rights of a real estate or land parcel.  Secured interests in property (mortgages), both moveable and real, are recognized and enforced but there is no title insurance in Hungary.

According to the Land Law of 2013, only private Hungarian citizens or EU citizens resident in Hungary with a minimum of three years of experience in agriculture, or holding a degree in an agricultural field, can purchase farmland.  The law allows the lease of farmland up to 1200 hectares for a maximum of 20 years. There is no restriction for purchase or lease of non-farmland properties.

Hungarian law allows acquisitive prescription for unoccupied real property if the user of the property occupies it continuously for at least 15 years.

According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report, in 2020, Hungary ranked 29th in the world on the ease of registering property. Real estate and land purchase contracts must be countersigned by an attorney registered in Hungary.

Intellectual Property Rights

Hungary has an adequate legal structure for protecting intellectual property rights (IPR), although it lacks deterrent-level sentences for civil and criminal IPR infringement cases.  There has been no new major IPR legislation passed over the last year. According to some representatives of the pharmaceutical and software industries, enforcement could be improved if the Prosecutor General’s Office were to establish specialized IPR units.  The most common IPR violations in Hungary include the sale of imported counterfeit goods, including pharmaceuticals and Internet-based piracy. Most counterfeit goods sold in Hungary are of Chinese origin.

Hungary acceded to the European Patent Convention in 2003 and has accordingly amended the Hungarian Patent Act.  Hungary is a party to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and many other major international IPR agreements, including some administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), such as the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty.  As an EU Member State, Hungary is required to implement EU Directives and so is party to the EU Information Society Directive and EU Enforcement Directive, among others.

The United States and Hungary signed a Comprehensive Bilateral Intellectual Property Rights Agreement in 1993 that addresses copyright, trademarks, and patent protection.

In 2010, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the Hungarian Intellectual Property Office (HIPO) launched a pilot program to facilitate patent recognition between the United States and Hungary.  Due to the pilot’s success, in 2012 the USPTO and HIPO signed a Memorandum of Understanding to further streamline and expedite bilateral patent recognition. More details about this Patent Processing Highway (PPH) program can be found on HIPO’s website at  www.hipo.gov.hu/English/szabadalom/pph/ .

Hungary is not included in the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at  http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

Resources for Rights Holders

Embassy Point of Contact for IPR issues:

Christopher Hallett
Economic Officer
HallettCJ@state.gov

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Hungarian financial system offers a full range of financial services with an advanced information technology infrastructure.  The Hungarian Forint (HUF) has been fully convertible since 2001, and both Hungarian financial market and capital market transactions are fully liberalized.  The Capital Markets Act of 2001 sets out rules on securities issues, including the conversion and marketing of securities. As of 2007, separate regulations were passed on the activities of investment service providers and commodities brokers (2007), on Investment Fund Managing Companies (2011), as well as on Collective Investments (2014), providing more sophisticated legislation than those in the Capital Markets Act.  These changes aimed to create a regulatory environment where free and available equity easily matches with the best investment opportunities. The 2016 modification of the Civil Code removed remaining obstacles to promote collection of public investments in the course of establishing a public limited company.

The  Budapest Stock Exchange (BSE)  re-opened in 1990 as the first post-communist stock exchange in the Central and Eastern European region.  Since 2010, the BSE has been a member of the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) Stock Exchange Group. In 2013, the internationally recognized trading platform Xetra replaced the previous trading system.  Currently, the BSE has 40 members and 62 issuers. The issued securities are typically shares, investment notes, certificates, corporate bonds, mortgage bonds, government bonds, treasury bills, and derivatives.  In 2021, the BSE had a market capitalization of $28.3 billion, and the average monthly equity turnover volume amounted to $2.1 billion. The most traded shares are OTP Bank, Gedeon Richter, MOL, Magyar Telekom, and Masterplast

Financial resources flow freely into the product and factor markets.  In line with IMF rules, international currency transactions are not limited and are accessible both in domestic or foreign currencies. Individuals can hold bank accounts in either domestic or foreign currencies and conduct transactions in foreign currency. Since March 2020, commercial banks introduced real time bank transfers for domestic currency transactions.

Commercial banks provide credit to both Hungarian and foreign investors at market terms.  Credit instruments include long-term and short-term liquidity loans. All banks publish total credit costs, which includes interest rates as well as other costs or fees.

Money and Banking System

There are no rules preventing a foreigner or foreign firm from opening a bank account in Hungary.  Valid personal documents (i.e., a passport) are needed and as of 2015, when the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) came into force, also a declaration of whether the individual is a U.S. citizen.  Banks have not discriminated against U.S. citizens in opening bank accounts based on FATCA.

The Hungarian banking system has strengthened over the past few years, and the capital position of banks is generally adequate even in the challenging economic environment created by COVID-19.  Following several years of deleveraging after the 2008 crisis, the banking system is mainly deposit funded. The penetration of the banking system decreased slightly in 2019 due to a relatively high GDP growth rate. The sector’s total assets amounted to 92.6 percent of GDP.

The Hungarian banking system is healthy and banks have a stable capital position.  The loan-to-deposit ratio has been gradually decreasing from its 160 percent peak in 2009 after the financial crisis to 85 percent in 2015, and has been fluctuating between this value and a 92.4 percent peak in 2019. In spring 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 in Hungary, it reached 91.6 percent but decreased to 81.7 percent by the end of the year. The liquidity cover ratio was 160 percent in the first wave of COVID-19, then climbed to 220.8 percent by the end of the year. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Central Bank restructured and expanded its monetary policy tools to provide liquidity to the financial sector through currency swaps, fixed-rate loans, and exemptions from minimum reserve requirements. The Central Bank also introduced instruments to influence short- and long-term term yields. It offered low-interest loans through commercial banks to the SME sector and launched a government securities purchase program on the secondary market.

The ratio of non-performing loans (NPLs) has been gradually decreasing from a high of 18 percent in 2013 to 4.1 percent in 2019 as a result of portfolio cleaning, the improving economic environment, and increased lending.  In the first wave of the pandemic the NPL ratio increased slightly, but by the end of the year it continued the decreasing trend and fell to 3.6 percent. The banking sector became profitable after several years of losses between 2010 and 2015, reaching a return on equity (ROE) record high of 16.8 percent in 2017. Since then, ROE has gradually decreased, to 12.3 percent by the end of 2019 and more steeply during the COVID-19 pandemic to 6.5 percent in December 2020, which is still slightly higher than the EU average. The banking sector’s total assets exceeded 90 percent of GDP in 2020, of which 64 percent were held by five banks. The largest bank in Hungary is OTP Bank, which is mostly Hungarian-owned and controls 25 percent of the market, with about $29 billion in assets.

Hungary has a modern two-tier financial system and a developed financial sector, although there have been some reports that regulatory issues have arisen as a result of the Central Bank’s (MNB) 2013 absorption of the Hungarian Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZAF), which had been the financial sector regulatory body.  Between 2000 and 2013, the PSZAF served as a consolidated financial supervisor, regulating all financial and securities markets. PSZAF, in conjunction with the MNB, managed a strong two-pillar system of control over the financial sector, producing stability in the market, effective regulation, and a system of checks and balances.  In 2013, the MNB absorbed the PSZAF and over the past few years has efficiently strengthened its supervisory role over the financial sector and established a customer protection system.

In accordance with the GOH’s stated goal of reducing foreign ownership in the financial sector, the proportion of foreign banks’ total assets in the financial sector decreased to about 40 percent in 2019, down from a peak of 70 percent before the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Foreign banks are subject to central bank uniform regulations and prudential measures, which are applied to Hungary’s entire financial market without discrimination. On March 2, 2020, MNB launched an immediate e-transfer system up to a maximum of HUF 10 million (about $32,000) for domestic transactions in HUF. Commercial banks have extensive direct correspondent banking relationships and are capable of transferring domestic or foreign currencies to most banks outside of Hungary.  Since 2018, however, the cashing of U.S. checks is no longer possible. No loss or jeopardy of correspondent banking relations has been reported.

Recent regulations restrict foreign currency loans to only those that earn income in foreign currency, in an effort to eliminate the risk of exchange rate fluctuations.  Foreign investors continue to have equal – if not better – access to credit on the global market, with the exception of special GOH credit concessions such as small business loans.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Hungarian forint (HUF) has been convertible for essentially all business transactions since January 1, 1996, and foreign currencies are freely available in all banks and exchange booths.  Hungary complies with all OECD convertibility requirements and IMF Article VIII. Act XCIII of 2001 on Foreign Exchange Liberalization lifted all remaining foreign exchange restrictions and allowed free movement of capital in line with EU regulations.

According to Hungary’s EU accession agreement, it must eventually adopt the Euro once it meets the relevant criteria. The GOH has not set a specific target date even though Hungary meets most of the necessary fiscal and financial criteria.  According to the Ministry of Finance, Hungary’s economic performance should mirror the Eurozone average more closely before adapting the Euro.

Short-term portfolio transactions, hedging, short, and long-term credit transactions, financial securities, assignments and acknowledgment of debt may be carried out without any limitation or declaration.  While the Forint remains the legal tender in Hungary, parties may settle financial obligations in a foreign currency. Many Hungarians took out mortgages denominated in foreign currency prior to the global financial crisis, and suffered when the Forint depreciated against the Swiss Franc and the Euro.  Despite strong pressure, the Hungarian Supreme Court ruled that there is nothing inherently illegal or unconstitutional in loan agreements that are foreign currency denominated, upholding existing contract law. New consumer loans, however, are denominated in Forints only, unless the debtor receives regular income in a foreign currency.

Market forces determine the value of the Hungarian Forint. Analysts note that the MNB’s consistently low interest rates have contributed to a nearly 30 percent decline in the value of the of the Forint against the Euro since 2010.

Remittance Policies

There is no limitation on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or imported inputs. The timeframes for remittances are in line with the financial sector’s normal timeframes (generally less than 30 days), depending on the destination of the transfer and on whether corresponding banks are easily found.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Hungary does not maintain a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

In the 1990s, there was considerable privatization of former State-owned enterprises (SOEs), primarily in strategic sectors such as energy and transportation.  Since 2010, the GOH has reversed this trend by making new investments in machinery production and the energy and telecommunications sectors, resulting in an increase of the number of SOEs.

As of 2020, there are more than 200 SOEs.  The state holds majority ownership in more than half of them.  In addition, there are a large number of municipality-owned companies.  SOEs are particularly active in the energy and utility sectors, banking, transportation, forestry, and postal services. SOEs have independent boards, but in practice, all strategic decisions require government approval.

Major SOEs include the National Asset Management Company (MNV), Magyar Posta, state energy company MVM, Hungarian State Railways (MAV), state gambling monopoly Szerencsejatek, National Infrastructure Development Company (NIF), car manufacturer RABA, and state-owned banks Exim bank, Hungarian Development Bank (MFB), Takarekbank, and Budapest Bank.  The GOH has a five percent direct stake in hydrocarbon company MOL, and 20 percent of the company is owned by two higher education foundations closely affiliated with the GOH.

A 2011 law on national assets lists the SOEs of strategic importance, which are to be kept in state ownership ( https://net.jogtar.hu/jr/gen/hjegy_doc.cgi?docid=a1100196.tv ); as of March 2021 there were 62 such companies.  There is no officially published, complete list of SOEs, but the State Asset Manager MNV has a list of companies under its control on its webpage.  The list does not cover all publicly owned companies:  http://mnv.hu/felso_menu/tarsasagi_portfolio/mnvportfolio .

In principle, the same rules apply to SOEs as to privately owned companies in most cases, but in practice, some companies report that SOEs often enjoy preferential treatment from certain authorities.  According to many businesses, since mid-2012, the GOH has made it more difficult for foreign-owned energy companies to operate in the Hungarian market. The GOH has publicly stated its interest in nationalizing some private energy firms.  In 2013, the GOH purchased E.ON’s wholesale and gas storage divisions and RWE’s retail gas company, Fogaz. In 2014 and 2015, the GOH acquired other energy companies. By the end of 2016, state-owned Fogaz became the only remaining retail gas utility provider in Hungary.  Press reports indicate the GOH intends to take over the electricity and heating retail markets as well.

Hungary adheres to OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance as well as to EU rules on SOEs.  The Hungarian National Asset Management Company is the state asset manager.

According to a 2015 study conducted by Transparency International (TI) Hungary, SOEs scored 61 points on a scale of 100 with regard to meeting transparency obligations in terms of data published on their websites, integrity, codes of ethics, and internal control systems.  TI noted that although there was a considerable improvement compared to the previous survey in 2013, none of the SOEs reviewed during their study was in full compliance with transparency and disclosure requirements as mandated by Hungarian law.

In a July 2018 State Audit Office (SAO) report on the monitoring of 62 SOEs, the SAO said that the investigated enterprises’ integrity and compliance regulations have improved over the past years and their current transparency and integrity level is satisfactory.  The report added that the auditing and asset management of SOEs could still be improved, and that owners should investigate SOEs more often than the current practice. An April 2020 SAO report investigated the integrity of 19 state-owned and municipality owned companies and found that the overwhelming majority of the companies had serious deficiencies in integrity measures protecting against corruption.

Privatization Program

In the 1990s, the privatization of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), including the energy sector, manufacturing, food processing, and chemical industries, ushered in a significant period of change.  As most SOEs have already been privatized, that trend has reversed since 2010 as the state has taken more ownership or de facto control in certain sectors, including energy and public utilities.

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. 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.  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 Nielsen Global Omnibus research, over 60 percent of Hungary’s adult population prefers companies committed to CSR, exceeding the 54 percent average in the EU.

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.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

The Hungarian Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior are responsible for combating corruption.  There is a growing legal framework in place to support their efforts. 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 report 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, Parliament passed legislation that many civil society activists criticized for placing undue restrictions on NGOs, including compelling organizations to register as “foreign-funded” if they receive funding from international sources. In a June 2020 ruling the European Court of Justice found the legislation in conflict with EU law.  In July 2018, the GOH passed legislation that criminalizes many activities primarily conducted by international NGOs that assist migrants and asylum seekers.  Although the legislation does not directly target transparency NGOs, transparency experts claim the GOH could use the overly broad definitions in the legislation to target virtually any NGO in Hungary.

Transparency International (TI) is active in Hungary.  TI’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index rated Hungary 69 out of 180 countries.  Among the 27 EU members, Hungary was tied for last place with two other member states. 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 problematically 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 EC 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. A 2016 study by Corruption Research Center Budapest (CRCB) based on public procurement data from 2009-2015 revealed that the massive influx of EU funds reduced competition and increased levels of corruption risk and overpricing in public procurements.  According to the study, EU-funded tenders performed poorly with regard to corruption risks, competitive intensity, and transparency, compared with Hungarian-funded tenders. EU funds in Hungary contribute to a system of political favoritism and fuel crony capitalism, the study concluded. CRCB reports 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.

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, the European Anti-Fraud Office, about evidence of conflict of interest and irregularities involving the deal. According to media reports, OLAF concluded that at least some of the tenders were won due to what it considered organized criminal activity. The European Commission’s September 2020 Rule of Law Report states that although the prosecution office has launched a limited number of corruption-related investigations against Members of the European Parliament from the ruling Fidesz party, there has been no prosecution of high-level officials in recent years.

Annual asset declarations for the family members of public officials are not public and only parliamentary committees can look into 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 4.5 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 4.3 percent early 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 70.2 percent in 2020, higher than the EU average of 67.8 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 market place.  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 rate of unemployment 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 t, 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 and by 3.6 percent in 2021. 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 allows 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. The majority 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. In 2020, as a part of its COVID-19 economic response plan, the government decreed 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.

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) 2019 $163,475 2019 $163,469 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $5,684 2019 $6,114 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $2,032 2019 $91 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 61% 2019 60% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html 
  

* Source for Host Country Data: 2021 Hungarian National Bank, www.mnb.hu   

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 182,689 100% Total Outward 132,235 100%
Canada 29,677 16.2% Switzerland 53,045 40.1%
Cayman Islands 21,996 12% United States 15,726 11.9%
Netherlands #3 18761 10.3% Uruguay 10,216 7.7%
Germany 17,176 9.4% Netherlands 6,274 4.7%
Luxemburg 15,991 8.8% Ireland 4,658 3.5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 13,989 100% All Countries 9,232 100% All Countries 4,758 100%
Luxembourg 4,013 28.7% Luxembourg 3,327 36% Luxembourg 686 14.4%
United States 1,939 13.9% United States 1,752 19% Austria 333 7%
Austria 973 7% Austria 640 6.9% Slovak Rep. 291 6.1%
Germany 674 4.8% Belgium 612 6.6% Czech Rep. 268 5.6%
Belgium 615 4.4% Germany 546 5.9% Poland 240 5.1%

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Embassy Political and Economic Section
Szabadsag Ter 12
1054 Budapest, Hungary
BUDEcon@State.gov
+36 1 475 4400

Poland

Executive Summary

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted almost 30 years of economic expansion in Poland.  In 2020, Poland experienced a recession, although one of the least severe in the European Union, as policy actions including broad fiscal measures and unprecedented monetary support cushioned the socio-economic impact of the pandemic.  Despite pandemic-related challenges and the deterioration of some aspects of the investment climate, Poland remained an attractive destination for foreign investment.  Solid economic fundamentals and promising post-COVID recovery macroeconomic forecasts continue to draw foreign, including U.S., capital.  Poland’s GDP growth declined by only 2.7 percent in 2020 and is currently projected to rebound at a rate of 3-5 percent in 2021 and 2022.  The Family 500+ program and additional pension payments continued in 2020.  The government increased the minimum wage and the labor market remained relatively strong, supported by a generous package of measures known as the “Anti-Crisis Shield.”  This package includes the “Financial Shield” introduced by the Polish Development Fund (PFR) to protect the economy, mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and stimulate investment.

Implemented and proposed legislation dampened optimism in some sectors (e.g., retail, media, energy, digital services, and beverages).  Investors also point to lower predictability and the outsized role of state-owned and state-controlled companies in the Polish economy as an impediment to long-term balanced growth.  Despite a polarized political environment following the conclusion of a series of national elections in 2019 and 2020 and a few less business-friendly sector-specific policies, the broad structures of the Polish economy are solid.  Prospects for future growth, driven by external and domestic demand and inflows of EU funds from the Recovery and Resilience Fund and future financial frameworks, as well as COVID-19 related government aid programs, are likely to continue to attract investors seeking access to Poland’s market of over 38 million people, and to the broader EU market of over 500 million.

The Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology has finished public consultations on its Industry Development White Paper, which identifies the government’s views on the most significant barriers to industrial activity and serves as the foundation for Poland’s Industrial Policy (PIP) – a strategic document, setting the directions for long-term industrial development.  The PIP will focus on five areas:  digitization, security, industrial production location, the Green Deal, and modern society.

Poland’s well-diversified economy reduces its vulnerability to external shocks, although it depends heavily on the EU as an export market.  Foreign investors also cite Poland’s well-educated work force as a major reason to invest, as well as its proximity to major markets such as Germany.  U.S. firms represent one of the largest groups of foreign investors in Poland.  The volume of U.S. investment in Poland is estimated at around $5 billion by the National Bank of Poland in 2019 and around $25 billion by the Warsaw-based American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham).  With the inclusion of indirect investment flows through subsidiaries, it may reach as high as $62.7 billion, according to KPMG and AmCham.  Historically, foreign direct investment (FDI) was largest in the automotive and food processing industries, followed by machinery and other metal products and petrochemicals.  “Shared office” services such as accounting, legal, and information technology services, including research and development (R&D), is Poland’s fastest-growing sector for foreign investment.  The government seeks to promote domestic production and technology transfer opportunities in awarding defense-related tenders.  There are also investment and export opportunities in the energy sector—both immediate (natural gas), and longer term (nuclear, hydrogen, energy grid upgrades, photovoltaics, and offshore wind)—as Poland seeks to diversify its energy mix and reduce air pollution.  Biotechnology, pharmaceutical, and health care industries might open wider to investments and exports as a result of the COVID-19 experience.  In 2020, venture capital transactions increased by 70 percent on annual terms exceeding $500 million; a quarter of these transactions were investments in the sector of medical technologies.

Defense remains a promising sector for U.S. exports. The Polish government is actively modernizing its military inventory, presenting good opportunities for the U.S. defense industry.  In February 2019, the Defense Ministry announced its updated technical modernization plan listing its top programmatic priorities, with defense modernization budgets forecasted to increase from approximately $3.3 billion in 2019 to approximately $7.75 billion in 2025.  Information technology and cybersecurity along with infrastructure also show promise, as Poland’s municipalities focus on smart city networks.  A $10 billion central airport project may present opportunities for U.S. companies in project management, consulting, communications, and construction.  The government seeks to expand the economy by supporting high-tech investments, increasing productivity and foreign trade, and supporting entrepreneurship, scientific research, and innovation through the use of domestic and EU funding.  The Polish government is interested in the development of green energy, especially in the utilization of the large amounts of EU funding earmarked for this purpose in coming years and decades.

The Polish government plans to allocate money from the EU Recovery Fund to pro-development investments in such areas as economic resilience and competitiveness, green energy and the reduction of energy intensity, digital transformation, the availability and quality of the health care system, and green and intelligent mobility.  A major EU project is to synchronize the Baltic States’ electricity grid with that of Poland and the wider European network by 2025.  A government strategy aims for a commercial fifth generation (5G) cellular network to become operational in all cities by 2025, although planned spectrum auctions have been repeatedly delayed.

Some organizations, notably private business associations and labor unions, have raised concerns that policy changes have been introduced quickly and without broad consultation, increasing uncertainty about the stability and predictability of Poland’s business environment.  For example, the government announced an “advertising tax” on media companies with only a few months warning after firms had already prepared budgets for the current year.  Broadcasters are concerned the tax, if introduced, could irreparably harm media companies weakened by the pandemic and limit independent journalism.  Other proposals to introduce legislation on media de-concentration and limitations on foreign ownership raised concern among foreign investors in the sector; however, those proposals seem to have stalled for the time being.

The Polish tax system underwent many changes over recent years, including more effective tax auditing and collection, with the aim of increasing budget revenues.  Through updated regulations in November 2020, Poland has adopted a range of major changes concerning the taxation of doing business in the country.  The changes include the double taxation of some partnerships; deferral of corporate income tax (CIT) for small companies owned by individuals; an obligation to publish tax strategies by large companies; and a new model of taxation for real estate companies.  In the financial sector, legal risks stemming from foreign exchange mortgages constitute a source of uncertainty for some banks.  The Polish government has supported taxing the income of Internet companies, proposed by the European Commission in 2018, and considers it a possible new source of financing for the post-COVID-19 economic recovery.  A tax on video-on-demand services which went into effect on July 1, 2020, and the proposed advertising tax, which would also impact digital advertising and would go into effect on July 1, 2021, are two examples of this trend.

The “Next Generation EU” recovery package will benefit the Polish economic recovery with sizeable support.  Under the 2021-2027 European Union budget, Poland will receive $78.4 billion in cohesion funds as well as approximately $27 billion in grants and $40 billion in loan access from the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility.  The Polish government projects this injection of funds, amounting to around 4.5 percent of Poland’s 2020 GDP, should contribute significantly to the country’s growth over the period 2021-2026.  As the largest recipient of EU funds (which have contributed an estimated 1 percentage point to Poland’s GDP growth per year), any significant decrease in EU cohesion spending would have a large negative impact on Poland’s economy.  A December 2020 compromise on EU budget payments prevented adoption of a clause that would make some EU funds conditional on rule of law.

Observers are closely watching the European Commission’s two open infringement proceedings against Poland regarding rule of law and judicial reforms initiated in April 2019 and April 2020.  Concerns include the introduction of an extraordinary appeal mechanism in the enacted Supreme Court Law, which could potentially affect economic interests, in that final judgments issued since 1997 can now be challenged and overturned in whole or in part, including some long-standing judgments on which economic actors have relied.  Other issues regard the legitimacy of judicial appointments after a reform of the National Judicial Council that raise concerns about long-term legal certainty and the possible politicization of judicial decisions.

While Poland, similar to other countries, will likely continue to struggle with the pandemic throughout 2021, rating agencies and international organizations, including the OECD and the IMF, agree that Poland has fared relatively well under the COVID-19 pandemic, and has good chances for successful economic growth once the pandemic is over.  The government views recovery from the pandemic as an opportunity to foster its structural reforms agenda.  In line with the ongoing implementation of the “Strategy for Responsible Development,” the government has been developing a “New Deal” package – an ambitious program of tax breaks, public investments, and social spending proposals aimed at speeding post-COVID-19 economic recovery.  The program is currently scheduled to be presented to the public in April 2021.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 45 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 40 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 38 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 10,403 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 14,150 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Toward Foreign Direct Investment

Poland welcomes foreign investment as a source of capital, growth, and jobs, and as a vehicle for technology transfer, research and development (R&D), and integration into global supply chains. The government’s Strategy for Responsible Development identified key goals for attracting investment, including improving the investment climate, a stable macroeconomic and regulatory environment, and high-quality corporate governance, including in state-controlled companies. By the end of 2019, according to IMF and National Bank of Poland data, Poland attracted around $234.9 billion (cumulative) in foreign direct investment (FDI), principally from Western Europe and the United States. In 2019, reinvested profits again dominated the net inflow of FDI to Poland. The greatest reinvestment of profits occurred in services and manufacturing, reflecting the change of Poland’s economy to a more service-oriented and less capital-intensive structure.

Foreign companies generally enjoy unrestricted access to the Polish market. However, Polish law limits foreign ownership of companies in selected strategic sectors, and limits acquisition of real estate, especially agricultural and forest land. Additionally, the current government has expressed a desire to increase the percentage of domestic ownership in some industries such as media, banking and retail which have large holdings by foreign companies, and has employed sectoral taxes and other measures to advance this aim. In March 2018, Sunday trading ban legislation went into effect, which has gradually phased out Sunday retail commerce in Poland, especially for large retailers. From 2020, the trade ban applies to all but seven Sundays a year. In 2020, a law was adopted requiring producers and importers of sugary and sweetened beverages to pay a fee. The government is planning to introduce (in mid-2021) an advertising tax – hailed as a “solidarity fee”- covering a wide array of entities including publishers, tech companies and cinemas. Only small media businesses would be exempt from the new levy. The revenue would support the National Health Fund, the National Fund for the Protection of National Monuments, and establish a new fund, the Media Support Fund for Culture and National Heritage, to support Polish culture and creators struggling due to the pandemic. Polish authorities have also publicly favored introducing a comprehensive digital services tax. The details of such a tax are unknown because no draft has been publicly released, but it would presumably affect mainly large foreign digital companies.

There are a variety of agencies involved in investment promotion:

The Ministry of Development has two departments involved in investment promotion and facilitation: the Investment Development and the Trade and International Relations Departments. The Deputy Minister supervising the Investment Development Department is also the ombudsman for foreign investors. https://www.gov.pl/web/przedsiebiorczosc-technologia/ 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) promotes Poland’s foreign relations including economic relations, and along with the Polish Chamber of Commerce (KIG), organizes missions of Polish firms abroad and hosts foreign trade missions to Poland. https://www.msz.gov.pl/ ; https://kig.pl/ 

The Polish Investment and Trade Agency (PAIH) is the main institution responsible for promotion and facilitation of foreign investment. The agency is responsible for promoting Polish exports, for inward foreign investment and for Polish investments abroad. The agency operates as part of the Polish Development Fund, which integrates government development agencies. PAIH coordinates all operational instruments, such as commercial diplomatic missions, commercial fairs and programs dedicated to specific markets and sectors. The Agency has opened offices abroad including in the United States (San Francisco and Washington, D.C, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and New York). PAIH’s services are available to all investors. https://www.paih.gov.pl/en 

The American Chamber of Commerce has established the American Investor Desk – an investor-dedicated know-how gateway providing comprehensive information on investing in Poland and investing in the USA: https://amcham.pl/american-investor-desk 

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Poland allows both foreign and domestic entities to establish and own business enterprises and engage in most forms of remunerative activity per the Entrepreneurs’ Law which went into effect on April 30, 2018. Forms of business activity are described in the Commercial Companies Code. Poland does place limits on foreign ownership and foreign equity for a limited number of sectors. Polish law limits non-EU citizens to 49 percent ownership of a company’s capital shares in the air transport, radio and television broadcasting, and airport and seaport operations sectors. Licenses and concessions for defense production and management of seaports are granted on the basis of national treatment for investors from OECD countries.

Pursuant to the Broadcasting Law, a television broadcasting company may only receive a license if the voting share of foreign owners does not exceed 49 percent and if the majority of the members of the management and supervisory boards are Polish citizens and hold permanent residence in Poland. In 2017, a team comprised of officials from the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) and the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) was created in order to review and tighten restrictions on large media and limit foreign ownership of the media. While no legislation has been introduced, there is concern that possible future proposals may limit foreign ownership of the media sector as suggested by governing party politicians.

Over the past five years, Poland’s ranking on Reporters without Borders’ Press Freedom Index has dropped from 18th to 62nd. The governing Law and Justice (PiS) party aims to decrease foreign ownership of media, particularly outlets critical of their governing coalition. Approaches have included proposals to set caps on foreign ownership, the use of a state-controlled companies to purchase media, and the application of economic tools (taxes, fines, advertising revenue) to pressure foreign and independent media. In the insurance sector, at least two management board members, including the chair, must speak Polish. The Law on Freedom of Economic Activity (LFEA) requires companies to obtain government concessions, licenses, or permits to conduct business in certain sectors, such as broadcasting, aviation, energy, weapons/military equipment, mining, and private security services. The LFEA also requires a permit from the Ministry of Development for certain major capital transactions (i.e., to establish a company when a wholly or partially Polish-owned enterprise has contributed in-kind to a company with foreign ownership by incorporating liabilities in equity, contributing assets, receivables, etc.). A detailed description of business activities that require concessions and licenses can be found here: https://www.paih.gov.pl/publications/how_to_do_business_in_Poland 

Polish law restricts foreign investment in certain land and real estate. Land usage types such as technology and industrial parks, business and logistic centers, transport, housing plots, farmland in special economic zones, household gardens and plots up to two hectares are exempt from agricultural land purchase restrictions. Since May 2016, foreign citizens from European Economic Area member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, as well as Switzerland, do not need permission to purchase any type of real estate including agricultural land. Investors from outside of the EEA or Switzerland need to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration (with the consent of the Defense and Agriculture Ministries), pursuant to the Act on Acquisition of Real Estate by Foreigners, prior to the acquisition of real estate or shares which give control of a company holding or leasing real estate. The permit is valid for two years from the day of issuance, and the ministry can issue a preliminary document valid for one year. Permits may be refused for reasons of social policy or public security. The exceptions to this rule include purchases of an apartment or garage, up to 0.4 hectares of undeveloped urban land, and “other cases provided for by law” (generally: proving a particularly close connection with Poland). Laws to restrict farmland and forest purchases (with subsequent amendments) came into force April 30, 2016 and are addressed in more detail in Section 5, Protection of Property Rights.

Since September 2015, the Act on the Control of Certain Investments has provided for the national security-related screening of acquisitions in high-risk sectors including: energy generation and distribution; petroleum production, processing and distribution; telecommunications; media; mining; and manufacturing and trade of explosives, weapons and ammunition. Poland maintains a list of strategic companies which can be amended at any time, but is updated at least once a year, usually in late December. The national security review mechanism does not appear to constitute a de facto barrier for investment and does not unduly target U.S. investment. According to the Act, prior to the acquisition of shares of strategic companies (including the acquisition of proprietary interests in entities and/or their enterprises) the purchaser (foreign or local) must notify the controlling government body and receive approval. The obligation to inform the controlling government body applies to transactions involving the acquisition of a “material stake” in companies subject to special protection. The Act stipulates that failure to notify carries a fine of up to PLN 100,000,000 ($25,000,000) or a penalty of imprisonment between six months and five years (or both penalties together) for a person acting on behalf of a legal person or organizational unit that acquires a material stake without prior notification.

As part of the COVID-19 Anti-Crisis Shield, on June 24, 2020, new legislation entered into force extending significantly the FDI screening mechanism in Poland for 24 months. An acquisition from a country that is not a member of the EU, the EEA, or the OECD requires prior clearance from the President of the Polish Competition Authority if it targets a company generating turnover exceeding EUR 10 million (almost $12 million) that either: 1) is a publicly-listed company, 2) controls assets classified as critical infrastructure, 3) develops or maintains software crucial for vital processes (e.g., utilities systems, financial transactions, food distribution, transport and logistics, health care systems); 4) conducts business in one of 21 specific industries, including energy, gas and oil production, storage, distribution and transportation; manufacture of chemicals, pharmaceuticals and medical instruments; telecommunications; and food processing. The State Assets Ministry is preparing similar and more permanent measures.

In November 2019, the governing Law and Justice party reestablished a treasury ministry, known as the State Assets Ministry, to consolidate the government’s control over state-owned enterprises. The government dissolved Poland’s energy ministry, transferring that agency’s mandate to the State Assets Ministry. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State Assets announced he would seek to consolidate state-owned companies with similar profiles, including merging Poland’s largest state-owned oil and gas firm PKN Orlen with state-owned Lotos Group. At the same time, the government is working on changing the rules of governing state-owned companies to have better control over the firms’ activities. In September 2020, a new government plenipotentiary for the transformation of energy companies and coal mining was appointed.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

The government has not undergone any third-party investment policy review through a multilateral organization,

The OECD published its 2020 survey of Poland. It can be found here: https://www.oecd.org/economy/poland-economic-snapshot/ 

Additionally, the OECD Working Group on Bribery has provided recommendations on the implementation of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in Poland here:  https://www.oecd.org/poland/poland-should-urgently-implement-reforms-to-boost-fight-against-foreign-bribery-and-preserve-independence-of-prosecutors-and-judges.htm 

Business Facilitation

In 2020, government activities and regulations focused primarily on addressing challenges related to the outbreak of the pandemic.

The Polish government has continued to implement reforms aimed at improving the investment climate with a special focus on the SME sector and innovations. Poland reformed its R&D tax incentives with new regulations and changes encouraging wider use of the R&D tax breaks. As of January 1, 2019, a new mechanism reducing the tax rate on income derived from intellectual property rights (IP Box) was introduced. Please see Section 5, Protection of Property Rights of this report for more information.

A package of five laws referred to as the “Business Constitution”—intended to facilitate the operation of small domestic enterprises—was gradually introduced in 2018. The main principle of the Business Constitution is the presumption of innocence of business owners in dealings with the government.

Poland made enforcing contracts easier by introducing an automated system to assign cases to judges randomly. Despite these reforms and others, some investors have expressed serious concerns regarding over-regulation, over-burdened courts and prosecutors, and overly burdensome bureaucratic processes. Tax audit methods have changed considerably. For instance, in many cases an appeal against the findings of an audit must now be lodged with the authority that issued the initial finding rather than a higher authority or third party. Poland also enabled businesses to get electricity service faster by implementing a new customer service platform that allows the utility to better track applications for new commercial connections.

The Ministry of Finance and the National Tax Administration have launched an e-Tax Office, available online at https://www.podatki.gov.pl/ . The website, which will be constructed in stages through September 2022, will make it possible to settle all tax matters in a single user-friendly digital location. digital location.

In Poland, business activity may be conducted in the forms of a sole proprietor, civil law partnership, as well as commercial partnerships and companies regulated in provisions of the Commercial Partnerships and Companies Code. Sole proprietor and civil law partnerships are registered in the Central Registration and Information on Business (CEIDG), which is housed with the Ministry of Development here:  https://prod.ceidg.gov.pl/CEIDG.CMS.ENGINE/?D;f124ce8a-3e72-4588-8380-63e8ad33621f 

Commercial companies are classified as partnerships (registered partnership, professional partnership, limited partnership, and limited joint-stock partnership) and companies (limited liability company and joint-stock company). A partnership or company is registered in the National Court Register (KRS) and maintained by the competent district court for the registered office of the established partnership or company. Local corporate lawyers report that starting a business remains costly in terms of time and money, though KRS registration in the National Court Register averages less than two weeks according to the Ministry of Justice and four weeks according to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report. A 2018 law introduced a new type of company—PSA (Prosta Spółka Akcyjna – Simple Joint Stock Company). PSAs are meant to facilitate start-ups with simpler and cheaper registration procedures. The minimum initial capitalization is 1 PLN ($0.25) while other types of registration require 5,000 PLN ($1,274) or 50,000 PLN ($12,737). A PSA has a board of directors, which merges the responsibilities of a management board and a supervisory board. The provision for PSAs will enter into force in July 2021.

On August 5, 2020, the Government Legislation Center published the detailed assumptions of a draft amendment to the Commercial Companies Code developed by the Commission for Owner Oversight Reform with the Ministry of State Assets. The draft amendment’s primary assumption is to enact a so-called “holding law,” laying down the principles of how a parent company may instruct its subsidiaries, as well as stipulating the parent company’s liability and the principles of creditor, officer, and minority shareholder protections. Apart from introducing the holding law, the draft provides for several additional regulations, including those enhancing the supervisory board’s position, both within the holding law framework and for companies not comprising any group. The amendment is projected to come into force sometime in 2021.

On January 1, 2021, a new law on public procurement entered into force. This law was adopted by the Polish Parliament on September 11, 2019. The new law aims to reorganize the public procurement system and further harmonize it with EU law. The new public procurement law is also more transparent than the previous act.

Beginning in July 2021, an electronic system must be used for all applications submitted in registration proceedings by commercial companies disclosed in the National Court Register, i.e., both applications for registration, deletion, and any changes in the register.

A certified e-signature may be obtained from one of the commercial e-signature providers listed on the following website:  https://www.nccert.pl/ 

National Court Register (KRS): https://www.gov.pl/web/gov/uslugi-dla-przedsiebiorcy 

Agencies with which a business will need to file in order to register in the KRS include:

Central Statistical Office to register for a business identification number (REGON) for civil-law partnership http://bip.stat.gov.pl/en/regon/subjects-and-data-included-in-the-register/ 

ZUS – Social Insurance Agency http://www.zus.pl/pl/pue/rejestracja 

Ministry of Finance http://www.mf.gov.pl/web/bip/wyniki-wyszukiwania/?q=business percent20registration 

Both registers (KRS and REGON) are available in English and foreign companies may use them.

Poland’s Single Point of Contact site for business registration and information is: https://www.biznes.gov.pl/en/ 

Outward Investment

The Polish Agency for Investment and Trade (PAIH), under the umbrella of the Polish Development Fund (PFR), plays a key role in promoting Polish investment abroad. More information on PFR can be found in Section 7, State-Owned Enterprises and at its website: https://pfr.pl/ 

PAIH has 70 offices worldwide, including six in the United States.

PAIH assists entrepreneurs with administrative and legal procedures related to specific projects as well as with the development of legal solutions and with finding suitable locations, and reliable partners and suppliers.

The Agency implements pro-export projects such as “Polish Tech Bridges” dedicated to the outward expansion of innovative Polish SMEs.

Poland is a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Poland co-founded and actively supports the Three Seas Initiative, which seeks to improve north-south connections in road, energy, and telecom infrastructure in 12 countries on NATO’s and the EU’s eastern flank.

Under the Government Financial Support for Exports Program, the national development bank BGK (Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego) grants foreign buyers financing for the purchase of Polish goods and services. The program provides the following financing instruments: credit for buyers granted through the buyers’ bank; credit for buyers granted directly from BGK; the purchase of receivables on credit from the supplier under an export contract; documentary letters of credit post-financing; the discounting of receivables from documentary letters of credit; confirmation of documentary letters of credit; and export pre-financing. BGK has international offices in London and Frankfurt.

In May 2019, BGK and the Romanian development bank EximBank founded the Three Seas Fund, a commercial initiative to support the development of transport, energy and digital infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe. As of March 2021, there were nine core sponsors involved in the Fund.

In July 2019, BGK, the European Investment Bank, and four other development banks (French Deposits and Consignments Fund, Italian Deposits and Loans Fund, the Spanish Official Credit Institute, and German Credit Institute for Reconstruction), began the implementation of the “Joint Initiative on Circular Economy” (JICE), the goal of which is to eliminate waste, prevent its generation and increase the efficiency of resource management. PFR TFI S.A, an entity also under the umbrella of PFR, supports Polish investors planning to or already operating abroad. PFR TFI manages the Foreign Expansion Fund (FEZ), which provides loans, on market terms, to foreign entities owned by Polish entrepreneurs. See https://www.pfrtfi.pl/  and https://pfr.pl/en/offer/foreign-expansion-fund.html 

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

A current list of all Poland’s BITs, including the documents themselves, can be found at: https://investmentpolicy.unctad.org/international-investment-agreements/countries/168/poland 

The United States and Poland signed a Treaty Concerning Business and Economic Relations in 1990 that was amended and re-ratified in October 2004 due to Poland’s entrance into the EU. In May 2020, all EU-member states, except Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland (Ireland is not a party to any intra-EU BITs), signed an agreement on the termination of intra-EU BITs. This agreement will terminate several intra-EU BITs which Poland still has or terminate the sunset clauses of the treaties already denounced by Poland. Sweden, Finland and Austria have announced their intention to sign bilateral agreements with Poland terminating the “sunset clauses” of the BITs denounced by Poland.     Poland has signed double taxation treaties with over 80 countries. The United States shares a double taxation treaty with Poland; an updated bilateral tax treaty was signed in February 2013 and is awaiting U.S. ratification. The “Agreement between the United States of America and the Republic of Poland on Social Security” prevents double taxation, enables resumption of payments to suspended beneficiaries, and allows transfer of benefit eligibility. The double taxation treaty does not cover stock options as part of remuneration packages, according to some investors.The Polish tax system underwent significant changes in 2018, many of which became effective in 2019, 2020 or will become effective in 2021. The most important changes involved:

  • An obligatory split payment mechanism;
  • A “White List” of VAT taxpayers (along with their VAT numbers and bank account details) and tax-deductible costs;
    Relief from income taxes for bad debts;
  • Major changes to the processes for “withholding tax” (postponed until 30 June 2021);
  • A new matrix of VAT rates;
  • The replacement of VAT returns with a new Uniform Control File (JPK) structure;
  • An agreement on cooperation in tax matters;
  • Incentives for registering intellectual property, a.k.a. “IP Box” (See Section 5 for more details); and
    New rules for accounting for tax loss.

More information can be found at http://taxsummaries.pwc.com/ID/Poland-Overview 

With a regulatory update in November 2020, Poland adopted several major changes on the taxation of businesses. The changes include the double taxation of some partnerships; deferral of corporate income tax (CIT) for small companies owned by individuals; an obligation for large companies to publish their tax strategies; and a new model of taxation for real estate companies.

Limited partnerships: The key update on limited partnerships (spolka komandytowa) imposes the status of “corporate profits taxpayer” for those with a seat or place of management in Poland, which previously had been tax transparent. The model results in double taxation: firstly on the level of the partnership’s profit, and secondly at the level of profit distribution to the partners. Limited partners will be entitled to an exemption on 50% of received distributions, but only up to approximately PLN 60,000 ($16,000 per year per limited partnership.

General partners (those with unlimited liability) will be entitled to credit proportionally for the entire income tax paid by the partnership, but only within five years. Thus, the new system will differentiate the tax position of limited and unlimited partners. The above regulations entered into force on January 1 2021. These rules will also apply to general partnerships (spolka jawaa) but only if the partners are not individuals, or if the taxpayers participating in their profits are not disclosed. General partnerships with disclosed partners will still be tax transparent.

Deferral of corporate income tax: Lump sum taxation, being a sort of deferral of income tax until the moment of dividend distribution, will apply to companies which select such a system for four years. Companies will have to be owned by individuals, have an annual turnover in the preceding year of up to approximately EUR 25 million, and not have shares in other entities or passive income exceeding 50% of turnover. There are other requirements and conditions for this system to apply, including consideration of employment, and investments in new assets.

Tax Strategies: Companies with a turnover exceeding EUR 50 million per year and tax capital groups will be obliged to prepare and publish strategy reports on the execution of their tax policy on their websites within 12 months following the end of the tax year.

Real estate companies – New model of taxation: Real estate companies will have a series of new duties to perform. For example, when a shareholder in the company sells shares, the company is required to pay any capital gains tax. Some real estate companies will be obliged to appoint a formal tax representative, and many will have to report information about their shareholders (those holding over 5 percent of shares).

Other changes include:

  • Entities operating in special economic zones (SEZs) will not be entitled to change the depreciation rates for new assets.
  • Losses carried forward will not be possible after further reorganizations.
  • Transfer pricing documentation will be required when the beneficial owner of the party to a transaction is from a tax haven.
  • A reduced 9 percent CIT rate will apply to companies with a turnover of up to EUR 2 million (increased from EUR 1.2 million).

As of January 1, 2021, retail outlets with high sales volume are required to pay additional taxes in Poland. While the Retail Sales Tax Act technically entered into force on September 1, 2016, no taxes were collected prior to 2021 due to questions from the European Commission (EC) about the legality of the tax. On March 16, 2021, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) issued a judgment on the compatibility of Poland’s tax on retail sales with the EU law on state aid. The ECJ found that the Polish retail sales tax does not infringe EU law. The European Commission has announced that it will carefully analyze the ECJ’s verdict. This tax is levied on revenues from retail sales exceeding PLN 17 million ($4.3 million) in a given month. Two tax rates apply:

  • 0.8 percent of the tax base – applicable to revenues between PLN 17 million and PLN 170 million ($43 million);
  • 1.4 percent of the tax base over PLN 170 million ($43 million).

The retail sales tax is payable on a monthly basis, no later than the 25th day of the month following the month in which the revenue was earned.

Some U.S. investors have expressed concern that Poland’s tax authorities do not consistently uphold presumably binding tax decisions and sometimes seek retroactive payments after a reversal. Over the last three years, changes to the regulations on transfer pricing, withholding tax and value added tax (VAT) reporting have significantly increased the obligations on the part of taxpayers, in line with a long-term government strategy of increasing tax collection and the effectiveness of inspections. In 2020, tax offices carried out nearly one-fifth fewer audits than in 2019. Lower activity was the effect of restrictions and staffing problems during the pandemic. Irregularities were found more often, but the amount recovered to the budget was lower. This trend has been observed for a few years and shows that the tax system is being effectively sealed and taxpayers are more accurately selected for audits. The number of tax inspections is likely to increase in 2021 to confirm funds from Anti-Crisis Shield programs were not misused.

On February 2, the Polish government published a draft bill for a tax on revenues earned from digital and conventional advertising. Officially the bill was titled “the Act on additional revenue for the National Health Fund, the National Fund for the Protection of Historical Monuments, and the creation of a Media Support Fund for Culture and National Heritage.” The government has claimed the tax, which it refers to as a “solidarity levy,” is necessary to address the long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, with economic winners supporting economic losers. The tax would apply rates from 2 to 15 percent of revenues earned and would enter into force on July 1, 2021. Media and digital companies have protested the proposed tax, and some have expressed concern that it could irreparably harm struggling media outlets and adversely affect independent journalism in Poland. The government continues to work on the bill.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

The Polish Constitution contains a number of provisions related to administrative law and procedures.  It states administrative bodies have a duty to observe and comply with the law of Poland.  The Code of Administrative Procedures (CAP) states rules and principles concerning participation and involvement of citizens in processes affecting them, the giving of reasons for decisions, and forms of appeal and review.

As a member of the EU, Poland complies with EU directives by harmonizing rules or translating them into national legislation.  Rule-making and regulatory authority exists at the central, regional, and municipal levels.  Various ministries are engaged in rule-making that affects foreign business, such as pharmaceutical reimbursement at the Ministry of Health or incentives for R&D at the Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology.  Regional and municipal level governments can levy certain taxes and affect foreign investors through permitting and zoning.

Polish accounting standards do not differ significantly from international standards.  Major international accounting firms provide services in Poland.  In cases where there is no national accounting standard, the appropriate International Accounting Standard may be applied.  However, investors have complained of regulatory unpredictability and high levels of administrative red tape.  Foreign and domestic investors must comply with a variety of laws concerning taxation, labor practices, health and safety, and the environment.  Complaints about these laws, especially the tax system, center on frequent changes, lack of clarity, and strict penalties for minor errors.

Poland has improved its regulatory policy system over the last several years.  The government introduced a central online system to provide access for the general public to regulatory impact assessments (RIA) and other documents sent for consultation to selected groups such as trade unions and business.  Proposed laws and regulations are published in draft form for public comment, and ministries must conduct public consultations.  Poland follows OECD recognized good regulatory practices, but investors say the lack of regulations governing the role of stakeholders in the legislative process is a problem.  Participation in public consultations and the window for comments are often limited.

New guidelines for RIA, consultation and ex post evaluation were adopted under the Better Regulation Program in 2015, providing more detailed guidance and stronger emphasis on public consultation.  Like many countries, Poland faces challenges to fully implement its regulatory policy requirements and to ensure that RIA and consultation comments are used to improve decision making.  The OECD suggests Poland extend its online public consultation system and consider using instruments such as green papers more systematically for early-stage consultation to identify options for addressing a policy problem.  OECD considers steps taken to introduce ex post evaluation of regulations encouraging.

Bills can be submitted to Parliament for debate as “citizens’ bills” if authors collect 100,000 signatures in support for the draft legislation.  NGOs and private sector associations most often take advantage of this avenue.  Parliamentary bills can also be submitted by a group of parliamentarians, a mechanism that bypasses public consultation and which both domestic and foreign investors have criticized.  Changes to the government’s rules of procedure introduced in June 2016 reduced the requirements for RIA for preparations of new legislation.

Administrative authorities are subject to oversight by courts and other bodies (e.g., the Supreme Audit Chamber – NIK), the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, special commissions and agencies, inspectorates, the Prosecutor and parliamentary committees.  Polish parliamentary committees utilize a distinct system to examine and instruct ministries and administrative agency heads.  Committees’ oversight of administrative matters consists of: reports on state budgets implementation and preparation of new budgets, citizens’ complaints, and reports from the NIK.  In addition, courts and prosecutors’ offices sometimes bring cases to parliament’s attention.

The Ombudsperson’s institution works relatively well in Poland.  Polish citizens have a right to complain and to put forward grievances before administrative bodies.  Proposed legislation can be tracked on the Prime Minister’s webpage,  https://legislacja.rcl.gov.pl/  and the Parliament’s webpage:  https://www.sejm.gov.pl/sejm9.nsf/proces.xsp . Poland has consistently met or exceeded the Department of State’s minimum requirements for fiscal transparency: https://www.state.gov/2020-fiscal-transparency-report/

Poland’s budget and information on debt obligations were widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online. The budget was substantially complete and considered generally reliable. NIK audited the government’s accounts and made its reports publicly available, including online. The budget structure and classifications are complex, and the Polish authorities agree more work is needed to address deficiencies in the process of budgetary planning and procedures. State budgets encompass only part of the public finances sector.

The European Commission regularly assesses the public finance sustainability of Member States based on fiscal gap ratios. In 2021, Poland’s public finances will continue to be exposed to a high general government deficit, uncertainty in financial markets resulting primarily from the macroeconomic environment, the effects of the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic, and the monetary policy of the NBP and major central banks, including the European Central Bank and the U.S. Federal Reserve.

International Regulatory Considerations

Since its EU accession in May 2004, Poland has been transposing European legislation and reforming its regulations in compliance with the EU system. Poland sometimes disagrees with EU regulations related to renewable energy and emissions due to its important domestic coal industry.

Poland participates in the process of creation of European norms. There is strong encouragement for non-governmental organizations, such as environmental and consumer groups, to actively participate in European standardization. In areas not covered by European normalization, the Polish Committee for Standardization (PKN) introduces norms identical with international norms, i.e., PN-ISO and PN-IEC. PKN actively cooperates with international and European standards organizations and with standards bodies from other countries. PKN has been a founding member of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and a member of the International Electro-technical Commission (IEC) since 1923.

PKN also cooperates with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International and the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Poland has been a member of the WTO since July 1, 1995 and was a member of GATT from October 18, 1967. All EU member states are WTO members, as is the EU in its own right. While the member states coordinate their position in Brussels and Geneva, the European Commission alone speaks for the EU and its members in almost all WTO affairs. PKN runs the WTO/TBT National Information Point in order to apply the provisions of the TBT with respect to information exchange concerning national standardization.

Useful Links:
http://ec.europa.eu/growth/single-market/european-standards/harmonised-standards/ 
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/oj/direct-access.html?locale=en )

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Polish legal system is code-based and prosecutorial.  The main source of the country’s law is the Constitution of 1997.  The legal system is a mix of Continental civil law (Napoleonic) and remnants of communist legal theory.  Poland accepts the obligatory jurisdiction of the ECJ, but with reservations.  In civil and commercial matters, first instance courts sit in single-judge panels, while courts handling appeals sit in three-judge panels. District Courts (Sad Rejonowy) handle the majority of disputes in the first instance.  When the value of a dispute exceeds a certain amount or the subject matter requires more expertise (such as those regarding intellectual property rights), Circuit Courts (Sad Okregowy) serve as first instance courts.  Circuit Courts also handle appeals from District Court verdicts.  Courts of Appeal (Sad Apelacyjny) handle appeals from verdicts of Circuit Courts as well as generally supervise the courts in their region.

The Polish judicial system generally upholds the sanctity of contracts.  Foreign court judgements, under the Polish Civil Procedure Code and European Community regulation, can be recognized.  There are many foreign court judgments, however, which Polish courts do not accept or accept partially.  There can also be delays in the recognition of judgments of foreign courts due to an insufficient number of judges with specialized expertise.  Generally, foreign firms are wary of the slow and over-burdened Polish court system, preferring other means to defend their rights.  Contracts involving foreign parties often include a clause specifying that disputes will be resolved in a third-country court or through offshore arbitration.  (More detail in Section 4, Dispute Settlement.)

Since coming to power in 2015, the PiS government has pursued far-reaching reforms to Poland’s judicial system. The reforms have led to legal disputes with the European Commission over threats to judicial independence. The reforms have also drawn criticism from legal experts, NGOs, and international organizations. Poland’s government contends the reforms are needed to purge the old Communist guard and increase efficiency and democratic oversight in the judiciary.

Observers noted in particular the introduction of an extraordinary appeal mechanism in the 2017 Supreme Court Law.  The extraordinary appeal mechanism states:  final judgments issued since 1997 can be challenged and overturned in whole or in part for a three-year period starting from the day the legislation entered into force on April 3, 2018.  On February 25, 2021, the Sejm passed an amendment to the law on the Supreme Court, which extended by two years (until April 2023) the deadline for submitting extraordinary complaints.  The bill is now waiting for review by the opposition-controlled Senate.  During 2020, the Extraordinary Appeals Chamber received 217 new complaints. During 2020, the Chamber reviewed 166 complaints, of which 18 were accepted, and 13 were rejected. Seventy-three cases were pending at the end of 2020 the status of the remaining cases was unavailable.

On April 8, 2020, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) issued interim measures ordering the government to suspend the work of the Supreme Court Disciplinary Chamber with regard to disciplinary cases against judges. The ECJ is evaluating an infringement proceeding launched by the European Commission in April 2019 and referred to the ECJ in October 2019. The commission argued that the country’s disciplinary regime for judges “undermines the judicial independence of…judges and does not ensure the necessary guarantees to protect judges from political control, as required by the Court of Justice of the EU.” The commission stated the disciplinary regime did not provide for the independence and impartiality of the Disciplinary Chamber, which is composed solely of judges selected by the restructured National Council of the Judiciary, which is appointed by the Sejm. The ECJ has yet to make a final ruling. The European Commission and judicial experts complained the government has ignored the ECJ’s interim measures.

On April 29, 2020, the European Commission launched a new infringement procedure regarding a law that came into effect on February 14, 2020. The law allows judges to be disciplined for impeding the functioning of the legal system or questioning a judge’s professional state or the effectiveness of his or her appointment. It also requires judges to disclose memberships in associations. The commission’s announcement stated the law “undermines the judicial independence of Polish judges and is incompatible with the primacy of EU law.” It also stated the law “prevents Polish courts from directly applying certain provisions of EU law protecting judicial independence and from putting references for preliminary rulings on such questions to the [European] Court of Justice.” On December 3, the commission expanded its April 29 complaint to include the continued functioning of the Disciplinary Chamber in apparent disregard of the ECJ’s interim measures in the prior infringement procedure.  On January 27, 2021, the European Commission sent a reasoned opinion to the Polish government for response. If not satisfied, the Commission noted it would refer the matter to the ECJ.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Foreign nationals can expect to obtain impartial proceedings in legal matters. Polish is the official language and must be used in all legal proceedings. It is possible to obtain an interpreter. The basic legal framework for establishing and operating companies in Poland, including companies with foreign investors, is found in the Commercial Companies Code. The Code provides for establishment of joint-stock companies, limited liability companies, or partnerships (e.g., limited joint-stock partnerships, professional partnerships). These corporate forms are available to foreign investors who come from an EU or European Free Trade Association (EFTA) member state or from a country that offers reciprocity to Polish enterprises, including the United States.

With few exceptions, foreign investors are guaranteed national treatment. Companies that establish an EU subsidiary after May 1, 2004 and conduct or plan to commence business operations in Poland must observe all EU regulations. However, in some cases they may not be able to benefit from all privileges afforded to EU companies. Foreign investors without permanent residence and the right to work in Poland may be restricted from participating in day-to-day operations of a company. Parties can freely determine the content of contracts within the limits of European contract law. All parties must agree on essential terms, including the price and the subject matter of the contract. Written agreements, although not always mandatory, may enable an investor to avoid future disputes. Civil Code is the law applicable to contracts.

Useful websites (in English) to help navigate laws, rules, procedures and reporting requirements for foreign investors:

Polish Investment and Trade Agency: https://www.paih.gov.pl/en 
Polish Financial Supervision Authority (KNF):  https://www.knf.gov.pl/en/ 
Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKIK):  https://uokik.gov.pl/legal_regulations.php 

Biznes.gov.pl is intended for people who plan to start a new business in Poland. The portal is designed to simplify the formalities of setting up and running a business. It provides up-to-date regulations and procedures for running a business in Poland and the EU; it supports electronic application submission to state institutions; and it answers questions regarding running a business. Information is available in Polish and English. https://www.biznes.gov.pl/en/przedsiebiorcy/ 

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Poland has a high level of nominal convergence with the EU on competition policy in accordance with Articles 101 and 102 of the Lisbon Treaty. Poland’s Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) is well within EU norms for structure and functioning, with the exception that the Prime Minister both appoints and dismisses the head of UOKiK. This is supposed to change to be in line with EU norms, however, as of March 2021, the Prime Minister was still exercising his right to remove and nominate UOKiK’s presidents.

The Act on Competition and Consumer Protection  was amended in mid-2019. The most important changes, which concern geo-blocking and access to fiscal and banking secrets, came into force on September 17, 2019. Other minor changes took effect in January 2020. The amendments result from the need to align national law with new EU laws.

Starting in January 2020, UOKiK may intervene in cases when delays in payment are excessive. UOKiK can take action when the sum of outstanding payments due to an entrepreneur for three subsequent months amounts to at least PLN 5 million ($1.7 million). In 2022, the minimum amount will decrease to PLN 2 million ($510,000).

The President of UOKiK issues approximately 100 decisions per year regarding practices restricting competition and infringing on collective interests of consumers. Enterprises have the right to appeal against those decisions to the court. In the first instance, the case is examined by the Court of Competition and Consumer Protection and in the second instance, by the Appellate Court. The decision of the Appellate Court may be challenged by way of a cassation appeal filed to the Supreme Court. In major cases, the General Counsel to the Republic of Poland will act as the legal representative in proceedings concerning an appeal against a decision of the President of UOKiK.

As part of new COVID-related measures, the Polish Parliament adopted legislation amending the Act of July 24, 2015, on the Control of Certain Investments, introducing full-fledged foreign direct investment control in Poland and giving new responsibilities to UOKiK. Entities from outside the EEA and/or the OECD have to notify the Polish Competition Authority of the intention to make an investment resulting in acquisition, achievement or obtaining directly or indirectly: “significant participation” (defined briefly as 20 percent or 40 percent of share in the total number of votes, capital, or profits or purchasing or leasing of an enterprise or its organized part) or the status of a dominant entity within the meaning of the Act of July 24, 2015, on the Control of Certain Investments in an entity subject to protection. The new law entered into force on July 24, 2020 and is valid for 24 months.

On October 28, 2020, the government proposed new legislation by virtue of which the tasks pursued by the Financial Ombudsman will be taken over by UOKiK. According to the justification of this legislation, the objective of the draft is to enhance the efficiency of protection, in terms of both group and individual interests of financial market entities’ clients. According to the new regulations, a new position of coordinator conducting out-of-court procedures in matters of resolving disputes between financial market entities and their clients will be established. Such a coordinator will be appointed by UOKiK for a four-year term. Moreover, the new proposal provides for creating the Financial Education Fund (FEF), a special-purpose fund managed by UOKiK.

Additional provisions in the proposed legislation concern the UOKiK’s investigative powers, cooperation between anti-monopoly authorities, and changes to fine imposition and leniency programs. One of the amendments also stipulates that the President of UOKiK will be elected to a 5-year term and the dismissal of the anti-monopoly authority will only be possible in precisely defined situations, such as: legally valid conviction for a criminal offense caused by intentional conduct and the deprivation of public rights or of Polish citizenship. Adoption of these solutions is linked to the implementation of the EU’s ECN+ directive.

All multinational companies must notify UOKiK of a proposed merger if any party to it has subsidiaries, distribution networks or permanent sales in Poland.

Examples of competition reviews can be found at:
https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=16649  (Gazprom NS2)
https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=17198  (Agora/Eurozet)
https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=17202  (Orlen/Polska Press)
https://www.uokik.gov.pl/news.php?news_id=17198  (BPH Bank spread clauses)

Decisions made by the President of UOKiK can be searched here:
https://decyzje.uokik.gov.pl/bp/dec_prez.nsf 

The President of UOKiK has the power to impose significant fines on individuals in management positions at companies that violate the prohibition of anticompetitive agreements. The amendment to the law governing UOKiK’s operation, which entered into force on December 15, 2018, provides for a similar power to impose significant fines on the management of companies in the case of violations of consumer rights. The maximum fine that can be imposed on a manager may amount to PLN 2 million ($510,000) and, in the case of managers in the financial sector, up to PLN 5 million ($1.27 million).

Expropriation and Compensation

Article 21 of the Polish Constitution states: “expropriation is admissible only for public purposes and upon equitable compensation.”  The Law on Land Management and Expropriation of Real Estate states that property may be expropriated only in accordance with statutory provisions such as construction of public works, national security considerations, or other specified cases of public interest.  The government must pay full compensation at market value for expropriated property.  Acquiring land for road construction investment and recently also for the Central Airport and the Vistula Spit projects has been liberalized and simplified to accelerate property acquisition, particularly through a special legislative act. Most acquisitions for road construction are resolved without problems.  However, there have been a few cases in which the inability to reach agreement on remuneration has resulted in disputes.  Post is not aware of any recent expropriation actions against U.S. investors, companies, or representatives.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Poland is not a party to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (Washington Convention). Poland is a party to the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention).

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Poland is party to the following international agreements on dispute resolution, with the Ministry of Finance acting as the government’s representative: the 1923 Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses; the 1961 Geneva European Convention on International Trade Arbitration; the 1972 Moscow Convention on Arbitration Resolution of Civil Law Disputes in Economic and Scientific Cooperation Claims under the U.S.-Poland Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) (with further amendments).

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) database for treaty-based disputes lists three cases for Poland involving a U.S. party over the last decade. The majority of Poland’s investment disputes are with companies from other EU member states. According to the UNCTAD database, over the last decade, there have been 16 known disputes with foreign investors.

There is no distinction in law between domestic and international arbitration. The law only distinguishes between foreign and domestic arbitral awards for the purpose of their recognition and enforcement. The decisions of arbitration entities are not automatically enforceable in Poland, but must be confirmed and upheld in a Polish court. Under Polish Civil Code, local courts accept and enforce the judgments of foreign courts; in practice, however, the acceptance of foreign court decisions varies. Investors say the timely process of energy policy consolidation has made the legal, regulatory and investment environment for the energy sector uncertain in terms of how the Polish judicial system deals with questions and disputes around energy investments by foreign investors, and in foreign investor interactions with state-owned or affiliated energy enterprises.

A Civil Procedures Code amendment in January 2016, with further amendments in July 2019, implements internationally recognized arbitration standards and creates an arbitration-friendly legal regime in Poland. The amendment applies to arbitral proceedings initiated on or after January 1, 2016 and introduced one-instance proceedings to repeal an arbitration award (instead of two-instance proceedings). This change encourages mediation and arbitration to solve commercial disputes and aims to strengthen expeditious procedure. The Courts of Appeal (instead of District Courts) handle complaints. In cases of foreign arbitral awards, the Court of Appeal is the only instance. In certain cases, it is possible to file a cassation (or extraordinary) appeal with the Supreme Court of the Republic of Poland. In the case of a domestic arbitral award, it will be possible to file an appeal to a different panel of the Court of Appeal.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Poland does not have an arbitration law, but provisions in the Polish Code of Civil Procedures of 1964, as amended, are based to a large extent on UNCITRAL Model Law. Under the Code of Civil Procedure, an arbitration agreement must be concluded in writing. Commercial contracts between Polish and foreign companies often contain an arbitration clause. Arbitration tribunals operate through the Polish Chamber of Commerce, and other sector-specific organizations. A permanent court of arbitration also functions at the business organization Confederation Lewiatan in Warsaw and at the General Counsel to the Republic of Poland (GCRP). GCRP took over arbitral cases from external counsels in 2017 and began representing state-owned commercial companies in litigation and arbitration matters for amounts in dispute over PLN 5 million ($1.27 million). The list of these entities includes major Polish state-owned enterprises in the airline, energy, banking, chemical, insurance, military, oil and rail industries as well as other entities such as museums, state-owned media and universities.

The Court of Arbitration at the Polish Chamber of Commerce in Warsaw, the biggest permanent arbitration court in Poland, operates based on arbitration rules complying with the latest international standards, implementing new provisions on expedited procedure. In recent years, numerous efforts have been made to increase use of arbitration in Poland. In 2019, online arbitration courts appeared on the Polish market. Their presence reflects the need for reliable, fast and affordable alternatives to state courts in smaller disputes. Online arbitration is becoming increasingly popular with exporting companies. One of the reasons is the possibility to file claims faster for overdue payments to foreign courts.

Polish state courts generally respect the wide autonomy of arbitration courts and show little inclination to interfere with their decisions as to the merits of the case. The arbitral awards are likely to be set aside only in rare cases. As a rule, in post-arbitral proceedings, Polish courts do not address the merits of the cases decided by the arbitration courts. An arbitration-friendly approach is also visible in other aspects, such as in the broad interpretation of arbitration clauses.

In mid-2018, the Polish Supreme Court introduced a new legal instrument into the Polish legal field: an extraordinary complaint. Although this new instrument does not refer directly to arbitration proceedings, it may be applied to any procedures before Polish state courts, including post-arbitration proceedings (see Section 3 for more details).

Bankruptcy Regulations

Poland’s bankruptcy law has undergone significant change and modernization in recent years. There is now a bankruptcy law and a separate, distinct restructuring law. Poland ranks 25th for ease of resolving insolvency in the World Bank’s Doing Business report 2020. Bankruptcy in Poland is criminalized if a company’s management does not file a petition to declare bankruptcy when a company becomes illiquid for an extended period of time or if a company ceases to pay its liabilities. https://www.paih.gov.pl/polish_law/bankruptcy_law_and_restructuring_proceedings 

In order to reduce the risk of overwhelming the bankruptcy courts with an excess of cases resulting from the pandemic, changes have been introduced in the bankruptcy process for consumers, shifting part of the duties to a trustee. A second significant change is the introduction of simplified restructuring proceedings. During restructuring proceedings, a company appoints an interim supervisor and is guaranteed protection against debt collection while seeking approval for specific restructuring plans from creditors. The simplified proceedings enjoy great support among entities at risk of insolvency, but are limited in time until June 30, 2021. Some of the solutions provided in the simplified restructuring procedure are the implementation of recommendations from Directive 2019/1023 of the European Parliament and of the Council (EU) of June 20, 2019. It is likely that, taking advantage of the state of the epidemic, the government is testing new solutions, which may continue to be applied after the economic situation has returned to normal.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Poland’s Plan for Responsible Development identified eight industries for development and incentives: aviation, defense, automotive parts manufacturing, ship building, information technology, chemicals, furniture manufacturing and food processing.  More information about the plan can be found at this link:  https://www.gov.pl/web/fundusze-regiony/plan-na-rzecz-odpowiedzialnego-rozwoju.  Poland encourages energy sector development through its energy policy, outlined in the November 2018 published draft report “Energy Policy of Poland until 2040” (PEP2040) and finally adopted by the government in February 2021.  The policy can be found at:  https://www.gov.pl/web/klimat/polityka-energetyczna-polski.

The policy foresees a primary role for fossil fuels until 2040 as well as strong growth in electricity production.  The government will continue to pursue developing nuclear energy and offshore wind power generation, as well as distributed generation.  The policy remains skeptical of onshore wind.  Poland’s National Energy and Climate Plan for years 2021-2030 (NECP PL) developed in line with the EU Regulation on the Governance of the Energy and Climate Action, together with PEP2040, pave the road to the new European Green Deal.  Poland may spend approximately $420 billion on the transformation of its energy sector in 2021-2040, according to the energy policy.  These investments would include about $230 billion in the fuel and energy sectors and about $90 billion in the generation segment, of which 80 percent will be spent on nuclear energy and renewables investments.

A new economic program called the “New Deal” (Nowy Lad), still awaiting public presentation as of March 2020, is likely to include proposals of significant changes to the tax system including incentives to attract capital to Poland.  The government claims the program consists of support schemes for domestic enterprises, new investment and development projects, as well as reforms of the healthcare system, social welfare, education, environmental, and energy policies.

A government strategy aims for a commercial 5G network to be operational in all cities by 2025.

The Ministry of Development has finished public consultations on its Industry Development White Paper, which identifies the government’s views on its most significant barriers to industrial activity.  This document will serve as a foundation for Poland’s Industrial Policy (PIP). The majority of public comments received focused on issues related to the education system not being tailored to the needs of industry, a workforce deficit, difficulties in obtaining funding, for R&D, environmental regulations, complex administrative procedures and legislation, labor regulations, and high energy prices.  The PIP is slated to become a strategic document, setting the direction for long-term industrial development.  The PIP will focus on five areas:  digitization, security, industrial production location, the Green Deal, and modern society.  The Ministry expects to finalize this strategic plan during the second quarter of 2021.  The government has not yet clarified how Poland’s Industrial Policy will align with other strategic documents, including the National Recovery Plan and the New Deal.

A company investing in Poland, either foreign or domestic, may receive assistance from the Polish government.  Foreign investors have the potential to access certain incentives such as:  income tax and real estate tax exemptions; investment grants of up to 50 percent of investment costs (70 percent for small and medium-sized enterprises); grants for research and development; grants for other activities such as environmental protection, training, logistics, or use of renewable energy sources.

Large priority-sector investments may qualify for the “Program for Supporting Investment of Considerable Importance for the Polish Economy for 2011-2030.”  The program, amended in October 2019, is one of the instruments enabling support for new investment projects, particularly relevant for the Polish economy.  Its main goal is to increase innovation and the competitiveness of the Polish economy.  Under the amended program, it is possible to co-finance large strategic investments as well as medium-sized innovative projects.  Projects that adapt modern technologies and provide for research and development activities are awarded.  The program is also conducive to establishing cooperation between the economic sector and academic centers.  The support is granted in the form of a subsidy, based on an agreement concluded between the Minister of Development and the investor.  The agreement regulates the conditions for the payment of subsidies and the investment implementation schedule.  Under the program, investment support may be granted in two categories: eligible costs for creating new jobs and investment costs in tangible and intangible assets.  Companies can learn more at: https://www.paih.gov.pl/why_poland/investment_incentives/programme_for_supporting_investments_of_major_importance_to_the_polish_economy_for_2011_-_2030

https://www.gov.pl/web/rozwoj/program-wspierania-inwestycji-o-istotnym-znaczeniu-dla-gospodarki-polskiej-na-lata-2011-2030

The Polish Investment Zone (PSI), the new system of tax incentives for investors which replaced the previous system of special economic zones (SEZ), was launched September 5, 2018.  Under the new law on the PSI, companies can apply for a corporate income tax (CIT) exemption for a new investment to be placed anywhere in Poland.  The CIT exemption is calculated based on the value of the investment multiplied by the percentage of public aid allocated for a given region based on its level of development (set percentage).  The CIT exemption is for 10-15 years, depending on the location of the investment.  Special treatment is available for investment in new business services and research and development (R&D).  A point system determines eligibility for the incentives.  Entities operating in special economic zones will not be entitled to change the depreciation rates for new assets starting 2021.

The deadline for utilizing available tax credits from the previous SEZ system is the end of 2026 (extended from 2020).  The new regulations also contain important changes for entities already operating in SEZs, even if they do not plan new investment projects.  This includes the possibility of losing the right to tax incentives in the event of fraud or tax evasion.  Investors should consider carefully the potential benefits of the CIT exemption in assessing new investments or expansion of existing investments in Poland.

More information on government financial support:  https://www.paih.gov.pl/why_poland/investment_incentives

The Polish government is seeking to increase Poland’s economic competitiveness by shifting toward a knowledge-based economy.  Public and private sector investment in R&D has been steadily growing since 2016, supported by EU funds dedicated to R&D and innovation.  Businesses may also take advantage of the EU primary research funding program, Horizon 2020 and its successor Horizon Europe.  The EU institutions set the 2021–2027 budget for Horizon Europe at EUR 95.5 billion (including EUR 5.4 billion from the Next Generation of the EU  Recovery Fund).  The first Horizon Europe Strategic Plan (2021-2024), which sets out key strategic orientations for the support of research and innovation, was adopted on March 15, 2021.  According to the European Commission, the program will start “as soon as possible in 2021.”  A few months’ delay in the start should not have a big impact on potential grantees because the Commission had already been making contingency plans and will still be spending money left over from Horizon 2020 over the next few years.  The conditions for participation, funding and other related formalities remain unchanged.

More information is available at:

Ministry of Funds and Regional Development:  https://www.gov.pl/web/fundusze-regiony/otwarte-konkursy-nabory-dotacje-i-dofinansowania

Ministry of Economic Development: https://www.gov.pl/web/rozwoj/programy-i-projekty

Horizon Europe 2021-2027:  https://ec.europa.eu/info/horizon-europe_en#proposal

As of January 1, 2019, the Innovation Box, or IP Box, reduces the tax rate applicable to income derived from intellectual property rights to 5 percent.  Taxpayers applying the IP Box shall be entitled to benefit from the tax preference until a given right expires (in case of a patented invention – 20 years).  In order to benefit from the program, taxpayers will be obliged to separately account for the relevant income.  Foreign investors may take advantage of this benefit as long as the relevant IP is registered in Poland.

The update of the National Reform Program (NRP) heralds the introduction of a new incentive measure for enterprises in the form of tax relief related to investments in automation and robotization (robotization relief).  According to an announcement from the Ministry of Finance, robotization relief should apply as of the first half of 2021.  Robotization relief is intended as a tax incentive available to all entities subject to income tax.  At the same time, eligibility for the relief will not depend on the business sector in which the enterprise operates or business size, making this solution available to all.  The new tax relief will operate in a similar manner as the existing research & development tax relief enabling taxpayers to make an additional deduction of eligible costs (expenses detailed in an exhaustive list) from the tax base.  Within the framework of robotization relief, it will be possible to deduct 50 percent of the eligible costs. According to the draft, the relief will apply within a specific time frame.  It has been announced that robotization relief will apply to expenses incurred on business robotization and automation in the years 2021-2025.  The deductions can be made in these years and in the six consecutive years thereafter.  It means that the last deductions of eligible expenses can be made in 2031.

There are numerous grants, preferential loans, and other financial instruments to encourage investment that protects the environment by increasing energy efficiency and to promote renewable energy sources and cogeneration systems.  Incentives are available mostly from EU funds and national funds and can cover up to 85 percent of eligible costs.

The Polish government does not issue sovereign guarantees for FDI projects.  Co-financing may be possible for partnering on large FDI projects, such as the planned central airport project or a nuclear power plant project.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Foreign-owned firms have the same opportunities as Polish firms to benefit from foreign trade zones (FTZs), free ports, and special economic zones (since January 2019, they make up the Polish Investment Zone).  The 2004 Customs Law (with later amendments) regulates operation of FTZs in Poland.  The Minister of Finance establishes duty-free zones.  The Ministers designate the zone’s managing authorities, usually provincial governors, who issue operating permits to interested companies for a given zone.

Most activity in FTZs involves storage, packaging, and repackaging.  As of April 2019, there were seven FTZs:  Gliwice, near Poland’s southern border; Terespol, near Poland’s border with Belarus; Mszczonow, near Warsaw; Warsaw’s Frederic Chopin International Airport; Szczecin; Swinoujscie; and Gdansk.  Duty-free shops are available only for travelers to non-EU countries.

There are bonded warehouses in:  Bydgoszcz-Szwederowo; Krakow-Balice; Wroclaw-Strachowice; Katowice-Pyrzowice; Gdansk-Trojmiasto; Lodz -Lublinek; Poznan-Lawica; Rzeszow-Jasionka, Warszawa-Modlin, Lublin, Szczecin-Goleniow; Radom-Sadkow, Olsztyn-Mazury.  Commercial companies can operate bonded warehouses.  Customs and storage facilities must operate pursuant to custom authorities’ permission.  Only legal persons established in the EU can receive authorization to operate a customs warehouse.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Poland has no policy of “forced localization” designed to force foreign investors to use domestic content in goods or technology.  Investment incentives apply equally to foreign and domestic firms.  Over 40 percent of firms in Special Economic Zones are Polish.  There is little data on localization requirements in Poland and there are no requirements for foreign information technology (IT) providers to turn over source code and/or provide access to surveillance (backdoors into hardware and software or turn over keys for encryption).  Exceptions exist in sectors where data are important for national security such as critical telecommunications infrastructure and in gambling.  The cross-border transfer rules in Poland are reasonable and follow international best practices, although some companies have criticized registration requirements as cumbersome.  In Poland, the Telecommunications Law (Act of 16 July 2004 – unified text, Journal of Laws 2018, item 1954) includes data retention provisions.  The data retention period is 12 months.

In the telecommunication sector, the Office of Electronic Communication (UKE) ensures telecommunication operators fulfill their obligations.  In radio and television, the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) acts as the regulator.  Polish regulations protect an individual’s personal data that are collected in Poland regardless of where the data are physically stored.  The Personal Data Protection Office (UODO) enforces personal data regulations.

Work is underway at the national level on the draft of a new Act on Open Data and Re-use of Public Sector Information.  This work follows adoption of the new Open Data Directive (Directive (EU) 2019/1024 on open data and the re-use of public sector information), which should be implemented into Polish law by July 17, 2021.

Post is not aware of excessively onerous visa, residence permit or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors and their employees, though investors regularly note long processing times due to understaffing at regional employment offices.  U.S. companies have reported difficulties obtaining work permits for their non-EU citizen employees.  Both regulatory challenges and administrative delays result in permit processing times of 3 to 12 months.  This affects the hiring of new employees as well as the transfer of existing employees from outside Poland.  U.S. companies have complained they are losing highly-qualified employees to other destinations, such as Germany, where labor markets are more accessible.  The problem is especially acute in southern Poland.

Generally, Poland does not mandate local employment, but there are a few regulations that place de facto restrictions e.g., a certain number of board members of insurance companies must speak Polish.

Polish law limits non-EU citizens to 49 percent ownership of a company’s capital shares in the air transport, radio and television broadcasting sectors as well as airport and seaport operations.  There are also legal limits on foreign ownership of farm and forest lands as outlined in Section 2 of this report under Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment.  Pursuant to the Broadcasting Law, a TV broadcasting company may only receive a license if the voting share of its foreign owners does not exceed 49 percent and if they hold permanent residence in Poland.  In the insurance sector, at least two members of management boards, including the chair, must speak Polish.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Poland recognizes and enforces secured interests in property, movable and real. The concept of a mortgage exists in Poland, and there is a recognized system of recording such secured interests. There are two types of publicly available land registers in Poland: the land and mortgage register (ksiegi wieczyste), the purpose of which is to register titles to land and encumbrances thereon; and the land and buildings register (ewidencja gruntow i budynkow), the function of which is more technical as it contains information concerning physical features of the land, class of land and its use. Generally, real estate in Poland is registered and legal title can be identified on the basis of entries in the land and mortgage registers which are maintained by relevant district courts. Each register is accessible to the public and excerpts are available on application, subject to a nominal fee. The registers are available online.

Poland has a non-discriminatory legal system accessible to foreign investors that protects and facilitates acquisition and disposition of all property rights, including land, buildings, and mortgages. However, foreigners (both individuals and entities) must obtain a permit to acquire property (See Section 1 Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment). Many investors, foreign and domestic, complain the judicial system is slow in adjudicating property rights cases. Under the Polish Civil Code, a contract to buy real property must be made in the form of a notary deed. Foreign companies and individuals may lease real property in Poland without having to obtain a permit.

Widespread nationalization of property during and after World War II has complicated the ability to establish clear title to land in Poland, especially in major municipalities.  While the Polish government has an administrative system for reviewing claims for the restitution of communal property, former individual property owners must file and pursue claims in the Polish court system in order to receive restitution.  There is no general statute of limitations regarding the filing or litigation of private property restitution claims, but there are exceptions for specific cases.  For example, in cases involving the communist-era nationalization of Warsaw under the Bierut Decree, there were claims deadlines that have now passed, and under current law, those who did not meet the deadlines would no longer be able to make a claim for either restitution or compensation.  During 2020, Warsaw city authorities continued implementing a 2015 Law dubbed the Small Reprivatization Act.  This Law aimed to stop the problem of speculators purchasing Warsaw property claims for low values from the original owners or their heirs and then applying for a perpetual usufruct or compensation as the new legal owner.  On September 17, 2020, Parliament adopted further amendments to the 2015 law.  The revised legislation established new grounds on which the City of Warsaw must refuse the return of properties, for reasons outside claimants’ control. The president signed the legislation on September 29. NGOs and advocacy groups expressed serious concerns that the 2015 law fell short of providing just compensation to former owners who lost property as a result of the nationalization of properties by the communist-era government, and also properties taken during the Holocaust era. Legal experts expressed concern that the law limited the ability of petitioners to reclaim property unjustly taken from their lawful owners. The World Jewish Restitution Organization asserted that the time limits included in the law were insufficient for potential claimants, particularly Holocaust survivors and their heirs, to meet difficult documentary requirements.

Critics state the law might extinguish potential claims by private individuals of properties seized during World War II or the communist era, if no one comes forward to pursue a restitution claim within the time limit.  Any potential claimants who come forward within six months after publication of the affected property by the City of Warsaw will have an additional three months to establish their claim.  The city began publishing lists in 2017 and continued to do so during 2021.  The city’s website contains further information on these cases and the process to pursue a claim:  https://bip.warszawa.pl/Menu_podmiotowe/biura_urzedu/SD/ogloszenia/default.htm 

It is sometimes difficult to establish clear title to properties.  There are no comprehensive estimates of land without clear title in Poland.

The 2016 Agricultural Land Law banned the sale of state-owned farmland under the administration of the National Center for Support of Agriculture (NCSA) for five years.  Long-term state-owned farmland leases are available for farmers looking to expand their operations up to 300 hectares.  Foreign investors can (and do) lease agricultural land.  The 2016 Agricultural Land Law also imposed restrictions on sales of privately-owned farmland, giving the NCSA preemptive right of purchase.

The 2011 amendment to the law of Management of Farmland Administered by NCSA and 2016 Agricultural Land Law adversely affected tenants with long-term state-owned land leases.  According to the law, renters who did not return 30 percent of the land under lease to NCSA would not be eligible to have their leases extended beyond the current terms of the contract.  Currently, several entities, including U.S. companies, face the prospect of returning some currently leased land to the Polish government over the coming years.  Three of these entities appealed to the Ombudsman, who requested the Constitutional Tribunal (CT) to verify the law’s compliance with the constitution, but the cases were dismissed by the CT in the fall of 2020.  In June 2019, the Polish Parliament amended the Agricultural Land Law to loosen land sale requirements.  The amendment increased the size of private agricultural land, from 0.3 to 1.0 hectare that could be sold without the approval of the NCSA.  The new owner is not allowed to sell the land for five years.  The 2019 amendment did not change the land lease situation for larger operators, many of whom continue to remain ineligible to have their land leases extended.  The Law on Forest Land similarly prevents Polish and foreign investors from purchasing privately-held forests and gives state-owned entities (Lasy Panstwowe) preemptive right to buy privately-held forest land.

On March 9, 2021, the Council of Ministers approved a draft law amending the 2016 Agricultural Land Law. The amendment extends the ban on selling state-owned farmland under the administration of the NCSA for another five years, until May 1, 2026. If the draft amendment of the Agricultural Land Law is approved by Parliament, it will enter into force on May 1, 2021. The 2021 amendment will not change the land lease situation for larger operators, who will remain ineligible to have their land leases extended.

Intellectual Property Rights

Polish intellectual property rights (IPR) law is more strict than European Commission directives require.  Poland is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and a party to many of its treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. Enforcement is improving across all sectors of Poland’s IPR regime.  Physical piracy (e.g., optical discs) is not a significant problem in Poland.  However, despite progress in enforcement, online piracy continues to be widespread as site blocking is still not possible in Poland due to lack of implementation of relevant EU legislation. A popular Polish cyberlocker platform is included on the 2020 Notorious Markets List. Poland does not appear in the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report.

Polish law requires a rights holder to start the prosecution process.  In Poland, authors’ and creators’ organizations and associations track violations and share these with prosecutors.  Rights holders express concern that penalties for digital IPR infringement are not high enough to deter violators.

In March 2019, amendments to the Act on Industrial Property Law came into force which are intended to implement EU Trademark Directive 2015/2436. The legislation introduced, inter alia, the abandonment of the graphical representation requirement, a new mechanism for trademark protection renewals, extended licensee’s rights, as well as remedies against counterfeit goods in transit and against infringing preparatory acts. The changes provide new tools to fight against infringement of trademark rights.

In April 2019, the EU adopted two directives on copyright, including: 2019/790 on copyright and related rights in the digital single market and 2019/789 regarding online broadcasting and re-broadcasting. Member states are required to transpose the reforms into national legislation by June 2021. The Ministry of Culture and National Heritage is responsible for drafting and implementing the legislation which has not yet been made available for public consultations.

In February 2020, additional amendments to the Act on Industrial Property entered into force which adapt Polish standards on inventions to those of the EU so as to streamline and speed up proceedings before the Polish Patent Office. The amendments to the Act also extend the exemption from patent and trademark renewal fees to support start-up entrepreneurs. The legislation complies with relevant provisions of the European Patent Convention and the WIPO Patent Cooperation Treaty.

In July 2020, amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure entered into force which, among other things, creates and operationalizes specialized IPR courts.  Poland’s new specialized courts will oversee cases related to all types of IPR, including copyright, and trademarks, industrial property rights, and unfair competition. New departments for IPR matters will be created at the District Courts in Gdansk, Katowice, Poznan, and Warsaw, and specialized departments will be established in the Courts of Appeal in Warsaw and Katowice. This will replace the current system in which IPR matters, including those relating to highly specialized issues such as patents, plant varieties, and trademarks, are examined by commercial departments of common courts.

A specialized court that was previously established within the 22nd Department of the District Court in Warsaw for cases involving EU trademarks and community designs will lose the exclusive competence to deal with those cases and will consider IPR claims regarding computer programs, inventions, designs utility, topography of integrated circuits, plant varieties, and trade secrets of a technical nature (i.e., matters of advanced complexity).  In order to conduct proceedings in these cases, it will be necessary to have highly trained judges who are familiar with IPR/IT issues. The new rules also require parties in IPR cases to be represented by professional lawyers, legal advisers, and patent attorneys. The changes represent a positive step for the court system, further contributing to the speed and efficiency of proceedings.

Tax incentives for IPR known collectively as “IP Box” or “Innovation Box,” included in the November 2018 tax amendment, have been applicable since January 2019. See Section 4 – Investment Incentives.

Polish customs tracks seizures of counterfeit goods but statistics for the reporting period are currently unavailable.

General information on copyright in Poland: http://www.copyright.gov.pl/pages/main-page/copyright-in-poland/general-information.php 

Polish Patent Office: http://www.uprp.pl/o-urzedzie/Lead03,14,56,1,index,pl,text/ 

Chancellery of the Prime Minister: https://www.gov.pl/cyfryzacja/co-robimy 

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/details.jsp?country_code=PL 

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Polish regulatory system is effective in encouraging and facilitating portfolio investment.  Both foreign and domestic investors may place funds in demand and time deposits, stocks, bonds, futures, and derivatives.  Poland’s equity markets facilitate the free flow of financial resources.  Poland’s stock market is the largest and most developed in Central Europe.  In September 2018, it was reclassified as developed market status by FTSE Russell’s country classification report.  The stock market’s capitalization amounts to less than 40 percent of GDP.  Although the Warsaw Stock Exchange (WSE) is itself a publicly traded company with shares listed on its own exchange after its partial privatization in 2010, the state retains a significant percentage of shares which allows it to control the company.  WSE has become a hub for foreign institutional investors targeting equity investments in the region.  It has also become an increasingly significant source of capital.

In addition to the equity market, Poland has a wholesale market dedicated to the trading of treasury bills and bonds (Treasury BondSpot Poland).  This treasury market is an integral part of the Primary Dealers System organized by the Finance Ministry and part of the pan-European bond platform.  Wholesale treasury bonds and bills denominated in zlotys and some securities denominated in euros are traded on the Treasury BondSpot market.  Non-government bonds are traded on Catalyst, a WSE managed platform.  The capital market is a source of funding for Polish companies.  While securities markets continue to play a subordinate role to banks in the provision of finance, the need for medium-term financial support for the modernization of the electricity and gas sectors is likely to lead to an increase in the importance of the corporate bond market.  The Polish government acknowledges the capital market’s role in the economy in its development plan.  Foreigners may invest in listed Polish shares, but they are subject to some restrictions in buying large packages of shares.  Liquidity remains tight on the exchange.

The Capital Markets Development Strategy, published in 2018, identifies 20 key barriers and offers 60 solutions.  Some key challenges include low levels of savings and investment, insufficient efficiency, transparency and liquidity of many market segments, and lack of taxation incentives for issuers and investors.  The primary aim of the strategy is to improve access of Polish enterprises to financing.  The strategy focuses on strengthening trust in the market, improving the protection of individual investors, the stabilization of the regulatory and supervisory environment and the use of competitive new technologies.  The strategy is not a law, but sets the direction for further regulatory proposals.  The Ministry of Finance assumes in its development directions for 2021-2024, the liquidation of approximately 50 percent of barriers to the development of the financial market identified in the strategy and an increase in the capitalization of companies listed on the WSE to 50 percent of GDP.  The WSE has signed an agreement with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) on cooperation in the promotion of advanced environmental reporting by listed companies in Poland and the region of Central and Southeast Europe.  Poland is one of the most rigorously supervised capital markets in Europe according to the European Commission.

The Employee Capital Plans program (PPK)—which is designed to increase household saving to augment individual incomes in retirement—could provide a boost to Poland’s capital markets and reduce dependence on foreign saving as a source for investment financing.  The program has been delayed due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

High-risk venture capital funds are becoming an increasingly important segment of the capital market.  The market is still shallow, however, and one major transaction may affect the value of the market in a given year.  The funds remain active and Poland is a leader in this respect in Central and Eastern Europe.

In 2020, Poland saw an almost 70 percent increase in venture capital (VC) funding, with around $500 million flowing into Polish startups throughout the year, according to a report by PFR Ventures and Inovo Venture Partners.  This marks a new record for Poland, which is increasingly emerging as an important startup hub.  According to the report, a quarter of Polish startups that received VC funding in 2020 were involved in or around healthcare.

In 2020, WSE strengthened its position as the global leader when it comes to the number of listed companies from the game developers sector.  The WSE’s main and start-up markets list a total of 58 game development companies.

Poland provides full IMF Article VIII convertibility for current transactions.  Banks can and do lend to foreign and domestic companies.  Companies can and do borrow abroad and issue commercial paper, but the market is less robust than in Western European countries or the United States.  The Act on Investment Funds allows for open-end, closed-end, and mixed investment funds, and the development of securitization instruments in Poland.  In general, no special restrictions apply to foreign investors purchasing Polish securities.

Credit allocation is on market terms.  The government maintains some programs offering below-market rate loans to certain domestic groups, such as farmers and homeowners.  Foreign investors and domestic investors have equal access to Polish financial markets.  Private Polish investment is usually financed from retained earnings and credits, while foreign investors utilize funds obtained outside of Poland as well as retained earnings.  Polish firms raise capital in Poland and abroad.

Recent changes in the governance structure of the Polish Financial Supervisory Authority (KNF) are aimed at increasing cross governmental coordination and a better-targeted response in case of financial shocks, while achieving greater institutional effectiveness through enhanced resource allocation.  KNF’s supplementary powers have increased, allowing it to authorize the swift acquisition of a failing or likely to fail lender by a stronger financial institution.

Money and Banking System

The Polish financial sector entered the pandemic with strong capital and liquidity buffers and without significant imbalances.  The COVID-19 pandemic presents risks for the Polish financial sector resulting from a sharp economic slowdown and an increase in the number of business failures.  Loosening of reserve requirements, government-provided loan guarantees, and fiscal support measures should help to mitigate losses faced by financial sector firms including banks.

The banking sector plays a dominant role in the financial system, accounting for about 70 percent of financial sector assets.  The sector is mostly privately owned, with the state controlling about 40 percent of the banking sector and the biggest insurance company.  Poland had 30 locally incorporated commercial banks at the end of August 2020, according to KNF.  The number of locally-incorporated banks has been declining over the last five years.  Poland’s 533 cooperative banks play a secondary role in the financial system, but are widespread.  The state owns eight banks.  Over the last few years, growing capital requirements, lower prospects for profit generation and uncertainty about legislation addressing foreign currency mortgages has pushed banks towards mergers and acquisitions.  KNF welcomes this consolidation process, seeing it as a “natural” way to create an efficient banking sector.

The Polish National Bank (NBP) is Poland’s central bank.  At the end of 2020, the banking sector was overall well capitalized and solid.  Poland’s banking sector meets European Banking Authority regulatory requirements.  The share of non-performing loans is close to the EU average and recently has been rising, but modestly.  In December 2020, non-performing loans were 6.8 percent of portfolios.  Poland’s central bank is willing and able to provide liquidity support to the banking sector, in local and foreign currencies, if needed.  The NBP responded swiftly to the COVID-19 pandemic.  It cut rates in early 2020 to 0.1 percent from 1.5 percent over the previous five years and started buying government bonds.  To support liquidity in the banking sector, the central bank has lowered reserve requirements, introduced repo operations, and offered bill discount credit aimed at refinancing loans granted to enterprises by banks.

The banking sector is liquid, still profitable, and major banks are well capitalized, although disparities exist among banks.  This was confirmed by NBP’s Financial Stability Report and stress tests conducted by the central bank.  In 2020, the net profit of the banking sector amounted to PLN 7.8 billion ($2 billion), decreasing on an annual basis by around 44 percent – according to the data of the Polish Financial Supervision Authority.  Returns on equity fell to around 3 percent in 2020 vs 6.7 percent in 2019.  The level of write-offs and provisions as well as the net commission income increased significantly.  The need to make allowances to cover the costs of the pandemic and loans in Swiss francs had a significant impact on the decline in business profitability – the result from impairment losses and provisions increased by 33 percent up to PLN 12.7 billion ($3.2 billion).  Profits remain under pressure due to low interest rates, the issue of conversion of Swiss francs mortgage portfolios into Polish zlotys, and a special levy on financial institutions (0.44 percent of the value of assets excluding equity and Polish sovereign bonds).

The ECJ issued a judgement in October 2019 on mortgages in Swiss francs, taking the side of borrowers.  The ECJ annulled the loan agreements, noting an imbalance between the parties and the use of prohibited clauses.  The legal risk arising from the portfolio of foreign exchange mortgage loans has risen and is substantial.  The number of borrowers who have filed lawsuits against banks and the percentage of court rulings in favor of borrowers has increased.  In December 2020, the head of Poland’s financial market regulator KNF proposed a plan for banks to convert foreign currency loans into zlotys as if they had been taken out in the local currency originally.  This solution could cost the banking sector PLN 34.5 billion ($8.8 billion).  While some observers initially expected banks to finalize a plan for such out-of-court settlements before the Supreme Court sitting, scheduled for April 2021, lenders appear to be waiting for guidelines that could prove crucial to clients trying to decide whether they should go to court.  An additional financial burden for banks resulted from the necessity to return any additional fees they charged customers who repaid loans ahead of schedule.

Since 2015, the Polish government established an active campaign aiming to increase the market share of national financial institutions.  Since 2017, Polish investors’ share in the banking sector’s total assets exceeds the foreign share in the sector.  The State controls around 40 percent of total assets, including the two largest banks in Poland.  These two lenders control about one third of the market.  Rating agencies warn that an increasing state share in the banking sector might impact competitiveness and profits in the entire financial sector.  There is concern that lending decisions at state-owned banks could come under political pressure.  Nevertheless, Poland’s strong fundamentals and the size of its internal market mean that many foreign banks will want to retain their positions.

The financial regulator has restricted the availability of loans in euros or Swiss francs in order to minimize the banking system’s exposure to exchange risk resulting from fluctuations.  Only individuals who earn salaries denominated in these currencies continue to enjoy easy access to loans in foreign currencies.

In 2020, NBP had relationships with 27 commercial and central banks and was not concerned about losing any of them.

The coronavirus-driven recession will likely depress business volumes and increase loan losses, but Polish banks seem to have strong enough capital and liquidity positions to persevere.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Poland is not a member of the Eurozone; its currency is the Polish zloty.  The current government has shown little desire to adopt the euro (EUR).  The Polish zloty (PLN) is a floating currency; it has largely tracked the EUR at approximately PLN 4.2-4.3 to EUR 1 in recent years and PLN 3.7 – 3.8 to $1.  Foreign exchange is available through commercial banks and exchange offices.  Payments and remittances in convertible currency may be made and received through a bank authorized to engage in foreign exchange transactions, and most banks have authorization.  Foreign investors have not complained of significant difficulties or delays in remitting investment returns such as dividends, return of capital, interest and principal on private foreign debt, lease payments, royalties, or management fees.  Foreign currencies can be freely used for settling accounts.

Poland provides full IMF Article VIII convertibility for currency transactions.  The Polish Foreign Exchange Law, as amended, fully conforms to OECD Codes of Liberalization of Capital Movements and Current Invisible Operations.  In general, foreign exchange transactions with the EU, OECD, and European Economic Area (EEA) are accorded equal treatment and are not restricted.

Except in limited cases which require a permit, foreigners may convert or transfer currency to make payments abroad for goods or services and may transfer abroad their shares of after-tax profit from operations in Poland.  In general, foreign investors may freely withdraw their capital from Poland, however, the November 2018 tax bill included an exit tax.  Full repatriation of profits and dividend payments is allowed without obtaining a permit.  A Polish company (including a Polish subsidiary of a foreign company), however, must pay withholding taxes to Polish tax authorities on distributable dividends unless a double taxation treaty is in effect, which is the case for the United States.  Changes to the withholding tax in the 2018 tax bill increased the bureaucratic burden for some foreign investors (see Section 2).  The United States and Poland signed an updated bilateral tax treaty in February 2013 that the United States has not yet ratified.  As a rule, a company headquartered outside of Poland is subject to corporate income tax on income earned in Poland, under the same rules as Polish companies.

Foreign exchange regulations require non-bank entities dealing in foreign exchange or acting as a currency exchange bureau to submit reports electronically to NBP at: http://sprawozdawczosc.nbp.pl.

An exporter may open foreign exchange accounts in the currency the exporter chooses.

Remittance Policies

Poland does not prohibit remittance through legal parallel markets utilizing convertible negotiable instruments (such as dollar-denominated Polish bonds in lieu of immediate payment in dollars).  As a practical matter, such payment methods are rarely, if ever, used.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Polish Development Fund (PFR) is often referred to as Poland’s Sovereign Wealth Fund.   PFR is an umbrella organization pooling resources of several governmental agencies and departments, including EU funds.  A strategy for the Fund was adopted in September 2016, and it was registered in February 2017.  PFR supports the implementation of the Responsible Development Strategy.  The PFR operates as a group of state-owned banks and insurers, investment bodies, and promotion agencies.  The budget of the PFR Group initially reached PLN 14 billion ($3.6 billion), which managers estimate is sufficient to raise capital worth PLN 90-100 billion ($23-25 billion).  Various actors within the organization can invest through acquisition of shares, through direct financing, seed funding, and co-financing venture capital.  Depending on the instruments, PFR expects different rates of return.

In July 2019, the President of Poland signed the Act on the System of Development Institutions.  Its main goal is to formalize and improve the cooperation of institutions that make up the PFR Group, strengthen the position of the Fund’s president and secure additional funding from the Finance Ministry.  The group will have one common strategy.  The introduction of new legal solutions will increase the efficiency and availability of financial and consulting instruments.  An almost four-fold increase in the share capital will enable PFR to significantly increase the scale of investment in innovation and infrastructure and will help Polish companies expand into foreign markets.  While supportive of overseas expansion by Polish companies, the Fund’s mission is domestic.

PFR plans to invest PLN 2.2 billion ($560 million) jointly with private-equity and venture-capital firms and PLN 600 million ($153 million) into a so-called fund of funds intended to kickstart investment in midsize companies.

Since its inception, PFR has carried out over 30 capital transactions, investing a total of PLN 8.3 billion ($2.1 billion) directly or through managed funds.  PFR, together with the support of other partners, has implemented investment projects with a total value of PLN 26.2 billion ($6.7 billion).  The most significant transactions carried out together with state-controlled insurance company PZU S.A. include the acquisition of 32.8 percent of the shares of Bank Pekao S.A. (PFR’s share is 12.8 percent); the acquisition of 100 percent of the shares in PESA Bydgoszcz S.A. (a rolling stock producer); and the acquisition of 99.77 percent of the shares of Polskie Koleje Linowe S.A.  PFR has also completed the purchase, together with PSA International Ptd Ltd and IFM Investors, of DCT Gdansk, the largest container terminal in Poland (PFR’s share is 30 percent).  Also, 59 funds supported by PFR Ventures have invested almost PLN 3.5 billion ($1.0 billion) () in nearly 400 companies.  Over one third of this sum went to innovative, young start-ups and the rest for financing mature companies.  In April 2020, the President of Poland signed into law an amendment to the law on development institution systems, expanding the competencies of PFR as part of the government’s Anti-Crisis Shield.  The Act assumes that, in the years 2020-2029, the maximum limit of government budget expenditures resulting from the financial effects of the amendment will be PLN 11.7 billion ($3.0 billion).

The amendment expands the competencies of PFR so that it can more efficiently support businesses in the face of the coronavirus epidemic.  The fund has been charged with management of the Financial Shield, a loan and subsidies government scheme worth approximately PLN 100 billion ($25.0 billion) for firms to maintain liquidity and protect jobs.  The scheme is accessible to small, medium and large firms.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) exist mainly in the defense, energy, transport, banking and insurance sectors.  The main Warsaw stock index (WIG) is dominated by state-controlled companies. The government intends to keep majority share ownership and/or state-control of economically and strategically important firms and is expanding the role of the state in the economy, particularly in the banking and energy sectors.  Some U.S. investors have expressed concern that the government favors SOEs by offering loans from the national budget as a capital injection and unfairly favoring SOEs in investment disputes.  Since Poland’s EU accession, government activity favoring state-owned firms has received careful scrutiny from Brussels.  Since the Law and Justice government came to power in 2015, there has been a considerable increase in turnover in managerial positions of state-owned companies (although this has also occurred in previous changes of government, but to a lesser degree) and increased focus on building national champions in strategic industries to be able to compete internationally.  There have also been cases of takeovers of foreign private companies by state-controlled companies the viability of which has raised doubts.  SOEs are governed by a board of directors and most pay an annual dividend to the government, as well as prepare and disclose annual reports.

A list of companies classified as “important for the economy” is at this link:  https://nadzor.kprm.gov.pl/spolki-z-udzialem-skarbu-panstwa

Among them are companies of “strategic importance” whose shares cannot be sold, including:  Grupa Azoty S.A., Grupa LOTOS S.A., KGHM Polska Miedz S.A., Energa S.A, and the Central Communication Port.

The government sees SOEs as drivers and leaders of its innovation policy agenda.  For example, several energy SOEs established a company to develop electro mobility.  The performance of SOEs has remained strong overall and broadly similar to that of private companies.  International evidence suggests, however, that a dominant role of SOEs can pose fiscal, financial, and macro-stability risks.

As of June 2020, there were over 349 companies in partnership with state authorities.  Among them there are companies under bankruptcy proceedings and in liquidation and in which the State Treasury held residual shares.  Here is a link to the list of companies, including under the control of which ministry they fall:  http://nadzor.kprm.gov.pl/spolki-z-udzialem-skarbu-panstwa.

The Ministry of State Assets, established after the October 2019 post-election cabinet reshuffle, has control over almost 180 enterprises.  Their aggregate value reaches several dozens of billions of Polish zlotys.  Among these companies are the largest chemical, energy, and mining groups; firms in the banking and insurance sectors; and transport companies.  This list does not include state-controlled public media, which are under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture or the State Securities Printing Company (PWPW) supervised by the Interior Ministry.  Supervision over defense industry companies has been shifted from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of State Assets.

According to the latest data from the National Bank of Poland, at the end of September 2019. stocks and shares held by state (and local government) institutions amounted to just over PLN 261 billion ($66 billion).

The same standards are generally applied to private and public companies with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations such as licenses and supplies.  Government officials occasionally exercise discretionary authority to assist SOEs.  In general, SOEs are expected to pay their own way, finance their operations, and fund further expansion through profits generated from their own operations.

On February 21, 2019, an amendment to the Act on the principles of management of state-owned property was adopted, which provides for the establishment of a new public special-purpose fund – the Capital Investment Fund.  The Fund is a source of financing for the purchase and subscription of shares in companies.  The Fund is managed by the Prime Minister’s office and financed by dividends from state-controlled companies.

A commission for the reform of corporate governance was established on February 10, 2020, by the Minister of State Assets.  The commission developed recommendations regarding the introduction of a law on consortia/holdings; changes in the powers of supervisory boards and their members, with particular emphasis on the rights and obligations of parent companies’ supervisory boards; changes in the scope of information obligations of companies towards partners or shareholders; and other changes, including in the Commercial Companies Code.  The Ministry of State Assets plans to introduce the regulations of the holding law into the Polish legal system in 2021, which is a part of a draft reform of commercial law prepared by the commission.  Some law offices expressed concerns that the solutions provided for in the amendment may impose new obligations on entrepreneurs conducting business activity in this form. Since coming to power in 2015, the governing Law and Justice party (PiS) has increased control over Poland’s banking and energy sectors

Proposed legislation to “deconcentrate” and “repolonize” Poland’s media landscape, including through the possible forced sale of existing investments, has met with domestic and international protest.  Critical observers allege that PiS and its allies are running a pressure campaign against foreign and independent media outlets aimed at destabilizing and undermining their businesses.  These efforts include blocking mergers through antimonopoly decisions, changes to licensing requirements, and the proposed new advertising tax.  Increasing government control over state regulatory bodies, advertising agencies and infrastructure such as printing presses and newsstands, are other possible avenues.  Since 2015, state institutions and state-owned and controlled companies have ceased to subscribe to or place advertising in independent media, cutting off an important source of funding for those media companies.  At the same time, public media has received generous support from the state budget.

In December 2020, state-controlled energy firm PKN Orlen, headed by PiS appointees, acquired control of Polska Press in a deal that gives the governing party indirect control over 20 of Poland’s 24 regional newspapers.  Because this acquisition was achieved without legislative changes, it has not provoked diplomatic repercussions with other EU member states or a head-on collision with Brussels over the rule of law.  Having successfully taken over a foreign-owned media company with this model, there are concerns PKN Orlen will continue to be used for capturing independent media not supportive of the government.

OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of SOEs

In Poland, the same rules apply to SOEs and publicly-listed companies unless statutes provide otherwise.  The state exercises its influence through its rights as a shareholder in proportion to the number of voting shares it holds (or through shareholder proxies).  In some cases, an SOE is afforded special rights as specified in the company’s articles, and in compliance with Polish and EU laws.  In some non-strategic companies, the state exercises special rights as a result of its majority ownership but not as a result of any specific strategic interest.  Despite some of these specific rights, the state’s aim is to create long-term value for shareholders of its listed companies by adhering to the OECD’s SOE Guidelines.  State representatives who sit on supervisory boards must comply with the Commercial Companies Code and are expected to act in the best interests of the company and its shareholders.  The European Commission noted that “Polska Fundacja Narodowa” (an organization established to promote Polish culture worldwide and funded by Polish SOEs) was involved in the organization and financing of a campaign supporting the controversial judiciary changes by the government.  The commission stated this was broadly against OECD recommendations on SOE involvement in financing political activities.

SOE employees can designate two fifths of the SOE’s Supervisory Board’s members.  In addition, according to Poland’s privatization law, in wholly state-owned enterprises with more than 500 employees, the employees are allowed to elect one member of the Management Board.  SOEs are subject to a series of additional disclosure requirements above those set forth in the Company Law.  The supervising ministry prepares specific guidelines on annual financial reporting to explain and clarify these requirements.  SOEs must prepare detailed reports on management board activity, plus a report on the previous financial year’s activity, and a report on the result of the examination of financial reports.  In practice, detailed reporting data for non-listed SOEs is not easily accessible.  State representatives to supervisory boards must go through examinations to be able to apply for a board position.  Many major state-controlled companies are listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange and are subject to the “Code of Best Practice for WSE Listed Companies.”

On September 30, 2015, the Act on Control of Certain Investments entered into force.  The law creates mechanisms to protect against hostile takeovers of companies operating in strategic sectors (gas, power generation, chemical, copper mining, petrochemical and telecoms) of the Polish economy (see Section 2 on Investment Screening), most of which are SOEs or state-controlled.  In 2020, the government amended the legislation preventing hostile take overs.  The amendments will be in force for 24 months.  They are a part of the pandemic-related measures introduced by the Polish government. The SOE governance law of 2017 (with subsequent amendments) is being implemented gradually.  The framework formally keeps the oversight of SOEs centralized.  The Ministry of State Assets exercises ownership functions for the majority of SOEs.  A few sector-specific ministries (e.g., Culture and Infrastructure) also exercise ownership for SOEs with public policy objectives.  The Prime Minister’s Office oversees development agencies such as the Polish Development Fund and the Industry Development Agency.

Privatization Program

The Polish government has completed the privatization of most of the SOEs it deems not to be of national strategic importance.  With few exceptions, the Polish government has invited foreign investors to participate in major privatization projects.  In general, privatization bidding criteria have been clear and the process transparent.

The majority of SOEs classified as “economically important” or “strategically important” is in the energy, mining, media, telecommunications, and financial sectors.  The government intends to keep majority share ownership of these firms, or to sell tranches of shares in a manner that maintains state control.  The government is currently focused on consolidating and improving the efficiency of the remaining SOEs.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

The results of the study “CSR in practice – a barometer of the French-Polish Chamber of Commerce” show that the pandemic mobilized not only state institutions, but also businesses which actively joined the fight against COVID-19.  Activities focused to a great extent on companies own employees and clients, and every third enterprise was involved in helping hospitals and nursing homes.  Fifty-seven percent of companies donated money to fight the pandemic, 59 percent material resources and services, and 67 percent the time and skills of employees.  Sixty-one percent of adult Poles expect an active attitude of businesses towards the epidemic.

Poland’s Ministry of Funds and Regional Development supports implementation of responsible business conduct (RBC) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.  The Ordinance of the Minister of Investment and Development of May 10, 2018, established working groups responsible for sustainable development and corporate social responsibility.  The chief function of the working groups is to create space for dialogue and exchange of experiences between the public administration, social partners, NGOs, and the academic environment in CSR/RBC.  Experts cooperate within 5 working groups:  1) Innovation for CSR and sustainable development; 2) Business and human rights; 3) Sustainable production and consumption; 4) Socially responsible administration, and 5) Socially responsible universities.  The greater team issues recommendations concerning implementation of the CSR/RBC policy, in particular the objectives of the Strategy for Responsible Development.  More information on recent developments in the CSR area and future events is available under this link: https://www.gov.pl/web/fundusze-regiony/spoleczna-odpowiedzialnosc-przedsiebiorstw-csr2

In 2017, on the initiative of the then existent Ministry of Economic Development, a partnership was established for the translation into Polish of the Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector.  The parties involved included representatives of the business sector, industry organizations and NGOs.  The Polish version of the Guidelines was announced on June 29, 2018.  The document, available on the OECD NCP website, is a practical tool explaining how to implement the principles of due diligence, taking into account risks related to child labor, forced labor, water use, hazardous waste, etc.

In May 2017, the Council of Ministers adopted the National Action Plan (NAP) for the Implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights 2017-2020 (UNBHR-GPs).  In December 2018, the Midterm report from the implementation of National Action Plan for UN Business and Human Rights Guidelines was adopted by the Council of Ministers.  Here is the link to this document: https://www.gov.pl/documents/1149181/1150183/Raport_ percentC5 percent9Ar percentC3 percentB3dokresowy_z_realizacji_KPD.pdf/029a9586-2f1a-e655-4d18-00b6abe4a5a1

The mission is not aware of reports of human or labor rights concerns relating to RBC in Poland.

An increasing number of Polish enterprises are implementing the principles of CSR/RBC in their activities.  One of these principles is to openly inform the public, employees, and local communities about the company’s activities by publishing non-financial reports.  Sharing experience in the field of integration of social and environmental factors in everyday business activities helps build credibility and transparency of the Polish market.

The attitude of Poles to environmental issues is changing, and so are their expectations regarding business.  According to a recent study by ARC Rynek i Opinia for the Warsaw School of Economics, 59 percent of Poles consciously choose domestic products more often and 57 percent avoid products that harm the environment.  In Poland, provisions relating to responsible business conduct are contained within the Public Procurement law and are the result of transposition of very similar provisions contained in the EU directives.  For example, there is a provision for reserved contracts, where the contracting authority may limit competition for sheltered workshops and other economic operators whose activities include social and professional integration of people belonging to socially marginalized groups.

Independent organizations including NGOs, business and employee associations promote CSR in Poland.  The Responsible Business Forum (RBF), founded in 2000, is the oldest and largest NGO in Poland focusing on corporate social responsibility:  http://odpowiedzialnybiznes.pl/english/.  CSR Watch Coalition Poland, part of the OECD Watch international network aims to advance respect for human rights in the context of business activity in Poland in line with the spirit of the UNBHR-GPs and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (MNEs):  http://pihrb.org/koalicja/

Research shows that sustainability and CSR are increasingly translating into consumer choices in Poland.  According to SW Research for Stena Recycling, nearly 70 percent of Poles would like their favorite products to come from sustainable production and are willing to switch to more sustainably produced products.  More than half believe that the circular economy can have a direct, positive impact on the environment.  Starting in 2018, approximately 300 Polish companies were required to publish a non-financial information statement alongside their business activity report.  This requirement is tied to the January 26, 2017, amendment of the Act on Accounting, which implements the directive 2014/95/UE into Polish law.  The rules of the act concern companies that fulfill two out of the three of the following criteria: the average annual number of employed persons numbers over 500; the company’s balance sheet totals over PLN 85 million ($22 million), or gross earnings from the sale of commodities and products for the fiscal year amount to at least PLN 170 million ($43 million).  Directive 2014/95/EU will soon be amended and will introduce a uniform European standard of reporting on sustainable development issues.  Many companies voluntarily compile CSR activity reports based on international reporting standards.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the Warsaw Stock Exchange (WSE) have partnered to support Polish and Central and Eastern European listed companies with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting.  The EBRD and WSE hope to facilitate engagement with policy makers, regulators, and other stakeholders to ensure development of a coherent, robust, and transparent framework in compliance with legislation and in line with the EU Green Deal for ESG disclosure.  The framework will also provide investors with comparability in terms of monitoring different companies.

In February 2020, the Responsible Business Forum presented its 2019 “Responsible Business in Poland. Good Practices” report, which is the most comprehensive CSR review in Poland, with a record number of responsible business activities featured.  (The 2020 report is expected to be presented in mid-April 2021.)  In total, the 2019 report contains 1,696 practices reported by 214 companies.  Environmental practices are the most dynamically growing area – an increase of over 35 percent in relation to the previous report.  Examples of activities include activities related to reducing the consumption of plastic, a circular economy, conservation of biodiversity, environmental education, and counteracting the climate crisis.  Poland maintains a National Contact Point (NCP) for OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises: https://www.gov.pl/web/fundusze-regiony/krajowy-punkt-kontaktowy-oecd

Starting in March 2021, the EU regulation SFDR 2019/2088 on disclosure of information related to sustainable development (environmental, labor, human rights, and anti-corruption) in the financial services sector will apply in Poland and other EU countries.

The NCP promotes the OECD MNE Guidelines through seminars and workshops.  Investors can obtain information about the Guidelines and their implementation through Regional Investor Assistance Centers.

Information on the OECD NCP activities is under this link: https://www.gov.pl/web/fundusze-regiony/oecd-national-contact-point Poland is not a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) or the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.  The primary extractive industries in Poland are coal and copper mining.  Onshore, there is also hydrocarbon extraction, primarily conventional natural gas, with limited exploration for shale gas.  The Polish government exercises legal authority and receives revenues from the extraction of natural resources and from infrastructure related to extractive industries such as oil and gas pipelines through a concessions-granting system, and in most cases through shareholder rights in state-owned enterprises.  The Polish government has two revenue streams from natural resources: 1) from concession licenses; and 2) from corporate taxes on the concession holders.  License and tax requirements apply equally to both state-owned and private companies.  Natural resources are brought to market through market-based mechanisms by both state-owned enterprises and private companies. Poland was among the original ratifiers of the Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies in 2008.  One company from Poland is a member of the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association (ICoCA).

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Poland has laws, regulations, and penalties aimed at combating corruption of public officials and counteracting conflicts of interest.  Anti-corruption laws extend to family members of officials and to members of political parties who are members of parliament.  There are also anti-corruption laws regulating the finances of political parties.  According to a local NGO, an increasing number of companies are implementing voluntary internal codes of ethics.  In 2020, the Transparency International (TI) index of perceived public corruption ranked Poland as the 45th  (four places lower than in 2019 TI index) least corrupt among 180 countries/territories.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery 

The Polish Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) and national police investigate public corruption.  The Justice Ministry and the police are responsible for enforcing Poland’s anti-corruption criminal laws.  The Finance Ministry administers tax collection and is responsible for denying the tax deductibility of bribes.  Reports of alleged corruption most frequently appear in connection with government contracting and the issuance of a regulation or permit that benefits a particular company.  Allegations of corruption by customs and border guard officials, tax authorities, and local government officials show a decreasing trend.  If such corruption is proven, it is usually punished.

Overall, U.S. firms have found that maintaining policies of full compliance with the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is effective in building a reputation for good corporate governance and that doing so is not an impediment to profitable operations in Poland.  Poland ratified the UN Anticorruption Convention in 2006 and the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery in 2000.  Polish law classifies the payment of a bribe to a foreign official as a criminal offense, the same as if it were a bribe to a Polish official.

On November 9-10, 2020, a high-level mission of the OECD Working Group on Bribery met with senior Polish officials in virtual meetings to urge Poland to reform its laws to ensure it can effectively investigate and prosecute foreign bribery.

For more information on the implementation of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in Poland, please visit:  http://www.oecd.org/daf/anti-bribery/poland-oecdanti-briberyconvention.htm

Resources to Report Corruption 

Centralne Biuro Antykorupcyjne (Central Anti-Corruption Bureau – CBA)
al. Ujazdowskie 9, 00-583 Warszawa
+48 800 808 808
kontakt@cba.gov.pl

www.cba.gov.pl; link: https://www.cba.gov.pl/pl/zglos-korupcje/445,Zglos-korupcje-osobiscie-lub-pisemnie.html  (report corruption)

The Batory Foundation, as part of a broader operational program (ForumIdei), continues to monitor public corruption, carries out research into this area and publishes reports on various aspects of the government’s transparency.  Contact information for Batory Foundation is: batory@batory.org.pl; 22 536 02 00.

10. Political and Security Environment

Poland is a politically stable country.  Constitutional transfers of power are orderly.  The last presidential elections took place in June 2020 and parliamentary elections took place in October 2019; observers considered both elections free and fair.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which conducted the election observation during June 2020 presidential elections, found the presidential elections were administered professionally, despite legal uncertainty during the electoral process due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 epidemic.  Prime Minister Morawiecki’s government was re-appointed in November 2019.  Local elections took place in October 2018.  Elections to the European Parliament took place in May 2019.  The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for the fall of 2023.  There have been no confirmed incidents of politically motivated violence toward foreign investment projects in recent years.  Poland has neither insurgent groups nor belligerent neighbors.  The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) provides political risk insurance for Poland but it is not frequently used, as competitive private sector financing and insurance are readily available.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Poland has a well-educated, skilled labor force.  Productivity, however, remains below OECD averages but is rising rapidly and unit costs are competitive.  In the last quarter of 2020, according to the Polish Central Statistical Office (GUS), the average gross wage in Poland was PLN 5,458 ($1,390 per month) compared to 5,198 ($1,324) in the last quarter of 2019.  Poland’s economy employed roughly 16.512 million people in the third quarter of 2020.  Eurostat measured total Polish unemployment at 3.3 percent, with youth unemployment at 11.5 percent in December 2020.  GUS reports unemployment rates differently and tends to be higher than Eurostat figures.  Unemployment varied substantially among regions:  the highest rate was 10.1 percent (according to GUS) in the north-eastern part of Poland (Warmia and Mazury), and the lowest was 3.7 percent (GUS) in the western province of Wielkopolska, at the end of the fourth quarter of 2020.  Unemployment was lowest in major urban areas.  Polish workers are usually eager to work for foreign companies, in Poland and abroad.  Since Poland joined the EU, up to two million Poles have sought work in other EU member states.

According to the Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology, 1.5 million “simplified procedure” work declarations were registered in 2020, of which 1.3 million were for Ukrainian workers (compared to 1.5 million a year earlier).  Under the revised procedure, local authorities may verify if potential employers have actual job positions for potential foreign workers.  The law also authorizes local authorities to refuse declarations from employers with a history of abuse, as well as to ban employers previously convicted of human trafficking from hiring foreign workers.  The January 2018 revision also introduced a new type of work permit for foreign workers, the so-called seasonal work permit, which allow for legal work up to nine months in agriculture, horticulture, tourism and similar industries.  Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology statistics show that during by August 2020, 137,403 seasonal work permits of this type were issued, of which 135,482 went to Ukrainians.  Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology statistics also show that in 2020, 295,272 thousand Ukrainians received work permits, compared with 330,495 in 2019.

Polish companies suffer from a shortage of qualified workers.  According to a 2021 report, “Barometer of Professions,” commissioned by the Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology, several industries suffer shortages, including the construction, manufacturing, -healthcare, and transportation industries.  The most sought-after workers in the construction industry include concrete workers, steel fixers, carpenters, and bricklayers.  Manufacturing companies seek electricians, electromechanical engineers, tailors, welders, woodworkers, machinery operators, and locksmiths.  Employment has expanded in service industries such as information technology, manufacturing, and administrative and support service activities.  The business process outsourcing industry in Poland has experienced dynamic growth.  The state-owned sector employs about a quarter of the work force, although employment in coal mining and steel are declining.

Since 2017, the minimum retirement age for men has been 65 and 60 for women.  Labor laws differentiate between layoffs and dismissal for cause (firing).  In the case of layoffs (when workers are dismissed for economic reasons in companies which employ more than 20 employees), employers are required to offer severance pay.  In the case of dismissal for cause, the labor law does not require severance pay.

Most workers hired under labor contracts have the legal right to establish and join independent trade unions and to bargain collectively.  Since 2020, the revised law on trade unions has expanded the right to form a union to persons who entered into an employment relationship based on a civil law contract and to persons who were self-employed.  Trade union influence is declining, though unions remain powerful among miners, shipyard workers, government employees, and teachers.  The Polish labor code outlines employee and employer rights in all sectors, both public and private, and has been gradually revised to adapt to EU standards.  However, employers tend to use temporary and contract workers for jobs that are not temporary in nature.  Employers have used short-term contracts because they allow firing with two weeks’ notice and without consulting trade unions.  Employers also tend to use civil instead of labor contracts because of ease of hiring and firing, even in situations where work performed meets all the requirements of a regular labor contract.

Polish law requires equal pay for equal work and equal treatment with respect to signing labor contracts, employment conditions, promotion, and access to training.  The law defines equal treatment as nondiscrimination in any way, directly or indirectly on the grounds of gender, age, disability, race, religion, nationality, political opinion, ethnic origin, denomination, sexual orientation, whether or not the person is employed temporarily or permanently, full time or part time.

The 1991 Law on Conflict Resolution defines the mechanism for labor dispute resolution.  It consists of four stages: first, the employer is obliged to conduct negotiations with employees; the second stage is a mediation process, including an independent mediator; if an agreement is not reached through mediation, the third stage is arbitration, which takes place at the regional court; the fourth stage of conflict resolution is a strike.

The Polish government adheres to the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) core conventions and generally complies with international labor standards.  However, there are several gaps in enforcing these standards, including legal restrictions on the rights of workers to form and join independent unions.  Cumbersome procedures make it difficult for workers to meet all of the technical requirements for a legal strike.  The law prohibits collective bargaining for key civil servants, appointed or elected employees of state and municipal bodies, court judges, and prosecutors.  There were some limitations with respect to identification of victims of forced labor.  Despite prohibitions against discrimination with respect to employment or occupation, such discrimination occurs.  Authorities do not consistently enforce minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational health and safety, either in the formal or informal sectors.

The National Labor Inspectorate (NLI) is responsible for identifying possible labor violations; it may issue fines and notify the prosecutor’s office in cases of severe violations.  According to labor unions, however, the NLI does not have adequate tools to hold violators accountable and the small fines imposed as punishment are an ineffective deterrent to most employers.

The United States has no FTA or preference program (such as GSP) with Poland that includes labor standards.

In 2020, the provisions on the posting of workers were significantly modified and Poland implemented the EU Posted Workers Directive (2018/957/EU).

In 2020, Poland was among the top 10 countries in the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) ranking offering women good conditions for running a business. According to the Mastercard report, 28 percent of companies in Poland are run by women.  At the end of 2019, however, the share of women on the boards of the 140 largest companies on the Warsaw Stock Exchange was less than 14 percent.

The COVID-19 pandemic dominated 2020, affecting the business world and forcing employers and employees to adapt to new working conditions.  Due to the growing popularity of remote work, the Ministry of Development, Labor, and Technology has commenced works aimed at introducing remote work to the provisions of the Labor Code for good.  New solutions will be introduced in 2021.

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) 2019 $595,7 2019 $595,9 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $4,720 2019 $10,403 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $529.1 2019 $ D/ BEA data available at https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 39.4% 2019 40.3% UNCTAD data available at

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

* Source for Host Country Data: In Poland, the National Bank of Poland (NBP) collects data on FDI. An annual FDI report and data are published at the end of the following year. GDP data are published by the Central Statistical Office. Final annual data are available at the end of May of the following year.

D/ Suppressed to avoid disclosure of data of individual companies.

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data of, 2019
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 235,504 100% Total Outward 25,422 100%
The Netherlands 50,552 21.5% Luxemburg 5,056 19.9%
Germany 43,909 18.6% Cyprus 3,222 12.7%
Luxemburg 29,670 7.9% Czech Republic 2,997 11.8%
France 20,908 0.9% Germany 1,530 6.0%
Spain 9,951 0.4% Hungary 1,496 5.9%

Results of table are consistent with the data of the National Bank of Poland (NBP).  NBP publishes FDI data in October/November.

A number of foreign countries register businesses in the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Cyprus, hence results for these countries include investments from other countries/economies.

Table 4: Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets, as of June 2020
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 36,942 100% All Countries 20,511 100% All Countries 16,432 100%
Int’l Org 4,918 13% Luxemburg 3.871 19% Int’l Org 4,918 30%
Luxemburg 4,562 12% Ireland 946 3% United States 2,937 18%
Hungary 1,365 4% Germany 695 3% Hungary 938 6%
Ireland 1,136 3% France 468 2% Sweden 840 5%
France 1,014 3% Hungary 427 2% Luxemburg 691 4%

* In Poland, the National Bank of Poland (NBP) collects data on FDI. An annual FDI report and data are published at the end of the following year. GDP data are published by the Central Statistical Office. Final annual data are available at the end of May of the following year.

14. Contact for More Information

Tisha Loeper-Viti
Trade and Investment Officer
U.S. Embassy Warsaw
Al Ujazdowskie 29/31War
saw, Poland 00-540 +48 22 504 2522
+48 22 504 2522
Loeper-VitiTR@state.gov

Romania

Executive Summary

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, 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, consumer products, insurance, and banking sectors.

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 points to persistent legislative instability, unpredictable decision-making, low institutional quality, and corruption as factors eroding investor confidence. The report also noted that important legislation was adopted without proper stakeholder consultation and often lacked impact assessments. Frequent reorganizations of public institutions also contribute to the significant degree of instability.

Prior government efforts to undermine prosecutors and weaken judicial independence had shaken investor confidence in anti-corruption efforts. Political rhetoric had taken an increasingly nationalist tone, with some political leaders occasionally accusing foreign companies of not paying taxes, taking advantage of workers and resources, and sponsoring anti-government protests. President Iohannis was reelected in November 2019 with a pro-business stance. The December 2020 parliamentary elections resulted in a pro-investment, center right coalition government with a parliamentary majority, providing increased political stability. The coalition has repeatedly voiced its support for rule of law and reform.

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. A bill passed in 2020 instituted a two-year ban on the sale of state assets and state equity in SOEs. The Government of Romania (GOR) is in the process of drafting legislation that will terminate the ban. 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 enactment of legislation. However, this requirement has 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 2020 69 of 175 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2019 55 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 46 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country historical stock positions) 2019 $3.46B https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $12,630 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Romania actively seeks foreign direct investment and offers a market of around 19.5 million consumers, a relatively well-educated workforce at competitive wages, a strategic location, and abundant natural resources. To date, favored areas for U.S. investment include IT and telecommunications, energy, services, manufacturing – especially in the automotive sector, consumer products, insurance, and banking. InvestRomania, part of the Ministry of Economy, is the government’s lead agency for promoting and facilitating foreign investment in Romania. InvestRomania offers assistance and advisory services free of charge to foreign investors and international companies for project implementation and opening new offices or manufacturing facilities.

Romania’s accession to the European Union (EU) on January 1, 2007 helped solidify institutional reform. However, legislative and regulatory unpredictability, lack of regulatory impact assessments, and low institutional capacity continue to negatively impact the investment climate. As in any foreign country, prospective U.S. investors should exercise careful due diligence, including consultation with competent legal counsel, when considering an investment in Romania. Governments in Romania have repeatedly allowed political interests or budgetary imperatives to supersede accepted business practices in ways harmful to investor interests.

The energy sector has suffered from unanticipated changes. In 2018, offshore natural gas companies benefited from a streamlined permitting process but were hit with a windfall profit tax that previously applied only to onshore gas production. Additionally, in February 2018, legislation changed the reference price for natural gas royalties from the Romanian market price to the Vienna Central European Gas Hub (CEGH) price, resulting in a significant increase in royalties. The GOR liberalized the natural gas market on July 1, 2020, and the electricity market as of January 1, 2021, for both household and non-household consumers.

In March 2021, the Parliament passed a bill reinforcing the government’s authority to vet the transfer of a petroleum agreement to a company from a non-EU country to determine if it is deemed to pose a threat to Romania’s national security. Transfer of a petroleum agreement must be approved through a government decision (GD).

Investments involving public authorities can be more complicated than investments or joint ventures with private Romanian companies. Large deals involving the government – particularly public-private partnerships and privatizations of key state-owned enterprises (SOE) – can be stymied by vested political and economic interests or bogged down due to a lack of coordination between government ministries.

In 2020, Romania capped the claw back tax in an effort to ease the burden on pharmaceutical companies. Designed to recoup drug reimbursement costs that exceeded budgeted amounts, the tax had increased up to 27.65 percent in 2019. In May 2020, President Klaus Iohannis signed off on a revised and differentiated claw back tax, capped at 25 percent for innovative medicines, 20 percent for generic medicines, and 15 percent for locally produced medicines. The claw back tax is one factor that continues to negatively impact the availability of drugs in the Romanian marketplace.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities are free to establish and own business enterprises, and to engage in all forms of remunerative activity. Romanian legislation and regulation provide national treatment for foreign investors, guarantee free access to domestic markets, and allow foreign investors to participate in privatizations. There is no limit on foreign participation in commercial enterprises. Foreign investors are entitled to establish wholly foreign-owned enterprises in Romania (although joint ventures are more typical), and to convert and repatriate 100 percent of after-tax profits.

Romania has established legal parameters to resolve contract disputes expeditiously. Mergers and acquisitions are subject to review by the Competition Council. According to the Competition Law, the Competition Council notifies Romania’s Supreme Defense Council regarding any merger or acquisition of stocks or assets which could impact national security. The Supreme Defense Council then reviews these referred mergers and acquisitions for potential threats to national security. To date, the Supreme Defense Council has not blocked any merger or acquisition. The Romanian capital account was fully liberalized in 2006, prior to gaining EU membership in 2007. Foreign firms are allowed to participate in the management and administration of investments, as well as to assign their contractual obligations and rights to other Romanian or foreign investors.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Romania has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews through multilateral organizations in over ten years. The Heritage Foundation’s 2021 Economic Freedom Report saw Romania’s score fall slightly due to an increase in the country’s fiscal deficit. Romania scored best in the Tax Burden category due to its low income and corporate tax rates. Romania’s economy had been rising through the ranks of the “moderately free” – a classification given by the report – over the past decade and will need to improve the following to continue its ascent: Improving the judicial system, strengthening anti-corruption efforts, removing rigidities in the labor market, and further modernizing the financial sector.

According to the World Bank, economic growth rates have increased, but the benefits have not been felt by all Romanians. Progress on implementing reforms and improving the business environment has been uneven. The World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Report and Doing Business in the European Union Report indicate that Romania ranks below the EU average in the ease of starting a business.

Business Facilitation

The National Trade Registry has an online service available in Romanian at https://portal.onrc.ro/ONRCPortalWeb/ONRCPortal.portal  . Romania has a foreign trade department and an investment promotion department within the Ministry of Economy. InvestRomania offers assistance and advisory services free of charge to foreign investors and international companies for project implementation and opening new offices or manufacturing facilities. More information is available at http://www.investromania.gov.ro/web/ .

According to the World Bank, it takes six procedures and 20 days to establish a foreign-owned limited liability company (LLC) in Romania, compared to the regional average for Europe and Central Asia of 5.2 procedures and 11.9 days. In addition to the procedures required of a domestic company, a foreign parent company establishing a subsidiary in Romania must authenticate and translate its documents. Foreign companies do not need to seek investment approval. A Trade Registry judge must hold a public hearing on the company’s application for registration within five days of submission of the required documentation. Registration documents can be submitted and the status of the registration request monitored online.

Companies in Romania are free to open and maintain bank accounts in any foreign currency, although, in practice, Romanian banks offer services only in Romanian lei (RON) and certain hard currencies (euros and U.S. dollars). The minimum capital requirement for domestic and foreign LLCs is RON 200 (USD 49). Areas for improvement include making all registration documents available to download online in English. Currently, only a portion are available online, and they are only in Romanian.

Romania defines microenterprises as having less than nine employees, small enterprises as having less than 50 employees, and medium-sized enterprises as having less than 250 employees. Regardless of ownership, microenterprises and SMEs enjoy “de minimis” and other state aid schemes from EU funds or from the state budget. Business facilitation mechanisms provide for equitable treatment of women in the economy.

Outward Investment

There are no restrictions or incentives on outward investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Romanian law requires consultations with stakeholders, including the private sector, and a 30-day comment period on legislation or regulation affecting the business environment (the “Sunshine Law”). Some draft pieces of legislation pending with the government are available in Romanian at  http://www.sgg.ro/acte-normative/ . Proposed items for cabinet meetings are not always publicized in advance or in full. As a general rule, the agenda of cabinet meetings should include links to the draft pieces of legislation (government decisions, ordinances, emergency ordinances, or memoranda) slated for government decision, but this is not always the case. Legislation pending with the parliament is available at http://www.cdep.ro/pls/proiecte/upl_pck.home  for the Chamber of Deputies and at https://www.senat.ro/legis/lista.aspx   for the Senate. The Chamber of Deputies is the decision-making body for economic legislation.

Foreign investors point to the excessive time required to secure necessary zoning permits, environmental approvals, property titles, licenses, and utility hook-ups.

The Sunshine Law (Law 52/2003 on Transparency in Public Administration) requires public authorities to allow the public to comment on draft legislation and sets the general timeframe for stakeholders to provide input; however, comments received are not published. The Sunshine Law’s public consultation timelines do not have enforceable penalties or sanctions, and thus public authorities can bypass its provisions without harm. In some cases, public authorities have set deadlines much shorter than the standards set forth in the law or passed a piece of legislation before the deadline for public input expired.

International Regulatory Considerations

As an EU member state since 2007, Romanian legislation is largely driven by the EU acquis, the body of EU legislation. European Commission (EC) regulations are directly applicable, while implementation of directives at the national level is done through the national legislation. Romania’s regulatory system incorporates European standards. Romania has been a World Trade Organization (WTO) member since January 1995 and a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) since November 1971. Technical regulation notifications submitted by the EU are valid for all Member States. The EU signed the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in October 2015. Romania has implemented all TFA requirements.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Romania recognizes property and contractual rights, but enforcement through the judicial process can be lengthy, costly, and difficult. Foreign companies engaged in trade or investment in Romania often express concern about the Romanian courts’ lack of expertise in commercial issues. There are no specialized commercial courts, but there are specialized civil courts. Judges generally have limited experience in the functioning of a market economy, international business methods, intellectual property rights, or the application of Romanian commercial and competition laws. As stipulated in the Constitution, the judicial system is independent from the executive branch and generally considered procedurally competent, fair, and reliable. Affected parties can challenge regulations and enforcement actions in court. Such challenges are adjudicated in the national court system.

Inconsistency and a lack of predictability in the jurisprudence of the courts or in the interpretation of the laws remains a major concern for foreign and domestic investors and for wider society. Even when court judgments are favorable, enforcement of judgments is inconsistent and can lead to lengthy appeals. Failure to implement court orders or cases where the public administration unjustifiably challenges court decisions constitute obstacles to the binding nature of court decisions.

Mediation as a tool to resolve disputes is gradually becoming more common in Romania, and a certifying body, the Mediation Council, sets standards and practices. The professional association, the Union of Mediation Centers in Romania, is the umbrella organization for mediators throughout the county. Court-sanctioned and private mediation is available at recognized mediation centers in every county seat.

There is no legal mechanism for court-ordered mediation in Romania, but judges can encourage litigants to use mediation to resolve their cases. If litigants opt for mediation, they must present their proposed resolution to a judge upon completion of the mediation process. The judge must then approve the agreement.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Since Romania became a member of the European Union in 2007, the country has worked assiduously to create an EU-compatible legal framework consistent with a market economy and investment promotion. At the same time, implementation of these laws and regulations frequently lags or is inconsistent, and lack of legislative predictability undermines Romania’s appeal as an investment destination.

Romania’s legal framework for foreign investment is encompassed within a substantial body of law largely enacted in the late 1990s. It is subject to frequent revision. Major changes to the Civil Code were enacted in October 2011, including replacing the Commercial Code, consolidating provisions applicable to companies and contracts into a single piece of legislation, and harmonizing Romanian legislation with international practices. The Civil Procedure Code, which provides detailed procedural guidance for implementing the new Civil Code, came into force in February 2013. Fiscal legislation is revised frequently, often without scientific or data-driven assessment of the impact the changes may have on the economy.

Given the state of flux of legal developments, investors are strongly encouraged to engage local counsel to navigate the various laws, decrees, and regulations, as several pieces of investor-relevant legislation have been challenged in both local courts and the Constitutional Court. There have been few hostile takeover attempts reported in Romania. Romanian law has not focused on limiting potential mergers or acquisitions. There are no Romanian laws prohibiting or restricting private firms’ free association with foreign investors.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Romania has extensively revised its competition legislation, bringing it closer to the EU Acquis Communautaire and best corporate practices. A new law on unfair competition came into effect in August 2014. Companies with a market share below 40 percent are no longer considered to have a dominant market position, thus avoiding a full investigation by the Romanian Competition Council (RCC), saving considerable time and money for all parties involved. Resale price maintenance and market and client sharing are still prohibited, regardless of the size of either party’s market share. The authorization fee for mergers or takeovers ranges between EUR 10,000 (USD 11,944) and EUR 50,000 (USD 59,720). The Fiscal Procedure Code requires companies that challenge an RCC ruling to front a deposit while awaiting a court decision on the merits of the complaint.

Romania’s Public Procurement Directives outline general procurements of goods and equipment, utilities procurement (“sectorial procurement”), works and services concessions, and remedies and appeals. An extensive body of secondary and tertiary legislation accompanies the four 2016 laws and has been subject to repeated revisions. Separate legislation governs defense and security procurements. In a positive move, this body of legislation moved away from the previous approach of using lowest price as the only public procurement selection criterion. Under the laws, an authority can use price, cost, quality-price ratio, or quality-cost ratio. The new laws also allow bidders to provide a simple form (the European Single Procurement Document) to participate in the award procedures. Only the winner must later submit full documentation.

The public procurement laws stipulate that challenges regarding procedure or an award can be filed with the National Complaint Council (NCC) or the courts. Disputes regarding execution, amendment, or termination of public procurement contracts can be subject to arbitration. The new laws also stipulate that a bidder has to notify the contracting authority before challenging either the award or procedure. Not fulfilling this notification requirement results in the NCC or court rejecting the challenge.

The EC’s 2020 European Semester Country Report for Romania notes that despite improved implementation, public procurement remains inefficient. According to the report, 97 percent of businesses think corruption is widespread in Romania, and 87 percent say it is widespread in public procurement managed by national authorities.

Expropriation and Compensation

The law on direct investment includes a guarantee against nationalization and expropriation or other equivalent actions. The law allows investors to select the court or arbitration body of their choice to settle disputes. Several cases involving investment property nationalized during the Communist era remain unresolved. In doing due diligence, prospective investors should ensure that a thorough title search is done to ensure there are no pending restitution claims against the land or assets.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Romania is a signatory to the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. Romania is also a party to the European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration concluded in Geneva in 1961 and is a member of the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID). Romania’s 1975 Decree 62 provides for legal enforcement of awards under the ICSID Convention.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Romania is a signatory to the New York Convention, the European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration (Geneva), and the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID). There have been 17 ICSID cases in total against Romania. Three of them involved U.S. investors. The arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of Romania in two of them. Eight investor-state arbitration cases against Romania are currently pending with the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the government. There is no history of extrajudicial action against investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Romania increasingly recognizes the importance of investor-state dispute settlement and has provided assurances that the rule of law will be enforced. Many agreements involving international companies and Romanian counterparts provide for the resolution of disputes through third-party arbitration. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards and judgments of foreign courts. There are no statistics on the percentage of cases in which Romanian courts ruled against state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

Romanian law and practice recognize applications to other internationally known arbitration institutions, such as the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Paris Court of Arbitration and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). Romania has an International Commerce Arbitration Court administered by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Romania. Additionally, in November 2016, the American Chamber of Commerce in Romania (AmCham Romania) established the Bucharest International Arbitration Court (BIAC). This new arbitration center focuses on business and commercial disputes involving foreign investors and multinationals active in Romania.

According to the World Bank 2020 Doing Business Report, it takes on average 512 days to enforce a contract, from the moment the plaintiff files the lawsuit until actual payment. Associated costs can total around 27 percent of the claim. Arbitration awards are enforceable through Romanian courts under circumstances similar to those in other Western countries, although legal proceedings can be protracted.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Romania’s bankruptcy law contains provisions for liquidation and reorganization that are generally consistent with Western legal standards. These laws usually emphasize enterprise restructuring and job preservation. To mitigate the time and financial cost of bankruptcies, Romanian legislation provides for administrative liquidation as an alternative to bankruptcy. However, investors and creditors have complained that liquidators sometimes lack the incentive to expedite liquidation proceedings and that, in some cases, their decisions have served vested outside interests. Both state-owned and private companies tend to opt for judicial reorganization to avoid bankruptcy.

In December 2009, the debt settlement mechanism Company Voluntary Agreements (CVAs) was introduced as a means for creditors and debtors to establish partial debt service schedules without resorting to bankruptcy proceedings. The global economic crisis did, however, prompt Romania to shorten insolvency proceedings in 2011.

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, resolving insolvency in Romania takes 3.3 years on average, compared to 2.3 years in Europe and Central Asia, and costs 10.5 percent of the debtor’s estate, with the most likely outcome being a piecemeal sale of the company. The average recovery rate is 34.4 cents on the dollar. Globally, Romania stands at 56 in the ranking of 190 economies on the ease of resolving insolvency.

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Currently, customs and tax incentives are available to investors in six free trade zones. State aid is available for investments in free trade zones under EU regional development assistance rules.

In 2007, Romania adopted EU regulations on regional investment aid and instituted state aid schemes for large investments, SMEs, and job creation. Both Romanian and EU state aid regulations aim to limit state aid in any form, such as direct state subsidies, debt rescheduling schemes, debt for equity swaps, or discounted land prices. The European Commission (EC) must be notified of and approve GOR state aid that exceeds the pre-approved monetary threshold for the corresponding category of aid. To benefit from the remaining state aid schemes, the applicant must secure financing separate from any public support for at least 25 percent of the eligible costs, either through his own resources or through external financing, and must document this financing in strict accordance with Ministry of Finance guidelines. Under amendments passed in 2010, the state aid scheme for regional projects scores applications based not only on the economics of the project, but also on the GDP per capita and unemployment rate for the county of intended investment. When granting state aid, the Ministry of Finance requires that the state revenues through taxes equals the state aid granted. Numerous foreign and U.S firms have successfully applied for and received Romanian State Aid.

The renewable energy support through Green Certificate System, part of the Renewable Energy Law, provided incentives for certain types of renewable energy. The support is not available for renewable energy investments made after January 1, 2017, but investors that qualified under the support system can trade certificates until 2032. The Green Certificates are traded in parallel with the energy produced. The Green Certificates are intended to provide an additional source of revenue for renewable energy producers. Repeated revisions to the support system – including deferring release of the certificates and lowering the mandatory green certificate quota that consumers and suppliers have to acquire – have created instability, however, in the renewables investment climate. Energy intensive industrial consumers receive exemptions from acquiring green certificates.

As an EU member state, Romania must receive EC approval for any state aid it grants not covered by the EU’s block exemption regulations. The Romanian Competition Council acts as a clearinghouse for the exchange of information between the Romanian authorities and the EC. The failure of state aid grantors to notify the EC properly of aid associated with privatizations has resulted in the Commission launching formal investigations into several privatizations. Investors should ensure that the government entities with which they work fully understand and fulfill their duty to notify competition authorities. Investors may wish to consult with EU and Romanian competition authorities in advance to ensure a proper understanding of notification requirements.

Companies operating in Romania can also apply for aid under EU-funded programs that are co-financed by Romania. When planning a project, prospective applicants must bear in mind that the project cannot start before the financing agreement is finalized; the application, selection, and negotiations can be lengthy. Applicants also must secure financing for non-eligible expenses and for their co-financing of the eligible expenses. Finally, reimbursement of eligible expenses – which must be financed upfront by the investor – is often very slow. Procurements financed by EU-funded programs above a certain monetary threshold must comply with public procurement legislation. In an effort to increase the rate of EU funds absorption, Romania has amended regulations to allow applicants to use the assets financed under EU-funded programs as collateral. However, Government of Romania entities’ understaffing and lack of management expertise, cumbersome procedures, and applicants’ difficulty obtaining private financing still significantly impede the absorption and implementation of EU funds.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Free Trade Zones (FTZs) received legal authority in Romania in 1992 under the authority of the Ministry of Transportation. General provisions include unrestricted entry and re-export of goods, and exemption from customs duties. The law further permits the leasing or transfer of buildings or land for terms of up to 50 years to corporations or natural persons, regardless of nationality. Foreign-owned firms have the same investment opportunities as Romanian entities in FTZs. Currently six FTZs, primarily located on the Danube River or close to the Black Sea, operate: Sulina, Constanta-Sud Agigea, Galati, Braila, Curtici-Arad, and Giurgiu. The administrator of each FTZ is responsible for all commercial activities performed within the zone.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The government generally does not mandate local employment. The notable exception is the Offshore Law (Law 256/2018), which requires that at least 25 percent of the employees of offshore titleholders have to be Romanian citizens with fiscal residence in Romania. There are no excessively onerous visa, residence, work permit, or similar requirements inhibiting mobility of foreign investors or their employees. There are no government-imposed conditions on permission to invest. The government does not require investors to establish or maintain data storage in Romania. Romania neither follows nor is there legislation requiring a “forced localization” policy for goods, technology, or data. Romania does not have requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code or provide access for government surveillance. Romania’s Constitutional Court has twice ruled such specific legislative drafts are unconstitutional. There are no measures that prevent or unduly impede companies from freely transmitting customer or other business-related data outside the country. There are no performance requirements imposed as a condition for establishing, maintaining or expanding an investment.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

The Romanian Constitution, adopted in December 1991 and revised in 2003, guarantees the right to ownership of private property. Mineral and airspace rights, and similar rights, are excluded from private ownership. Under the revised Constitution, foreign citizens can gain land ownership through inheritance. With EU accession, citizens of EU member states can own land in Romania, subject to reciprocity in their home country.

Companies owning foreign capital may acquire land or property needed to fulfill or develop company goals. If the company is dissolved or liquidated, the land must be sold within one year of closure and may only be sold to a buyer(s) with the legal right to purchase such assets. Investors can purchase shares in agricultural companies that lease land in the public domain from the State Land Agency, however, legislation passed in Fall 2020 imposed additional restrictions and limitations on the purchase of agricultural land by foreign investors.

The 2006 legislation that regulates the establishment of specialized mortgage banks also makes possible a secondary mortgage market by regulating mortgage bond issuance mechanisms. Commercial banks, specialized mortgage banks, and non-bank mortgage credit institutions offer mortgage loans. Romania’s mortgage market is now almost entirely private. The state-owned national savings bank (CEC Bank) also offers mortgage loans. Since 2000, the Electronic Archives of Security Interests in Movable Property (AEGRM) has overseen the filing of transactions regarding mortgages, assimilated operations, or other collateral provided by the law as well as their advertising. Most urban land has clear title, and the National Cadaster Agency (NCA) is slowly working to identify property owners and register land titles. According to the National Cadaster Plan, 2023 is the deadline for full registration of lands and buildings in the registry. According to NCA data, 1.9 million hectares of land and 37.7 percent of the estimated real estate assets (buildings) were registered in the cadaster registry as of March 2020.

Romania has made marginal improvement in implementing digital records of real estate assets, including land. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business Report ranks Romania 46 for the ease of registering property. The cadaster property registry is far from complete, and the lack of accurate and complete information for land ownership continues to be a challenge for private investors ‎and SOEs alike.

Intellectual Property Rights

Romania remains on the Watch List of the U.S. Trade Representative’s Special 301 Report in 2021, it reportedly hosts an infringing website included in the 2020 Notorious Markets List. The United States continues to welcome the participation of the Romanian government on intellectual property rights (IPR)-related trainings and in international enforcement operations, as well as the continued working-level cooperation between stakeholders and law enforcement authorities. Internet piracy remains the most serious type of IPR infringement, and the technical sophistication of online piracy continues to increase. The shift of counterfeit goods trade from physical marketplaces to online networks, or social media marketplaces, has created new challengers for IPR enforcement. Low penalties for IPR crimes and the treatment of IPR violations without “social harm” often impede effective enforcement and prosecution. To increase the odds of IPR cases being brought to trial, law enforcement authorities have attempted to bundle charges of fraud, tax evasion, and organized crime activities with IPR violations, but frequently authorities forego IPR enforcement and focus on tax evasion. The government is taking additional steps to improve IPR enforcement coordination among public agencies and strengthen cooperation with private sector stakeholders.

Romania is a signatory to international conventions concerning IPR, including the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and has enacted legislation protecting patents, trademarks, and copyrights. Romania passed broad IPR protection enforcement provisions as required by the WTO, yet gaps remain in enforcement. Romania has signed the Internet Convention to protect online authorship. In January 2020, Romania passed a law to enhance the transparency of collective rights management of copyrights, and in July 2020 passed legislation to implement the EU Trademark Directive. The new legislation introduced a series of changes, including removal of requirements for graphic representation of trademarks and allowing for registration of sound marks, multimedia marks, and holograms. To increase transparency, the law included provisions to clarify dates of completed trademark registration and their entry into force.

Romania is both a transit and destination country for counterfeit goods. China is the top country of origin for counterfeit goods. Customs officers can seize counterfeit products ex-officio and destroy them upon inspection and declaration by the rights holder. The government is responsible for paying for the storage and destruction of the counterfeit goods. The National Customs Directorate reported the seizure of 1.65 million pieces of counterfeit goods worth USD 9.35 million in 2020, compared to 6.11 million pieces worth USD 6.84 million in 2019. Customs authorities closely coordinate their efforts with the European Commission’s Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights, and other stakeholders to increase trans-border cooperation in line with the EU’s IPR action plan.

Patents

Romania is a party to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Patent Cooperation Treaty and the Paris Convention. Romanian patent legislation generally meets international standards with foreign investors accorded equal treatment with Romanian citizens under the law. Patents are valid for 20 years. Romania has been party to the European Patent Convention since 2002. Patent applications can be filed online. Since 2014, Romania has also enforced a distinct law regulating employee inventions. The right to file a patent belongs to the employer for up to two years following the departure of the employee.

Trademarks

Romania is party to the Madrid Agreement, the Singapore Treaty, and the Trademark Law Treaty. In 1998, Romania passed a trademark and geographical indications law, which was amended in 2010 to make it fully consistent with equivalent EU legislation at that time. The EU has since adopted a new Trademark Directive (EU Directive 2436/2015) that was to be implemented by all EU member states by January 2019. Law 84/1998 transposing the EU Directive 2015/2436 of the European Parliament and of the Council relating to Trademarks and Geographic Indications was approved by Parliament and came in force in July 2020.

Copyrights

Romania is a member of the Berne Convention, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. The Romanian Copyright Office (ORDA) was established in 1996 and promotes and monitors copyright legislation. The General Prosecutor’s Office (GPO) provides national coordination of IPR enforcement. Many magistrates still tend to view copyright piracy as a “victimless crime” and this attitude has resulted in weak enforcement of copyright law.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Romania welcomes portfolio investment. In September 2019, the Financial Times and the London Stock Exchange (FTSE) promoted the Bucharest Stock Exchange (BVB) to Emerging Secondary Capital Market status from Frontier Capital Market classification.  The Financial Regulatory Agency (ASF) regulates the securities market. The ASF implements the registration and licensing of brokers and financial intermediaries, the filing and approval of prospectuses, and the approval of market mechanisms.

The BVB resumed operations in 1995 after a hiatus of nearly 50 years. The BVB operates a two-tier system with the main market consisting of 83 companies. The official index, BET, is based on an index of the ten most active stocks. BET-TR is the total return on market capitalization index, adjusted for the dividends distributed by the companies included in the index. Since 2015, the BVB also has an alternative trading system (MTS-AeRO) with 289 listed companies – mostly small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – and features relaxed listing criteria. The BVB allows trade in corporate, municipal, and international bonds. Investors can use gross basis trade settlements, and trades can be settled in two net settlement cycles. The BVB’s integrated group includes trading, clearing, settlement, and registry systems. The BVB’s Multilateral Trading System (MTS) allows trading in local currency of 16 foreign stocks listed on international capital markets.

Neither the government nor the Central Bank imposes restrictions on payments and transfers. Country funds, hedge funds, private pension funds, and venture capital funds continue to participate in the capital markets. Minority shareholders have the right to participate in any capital increase. Romanian capital market regulation is now EU-consistent, with accounting regulations incorporating EC Directives IV and VII.

Money and Banking System

Thirty- five banks and credit cooperative national unions currently operate in Romania. The largest is the privately-owned Transilvania Bank (18.4 percent market share), followed by Austrian-owned Romanian Commercial Bank (BCR-Erste, 14.2 percent); French-owned Romanian Bank for Development (BRD-Société Générale, 11.0 percent); Dutch-owned ING (9.5 percent); Austrian-owned Raiffeisen (9.2 percent), and Italian-owned UniCredit (8.1 percent).

The banking system is stable and well-provisioned relative to its European peers. According to the National Bank of Romania, non-performing loans (NPLs) have steadily fallen in recent years and currently account for 3.89 percent of total bank loans. As of December 2020, the banking system’s solvency rate was 22.7 percent, which has remained steady over recent years.

The government has encouraged foreign investment in the banking sector, and mergers and acquisitions are not restricted. The only remaining state-owned banks are the National Savings Bank (CEC Bank) and EximBank, comprising 10.63 percent of the market combined, having grown after the latter’s acquisition of Banca Romaneasca from Greek-owned NBG.

While the National Bank of Romania must authorize all new non-EU banking entities, banks and non-banking financial institutions already authorized in other EU countries need only notify the National Bank of Romania of plans to provide local services based on the EU passport.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government instituted a credit/lease installment moratorium in 2020, and later extended it into 2021. Borrowers are permitted a total of nine months of non-payment of their installments. As of September 2020, 558,000 borrowers applied for the installment moratorium, representing 14.7 percent of the total non-government credit balance.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Romania does not restrict the conversion or transfer of funds associated with direct investment. All profits made by foreign investors in Romania may be converted into another currency and transferred abroad at the market exchange rate after payment of taxes.

Romania’s national currency, the Leu, is freely convertible in current account transactions, in accordance with the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Article VII.

Remittance Policies

There is no limitation on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits, debt service, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or imported inputs. Proceeds from the sales of shares, bonds, or other securities, as well as from the conclusion of an investment, can be repatriated.

Romania implemented regulations liberalizing foreign exchange markets in 1997. The inter-bank electronic settlement system became fully operational in 2006, eliminating past procedural delays in processing capital outflows. Commission fees for real-time electronic banking settlements have gradually been reduced.

Capital inflows are also free from restraint. Romania concluded capital account liberalization in September 2006, with the decision to permit non-residents and residents abroad to purchase derivatives, treasury bills, and other monetary instruments.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Plans to establish a Sovereign Development and Investment Fund (SDIF) were repealed by the government in January 2020.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

According to the World Bank, there are approximately 1,200 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in Romania, of which around 300 are majority-owned by the Romanian government.  There is no published list of all SOEs since some are subordinated to the national government and some to local authorities. SOEs are governed by executive boards under the supervision of administration boards. Implementation of the Corporate Governance Code (Law 111/2016) remains incomplete and uneven.

SOEs are required by law to publish an annual report. Majority state-owned companies that are publicly listed, as well as state-owned banks, are required to be independently audited. Many SOEs are currently managed by interim boards, often with politically appointed members that lack sector and business expertise. The EC’s 2020 European Semester Country Report for Romania noted that the Corporate Governance Law is still only loosely applied. The appointment of interim boards has become standard practice. Administrative offences carry symbolic penalties, which do not change behavior. The operational and financial results of most state-owned enterprises deteriorated in 2019 and 2020.

Privatization Program

Privatization has stalled since 2014. The government has repeatedly postponed IPOs for hydropower producer Hidroelectrica, though its sale is currently slated for end-2021 pending repeal of the ban on the sales of state equities

As a member of the EU, Romania is required to notify the EC’s General Directorate for Competition regarding significant privatizations and related state aid. Prospective investors should seek assistance from legal counsel to ensure compliance with relevant legislation. The state aid schemes aim to enhance regional development and job creation through financial support for new jobs or investment in new manufacturing assets. The Ministry of Finance issues public calls for applications under the schemes. The government’s failure to consult with, and then formally notify, the EC properly has resulted in delays and complications in some previous privatizations.

Private enterprises compete with public enterprises under the same terms and conditions with respect to market access and credit. Energy production, transportation, and mining are majority state-owned sectors, and the government retains majority equity in electricity and natural gas transmission. The Ministry of Energy has authority over energy generation assets and natural gas production. According to the EU’s Third Energy Package directives, the same entity cannot control generation, production and/or supply activities, and at the same time control or exercise any right over a transmission system operator (TSO). Consequently, natural gas carrier Transgaz and national electricity carrier Transelectrica are under the Government’s General Secretariat. The Ministry of Infrastructure has authority over the entities in the transportation sector, including rail carrier CFR Marfa, national air carrier Tarom, and the Constanta Port Administration. There are currently no plans to privatize companies in the transportation sector.

Romanian law allows for the inclusion of confidentiality clauses in privatization and public-private partnership contracts to protect business proprietary and other information. However, in certain high-profile privatizations, parliament has compelled the public disclosure of such provisions.

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 the previous government to weaken anti-corruption efforts, the criminal and judicial legislative framework, and judicial independence. Judicial institutions, NGOs, the EU, and NATO allied governments raised concerns about legislative initiatives that furthered this trend during that time period. In Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, Romania remained 44 out of 100. This is among the lowest ranking of EU member states, tying with Hungary and Bulgaria. The current government began rolling back the negative actions of the prior government, but this effort will take some time to have full effect.

Domestic and international rule-of-law observers and law enforcement criticized the wide range of amendments that the former government introduced to the criminal code and criminal procedure codes as weakening the investigative toolkits, including in fighting corruption between 2017 and 2019. In July 2019, the Constitutional Court found these changes unconstitutional, and the current government plans to revise these codes.

The European Commission under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), and the Council of Europe’s (COE) Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) prepared 2019 reports prior to the National Liberal Party (PNL) government taking power in November 2019. The October 2019 report, which covered actions taken through June 2019, confirmed the backtracking from the progress made in previous years and set out in the November 2018 report. The report also emphasized that key institutions needed to collectively demonstrate a strong commitment to judicial independence and the fight against corruption as indispensable cornerstones, and to ensure the capacity of national safeguards and checks and balances to act.

GRECO’s July 2019 Interim Compliance Report warned that statutes enacted through emergency ordinances, or with insufficient transparency and public consultation, weaken judicial independence. A June 2019 Venice Commission report was also highly critical of the use of Emergency Ordinances. A May 2019 non-binding referendum banned the use of Emergency Ordinances for issues related to the justice sector. The chapter on Romania in the EC’s 2020 report on the rule of law situation in the EU noted that in 2020 the government continued to affirm its commitment to restore the path of judicial reform after the reversals between 2017 and 2019.

After a political and media campaign against the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) resulted in the dismissal of the Chief Prosecutor of the DNA in 2018, the position remained vacant until a new government filled the position in March 2020. The DNA’s 2020 performance report showed that the failure to correct the legislative framework to incorporate the Constitutional Court decisions have negatively impacted the agency’s efficiency. The special prosecutor’s office set up by the previous government to investigate and prosecute judges and prosecutors, which appeared to only be undertaking politically motivated cases, continues to operate.

The current government has resumed efforts to have the special prosecutor’s office disbanded. Successful court challenges of the High Court of Cassation and Justice’s procedures triggered the review of numerous high-level corruption cases. Both the national Cabinet and Parliament adopted codes of conduct, yet their overly general provisions have so far rendered them inconsequential. Conflicts of interest, respect for standards of ethical conduct, and integrity in public office in general remained a concern for all three branches of government. Individual executive agencies enforced sanctions slowly, and agencies’ own inspection bodies were generally inactive.

In June 2019, the previous government adopted a sizable Administrative Code by emergency ordinance. The Code weakened the authority of the National Civil Service Agency to oversee civil service by merit-based selection, lowered the voting requirements for transferring management of properties by local councils, and limited local elected officials’ legal liability for official acts by shifting it to civil servants. Implementation of the 2016-2020 national anticorruption strategy, which the previous government adopted in 2016, has been slow, especially on prevention efforts. The government plans to draft the strategy for the 2021-2024 period based on a review of the previous one, which focused on strengthening administrative review and transparency within public agencies, prevention of corruption, increased and improved financial disclosure, conflict of interest oversight, more aggressive investigation of money laundering, and passage of legislation to allow for more effective asset recovery. The current government made more aggressive asset recovery a priority and has worked on a strategy for strengthening the National Agency for Managing Seized Assets (ANABI).

Romania implemented the revised EU Public Procurement Directives with the passage in 2016 of new laws to improve and make public procurement more transparent. The National Agency for Public Procurement 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 February 2020 EU Country Report for Romania points out that public procurement remains inefficient.

In October 2016, the “Prevent” IT system, an initiative sponsored by the National Integrity Agency for ex-ante check of conflicts of interests in public procurement, was signed into law. The mechanism aims to avoid conflicts of interest by automatically detecting conflict of interests in public procurement before the selection and contract award procedure.

Laws prohibit bribery, both domestically and for Romanian companies doing business abroad. The judiciary remains paper-based and inefficient, and Romania loses several cases each year in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) due to excessive trial length. Asset forfeiture laws exist, but a functioning regime remains under development. Fully 80 percent of cases in the court system are property related.

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, with the customs service, municipal officials, and local financial authorities most frequently named. According to the EC’s 2020 European Semester Country Report for Romania, the share of companies that perceive corruption as a problem increased in Romania in contrast with the EU average, which continued to decrease (now at 37 percent). Overall, 97 percent of businesses think that corruption is widespread in Romania, and 87 percent say it is widespread in public procurement managed by national authorities. On a more positive note, 50 percent of respondents think that those engaged in corruption would be caught by police, and 43 percent think that those caught for bribing a senior official receive appropriate sanctions. These results are both higher than the EU average.

Romania is a member of the Southeast European Law Enforcement Center (SELEC). NGOs enjoy the same legal protections as any other organization, but NGOs involved in investigating corruption receive no additional protections.

UN Anticorruption Convention, OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery

Romania is member of the UN Anticorruption Convention and the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO). Romania is not a member of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

Romania expressed interest to join the new anti-corruption working group of the Open Government Partnership initiative.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at government agency responsible for combating corruption:

National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA)
Str. Stirbei Voda nr. 79-81, Bucuresti
+40 21 312 73 99
anticoruptie@pna.ro 
http://www.pna.ro/sesizare.xhtml?jftfdi=&jffi=sesizare 

Contact at “watchdog” organizations:

Laura Stefan
Executive Director
Expert Forum
Strada Semilunei, apt 1, Sector 2, Bucuresti
+40 21 211 7400
]laura.stefan@expertforum.ro
office@expertforum.ro 

Cristina Guseth
Director
Freedom House Romania
Bd. Ferdinand 125, Bucuresti +40 21 253 2838
guseth@freedomhouse.ro 

Elena Calistru
President
Funky Citizens
+40 723 627 448
elena@funkycitizens.org 

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. Anti-shale gas protestors invaded the site of a U.S. energy company’s exploratory well in 2013, damaging the perimeter fence and some equipment.

During the February 2017 anti-government protests, and intermittently during the previous government, some government leaders pointed to “multinationals” as among the orchestrators of the protests. However, no officials took any action and public attention diminished. The current coalition government supports the creation of a business-friendly environment.

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 unemployment rate in Romania declined by 0.3 percent from 4.2 percent in 2018 to 3.9 percent in 2019; however, the rate has risen due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was 5.6 percent in January 2021. Additional data show a shrinking labor supply. At 68.6 percent in 2019, the labor force participation rate – the portion of the working age population (15-64 years) who are employed or actively seeking employment – remains among the lowest in the EU. Romanian employers in the engineering, machinery, IT services, and healthcare sectors report 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 2019 (19.4 percent of the working age resident population). Many emigrants are young and well qualified, constraining the supply of skilled labor remaining in Romania. The World Bank estimates 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 having taken some steps in recent years to attract and retain talent. Employees in some sectors have benefitted from fiscal incentives. For example, IT professionals are eligible for certain income tax exemptions. In addition, in 2018, the GOR introduced an additional income tax and social contributions exemption for a period of ten years for employees in the construction sector. The provision also introduced a specific minimum wage of RON 3,000 (USD 728) for construction workers. In 2017, the government 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. Discussions with unions and businesses continue on the 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. Starting in 2020, employers are no longer required to obtain General Immigration Inspectorate (IGI) approval for nationals from Moldova, Ukraine, and Serbia for fulltime labor contracts of up to 9 months per year. For 2021 the government decreased the annual work permits to 25,000, down from 30,000 in 2020. 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 with the exception of 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. The amended legislation no longer requires 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 Romania’s revolution in 1989, 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 differentiates 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 going on strike 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. The employee, employer, or labor union may initiate proceedings. In 2019, employees from household appliances, electrical and railcar industries went on strike. 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 8,233 collective labor agreements in 2019 and 4,364 collective labor agreements as of Q3 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 member state, Romania observes international labor rights. The 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. The main objective for Romania’s national labor strategy for 2014-2020 is the development of an efficient, dynamic, and flexible workforce. Romania aims to ensure that by 2020, 70 percent of people aged 20-64 will have access to a quality job which rewards them based on their capacity and competence and ensures a decent standard of living.

The minimum wage has more than tripled in nominal terms since 2012, rising from RON 700 (USD 170) to RON 2,300 (USD 558) per month in 2021. In addition, the government introduced a differentiated minimum wage in December 2018, decreeing that employees with a university degree, as required by the job description and one year on the job, must receive at least RON 2,350 (USD 570) monthly, 5 percent more than other minimum wage workers earn.  Despite these measures, Romania has the highest rate of employed persons at risk of poverty among EU member states; 15.7 percent in 2019.

Wage increases have been outpacing productivity growth since 2016. This led to a marked acceleration of hourly labor costs, which posted a 6 percent nominal increase in December 2020 as compared with the same period in 2019.

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 required 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. Subsequently, the government issued an ordinance in February 2018 to allow 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 government passed new legislation clearly articulating the way the labor code applies to companies employing teleworkers, defining the distinction between teleworkers and employees who work full-time from home.

In response to COVID-19 restrictions, the government extended the categories of employees eligible for unemployment benefits to independently registered business people, lawyers, and individuals with income deriving from copyright and sports activities. In August 2020, the government adopted a flexible work scheme model that required employers to cover half of full-time wages, and the GOR to pay 75 percent of the difference between the gross wage and the basic wage paid to the employee based on the number of hours actually worked. As part of the same package, independent and seasonal workers affected by the epidemic could continue to receive 41.5 percent of the average gross wages for a limited period. Day workers and SME employees also would be able to receive separate, limited payments to cover wages and teleworking equipment. The law also allows for one caretaker of school-age children to receive paid days off for periods when schools are closed.

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) (USD) 2020 $250B 2020 $257B 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: BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country (stock positions, USD) 2020 $5.87B 2019 $3.46B BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/  National Office of the Trade Register National Bank of Romania
Host country’s FDI in the United States (stock positions, USD) N/A N/A 2019 $38M BEA data available at ttps://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data 
Total inbound stock of FDI as %host GDP N/A N/A 2019 2.5% UNCTAD data available at https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/EconomicTrends/Fdi.html 

* Source for Host Country Data:

National Statistics Institute: https://insse.ro/cms/ 

National Bank of Romania: https://www.bnr.ro/

National Office of the Trade Register: https://www.onrc.ro/ 

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 99,050 100% Total Outward N/A
Netherlands 23,012 23.2% Country #1 N/A
Austria 12,461 12.6% Country #2 N/A
Germany 12,219 12.3% Country #3 N/A
Italy 8,146 8.2% Country #4 N/A
Cyprus* 6,161 6.2% Country #5 N/A
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.*The National Bank of Romania estimates the United States to be #5 when methodology is altered to account for investments made by foreign subsidiaries of origin country companies.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (US Dollars, Millions)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 6,137 100% All Countries 1,839 100% All Countries 4,298 100%
Luxembourg 1,346 22% Luxembourg 851 46% International Organizations 859 20%
International Organizations 859 14% Austria 198 11% U.S. 666 15%
U.S. 769 13% Ireland 165 9% Luxembourg 495 12%
Austria 674 11% Germany 141 8% Austria 476 11%
Netherlands 397 6% Netherlands 129 7% France 286 7%

14. Contact for More Information

Kevin Manuel
B-dul Dr. Liviu Librescu 4-6
+40-21-200-3343
InfoBuch@state.gov

Serbia

Executive Summary

Serbia’s investment climate has modestly improved in recent years, driven by macroeconomic reforms, greater financial stability, fiscal discipline, and a European Union (EU) accession process that encourages legal changes that improve the business climate. The government successfully completed a 30-month Policy Coordination Instrument with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in January 2021 and is now negotiating a new stand-by arrangement. Serbia improved four places in 2020 on the World Bank’s Doing Business index and is now ranked 44th globally. Attracting foreign investment remains an important priority for the government; and in 2021 the United States and Serbia signed a new Investment Incentive Agreement that may facilitate opportunities in a variety of sectors. U.S. investors in Serbia are generally positive due to the country’s strategic location, well-educated and affordable labor force, excellent English language skills, investment incentives, and free-trade arrangements with key markets, particularly the EU. U.S. investors generally enjoy a level playing field with their Serbian and foreign competitors. The U.S. Embassy in Belgrade often assists investors when issues arise, and Serbian leaders are responsive to investment concerns. However, 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 decisions of nominally independent regulatory agencies is also a concern.

The Serbian government has identified economic growth and job creation as top priorities and has committed to resolving several long-standing issues related to consolidating market-driven capitalism. The government has passed significant reforms to labor law, construction permitting, inspections, public procurement, and privatization that have helped improve the business environment. Companies and officials have noted that the adoption of reforms has sometimes outpaced thorough implementation of these reforms. Digitizing certain functions (e.g., construction permitting, tax administration, e-signatures, and removing the previously ubiquitous requirement for ink stamps) 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. Where possible, this has been achieved through bankruptcy or privatization actions. The government plans to privatize 78 more companies and is also slowly reducing Serbia’s bloated public-sector workforce, mainly through attrition and hiring limitations that cap new hiring at 70% of the previous year’s attrition.

If the government delivers on promised reforms during its EU accession process, business opportunities will likley continue to grow in the coming years. 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.

Women in Serbia generally enjoy equal treatment in business, and the government offers various programs to support women’s businesses. Starting in 2017, a Serbian government program provides approximately 1 million USD annually in grants from the government budget to support women’s innovative entrepreneurship.

Investors should monitor the government’s implementation of reforms, as well as its changing investment incentive programs.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 94 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 44 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 53 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 $149 million http://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 $7,030 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Attracting FDI is a priority for the Serbian government. The Law on Investments extends national treatment to foreign investors and prohibits discriminatory practices against them. The Law also allows the repatriation of profits and dividends, provides guarantees against expropriation, allows waivers of customs duty for equipment imported as capital in-kind, and enables foreign investors to qualify for government incentives.

The Government’s investment promotion authority is the Development Agency of Serbia (Razvojna agencija Srbije – RAS: http://ras.gov.rs/ ). RAS offers a wide range of services, including support of direct investments, export promotion, and coordinating the implementation of investment projects. RAS serves as a one-stop-shop for both domestic and international companies. The government maintains a dialogue with businesses through associations such as the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, American Chamber of Commerce in Serbia, Foreign Investors’ Council (FIC), and Serbian Association of Managers (SAM).

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own businesses and to engage in all forms of remunerative activity. Serbia has no investment screening or approval mechanisms for inbound foreign investment. U.S. investors are not disadvantaged or singled out by any rules or regulations.

For some business activities, licenses are required (e.g., financial institutions must be licensed by the National Bank of Serbia prior to registration). Licensing limitations apply to both domestic and foreign companies active in finance, energy, mining, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, tobacco, arms and military equipment, road transportation, customs processing, land development, electronic communications, auditing, waste management, and production and trade of hazardous chemicals.

Serbian citizens and foreign investors enjoy full private-property ownership rights. Private entities can freely establish, acquire, and dispose of interests in business enterprises. By law, private companies compete equally with public enterprises in the market and for access to credit, supplies, licenses, and other aspects of doing business.

Agribusiness: Foreign citizens and foreign companies are prohibited from owning agricultural land in Serbia. However, foreign ownership restrictions on farmland do not apply to companies registered in Serbia, even if the company is foreign-owned. Unofficial estimates suggest that Serbian subsidiaries of foreign companies own some 20,000 hectares of farmland in the country. EU citizens are exempt from this ban, although they may only buy up to two hectares of agricultural land under certain conditions. They must permanently reside in the municipality where the land is located for at least 10 years, practice farming on the land in question for at least three years and own adequate agriculture machinery and equipment.

Defense: The Law on Investments adopted in 2015 ended discriminatory practices that prevented foreign companies from establishing companies in the production and trade of arms (for example, the defense industry) or in specific areas of the country. Further liberalization of investment in the defense industry continued via a new Law on the Production and Trade of Arms and Ammunition, adopted in May 2018. The law enables total foreign ownership of up to 49% in seven SOEs, collectively referred to as the “Defense Industry of Serbia,” so long as no single foreign shareholder exceeds 15% ownership. The law also cancels limitations on foreign ownership for arms and ammunition manufacturers.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Serbia has not undergone any third-party investment policy reviews in the past three years.

Business Facilitation

According to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report, it takes seven procedures and seven days to establish a foreign-owned limited liability company in Serbia. This is fewer days but more procedures than the average for Europe and Central Asia. In addition to the procedures required of a domestic company, a foreign parent company establishing a subsidiary in Serbia must translate its corporate documents into Serbian.

Under the Business Registration Law, the Serbian Business Registers Agency (SBRA) oversees company registration. SBRA’s website is available in Serbian at www.apr.gov.rs/home.1435.html. All entities applying for incorporation with SBRA can use a single application form and are not required to have signatures notarized.

Companies in Serbia can open and maintain bank accounts in foreign currency, although they must also have an account in Serbian dinars (RSD). The minimum capital requirement is symbolic at RSD 100 (less than 1 USD) for limited liability companies, rising to RSD 3 million (approximately 29,900 USD) for a joint stock company. (Some foreign companies have difficulties opening a bank account due to a requirement from the Law on Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing that requires companies to disclose their ultimate owner). A single-window registration process enables companies that register with SBRA to obtain a tax registration number (poreski identifikacioni broj – PIB) and health insurance number with registration. In addition, companies must register employees with the Pension Fund at the Fund’s premises. Since December 2017, the Labor Law requires employers to register new employees before they start their first day at work; previously, the deadline was registration within 15 days of employment. These amendments represent an attempt by the government to decrease the grey labor market by allowing labor inspectors to penalize employers if they find unregistered workers.

Pursuant to the Law on Accounting, companies in Serbia are classified as micro, small, medium, and large, depending on the number of employees, operating revenues, and value of assets.

RAS supports direct investment and promotes exports. It also implements projects aimed at improving competitiveness, supporting economic development, and supporting small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs. More information is available at http://ras.gov.rs.

Serbia’s business-facilitation mechanisms provide for equitable treatment of both men and women when a registering company, according to the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index. The government has declared 2017-2027 a Decade of Entrepreneurship, with special programs to support entrepreneurship by women.

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Serbia does not have a bilateral investment agreement with the United States. Serbia has bilateral investment treaties in force with Albania, Algeria, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium-Luxembourg Economic Union, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Cuba, the Czech Republic, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guinea, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Libya, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Montenegro, Morocco, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe. (See http://mtt.gov.rs/download/Pregled percent20Zemalja.pdf)

Serbia does not have a bilateral taxation treaty with the United States.

Serbia has signed and implemented bilateral taxation treaties with Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia (as of January 1, 2019), Iran, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Libya, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Russia, San Marino (as of January 1, 2019) Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam. (See the Serbian Finance Ministry website at https://www.mfin.gov.rs/propisi/ugovori-o-izbegavanju-dvostrukog-oporezivanja/.

Serbia has signed and ratified bilateral taxation treaties with Ghana, Guinea, Morocco, Palestine, the Philippines and Zimbabwe; however, the foreign legislatures have not yet ratified these agreements.

Serbia is a member of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, and Kosovo). It enjoys free-trade status for almost all products exported to the European Customs Area (the EU plus the European Free Trade Association states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland). Serbia has bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkey.

Serbia signed a free-trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia) on October 25, 2019. The Serbian Parliament ratified the agreement on February 25, 2020, and the Russian Parliament ratified it on November 3, 2020, but it has yet to be ratified by the other signatory countries. Once it comes into force, 60 days following final ratification by other signatory countries, it will replace the current bilateral FTAs with most EAEU member countries.

Serbia’s duty-free treatment of certain exports to the United States under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) expired on December 31, 2020. Serbia has Most Favored Nation status on exports of other goods. The U.S. Congress did not re-authorize the GSP program before adjourning for the year. As a result, imports entering the United States that were previously eligible for duty-free treatment under GSP are now subject to regular, Normal Trade Relations (MFN) rates of duty, which are shown in the U.S. tariff schedule under the “General” column heading. Congress may choose to renew the program retroactively, as it has previously. If so, duties paid on GSP-eligible items will be refunded. Importers should continue to mark GSP-eligible importations with the applicable special program indicator (SPI) for GSP (“A,”) which will allow CBP to process duty refunds automatically.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Serbia is undertaking an extensive legislative amendment process aimed at harmonizing its laws with those of the European Union’s acquis communautaire. Harmonization of Serbian law with the acquis has created a legal and regulatory environment more consistent with international norms.

The government, ministries, and regulatory agencies develop, maintain, and publish a plan online of all anticipated legislation and regulations, as well as deadlines for their enactment. Serbian law requires that the text of proposed legislation and regulations be made available for public comment and debate if the law would significantly affect the legal regime in a specific field, or if the subject matter is an issue of a particular interest to the public. The website of Serbia’s unicameral legislature, called the National Assembly (www.parlament.gov.rs ), provides a list of both proposed and adopted legislation. There is no minimum period set by law for the text of proposed legislation or regulations to be publicly available.

In recent years, Serbia’s National Assembly has adopted many laws through an “urgent procedure”. By law, an urgent procedure can be used only “under unforeseeable circumstances,” to protect human life and health, and to harmonize legislation with the EU acquis. Bills proposed under an urgent procedure may be introduced with less than 24 hours’ notice, thus limiting public consideration and parliamentary debate. Use of the urgent procedure for the adoption of laws was concerningly frequent in the previous period. Concerns regarding the consequent lack of transparency in the legislative process were regularly reported by the European Commission and the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO). The 2019 European Commission Staff Working Document for Serbia stated that “some steps were taken to address shortcomings in the work of the parliament with the reduction of urgent procedures and previous practices of filibustering.” Urgent parliamentary procedures were reduced from 44% of all legislative acts in the previous reporting period (2018-2019) to 19% between March 2019 and March 2020.

International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) are required for publicly listed companies and financial institutions, as well as for the following large legal entities, regardless of whether their securities trade in a public market: insurance companies, financial leasing lessors, voluntary pension funds and their management companies, investment funds and their management companies, stock exchanges, securities brokerages, and factoring companies. Additionally, IFRS standards are required for all foreign companies whose securities trade is in any public market.

Although there are no informal regulatory processes managed by NGOs or the private sector, several Serbian organizations publish recommendations for government action to improve the transparency and efficiency of business regulations. The Foreign Investors’ Council publishes an annual White Book (http://www.fic.org.rs/projects/white-book/white-book.html ), the National Alliance for Local Economic Development (NALED) publishes a recommendations titled Eliminating Administrative Barriers to Doing Business in Serbia (https://www.slideshare.net/NALED/grey-book-10-recommendations-for-eliminating-administrative-obstacles-to-doing-business-in-serbia ), and the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) publishes similar materials on its website (www.amcham.rs ).

In 2018, Serbia enacted a Law on Ultimate Beneficial Owners Central Registry (“Law”). This Law was adopted to harmonize domestic legislation with international standards and to improve the existing system of detecting and preventing money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The Law on Ultimate Beneficial Owners Central Registry introduced a single, public, online electronic database maintained by the Serbian Business Registers Agency (www.apr.gov.rs), containing information on natural persons which are the ultimate beneficial owners of the companies (“Register”). Companies incorporated before December 31, 2018, are obliged to prepare and keep documentation regarding their ultimate beneficial owners at their offices, while new companies are obliged to register this information with the Register within 15 days of their incorporation. All companies were required to be registered accordingly in 2019.

In February 2018, Serbia joined the OECD Inclusive Framework on Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS), which aims to address tax avoidance strategies that exploit gaps and mismatches in tax rules to artificially shift profits to low or no-tax locations. Under the framework, 112 countries and jurisdictions are collaborating to implement measures against BEPS.

Regulatory inspections in Serbia are numerous and decentralized despite the existence of the Coordination Commission for Inspection Supervision. Nationally, there are 37 different inspectorates, operating within the competence of 12 different ministries. They operate without any significant cooperation or coordination, there is overlapping and duplication of functions among inspectorates, and there is a lack of consistency even within individual inspectorates, which represents a source of additional burdens and difficulties for business operation. The administrative court is the legal entity that considers appeals from inspection decisions.

Serbia’s public finances are relatively transparent, as the government regularly publishes draft and adopted budgets, as well as budget revisions. The government has also published, and Parliament has adopted, all end-of-year budgets from 2002 through 2020. The government regularly publishes information related to public debt on the website www.javnidug.gov.rs. This information is updated daily.

International Regulatory Considerations

Serbia is not a member of the World Trade Organization or the EU. Serbia obtained EU candidate country status in 2012 and opened formal accession negotiations. Serbia has formally opened 18 chapters of the EU acquis communautaire and has provisionally closed two. Most recently, Chapter VI on Free movement of capital was opened on December 10, 2019. None of the remaining 17 chapters have been opened since, including the chapters on free movement of goods, competition policy, energy, taxation, environment, and transport policy. The WTO accepted Serbia’s application for accession on February 15, 2005, and Serbia currently has observer status. No accession dates have been set for Serbia’s membership in either the EU or WTO.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Serbia has a civil law system. The National Assembly codifies laws; the courts have sole authority to interpret legislation with the exception of so-called “authentic interpretation” reserved for the legislature itself. Although judicial precedent is not a source of law, written judgments have the non-binding effect of helping to harmonize court practices. Serbia has a law on contracts and commercial law.

In general, contract enforcement is weak, and the courts responsible for enforcing property rights remain overburdened. When negotiating contracts, the parties may agree on the means of resolving disputes. Most often for domestic entities, contract dispute resolution is left to the courts and can be pursued through civil litigation. Under Serbian commercial law, the Law on Obligations regulates contractual relations (also known as the Law on Contracts and Torts). Civil Procedure Law, which details the procedure in commercial disputes, governs contract-related disputes. Serbian law need not be the governing law of a contract entered into in Serbia. Foreign courts’ judgments are enforceable in Serbia only if Serbian courts recognize them. Jurisdiction over recognition of foreign judgments rests with the Commercial Courts and Higher Courts. The Law on Resolution of Disputes with the Regulations of Other Countries, as well as by bilateral agreements, regulates the procedures for recognition of foreign court decisions.

The organization of the court system and jurisdiction of courts in Serbia are regulated by statute. The court system consists of the Constitutional Court, courts of general jurisdiction, and courts of special jurisdiction. Basic courts are courts of first instance and cover one or more municipalities. Higher courts cover the territory of one or more basic courts and are also courts of first instance, while acting as courts of second instance over basic courts. Commercial courts adjudicate commercial matters, with the Commercial Appeal Court being the second-instance court for such matters. Appellate courts are second instance courts to both basic and higher courts, except when higher courts act as second instance courts to basic courts. The Constitutional Court decides on the constitutionality and legality of laws and bylaws, and it protects human and minority rights and freedoms. The Supreme Cassation Court, the country’s highest court, is competent to decide on extraordinary judiciary remedies and to ensure uniform application of the law and equality of the parties in court proceedings. Regulations and regulatory enforcement actions are appealable within the national court system.

Serbia’s legal system distinguishes between Commercial Courts and courts of general jurisdiction. Commercial Courts have original jurisdiction over disputes arising from commercial activities, including disputes involving business organizations, business contracts, foreign investment, foreign trade, maritime law, aeronautical law, bankruptcy, civil economic offenses, intellectual property rights, and misdemeanors committed by commercial legal entities. Their jurisdiction extends to legal and natural persons only if a natural person has a joint or related interest with the legal entity (already) in dispute, in cases where both parties are economic operators. When only one of the parties is an economic operator and the other is not, such disputes are decided by courts of general civil jurisdiction and not by Commercial Courts. As an exception, in bankruptcy and reorganization proceedings, Commercial Courts have jurisdiction over all disputes where an economic operator is in bankruptcy in relation to other economic or non-economic operators.

Jurisdiction over civil commercial disputes is organized on two levels: Commercial Courts hear first instance cases; and the Appellate Commercial Court decides on appeals against lower court decisions. Commercial courts have broad jurisdiction. There are 16 trial-level Commercial Courts in Serbia. They handle disputes between legal entities, those between domestic and foreign companies; disputes concerning intellectual property and related rights; those arising under the application of Serbia’s Company Law and its regulation; and those relating to privatization and securities; relating to foreign investments, ships and aircraft, navigation at sea and on inland waters, and involving maritime and aviation law. Commercial courts also conduct bankruptcy and reorganization proceedings.

Congestion in the Commercial Courts is high. The time to case disposition in commercial litigation is in line with EU averages. However, there is inconsistent application of the law across Serbia, including in Commercial Courts.

According to the Constitution, Serbia’s judicial system is legally independent of the executive branch; but in practice, significant obstacles remain to true judicial independence. The current constitutional and legislative framework leaves room for undue political influence over the judiciary, and political pressure on the judiciary remains high. The European Commission’s 2020 Staff Working Document for Serbia re-stated that Serbia’s judicial system made no progress and that the scope for continued political influence remains a serious concern.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Significant laws for investment, business activities, and foreign companies in Serbia include the Law on Investments, the Law on Foreign Trade, the Law on Foreign Exchange Operations, the Law on Markets of Securities and other Financial Instruments, the Company Law, the Law on Registration of Commercial Entities, the Law on Banks and Other Financial Institutions, Regulations on Conditions for Establishing and Operation of Foreign Representative Offices in Serbia, the Law on Construction and Planning, the Law on Financial Leasing, the Law on Concessions, the Customs Law, and the Law on Privatization. These statutes set out the basic rules foreign companies must follow if they wish to establish subsidiaries in Serbia, invest in local companies, open representative offices in Serbia, enter into agency agreements for representation by local companies, acquire concessions, or participate in a privatization process in Serbia. Other relevant laws include:

Serbia undertook major anti-money laundering and counter-financing of terrorism regime (AML/CFT) legislative reforms following the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) February 2018 finding that Serbia had strategic deficiencies in its AML/CFT regime. To respond to the deficiencies, twelve new laws and over 60 regulations came into force. The new legislation includes a new AML/CFT Law, as well as amendments to the Criminal Code that address money laundering. Among other AML/CFT reforms, Serbia introduced a Law on Ultimate Beneficial Owners Central Registry. The Serbian Business Registers Agency maintains a single, public, online electronic database containing information on natural persons who are the ultimate beneficial owners of legal entities. FATF removed Serbia from its monitoring process in June 2019, but Serbia remains subject to enhanced follow-up procedures by the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism, known as MONEYVAL.

There is no primary or “one-stop-shop” website for investment that provides relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors. However, numerous Serbian firms that provide legal and other professional services publish comprehensive information for foreign investors, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, https://www.pwc.rs/en/publications/assets/Doing-Business-Guide-Serbia-2019.pdf.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Law on Protection of Competition was enacted in 2009 and amended in 2013. The Commission for the Protection of Competition is responsible for competition-related concerns and in principle implements the law as an independent agency reporting directly to the National Assembly. In some cases, companies have reported perceptions that political factors have influenced the Commission’s decision-making. In 2019, the Commission completed ten proceedings for violations of competition rules, approved 172 mergers (and dismissed four), and issued 23 opinions about potential breaches of competition rules. Annual reports of the Commission’s actions are published online at http://www.kzk.gov.rs/izvestaji. Laws and regulations related to market competition are available at http://www.kzk.gov.rs/en/zakon-2.

Expropriation and Compensation

A foreign investor is guaranteed national treatment, which means that any legal entity or natural person investing in Serbia enjoys full legal security and protection equal to those of local entities. A stake held by a foreign investor or a company with a foreign investment cannot be the subject of expropriation. The contribution of a foreign investor may be in the form of convertible foreign currency, contribution in kind, intellectual property rights, and securities.

Serbia’s Law on Expropriation authorizes expropriation (including eminent domain) for the following reasons: education, public health, social welfare, culture, water management, sports, transport, public utility infrastructure, national defense, local/national government needs, environmental protection, protection from weather-related damage, mineral exploration or exploitation, resettlement of persons holding mineral-rich lands, property required for certain joint ventures, and housing construction for the socially disadvantaged.

In the event of an expropriation, Serbian law requires compensation in the form of similar property or cash approximating the current market value of the expropriated property. The law sets forth various criteria for arriving at the amount of compensation applicable to different types of land (e.g., agricultural, vineyards or forests), or easements that affect land value. The local municipal court is authorized to intervene and decide the level of compensation if there is no mutually agreed resolution within two months of the expropriation order.

The Law on Investment provides safeguards against arbitrary government expropriation of investments. There have been no cases of expropriation of foreign investments in Serbia since the dissolution of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 2003. There are, however, outstanding claims against Serbia related to property nationalized under the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which was dissolved in 1992.

The 2014 Law on Restitution of Property and Compensation applies to property seized by the government since March 9, 1945, shortly before the end of World War II, and includes special coverage for victims of the Holocaust, who are authorized to reclaim property confiscated by Nazi occupation forces. Under the law, restitution should be in kind when possible, and otherwise in the form of state bonds. Many properties are exempt from in-kind restitution, including property previously owned by corporations. Heirless property left by victims of the Holocaust is subject to a separate law, which was approved in February 2016.

Serbia committed itself under its restitution law to allocate €2 billion, plus interest, for financial compensation to citizens in bonds and in cash. The restitution law caps the amount of compensation that any single claimant may receive at 500,000 EUR (approximately 586,400 USD). With amendments to the Law on Restitution and Compensation adopted in December 2018, the government postponed for the third time issuance of these bonds until December 2021, pending approval of necessary by-laws that would regulate bond issuance. The Law mandates that by-laws be adopted by Government of Serbia by June 2020. The bonds will be denominated in euros, carry a 2% annual interest rate, have a maturity period of 12 years, and be tradable on securities markets. The deadline for filing restitution applications was March 1, 2014. The Agency for Restitution received 75,414 property claims, and the adjudication process is still ongoing. Parliament adopted new amendments to the Law on Restitution and Compensation in December 2020. These amendments enable a special way of compensating the beneficiaries of restitution to whom, according to the final decisions on compensation, the corresponding amount of compensation does not exceed the amount of 1,000 EUR, in which case the payment will be made exclusively in cash, starting in 2022. The amendments also regulate the dynamics and technique of issuing compensation bonds, starting in 2022.

Information about the Agency for Restitution and the status of cases is available on its website at www.restitucija.gov.rs/eng/index.php.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Serbia is a signatory to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID Convention, also known as the Washington Convention), and the New York Convention of 1958 on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. The Law on Arbitration and the Law on Management of Courts regulate proceedings and jurisdiction over the recognition of foreign arbitral awards.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Although Serbia is a signatory to many international treaties regarding international arbitration, enforcement of an arbitration award can be a slow and difficult process. Serbia’s Privatization Agency refused for five years (2007-2012) to recognize an International Chamber of Commerce/International Court of Arbitration award in favor of a U.S. investor. The dispute caused the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), which had insured a portion of the investment, to severely restrict its activities in Serbia. The U.S. Embassy facilitated a settlement agreement between the Serbian government and the investor, and OPIC reinstated its programs for Serbia in February 2012, but in 2015 and early 2016 both a first instance and appellate Serbian court dismissed OPIC’s request for enforcement action to collect damages awarded to it by an international arbitration board in the same case. Serbia has no Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States. In the past 10 years, three publicly known investment disputes have involved U.S. citizens. There is no history of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

The Law on Arbitration authorizes the use of institutional and ad hoc arbitration in all disputes, and regulates the enforcement of arbitration awards. The law is modeled after the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNICTRAL Model Law).

Commercial contracts, in which at least one contracting party is a foreign legal or natural person, may incorporate arbitration clauses, invoking the jurisdiction of the Foreign Trade Court of Arbitration of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce, or any other foreign institutional arbitration body, including ad hoc arbitration bodies. International arbitration is an accepted means for settling disputes between foreign investors and the state.

Serbia is a signatory to the following international conventions regulating the mutual acceptance and enforcement of foreign arbitration:

  • 1923 Geneva Protocol on Arbitration Clauses
  • 1927 Geneva Convention on the Execution of Foreign Arbitration Decisions
  • 1958 Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention)
  • 1961 European Convention on International Business Arbitration
  • 1965 International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)

Serbia allows for mediation to resolve disputes between private parties. Mediation is a voluntary process and is conducted only when both parties agree. The Law on Mediation regulates mediation procedures in disputes in the following areas of law: property, commercial, family, labor, civil, administrative and in criminal procedures where the parties act freely, unless the law stipulates exclusive authority of a court or other relevant authority.

Mediators can be chosen from the list of the Serbian National Association of Mediators, or from an official registry within the Ministry of Justice. There are two types of mediation: court-annexed and private mediation. A person can also be referred to mediation by a court, advocate, local ombudsman, employees of municipal or state authorities, an employer, or the other party to the conflict.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Serbia’s bankruptcy law is in line with international standards. According to the bankruptcy law, the goal is to provide compensation to creditors via the sale of the assets of a debtor company. The law stipulates automatic bankruptcy for legal entities whose accounts have been blocked for more than three years, and it allows debtors and creditors to initiate bankruptcy proceedings. The law ensures a faster and more equitable settlement of creditors’ claims, lowers costs, and clarifies rules regarding the role of bankruptcy trustees and creditors’ councils. Parliament adopted new amendments to the Bankruptcy Law in December 2017. These amendments enable better collection and reduced costs for creditors; provide shorter deadlines for action by bankruptcy trustees and judges; improve the position of secured creditors; anticipate new ways of assessing debtors’ assets by licensed appraisers; and introduce a special rule to lift bans on the execution of debtor assets that are under mortgage, giving rights to the secured creditor to sell such assets under rules that apply to mortgage sales. The latest amendments to the Law on Bankruptcy were adopted in December 2018, providing the amount up to which the advance payment can be determined, and guidelines to bankruptcy judges within which they can determine the advance payment in each specific case. A draft of the latest amendments to the Bankruptcy Law is being prepared. As explained by the Ministry of Economy, the purpose of these amendments is to provide conditions for creating a better business environment and more efficient implementation of bankruptcy proceedings.

Foreign creditors have the same rights as Serbian creditors with respect to initiating or participating in bankruptcy proceedings. Claims in foreign currency are calculated in dinars at the dinar exchange rate on the date the bankruptcy proceeding commenced. Serbia’s Criminal Code criminalizes intentionally causing bankruptcy, and fraud in relation to a bankruptcy proceeding. The 2020 World Bank Doing Business index ranked Serbia 41 out of 190 economies with regards to resolving insolvency, with an average time of two years needed to resolve insolvency and average cost of 20% of the estate. The recovery rate was estimated at 34.5 cents on the dollar (https://www.doingbusiness.org/content/dam/doingBusiness/country/s/serbia/SRB.pdf).

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

The 2015 Law on Investment defines Serbia’s investment incentives program. Incentives are available to both domestic and foreign investors. The law established a Council for Economic Development and the Development Agency of Serbia (RAS). The Council has oversight responsibility for the investment incentives program, while RAS plays a more operational role.

The level of available subsidies for investment projects is determined under the Decree on Defining Conditions for Approving Incentives in Attracting Direct Investments, approved for the current year in January 2019. Investors are obliged to provide 25% of eligible costs from their own resources. For investment projects valued at 50-100 million EUR, subsidies are limited to 25% of the total investment, falling to 17% for projects over 100 million EUR. Under certain conditions, large companies can gain support for up to 50% of eligible costs for investment projects, medium-sized companies up to 60%, and small companies up to 70%.

The Decree makes available funds for investment projects in manufacturing and customer service centers. For manufacturing investments, state subsidies are available for any company that invests the equivalent of 100,000 EUR and employs at least 10 persons in a “devastated area.” For service center investments, subsidies are available for companies investing the equivalent of 150,000 EUR and creating at least 15 new jobs anywhere in the country. The required minimum investment and employment levels for subsidies increase on a sliding scale according to the level of development of the investment location. For each investment project in a devastated area, the state will pay the investor 40% of the eligible gross salary costs for newly employed people in the two-year period after reaching employment commitments, up to the equivalent of 7,000 EUR per new job; the subsidy declines to 20% of eligible costs up to 3,000 EUR per job in the most developed regions. For labor-intensive projects that create more than 200 new jobs, the government can approve additional incentives. The state will also provide subsidies for the purchase of fixed assets, again on a sliding scale based on the level of development at the investment location. The subsidy reaches 30% of eligible asset costs in a devastated area and declines to 10% in the most developed areas of Serbia. The total amount of subsidies granted cannot exceed the amount allowed under Serbia’s EU-compliant state aid regulations. The Serbian government may sell land for construction at a below-market price in support of an investment project that is of national importance.

There is a separate Decree on Defining Conditions for Approving Incentives in Attracting Direct Investments in Production of Food Products also approved in January 2019 with almost identical conditions to those mentioned above. The only difference is that state subsidies are available for any company that invests the equivalent of the minimum 2 million EUR and employs at least 30 new employees regardless of the level of the municipality development. For projects investing over 20 million EUR in the fixed assets, the government will approve additional incentives.

The government also approved a Decree on Conditions and Methods of Attracting Direct Investments in the Hotel Accommodation Service Sector in May 2019, making similar state subsidies available for any company that invests a minimum of the equivalent of 2 million EUR and employs at least 70 new employees in the sector. For investment projects valued at up to 30 million EUR, subsidies are limited to 20% of the of the eligible costs of investment in fixed assets, falling to 10% for projects over 30 million EUR. Details on all three decrees are available at: http://www.ras.gov.rs/en/invest-in-serbia/why-serbia/financial-benefits-and-incentives/ and https://privreda.gov.rs/cat_propisi/uredbe1/.

The decrees on Attracting Direct Investments also establish criteria for granting local incentives to investments of importance for local development.

At the provincial level, the government of the Vojvodina region offers investment incentives, which are very similar to those described above. The main difference is that the program is implemented by the Development Agency of Vojvodina, which was established in February 2017 as the successor to the Vojvodina Investment Promotion Agency (VIP) (http://rav.org.rs/business-environment/incentives).

Local municipalities may sell land for construction at below-market rates for investments that promote local economic development. Other major incentives at the local level include exemptions or deductions on land-related fees and other local fees.

Serbia’s tax laws offer several incentives to new investors. The corporate profit tax rate is a flat 15%, one of the lowest in the region. Non-resident investors are taxed only on income earned in Serbia. A ten-year tax holiday on corporate profits is available for investors who hire more than 100 workers and invest more than RSD 1 billion (10 million USD). The tax holiday begins once the company starts making a profit.

According to the December 2019 Decree on Film Incentives, both domestic and foreign filmmakers are eligible to apply for a refund of 25% of qualifying costs. For film projects over €5 million, the government offers a refund of up to 30% of qualifying costs. The 2021 budget for film incentives is 7.1 million USD.

Employment incentives allow payroll tax deductions for persons registered with the National Employment Service for at least six months continuously. The incentives currently in place are valid from the moment of employment until December 31, 2021:

  • 1-9 new jobs: 65% deduction
  • 10-99 new jobs: 70% deduction
  • 100+ new jobs: 75% deduction

The Serbian Innovation Fund provides various granting opportunities for young entrepreneurs and start-ups, including mini grants for development of technological innovation, matching grants for commercialization of research and development, and a collaborative grant scheme for joint R&D projects creating new products and services. These grants are mainly available for companies established in Serbia with majority private Serbian ownership.

Some subsidized loans for start-ups, entrepreneurs and SMEs are available through the state-owned Fund for Development and various ministries, and part are issued through RAS. Detailed information is available at https://fondzarazvoj.gov.rs (Serbian only). These loans are available to foreign-owned companies registered in Serbia, provided the Serbian registered company has not recorded losses in the previous two years.

The government issues guarantees or jointly finances foreign direct commercial investment projects. The government participates as a minority partner in financed infrastructure projects.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Serbia maintains 15 designated customs-free zones: in Apatin, Belgrade, two zones in Kragujevac (the second one was established on October 1, 2019), Krusevac, Novi Sad, Pirot, Priboj, Sabac, Smederevo, Svilajnac, Subotica, Uzice, Vranje, and Zrenjanin. The zones, established under the 2006 Law on Free Zones, are intended to attract investment by providing tax-free areas for company operations. Businesses operating in the zones qualify for benefits including unlimited duty-free imports and exports, preferential customs treatment, and tax relief in the form of value-added tax (VAT) exclusions. Companies operating within a free zone are subject to the same laws and regulations as other businesses in Serbia, except for their tax privileges.

Goods entering or leaving the zones must be reported to customs authorities, and payments must be made in accordance with regulations on hard-currency payments. Goods delivered from free zones into other areas of Serbia are subject to customs duties and tax unless they contain a minimum of 50% Serbian inputs. Earnings and revenues generated within free zones may be transferred freely to any country, including Serbia, without prior approval, and are not subject to any taxes, duties or fees.

In 2019 (the most recent year for which complete information is available), there were a total of 209 companies operating in Serbia’s free economic zones, of which 157 were domestically owned and 47 foreign-owned. The number of companies dropped by 21% compared to 2016 (from 265 companies in 2016 to 209 in 2019). The companies employed a total of 37,855 workers, which represents an increase of 7% compared to 2018. Total exports from free zones exceeded$2.5 billion USD in 2019, which is approximately 13% of Serbia’s total exports. Total imports into the zones were approximately 1.7 billion USD, or 6% of total imports. Total annual turnover in the free zones in 2019 stood at some 5 billion USD, a 1.5% drop compared to 2018. The largest drop came in the Kragujevac zone, where total turnover dell by 33% year-on-year, mostly due to production cuts at the Fiat manufacturing plant. Many companies operating in free zones are producers of automobile parts and other industrial goods. They include large multinational companies like Fiat, Michelin, Tigar Tyres, Ametek, Continental, Yazaki, Lear, PKC, Siemens, Swarovski, and Panasonic.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

The Serbian government does not mandate local employment or have onerous visa, residence, or work permitting requirements for foreign nationals. It does not impose conditions for foreign investors to receive permission to invest.

The Serbian government does not maintain a policy of forced localization designed to oblige foreign investors to use domestic content in goods or technology. Similarly, the government does not force foreign investors to establish or maintain a specified amount of data storage within the country. There are no requirements for foreign IT providers to turn over source code or provide access to encryption.

With the Data Protection Law passed in November 2018, Serbia has implemented the requirements of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The law entered into force in August 2019 after a nine-month transition period. Some experts have criticized the law as unclear, citing provisions transcribed from EU law that include mechanisms that do not yet exist in Serbia’s domestic legal system, which leads to questions regarding the law’s implementation. Other experts have argued that with the law, Serbia has enacted a high personal data-protection standard, and that defects will be resolved over time.

The Decree on Conditions for Approving Incentives in Attracting Direct Investments defines conditions and limitations for investment incentives, such as maintaining investments at a specified location for up to five years. Similarly, investors are obliged to maintain the number of newly engaged employees for up to five years. Potential investors who want to use state grants are required to provide a minimum of 25% of eligible costs from their own resources. The deadline for implementation of investment projects and the creation of new workplaces is three years from the date of applying for state grants. This deadline may be extended for up to five years based on a written justification. Beneficiaries are obliged to provide a bank guarantee as security for the eventual return of received funds. In case of non-fulfilment of the conditions provided for in the state grant contract, the Ministry of Economy and the Council for Economic Development may decide to terminate the contract at any time; however, authorities have generally shown great flexibility in favor of investors to succeed. Conditions are applied uniformly to both domestic and foreign investors.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Serbia has an adequate body of laws for the protection of property rights, but enforcement of property rights through the judicial system can be very slow. A multitude of factors can complicate property titles: restitution claims, unlicensed and illegal construction, limitation of property rights to rights of use, outright title fraud and other issues. Investors are cautioned to investigate thoroughly all property title issues on land intended for investment projects.

During the country’s socialist years, owners of nationalized land became users of the land and acquired rights of use that, until 2003, could not be freely sold or transferred. In 2015, the government adopted a law that allows for property usage rights to be converted into ownership rights with payment of a market-based fee.

In 2015, the government implemented new amendments to the Law on Planning and Construction that separated the issuance of permits from conversion issues. These amendments cut the administrative deadline for issuing construction permits for a potential investor to 30 days and introduced a one-stop shop for electronic construction permits.

Serbia’s real-property registration system is based on a municipal cadaster and land books. Serbia has the basis for an organized real estate cadaster and property-title system. However, legalizing tens of thousands of structures built over the past twenty years without proper licenses remains an enormous challenge, as an estimated two million buildings in Serbia are not registered in the cadaster, of which almost half are residential properties. According to some estimates, every third building in Serbia was not built in accordance with legal requirements. In November 2015, the government adopted a new Law on Legalization, which simplified the registration process. Since then, however, only slightly more than 230,000 decisions on legalization have been issued. The deadline set by the law for legalization of all buildings constructed without proper permits is November 2023.

The World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business Index ranks Serbia 58th of 190 countries for time required to register real property (33 days).

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

Serbia is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and party to all major WIPO treaties, including the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty. While Serbia is not a member of the WTO, the Serbian government has taken steps to adhere to the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Serbia’s IPR laws include TRIPS-compliant provisions and are enforced by courts and administrative authorities.

Serbia’s IPR legislation is modern and compliant with both the EU acquis communautaire and international standards. According to the EU’s 2019 Progress Report, Serbia has generally aligned its IPR legislation with the acquis.

Procedures for registration of industrial property rights and deposit of works and authorship with the Serbian Intellectual Property Office are straightforward and similar to procedures in most European countries. Relevant information is available at: http://www.zis.gov.rs/home.59.html.

Enforcement of IPR remains haphazard but is roughly consistent with levels in neighboring countries. The government has a Permanent Coordination Body for IPR enforcement activities with participation from the tax administration, police, customs, and several state inspection services. Cooperation with the Special Department for High-Technology Crime has resulted in court decisions to impose penalties in test cases against online traders and counterfeits. The Public Procurement Law requires bidders to affirm that they have ownership of any IPR utilized in fulfilling a public procurement contract. Although still present, trade in counterfeit goods—particularly athletic footwear and clothing—is declining in volume as the government has increased its enforcement efforts, including at the border. Upon seizure, however, authorities cannot destroy the goods unless they receive formal instructions from the rightsholders, who are billed for the storage and destruction of the counterfeit goods. Rightsholders are encouraged to register their IPR with the Customs Office by filling out an application for surveillance measures.

Inspectorates and customs authorities’ actions against IPR violations are relatively fast. However, enforcement of IPR in the court system often lasts up to two years in the first instance. Proceedings improved after the creation of semi-specialized IPR courts in 2015 according to the Foreign Investors’ Council. The Serbian Intellectual Property Office continues to train judges on IPR to enable more timely court decisions.

Digital IPR theft is not common, but many digital brands are not properly protected, and there is a risk of trademark squatting.

Developments in 2019 and 2020

Patents: The Law on Patents in 2019 introduced significant changes to an employer’s ability to patent their employees’ inventions. The amended law allows employers to file a patent application for a former employee’s innovations for up to one year after the employment ends, providing a higher level of legal certainty for corporations.

Topography of Semiconductor Products: The Law on the Legal Protection of Topography of Semiconductor Products was amended in 2019 and made fully compliant with EU legislation. There is no publicly available data indicating that anyone has ever exercised these rights in Serbia.

Copyright: Amendments made in 2019 to the Law on Protection of Copyright and Related Rights extends the definition of a work of authorship to include the technical and user documentation associated with software. The Law also addresses two additional issues: first, that multiple authors of a software product will all be deemed to be co-authors, and second, that an employee may require their employment contract to include additional remunerations for any software they create that their employer uses. However, if the employment agreement lacks such provisions, the employee is not entitled to remuneration after the fact, even if their software generates revenue for their employer. These provisions also apply to database producers. With respect to digital works, the 2019 amendments draw a clear line between digital and physical works. Owners or purchasers of a digital copy of a video game, TV show episode, or software are not entitled to further share and/or distribute copies.

Enforcement of Copyright: Court procedures for copyright infringement and related rights case are defined comprehensively, for they emphasize the need to preserve evidence and render urgent precautionary measures, including before an official claim might be submitted or the alleged infringing party is able to respond to the claim. The 2019 amendments clarify that a revision (as a legal remedy) may be filed in copyright infringement and related rights cases regardless of the claim’s value. The amendments also explicitly authorize the courts to summon any retailer or user of illegally downloaded mp3 files, software, or TV episodes.

Trademarks: Serbia recently adopted a new Law on Trademarks that came into force on February 1, 2020. The law includes two major changes. The first is the introduction of an opposition system. As before, the Intellectual Property Office performs an official examination of the refusal grounds for a trademark application, but now the trademark applications are published before the trademark is granted so that interested parties can challenge the validity of the pending registration. Interested parties have three months to file opposition proceedings from the date of publication, and the trademark applicant must respond within another 60 days or opposition is granted and the trademark is refused. This approach is similar to that of other European countries. The second major change due to Serbia’s new Law is the allowance of parallel imports. Serbia’s previous national trademark exhaustion system authorized brand-holders to prevent parallel imports. In contrast, the new worldwide system means that the trademark-holder cannot prohibit others from reselling the products that are legally in circulation anywhere in the world. Serbia is now compliant with U.S. standards. The former national system was aligned with EU legislation, which differentiates between goods circulating within the single market and those that were imported from a country outside of the EU market. During its EU accession process, Serbia is required to align its legislation with that of the EU.

Administrative Fees: Amendments to Serbia’s Law on Administrative Fees entered into force in December 2019 and decreases the filing fee for applications filed electronically compared to those filed on paper. The fees for electronic filing of patents and utility model applications have been reduced by 50%, and electronic fees for industrial design and trademark applications have been reduced by 25%. These measures are meant to encourage electronic filings and make the process more accessible for individuals and small companies.

Statistics: The Customs Administration and Market Inspection issue periodic reports on seizures, but there is no unified methodology. The Customs Administration publishes daily information on the significant border seizures via its official Internet presentation at: http://www.carina.rs/cyr/Stranice/Default.aspx and its official Facebook page: and http://www.facebook.com/upravacarina.rs/.

Market inspectors perform regular on-demand and ex-officio inspections. In 2020, there were 2,664 controls performed, and 228,758 articles were seized. The statistics are accessible at: https://mtt.gov.rs/informator-o-radu/.

The tax administration checks software legality during its regular tax controls of businesses. The estimated value of Serbia’s illegal software market is approximately 51 million USD. According to the 2018 BSA Global Software Survey, software piracy in Serbia is around 66%. Although this is down from 72% in 2011, it remains among the highest piracy rates in the Balkan region. Serbia is not included in the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.

The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic temporarily affected Serbia’s IPR registration and enforcement. The courts and administrative authorities were not operational for approximately one month, and pending proceedings faced delays throughout the year. Since May 2020, authorities resumed work at full capacity. Market Inspectors seized a significant level of pirated and counterfeit e-commerce goods throughout the year by using specialized software tools for detecting and investigating trade of illicit goods online.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at www.wipo.int/directory/en/details.jsp?country_code=RS.

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Serbia welcomes both domestic and foreign portfolio investments and regulates them efficiently. The Government removed most restrictions on short-term portfolio investments in April 2018. Residents of Serbia, both companies and persons, are now allowed to purchase foreign short-term securities issued by EU residents and EU countries, and by international financial organizations who have EU countries in their membership. Banks registered in Serbia can also purchase short-term securities issued by OECD countries. Foreigners may only purchase short-term securities in Serbia if they have residency and/or headquarters in EU countries. Payments related to long-term securities have no restriction.

In January-November 2020, Serbia recorded net inflows of 1.5 billion USD in portfolio investment, according to the National Bank of Serbia. Analysts explain that this inflow mostly as a result of Serbia’s issuance of Eurobonds on the international market. The Serbian government regularly issues bonds to finance its budget deficit, including short-term, dinar-denominated T-bills, and dinar-denominated, euro-indexed government bonds. The total value of government debt securities issued on the domestic market reached 12.4 billion USD in December 2020, with 77% in dinars and 23% in euros. In addition, Serbia issued a total value of 5.1 billion EUR of Eurobonds on the international market. The share of dinar denominated securities held by non-residents was 26%, which was equal to 2.5 billion USD at the end of December 2020.

Total Serbian government-issued debt instruments on the domestic and international markets stood at $18 billion in December 2020.

Serbia’s international credit ratings are improving. In March 2021, Moody’s Investors Service upgraded Serbia’s long-term issuer and senior unsecured ratings from Ba3 to Ba2 while adjusting its outlook from positive to stable. In December 2019, Standard & Poor’s raised its ratings for Serbia from BB to BB+ with a positive outlook. In May 2020 S&P maintained its BB+ rating after raising it from BB in December 2019, but it modified the outlook from positive to stable; it confirmed the BB+ rating on December 14, 2020. Fitch raised Serbia’s credit rating from BB to BB+ in September 2019 and confirmed it in September 2020 with a stable outlook. The improved ratings remain below investment grade.

Serbia’s equity and bond markets are underdeveloped. Corporate securities and government bonds are traded on the Belgrade Stock Exchange (BSE) www.belex.rs. Of 990 companies listed on the exchange, shares of fewer than 100 companies are traded regularly (more than once a week). Total annual turnover on the BSE in 2020 was 455 million USD, which represents a decrease of 47%. The trading volumes have declined since 2007, when the total turnover reached 2.7 billion USD.

Established in 1995, the Securities Commission regulates the Serbian securities market. The Commission also supervises investment funds in accordance with the Investment Funds Law. As of February 2021, 19 registered investment funds operate in Serbia: http://www.sec.gov.rs/index.php/en/public-registers-of-information/register-of-investment-funds.

Market terms determine credit allocation. In September 2020, the total volume of issued loans in the financial sector stood at 26 billion USD. Average interest rates are decreasing but still higher than the EU average. The business community cites tight credit policies and expensive commercial borrowing for all but the largest corporations as impediments to business expansion. Around 62% of all lending is denominated in euros, an additional 0.1% in Swiss francs, and 0.2% in U.S. dollars, all of which provide lower rates, but also shift exchange-rate risk to borrowers.

Foreign investors are able to obtain credit on the domestic market. The government and central bank respect IMF Article VIII, and do not place restrictions on payments or transfers for current international transactions.

Hostile takeovers are extremely rare in Serbia. The Law on Takeover of Shareholding Companies regulates defense mechanisms. Frequently after privatization, the new strategic owners of formerly state-controlled companies have sought to buy out minority shareholders.

Money and Banking System

Serbian companies often do not access credit, instead turning to friends or family when they need investment and operational funds. Only a few corporate and municipal bonds have been issued, and the financial market is not well developed. In April 2020, the government amended corporate-bond issuance legislation to increase companies’ access to financing in response to COVID-19’s economic impact. According to a statement from the Finance Minister, the amendments aim to cut the timeline for issuing corporate bonds from 77 to 17 days and cut the price to issue a corporate bond from 88,000 USD to 11,000 USD. State-owned Telekom Srbija issued corporate bonds for the first time with a total value of 200 million EUR, of which the National Bank of Serbia (NBS) purchased around 70 million EUR.

The NBS regulates the banking sector. Foreign banks may establish operations in Serbia, and foreigners may freely open both local currency and hard currency non-resident accounts. The banking sector comprises 91% of the total assets of the financial sector. As of September 2020, consolidation had reduced the sector to 26 banks with total assets of 43 billion USD (about 80% of GDP), with 86% of the market held by foreign-owned banks. The top ten banks, with country of ownership and estimated assets, are Banca Intesa (Italy, 6.8 billion USD in assets); UniCredit (Italy, 5.1 billion USD); Komercijalna Banka (recently sold to Slovenia’s NLB Bank, 4.6 billion USD); OTP (Hungary, 3.7 billion USD); Raiffeisen (Austria, 3.7 billion USD); Erste Bank (Austria, 2.8 billion USD) AIK Banka Nis (Serbia, 2.3 billion USD); Eurobank EFG (Greece, 1.9 billion USD); Vojvodjanska Banka (Hungary, 2.4 billion USD); and Postanska Stedionica (Serbian government, 2.7 billion USD). For more information, see:

Four state-owned banks in Serbia went bankrupt after the global financial crisis in 2008. The state compensated the banks’ depositors with payouts of nearly 1 billion USD. A number of state-controlled banks have had financial difficulties since the crisis because of mismanagement and, in one instance, alleged corruption. The banks honored all withdrawal requests during the financial crisis and appear to have regained consumer trust, as evidenced by the gradual return of withdrawn deposits to the banking system. In December 2020, savings deposits in the banking sector reached 14.4 billion USD, exceeding pre-crisis levels.

The IMF assessed in its January 2021 report on Serbia’s Policy Coordination Instrument that the financial sector has shown improved resilience since the 2017 Article IV Consultation. As of June 2020, banks’ capital adequacy was stable at 22.7%, well above the regulatory minimum, while asset quality is improving. Banks’ profitability remains robust with return on assets and return on equity ratios of 1.1% and 6.5% respectively in December 2020. The IMF assessed in 2018 that authorities had made important progress, with the aggregate stock of non-performing loans (NPLs) falling both in nominal terms and relative to total loans. Since the adoption of an NPL resolution strategy in mid-2015, NPLs have declined from 21.6% to 3.7% of the total loan portfolio as of December 2020. NPLs remain fully provisioned. In addition, there are significant foreign-exchange risks, as 67% of all outstanding loans are indexed to foreign currencies (primarily the euro). In April 2019, the government adopted a law that protected consumers who had taken mortgage loans denominated in Swiss francs by converting them into euros. Banks and the state shared losses resulting from a reduction of outstanding principal and interest balances. This law enabled borrowers to continue servicing debt on more favorable terms.

The parliament adopted Serbia’s first Law on Cryptocurrencies in December 2020 to be implemented as of June 29, 2021. The law regulates the issuance, trade, and service provision of digital assets, as well as the NBS and Securities Commission’s supervision of digital assets. The law will regulate cryptocurrencies market and protect consumers, as it defines standards which every cryptocurrencies service provider must fulfill. Companies trading in this area must be licensed. The law limits issuance of digital assets per issuer at 3 million EUR per year. While trading in cryptocurrencies is free for persons and most companies, the law prohibits possession and trade of digital assets for financial institutions under NBS supervision. The government must adopt related bylaws before the law can be implemented. The Serbian Administration for Prevention of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing oversees every transaction in cryptocurrencies performed on ATMs or online in Serbia. As of February 2021, there were total of 24 ATMs for cryptocurrencies in Serbia installed in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis, Subotica, Indjija and Kopaonik.

The company ECD Group has installed an online platform for trading in cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin BTC, Litecoin LTC, Ethereum ETH, Tether, and Bitcoin Cash) at https://ecd.rs/ . The company claims to have over 20,000 registered users of the platform, while the Chief Operating Officer of the company claims that a total of 50,000 people in Serbia have opened an account and executed at least one transaction. EDC claims that it has executed over 100,000 transactions since it was established in 2012. As of June 2019, Xcalibra established a new digital platform (Xcalibra.com) to trade cryptocurrencies in Serbian dinars without mediator currencies, which will avoid currency exchange loss. There is also a Bitcoin Association of Serbia.- http://www.bitcoinasocijacija.org .

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Serbia’s Foreign Investment Law guarantees the right to transfer and repatriate profits from Serbia, and foreign exchange is available. Serbia permits the free flow of capital, including for investment, such as the acquisition of real estate and equipment. Non-residents may maintain both foreign-currency and dinar-denominated bank accounts without restrictions. Investors may use these accounts to make or receive payments in foreign currency. The government amended the Foreign Exchange Law in December 2014 to authorize Serbian citizens to conclude transactions abroad through internet payment systems such as PayPal.

Many companies have raised concerns that the NBS uses excessive enforcement of the Foreign Exchange Law to individually examine all cross-currency financial transactions – including intra-company transfers between foreign headquarters and local subsidiaries, as well as loan disbursements to international firms – thus raising the cost and bureaucratic burden of transactions and inhibiting the development of e-commerce within Serbia. For this reason, international financial institutions and the business community have urged revision of the law. The NBS has defended the measure as necessary to prevent money laundering and other financial crimes.

The NBS targets inflation in its monetary policy and regularly intervenes in the foreign-exchange market to that end. In 2020, the NBS made net sales of 1.4 billion EUR on the interbank currency market to prevent sharp fluctuations of the dinar. In 2020, the dinar remained stable against the euro and appreciated 10% against the U.S. dollar. No evidence has been reported that Serbia engages in currency manipulation. According to the IMF, Serbia maintains a system free of restrictions on current international payments and transfers, except with respect to blocked pre-1991 foreign currency savings abroad. In February 2021, JP Morgan announced it would include Serbian government bonds into the JP Morgan GBI-EM Index of Emerging Market bonds beginning June 30, 2021.

Remittance Policies

Personal remittances constitute a significant source of income for Serbian households. In 2020, total remittances from abroad reached 3 billion USD, approximately 6% of GDP.

The Law on Foreign Exchange Operations regulates investment remittances, which can occur freely and without limits. The Investment Law allows foreign investors to freely and without delay transfer all financial and other assets related to the investment to a foreign country, including profit, assets, dividends, royalties, interest, earnings share sales, proceeds from sale of capital and other receivables. The Foreign Investors’ Council, a business association of foreign investors, confirms that Serbia has no limitations on investment remittances.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Serbia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

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. A Council for Philanthropy held its first session in September 2018. Founded with grant support from USAID, the Council aims to use public policy to create a more encouraging environment for corporate giving in Serbia. Chaired by the Prime Minister, other members of the Council include ten government ministers, the Belgrade Mayor, the Director of the Tax Administration, and several NGOs. The council had 29 member companies in 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. According to the 2019 World Giving Index published by the Charities Aid Foundation, Serbia was ranked 123rd out of a total of 126 countries listed in a 10-year aggregate survey of number of people who donate to charity or participate in volunteer work: 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 United Nations 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) to advance philanthropic concepts in Serbia. The NGO Smart Kolektiv is providing consulting services in RBC and establishing an RBC Index, which is the first national platform for assessing responsible business conduct in Serbia. Responsible Business Conduct Forum and Smart Kolektiv launched the index with USAID support in 2016. 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 on the initiative of 14 leading companies in Serbia. More info available at: https://odgovornoposlovanje.rs/vesti .

Multinational companies often bring international best practices, with U.S. companies among the most active. For example, Molson Coors supported Serbia’s Special Olympics team in Rio de Janeiro in September 2016. Companies such as Eaton and Ball Packaging Serbia have contributed to their communities through can recycling, public service campaigns, educational and environmental initiatives, and donations in kind. Since 2003, Phillip Morris Serbia has donated over 17 million USD to community initiatives in the country. 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 .

According to a 2016 OECD study on small and medium enterprises, Serbia has no national strategy that targets environmental policy toward SMEs. See http://www.oecd.org/education/sme-policy-index-western-balkans-and-turkey-2016-9789264254473-en.htm . The study found no evidence of any financial or regulatory incentives to promote the greening of SMEs. 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.

Additional Resources 

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

Surveys show that corruption is believed to be prevalent in many areas and remains an issue of concern. Serbia was ranked 91st in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, down from 87th in 2018. However, its score – 39 out of 100 possible points – remained unchanged.

Serbia is a signatory to the Council of Europe’s Civil Law Convention on Corruption and 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 on a continuing basis. Twenty-five local governments are participating in USAID’s anti-corruption program and are introducing and increasing transparency measures in their processes.

The Serbian government has worked to bring its legal framework for preventing and combating corruption more in line with EU norms, and a dedicated state body— the Corruption Prevention Agency (CPA) (formerly the Anti-Corruption Agency) plays a preventative role in fighting corruption, while dedicated Anticorruption Police and prosecutors investigate and prosecute cases of corruption. The Criminal Code specifies a large number of potential offenses that can be used to prosecute corruption and economic offenses, including but not limited to giving or accepting a bribe, abuse of office, abuse of a monopoly, misfeasance 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 National Assembly 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, 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 offences, 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 USD). Cases valued above this level are handled by the Organized Crime Prosecutor’s Office.

Serbian law also requires income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials, and it regulates conflicts of interest for all public officials. The disclosures cover assets of officials, spouses, and dependent children. Declarations are publicly available on the CPA website, 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.

In September 2020, a new Law on the Prevention of Corruption went into effect, officially renaming the Anti-Corruption Agency to the Corruption Prevention Agency, expanding its role as the state body for preventing corruption, and extending the statute of limitations for asset disclosures from one to five years.

A new Law on Public Procurement was adopted in 2020, which governs procedures related to public procurement, and introduced mandatory use of an electronic portal for public procurement. While the portal noticeably improved transparency and procedures, 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.

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, or compliance programs designed to detect and prevent bribery of government officials. Large companies often have elaborate internal programs, especially in industries such as tobacco, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and industries regularly involved in public procurement. In December 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 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.

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/ .

Resources to Report Corruption

Corruption may be reported to officers at any police station. If dedicated anti-corruption law-enforcement personnel are not available, the officer in charge is to contact Anti-Corruption Police personnel to report to the location so that a complaint may be filed.

Serbian Corruption Prevention Agency
Carice Milice 1, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia +381 (0) 11 4149 100
+381 (0) 11 4149 100
office@acas.rs 

Transparency International Serbia
Transparentnost Serbia
Palmoticeva 27, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia
+381 (0) 11 303 38 27
ts@transparentnost.org.rs 

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. During the 2020 COVID-19 crisis, Serbia’s first regularly scheduled parliamentary elections in several cycles were postponed due to the state of emergency declared by President Vucic. When elections were finally held in June 2020, most opposition parties boycotted the elections, claiming an unfair media and electoral environment which favored the ruling party. As a result, the current Parliament is overwhelmingly controlled by the ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), and 97% of current MPs are part of the ruling coalition. Although the current Parliament has a four-year mandate, President Vucic has already announced that he plans to call early parliamentary elections in 2022. Elections in Serbia are generally free and without incidents of violence, although observers have noted irregularities at polling stations and incidents of vote-buying and pressure on voters during past elections. After the 2020 elections, Serbia’s Republic Electoral Commission decided to hold new elections in 234 of the country’s 8,253 polling stations – an unusually high number – after finding calculation errors, missing records, and other irregularities.

The government has made EU membership a primary goal, but progress toward that goal is slow, with only 18 out of 35 chapters open in Serbia’s EU acquis and only two chapters provisionally closed. The European Commission did not recommend opening any new chapters in 2020, indicative of the stagnation in Serbia’s accession process. Corruption is widespread, and despite some anti-corruption reforms by the government, arrests and investigations generally focus on low or mid-level technocrats, and corruption-related trials are typically drawn out and subject to a lengthy appeal process.

Protests are not uncommon, particularly in urban areas, and most protests are peaceful. In July 2020 significant protests occurred over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, including lockdown measures. Protests in Belgrade were at times violent, with protestors attempting to enter the parliament building. Press noted that in addition to concerns regarding COVID, many of the demonstrators were also protesting political corruption.

Although previous years had seen some assaults against participants in LGBTQI events in Serbia, following its sixth 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.

Since 2017, there has been an increase in criminal activity linked to transnational organized crime groups. Sport hooliganism in Serbia 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. A number of ultra-nationalist organizations, such as Obraz and Nasi, are present in Serbia. These organizations have harassed Serbian political leaders, local NGOs, minority groups, and media outlets considered to be pro-Western, but these incidents are infrequent. Incidents include attacks on Roma settlements and anti-Roma riots in 2010, 2012, and 2013, and attacks on shops and bakeries owned by ethnic Albanians in Vojvodina in 2014.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

According to the Statistical Office, in 2020, Serbia had a total active labor force of approximately 3.18 million people, of which close to 2.9 million were employed (55.6% men and 44.4% women), and 286,600 were unemployed. In 2020, the formal employment rate was 49.1%, and the informal employment rate was 16.4%, compared to 18.1% the previous year, with most of the total informally employed in services and agriculture. Unemployment in 2020 averaged 9%, compared to 10.4% the prior year. Youth unemployment remained relatively high at 26.6%. 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 role of foreign or migrant workers is extremely limited. The leading sector for employment is manufacturing, followed by government and public administration, agriculture and forestry and fishery, trade, transport, construction, and hospitality services.

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. Labor costs are relatively low in Serbia, especially compared to European averages. In December 2020, the average net take-home salary was approximately 666 USD per month. The minimum wage is approximately 324 USD per month. Investors routinely cite favorable 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 ongoing, 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 on an indefinite basis.

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 International Labor Organization 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.

In December 2019, a Staff Leasing Law was approved and went into force from March 2020. The law regulates leased employees’ status, the staffing agencies, and recipient employers. According to the law, employers can hire up to 10% of its workforce with fixed-term contracts through an agency, with no limit on those with indefinite-term employment contracts.

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 $53,039 2018 $50,597 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) 2020 $63 2019 $149 BEA data available at
https://apps.bea.gov/
international/factsheet/ 
Host country’s FDI in the United States (M USD, stock positions) 2020 $1.5 2019 $5 BEA data available at
http://bea.gov/international/
direct_investment_
multinational_companies_
comprehensive_data.htm 
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2020 5% 2019 7.8% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/
handbook/Economic
Trends/Fdi.html

*Source of GDP data: Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Serbia at https://www.mfin.gov.rs/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Tabela-1-Osnovni-makroekonomski-indikatori-2020.xlsx.

*Source of FDI data: National Bank of Serbia (NBS) at https://www.nbs.rs/export/sites/NBS_site/documents/statistika/ino_ekonomski_odnosi/platni_bilans/fdi_po_zemljama_20.xls.

Source for Host Country Data:

NBS data on FDI significantly differ from U.S. data. The NBS calculates FDI according to the country from which the investment arrives, rather than by the ownership of the investing company. Frequently, U.S. investments in Serbia are carried out through subsidiaries of U.S. companies located in another European country. If a U.S. company invests in Serbia through a Dutch subsidiary, for example, the NBS records the investment as coming from the Netherlands rather than from the United States.

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), 2019
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward $43,845 100% Total Outward $4,123 100%
The Netherlands $8,183 19% Bosnia and Herzegovina $1,027 25%
Austria $4,574 10% Montenegro $742 18%
Germany $2,919 7% Slovenia $659 16%
Cyprus $2,791 6% Switzerland $244 6%
Russia $2,664 6% Russian Federation $212 5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- $500,000.

Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment

Data not available.

14. Contact for More Information

Dejan Gajic
Economic Section
Bulevar kneza Aleksandra Karadjordjevica 92
11040 Belgrade, Serbia
+381-11-706-4271
SerbiaInvestment@state.gov 

Slovakia

Executive Summary

Slovakia is a small, open, export-oriented economy, with a population of 5.5 million.  Slovakia joined the European Union (EU) and NATO in 2004 and the Eurozone in 2009.  Slovakia is an attractive destination for foreign direct investment (FDI), with a favorable geographic location in the heart of Europe, and an investment-friendly regulatory environment.  The current ruling coalition took power in March 2020 and has implemented a range of measures to simplify business regulations.

The Slovak economy contracted 5.2 percent in 2020 due to the impact of COVID-19. The country began a prolonged lockdown in October 2020, which is expected to significantly slow the economic recovery. As of March 2021, much of the economy remains shuttered. The hospitality and restaurant sectors have been hit particularly hard by the restrictions.

Employers’ combined social and health contributions are equivalent to 35 percent of wages.  The corporate income tax rate is 21 percent for companies with revenues at or above 100,000 euro. The tax rate for companies with revenues below 100,000 euro was lowered to 15 percent in 2020.

Attracting higher value-added investment is a top priority of the current ruling coalition, as well as attracting investment in less-developed regions of Slovakia. Priorities for EU fund spending include reforms to the underperforming education and healthcare systems, and efforts to root out endemic corruption.  Inefficiencies in drawing available EU funds persist. In 2020, the Slovak police launched a major anti-corruption drive charging a number of high-ranking judges and prosecutors, two former police presidents, and several high-profile businessmen with corruption-related crimes. The judiciary is also currently undergoing a major reform aimed at improving the efficiency and predictability of the system.

Slovakia remains the largest per capita car producer in the world, with four major car producers and hundreds of suppliers.  Manufacturing industries, including automotive; machinery and transport equipment; metallurgy and metal processing; electronics; chemicals; and pharmaceuticals remain attractive and have the potential for further growth.

Positive aspects of the Slovak investment climate include:

  • Membership in the EU and the Eurozone
  • An open, export-oriented economy close to western European markets
  • Investment incentives, including for foreign investors
  • A firm government commitment to EU deficit and debt targets
  • A sound banking sector deeply integrated with Europe

Negative aspects of the Slovak investment climate include:

  • High sensitivity to regional economic developments
  • Weak public administration, allegations of corruption, and a weak judiciary
  • Significant regional disparities, suboptimal national transport network
  • Low rates of public and private R&D investment
  • Heavy reliance on EU structural funds, chronic deficiencies in allocation of funds
Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 60 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 N/A http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings 
Global Innovation Index 2020 39 of 129 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 N/A http://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 N/A http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment 

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Slovakia is one of the most open economies in the EU.  The government’s overall attitude toward foreign direct investment (FDI) is positive, and the government does not limit or discriminate against foreign investors.  FDI plays an important role in the country’s economy, with major foreign investments in manufacturing and industry, financial services, information and communication technologies (ICT), and Business Service Centers, where U.S. companies have a significant presence.

Slovakia’s assets, including skilled labor, EU and Eurozone membership, and a central location in Europe have attracted a significant U.S. commercial and industrial presence, with investments from Accenture, Adient, Amazon, Amphenol, AT&T, Cisco, Dell, Garrett, GlobalLogic, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Lear, Oracle, U.S. Steel, Whirlpool, and others.

The Ministry of Economy coordinates efforts to improve the business environment, innovation, and support for less-developed regions.  Within the Ministry of Economy, the Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency (SARIO) is responsible for identifying and    advising potential investors, providing in-depth information on the Slovak business environment, investment incentives, the process for setting up a business, as well as advising on suitable locations and real estate leasing. The government encourages investment through tax incentives and grants to support employment, regional development, and training.  Section Four of the Regional Investment Aid Act (57/2018) specifies the eligibility criteria for receiving assistance.

According to the National Bank of Slovakia’s preliminary data, in 2019, inward FDI flows to Slovakia reached 2.2 billion EUR, and inward FDI stock was 54 billion EUR.  EU Member States, including the Netherlands, Austria, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, and Germany, are the largest foreign investors in Slovakia.  South Korea remains by far the largest investor among non-EU countries.

The Act on Special Levy on Regulated Sectors (235/2012 Coll., and later amendments) imposes a special tax on regulated industries, including the energy and network industries, insurance companies, electronic communications companies, healthcare, air transport, and others.  The levy applies to profits generated from regulated activities above 3 million EUR.

The Slovak government requires ride-sharing and app-based hospitality platforms that are active on the local market to register a permanent office in Slovakia for tax collection purposes.   Platforms that have not yet registered an office must pay either a 19 or 35 percent withholding tax on the fees it pays to a foreign entity, based on the residence of the recipient of such fee and whether bilateral taxation treaties exist.

The government actively works with investors to keep them operating in the country. In late 2020, Volkswagen, already one of the largest private employers in the country, credited a decision to expand its investment, in part, to the government’s assistance in negotiations with local partners.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in all forms of remunerative activity in Slovakia.  Businesses can contract directly with foreign entities.  Private enterprises are free to establish, acquire, and dispose of business interests, but must pay all Slovak obligations of liquidated companies before transferring any remaining funds out of Slovakia.  All new businesses registered from October 2020 onwards must provide the national registration numbers of their partners, authorized representatives, and members of the boards of directors and supervisory boards when registering the business. Foreigners must provide their passport or residence permit numbers when registering the business.

In February 2021, Slovak Parliament approved legislation, over the opposition of representatives of the business community, requiring government review of ownership transfers larger than 10 percent of companies considered “critical infrastructure” – which includes a number of companies with foreign ownership. The law was passed through a fast-track procedure in response to a reported demand from Russian Sberbank that Slovakia’s electricity generator Slovenske Elektrarne back its debt to the bank with equity. The Economy Ministry has said that it will release a more robust Investment Screening Mechanism in 2021, which will be based on the EU Investment Screening Regulation 2020/1298, and will replace the fast-tracked legislation.

Slovakia has no formal performance requirements for establishing, maintaining, or expanding foreign investments.  Large-scale privatizations are possible via direct sale or public auction.  There are no formal requirements to approve FDI, though the government ultimately approves investment incentives.  If investment incentives apply, the Economy Ministry manages the associated government approval process.  The Act on Regional Investment Aid (57/2018) specifies that only three categories of projects may be subsidized: industrial production, technology, or business services.  An amendment to the Act in force from January 2021 slightly relaxed the conditions for receiving investment aid, increasing the maximum time to finish work on the investment project from three to five years.

The Slovak government treats foreign entities established in Slovakia in the same manner as domestic entities, and foreign entities face no impediments to participating in R&D programs financed and/or subsidized by the Slovak government.  Since January 2020, up to 200 percent of R&D spending is tax deductible.

The Slovak government holds stakes in a number of energy companies.  It has historically been less open to private investment in energy assets that it considers to be in the national security interest.  There are no domestic ownership requirements for telecommunications and broadcast licenses.  The Act on Civil Air Transport (143/1998 Coll.) sets out rules for foreign operators seeking to operate in Slovakia.

Please consult the following websites for more information:

Other Investment Policy Reviews

In its Investment Policy Monitor, The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) highlights Slovakia’s 2018 adoption of the Act on Regional Investment Aid and notes that tourism was excluded. The report highlights that income tax exemptions are the primary form of state aid, but direct subsidies for land purchase are also available, and investors may apply for job creation contributions from the government or may be permitted to let or own property at lower than a market value.

Business Facilitation

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, Slovakia ranks 118 out of 190 countries surveyed on the ease of starting a business, up from 127 in 2019.  It takes, on average, 21.5 days to start a business versus 26.5 days in 2019, and involves seven procedures. There are business development companies that provide assistance with navigating the process of establishing a new business. The main agencies with which a company must register are the business registry, tax office, and social security agency.

In 2020, the Economy Ministry presented more than 500 measures that will decrease the administrative burden on businesses. More than 100 of these measures were approved by Parliament in July 2020. The Economy Ministry also announced plans for regular reviews of existing legislation to ensure it still serves its purpose, and stricter reviews during the transposition of EU legislation to ensure that the laws are not adding administrative burden beyond what is required.

The Central Government Portal “ slovensko.sk ” provides useful information on e-Government services for starting and running a business, citizenship, justice, registering vehicles, social security, etc.  Checklists of procedures necessary for registrations, applications for permits, etc., are currently available on the websites of the business registry, tax office and social security agency. The Economy Ministry is working on streamlining the information into one common platform.  The government has also announced plans for a major overhaul to the e-Government service portal to streamline access to public services.

Please consult the following websites for more information:

Outward Investment

Due to their limited size, Slovak companies have not made significant outward foreign direct investments.

Several state agencies share responsibility for facilitating outward investment and trade.  SARIO is officially responsible for export facilitation and attracting investment.  The Slovak Export-Import Bank (EXIM Bank) supports exports and outward investments with financial instruments to reduce risks related to insurance, credit, guarantee, and financial activities; it assists both large companies and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), and is the only institution in Slovakia authorized to provide export and outward investment-related government financial assistance.  The Ministry for Foreign and European Affairs runs a Business Center that provides services for exporters and helps identify investment opportunities.  Slovakia’s diplomatic missions, the Ministry of Finance’s Slovak Guarantee and Development Bank, and the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office for Investments and Regional Development also play a role in facilitating external economic relations. Slovakia does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

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 5.5 percent to EUR 46 billion due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in line with previous estimates.  The COVID-19 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 is expected to rebound in 2021 as the pandemic is expected to improve in the second half of the year, with projected GDP growth of between 3.5 and 5.2 percent.

Although the government privatized the country’s first and third largest state-owned banks in 2019 and the fourth one in 2020, roughly 35 percent of Slovenia’s economy remains state-owned or state-controlled, and 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 16.0 billion in 2019, a 4.9 percent increase over the previous year.  Slovenia’s most important sources for direct foreign investment were Austria (24.7 percent), Luxembourg (13.0 percent), Switzerland (11.4 percent), Germany (8.5 percent), and Italy (7.9 percent).  However, Bank of Slovenia data indicated U.S. companies accounted for almost ten percent of total inward foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2019, EUR 172 million (USD 206 million) invested directly and an additional EUR 1.3 billion (USD 1.56 billion) invested indirectly through U.S. subsidiaries in other European countries.  This combined investment of EUR 1.48 billion (USD 1.78 billion) placed the United States as Slovenia’s fourth largest source of direct and indirect foreign investment, behind Austria (EUR 2.28 billion), Germany (EUR 2.28 billion), and Italy (EUR 1.5 billion).  The most important sectors for FDI were manufacturing (34.6 percent), financial and insurance activities (22.3 percent), wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles (17.0 percent).

Firms with foreign owners generated EUR 1.4 billion in profits in 2019, with average returns on investment of 5.2 percent.  Although they represented just 1.8 percent of all Slovenian firms in 2019, firms with FDI accounted for 24 percent of capital, 25.8 percent of assets, and 23.8 of corporate sector employees.  Their capital and workforce generated EUR 31.0 billion in net sales revenue and EUR 1.4 billion in operating profit.  Foreign companies accounted for more than 44 percent of corporate sector exports and 49 percent of corporate sector imports.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 35 of 179 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 37 of 191 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 32 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 286 https://www.bea.gov/data/economic-accounts/international
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 USD 25,940 http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Although Slovenia has no formal business roundtable or foreign investment ombudsman, the Slovenian Public Agency for the Promotion of Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Development, Investment and Tourism (SPIRIT) promotes FDI and advocates for foreign investors in Slovenia, often in collaboration with diplomatic missions and business associations based in Slovenia.  Its mission is to enhance Slovenia’s economic competitiveness through technical and financial assistance to entrepreneurs, businesses, and investors.

Foreign companies conducting business in Slovenia have the same rights, obligations, and responsibilities as domestic companies.  The principles of commercial enterprise, including national treatment, apply to the operations of foreign companies as well.  The Law on Commercial Companies and the Law on Foreign Transactions guarantee their basic rights.

According to SPIRIT’s annual survey on foreign investors’ perceptions of Slovenia’s business environment, investors cite the high quality of Slovenia’s labor force as the deciding factor in choosing the country as an investment destination, followed by widespread knowledge of foreign languages, employees’ technical expertise, innovation potential, and strategic geographic position offering easy access to EU and Balkan markets.

While generally welcoming greenfield investments, Slovenia presents a number of informal barriers that may prove challenging to foreign investors.  According to SPIRIT’s survey, the most significant disincentives to FDI are high taxes, high labor costs, lack of payment discipline, an inefficient judicial system, difficulties in firing employees, and excessive bureaucracy.  There are no formal limits on foreign investors’ ability to establish an investment or operate in the market.

Foreign companies doing business in Slovenia and the local American Chamber of Commerce have also cited additional factors that adversely affect the local investment climate, including the lack of a high-level FDI promotion strategy, a sizable judicial backlog, difficulties in obtaining building permits, labor market rigidity, and disproportionately high social contributions and personal income taxes coupled with excessive administrative tax burdens.  Businesses have also reported a lack of transparency in public procurement, unnecessarily complex and time-consuming bureaucracy, frequent changes in regulation, relatively high real estate prices in some parts of the country, and confusion over lead responsibility or jurisdiction regarding foreign investment among government agencies.

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Both foreign and domestic private entities have the right to establish and own business enterprises and engage in different forms of remunerative activity. Slovenia has relatively few formal limits on foreign ownership or control. In May 2020, Slovenia enacted a screening mechanism for foreign investments that will remain in force until June 2023. The investment screening mechanism was enacted as part of the COVID-19 stimulus package and will need to be made permanent before the legislation sunsets. The investment screening mechanism stipulates that foreign investments acquiring at least 10 percent of share capital or voting rights in Slovenian companies with activities involving critical infrastructure, critical technologies and dual use items, supply of critical inputs, access to sensitive information, the freedom and pluralism of the media, and certain projects and programs in the interest of the EU must seek approval from the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology. The ministry was also authorized to retroactively screen foreign direct investment transactions within the past five years. The application for such approval must be submitted to the ministry within 15 days from the date of the execution of the agreement. The Slovenian government envisages that the review process can take up to two months. Failure to comply to this new legislation may result in a fine ranging between EUR 50,000 and EUR 500,000 for companies based on their size and a fine of EUR 10,000 for individuals.   

Sector-specific restrictions:

Professional services: There are limits on banking and investment services, private pensions, insurance services, asset management services, and settlement, clearing, custodial, and depository services provided in Slovenia by companies headquartered in non-EU countries. Companies from non-EU countries can operate freely only through an affiliate with a license granted by an appropriate Slovenian or EU institution.

Gaming: There is a 20 percent cap on private ownership of individual companies.

Air transport: Aircraft registration is only possible for aircraft owned by Slovenian or EU nationals or companies controlled by such entities. Companies controlled by Slovenian nationals or carriers complying with EU regulations on ownership and control are the only entities eligible for Air Operator’s Certificates (AOC) for performing airline services.

Maritime transport: The law forbids majority ownership by non-EU residents of a Slovenian-flagged maritime vessel unless the operator is a Slovenian or other EU national.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Slovenia underwent an OECD Investment Policy Review  and a WTO Trade Policy Review  in 2002. The Economist Intelligence Unit and World Bank’s “Doing Business 2020” provide current economic profiles of Slovenia.

Business Facilitation

Individuals or businesses may adopt a variety of different legal and organizational forms to conduct economic activities. Businesses most commonly incorporate legally as limited liability companies (LLC or d.o.o.) and public limited companies (PLC or d.d.).

Non-residents of the Republic of Slovenia must obtain a Slovenian tax number  before beginning the process of establishing a business. Slovenia’s Companies Act , which is fully harmonized with EU legislation, regulates the establishment, management, and organization of companies.

Generally, bureaucratic procedures and practices for foreign investors wishing to start a business in Slovenia are sufficiently streamlined and transparent. Start-up costs for businesses are among the lowest in the EU. To establish a business in Slovenia, a foreign investor must produce capital of at least EUR 7,500 (USD 8,835) for a limited liability company and EUR 25,000 (USD 29,450) for a stock company. The investor must also establish a business address and file appropriate documentation with the courts. The entire process usually takes three weeks to one month, but may take longer in Ljubljana due to court backlogs.

Individuals or legal entities may establish businesses through a notary, one of several VEM (Vse na Enem Mestu or “all in one place”) point offices designated by the Slovenian government, or online. A list of VEM points is available at http://www.podjetniski-portal.si/ustanavljam-podjetje/vem-tocke/seznam-vstopnih-tock-vem .

More information on how to invest and register a business in Slovenia is available at http://www.investslovenia.org/business-environment/establishing-a-company/  and http://www.eugo.gov.si/en/starting/business-registration/ .

Outward Investment

Slovenia does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad, nor are there any incentives for outward investments. The majority of Slovenia’s outward investments are in the Western Balkans. Croatia is the most popular destination for Slovenian outward investment, constituting 34.5 percent of Slovenia’s investments abroad, followed by Serbia (13.9 percent), Bosnia and Herzegovina (8.7 percent), Russia (6.8 percent), and North Macedonia (6.3 percent).

2. Bilateral Investment Agreements and Taxation Treaties

Slovenia does not have a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States.

Slovenia has signed BITs with Albania, Austria, Belarus, the Belgium – Luxembourg Economic Union, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Kuwait, Lithuania, North Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan.

Slovenia has a Bilateral Taxation Treaty and Social Security Totalization Agreement with the United States.

Slovenia has signed bilateral taxation treaties with Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Iran, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, North Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, the Republic of Korea, Romania, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uzbekistan.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures in Slovenia are transparent and consistent with international norms.

Financial statements should be prepared by the Slovenian Institute of Auditors in accordance with the Slovenian Accounting Standards and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), as adopted by the EU. Annual reports of for-profit business entities are publicly available on the website of AJPES , the Slovenian Business Database.

There are three levels of regulatory authority: supra-national (Slovenia is a member of the EU), national, and sub-national (municipalities have limited regulatory power over local affairs, and regulations must comply with state regulations). Laws may be proposed by the government, member(s) of parliament, or through signatures of at least 5,000 voters.

Slovenia adopted a comprehensive regulatory policy in 2013, focusing on measures aimed at raising the quality of the regulatory environment to improve the business environment and increase competitiveness.

Slovenia’s Ministry of Public Administration is required by several legal and policy documents to solicit and include public stakeholder engagement in decision-making processes. Public authorities must solicit stakeholder engagement and inform the public about their work to the greatest extent possible.

Government entities that propose regulations must invite experts and the general public to participate by publishing a general invitation, together with a draft regulation, on their websites. The experts and general public must respond by the deadline, ranging from 30 to 60 days from the day of its publication. In addition to the relevant ministry, the proposals are also published on government websites and on the Ministry of Public Administration’s eDemocracy  portal.

Through the eDemocracy web portal, citizens may actively cooperate in the decision-making process by expressing opinions and submitting proposals and comments on draft regulations. When possible, government entities take into consideration proposals and opinions on proposed regulations submitted by experts and the general public. If such opinions and proposals are not taken into consideration, those proposing the regulation must inform stakeholders in writing and explain the reasons.

The public, however, is not invited to comment on proposed regulations when the nature of the issue precludes such consideration, such as in emergency situations and in matters relating to the national budget, the annual financial statement, the rules of procedure of the government, ordinances, resolutions, development and planning documents, development policies, declarations, acts ratifying international treaties, and official decisions.

A regulatory impact assessment (RIA) is obligatory for all primary legislation; however, the quality of such assessments varies, and analyses are often only qualitative or incomplete due to the lack of an external body to conduct quality control. The quality of such assessments has improved, however, since the Ministry of Public Administration introduced its Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) test in 2012 to measure regulatory impacts on small and medium-sized businesses.

The General Secretariat of the Republic of Slovenia is responsible for administrative oversight to ensure the government follows administrative procedures. There are no informal regulatory processes managed by non-governmental organizations or private sector associations.

Slovenia’s executive branch initiates approximately 92 percent of primary laws, with regulations often developed rapidly. The government’s frequent use of urgent procedures (normally reserved for national emergencies) to pass legislation often limits the stakeholder engagement process.

After the adoption of new legislation, the text is published in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Slovenia and online at https://www.uradni-list.si/glasilo-uradni-list-rs . Slovenia lacks a systematic process to evaluate regulations after their implementation.

To measure regulatory burdens on businesses, Slovenia adopted the Standard Cost Model, which has led to a significant reduction of such burdens. The United Nations awarded its Public Service Award to Slovenia in 2009 for its system of one-stop shops (the so-called “VEM points”) to incorporate and establish businesses. The introduction of e-government processes has simplified administrative procedures. The World Bank assigned Slovenia a score of 4.75 out of 5 on its Global Indicators of Regulatory Governance  measure, while the International Budget Partnership gave Slovenia 68 points out of 100 on its Open Budget Survey 2019 , assessing Slovenia’s budget transparency as sufficient with substantial information available.

Slovenia meets the Department of State’s minimum requirements for fiscal transparency. In 2020, Slovenia’s budget and information on debt obligations were widely and easily accessible to the general public, including online. The budget was substantially complete and considered generally reliable. Slovenia’s supreme audit institution reviewed the government’s accounts and made its reports publicly available. The criteria and procedures by which the national government awards contracts or licenses for natural resource extraction were outlined in law and appeared to be followed in practice. Basic information on natural resource extraction awards was public.

International Regulatory Considerations

Slovenia joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, and to date there have been no cases of Slovenia violating WTO rules. The law treats domestic and foreign investors equally. The government does not impose performance requirements or any condition for establishing, maintaining, or expanding an investment. As a WTO member country, Slovenia is required by the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT Agreement) to report to the WTO all proposed technical regulations that could affect trade with other member countries. Slovenia is a signatory to the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and has implemented all TFA requirements.

As an EU member state, Slovenia applies two principles in its regulatory system: the supremacy of EU laws and the principle of direct effect. In areas subject to EU responsibility, EU laws override any conflicting member state laws. Direct effect enables Slovenians and other EU citizens to use EU laws in national courts against the government or private parties.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

Slovenia is a civil law jurisdiction with a codified system of law. It has a well-developed, independent legal system based on a five-tier (district, regional, appeals, supreme, and administrative) court system. These courts deal with a wide array of legal cases, including criminal, probate, domestic relations, land disputes, contracts, and other business-related issues. A separate social and labor court system, comprised of regional, appeals, and supreme courts, deals strictly with labor disputes, pensions, and other social welfare claims. As with most other European countries, Slovenia has a Constitutional Court which hears complaints alleging violations of human rights and personal freedoms. The Constitutional Court also issues opinions on the constitutionality of international agreements and state statutes and deals with other high-profile political issues. In 1997, Slovenia’s National Assembly established an administrative court to handle legal disputes among local authorities, between state and local authorities, and between local authorities and executors of public authority.

In 1999, the National Assembly passed legislation to streamline legal proceedings and speed up administrative judicial processes. The law established a stricter and more efficient procedure for serving court documents and providing evidence. In commercial cases, defendants are required to file their defense within 15 days of receiving a notice of a claim.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

In 2018, the National Assembly passed Slovenia’s Investment Promotion Act, defining the types of incentives, criteria, and procedures to promote long-term investment in Slovenia. The act establishes that domestic and foreign investors are equal and mandates priority treatment of strategic investments, defined as investments totaling EUR 40 million or more and creating 400 new jobs in manufacturing and services, while R&D strategic investments are defined as totaling at least EUR 200 million and creating 200 new jobs. Under the law, a working group headed by the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology will assist strategic investors in obtaining necessary permits. The Invest Slovenia  website serves as a resource for investors to obtain relevant information on investment regulations and incentives.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

Slovenia’s Prevention of Restriction of Competition Act regulates restrictive practices, concentrations, unfair competition, regulatory restrictions of competition, and measures to prevent restrictive practices and concentrations that significantly impede effective competition. The law applies to corporate bodies and natural persons engaged in economic activities regardless of their legal form, organization, or ownership. The law also applies to the actions of public companies and complies with EU legislation.

Slovenia’s competition and anti-trust laws prohibit restrictive agreements; direct or indirect price fixing; sharing markets or supply sources; limiting or controlling production, sales, technical progress, or investment; applying dissimilar conditions to different trading parties; or subjecting the conclusion of contracts to acceptance of supplementary obligations that, by their nature or according to commercial usage, have no connection with the subject of their contracts.

Companies and entities whose domestic market share exceeds 40 percent for a single undertaking and 60 percent for two or more undertakings (joint dominance) are prohibited from abusing dominant market positions. Slovenian law defines a non-exhaustive list of dominant position abuses describing the most common practices.

The government may, however, prescribe market restrictions by means of regulatory instruments and actions in cases of natural disasters, epidemics, or states of emergency; significant market disturbances due to a shortage of goods or disturbances in other fields that represent a risk to the safety and health of the population; or when necessary to satisfy product requirements, raw materials, and semi-finished goods of special or strategic importance to the defense of the nation.

The fines for restrictive agreements and abuses of dominant positions may total as much as 10 percent of an undertaking’s annual turnover in the preceding business year. Those legally responsible for a legal entity or sole proprietorship may be subject to a fine of EUR 5,000-10,000, or EUR 15,000-30,000 for more serious violations.

Slovenia’s Competition Protection Agency (CPA) supervises the implementation of the Restriction of Competition Act. The agency monitors market conditions to ensure effective competition, conducts procedures and issues decisions, and submits opinions to the National Assembly and the government. The CPA is also responsible for the enforcement of Slovenia’s antitrust and merger control rules. An independent administrative authority, the CPA was established in 2013 through a reorganization of the former Slovenian Competition Protection Office, which was part of the Ministry of the Economy. Some private sector representatives expressed concern about the CPA’s susceptibility to outside influence and ability to reach timely decisions on complex cases, which added an element of unpredictability for some investors and their legal counsel.

Expropriation and Compensation

According to Article 69 of Slovenia’s Constitution, the government may take real property or limit rights to possess real property for public purposes in the public interest, in exchange for in-kind compensation or financial compensation under conditions determined by law. Article 7 of Slovenia’s Investment Promotion Act stipulates that, if the government deems an investment strategic, it may expropriate private property for construction in exchange for compensation, under conditions determined by law. In such cases, a special government task force monitors the investment and coordinates the acquisition of environmental and building permits.

The current government is not involved in any expropriation-related investment disputes. National law offers adequate protection to all investments. However, legal disputes continue over private property expropriated by the former Yugoslav government for state purposes. Following its secession from Yugoslavia, Slovenia’s 1991 Denationalization Act established a process to “denationalize” these properties, return them to their rightful owners or their heirs, or pay just compensation if returning the property was not feasible. In some of these cases, the rightful owners and heirs are U.S. citizens.

Since the 1993 deadline for filing claims, over 99 percent of denationalization cases have been closed, although only 88 percent of cases involving American owners and heirs have been resolved. Cases involving U.S. citizens have taken longer in part because the claimants generally do not live in Slovenia. In such cases, the Ministry of Justice must determine the nationality of the property’s former owners at the time the property was seized – a generally simple question for Slovenians who never acquired another citizenship, but more complicated in cases involving naturalized American citizens. In addition, some claims may involve property currently controlled by prominent and influential Slovenians, thereby creating additional informal obstacles to restitution.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Slovenia is a contracting state to the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes between States and Nationals of Other States (ICSID) and a signatory to the New York Convention on Recognition of Foreign Arbitral Awards, which requires local courts to enforce international arbitration awards that meet certain criteria.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

The government accepts binding international arbitration of disputes between foreign investors and the state. There have been no investment disputes involving a U.S. person within the past 10 years. Local courts are expected to enforce foreign arbitral awards issued against the government. To date, there has been no evidence of extrajudicial action against foreign investors.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

Slovenia is a signatory to the 1961 European Convention on International Commercial Arbitration. The Slovenian Arbitration Act is modeled after the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s model law.

Slovenia’s regional court specializing in economic issues has jurisdiction over business disputes. However, parties may agree in writing to settle disputes in another court or jurisdiction. Parties may also agree to court-annexed mediation. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards and foreign court judgments.

Parties may also exclude the court as the adjudicator of a dispute if they agree in writing to arbitration, whether ad hoc or institutional. In the former, applicable procedures and laws must be determined. In the case of institutional arbitration, Slovenian law requires a clear definition of the type of arbitration to be implemented.

The Slovenian Chamber of Commerce’s Ljubljana Arbitration Center is an independent institution that resolves domestic and international disputes arising out of business transactions among companies. Arbitration rulings are final, and decisions are binding.

Bankruptcy Regulations

Competition is lively in Slovenia, and bankruptcies are an established and reliable means of working out firms’ financial difficulties. By law, there are three procedural methods for dealing with bankrupt debtors. The first procedure, compulsory settlement, allows the insolvent debtor to submit a plan to the court for financial reorganization. Creditors whose claims represent more than 60 percent of the total amount owed may vote on the proposed compulsory settlement plan. If the settlement is accepted, the debtor is not obligated to pay the creditor any amount exceeding the payment agreed to in the confirmed settlement. The procedure calls for new terms, extended in accordance with the conditions of forced liquidation settlement (see below). Confirmed compulsory settlement agreements affect creditors who have voted against the compulsory settlement as well as creditors who have not reported their claims in the settlement procedure.

Creditors or debtors may also initiate bankruptcy proceedings. In such instances, the court names a bankruptcy administrator who sells the debtor’s property according to a bankruptcy senate, the senate president’s instructions, and court-sponsored supervision. Generally, the debtor’s property is sold at public auction. Otherwise, the creditors’ committee may prescribe a different mode of sale such as collecting offers or placing conditions on potential buyers. The legal effect of the completed bankruptcy is the termination of the debtor’s legal status to conduct business, and distribution of funds from the sale of assets to creditors according to their share of total debt.

In accordance with the Law on Commercial Companies, the state can impose forced liquidation on a debtor subject to liquidation procedures and legal conditions for ending its existence as a business entity. This would occur, for example, in cases in which an entity’s management has ceased operations for more than 12 months, if the court finds the registration void, or by court order.

In 2013, the National Assembly adopted an amendment to the Financial Operations, Insolvency Procedures, and Compulsory Dissolution Act to simplify and speed up bankruptcy procedures and deleveraging.

Slovenia ranks as 8th out of 168 economies for ease of “resolving insolvency” in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report .

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Slovenia offers special tax incentives for high-tech sector investments that create jobs and are linked to research and development activities. In some economically depressed and underdeveloped regions (such as the Prekmurje region near the Hungarian border), Slovenia offers special facilities, services, and financial incentives to investors.

As defined in Slovenia’s Investment Promotion Act, the government offers the following investment incentives: subsidies, loans, guarantees, subsidized interest rates, and purchase of land owned by municipalities at below-market prices.

All companies registered in Slovenia can participate in government-financed or subsidized research and development programs, regardless of the origin of capital.

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

The Port of Koper is Slovenia’s only free trade zone (FTZ). Under Slovenia’s Customs Act, subjects operating in FTZs are not liable for payment of customs duties, nor are they subject to other trade policy measures until goods are released into free circulation.

Duties and rights of users include the following:

  1. Separate books must be kept for activities undertaken in FTZs;
  2. Users may undertake business activities in a FTZ on the basis of contracts with the founders of FTZs;
  3. Users are free to import goods (customs goods, domestic goods for export) into FTZs;
  4. Goods imported into FTZs may remain for an indefinite period, except agricultural produce, for which the government sets a time limit;
  5. Entry to and exit from FTZs is to be controlled;
  6. Founders and users must allow customs or other responsible authorities, to execute customs or other supervision; and
  7. For the purposes of customs control, users must keep records of all goods imported into, exported from, consumed, or altered in FTZs.

The Customs Act also allows the establishment of open FTZs to allow for more flexible organization and supervision of customs authorities.

In such FTZs, users may undertake the following activities:

  1. Production and service activities, including handicrafts, defined in the founding act or contract, and banking and other financial business transactions, property and personal insurance and reinsurance connected with the activities undertaken;
  2. Wholesale transactions;
  3. Retail sales, but only for other users of the zone or for use within the FTZ.

Slovenia has set aside land for greenfield investments. Most of the newly-developed industrial zones have direct access to well-developed infrastructure, including highways and rail service. Land prices vary greatly. For example, in the eastern Slovenia community of Lendava, one square meter of land costs roughly five euros (USD 5.96), while prices in the vicinity of Ljubljana can run to 50 euros (USD 59.63) or more. Municipalities and the state often subsidize infrastructure and land costs as incentives to increase employment opportunities, reducing prices for fully-equipped land in industrial zones.

Potential investors may access a full range of free services and concessions provided by local development agencies for start-ups. Such assistance may also include assistance in completing all necessary paperwork, securing permits, and in some cases organizing and financing construction in line with investor requirements. Interested investors may contact the U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana for further information.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Rigid procedures necessary to acquire work permits can be an impediment for foreign investors. It may take as long as two to three months to obtain a single work and residence permit, which is required for local employment. Applicants must submit their single permit application at an administrative unit or at the diplomatic or consular office in their home country.  The Ministry of Labor has established a fast-track procedure for foreigners registered as authorized persons or representatives of companies, managers of branch offices, and foreigners who are temporarily sent to work in organizational units for foreign legal persons (corporate entities) registered in Slovenia. More information on single work and residence permits and employment services is available here .

The government does not oblige foreign investors to use domestic content in goods and technology, or to use local data storage.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

According to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 index, registering property in Slovenia requires an average of seven procedures, takes 50.5 days, and costs 2.2 percent of the property’s value. Globally, the World Bank ranks Slovenia 54th out of 190 economies on the ease of registering property.

Administrative reforms implemented in 2011 and 2012 simplified property registration, while increased automation in Slovenia’s land registry reduced property registration delays by 75 percent. Slovenia has also made transferring property easier by introducing online procedures and reducing fees. Virtually all land has a clear title.

The land registry court (local court) initiates the registration process for the entry of a title in the land registry. Amendments to the Land Registry Act adopted in 2009 and implemented in 2011 require submission to the court of proposals with appendices in electronic form. Submissions are tendered via a notary public or attorneys and real estate agencies acting on the applicant’s behalf. In some cases, applicants may submit registrations directly. Other amendments to the Land Registry Act have transferred responsibility from the courts to the notary for depositing original documents (e.g. contracts) attached to submissions, whereby the notary’s confirmation of authenticity renders the evidence value of the electronic version equal to that of the original. The amendments also enable free access via a web portal to the land registry records, including pending notations and land register extracts, neither of which were free prior to the reform.

Land registry proposals are automatically assigned to the least-burdened local court. Once the proposal is filed with the land registry court, the registration process is initiated ex officio and the priority of entry is ensured with a land registry seal. The priority order takes effect the day the proposal has been filed. The buyer may theoretically dispose of the property as soon as the purchase agreement is signed and the buyer obtains (direct or indirect) possession of the property. Buyers whose title is not yet entered into the land registry but who have already taken possession of the property are recognized as proprietary possessor in good faith – the presumed owner. The presumed owner has the right to claim the return of a property in the event of its dispossession from a proprietary possessor in good faith who has the property with a weaker legal title. The buyer may claim the return of the purchase price, but has no claims under the law of property until the title is entered into the land registry. Since May 2011, the law requires submission of proposals in electronic format.

Intellectual Property Rights

Slovenia has enacted advanced and comprehensive legislation for the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) that fully reflects various EU directives. Slovenia negotiated its commitments under the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) as a developing country and implemented the policy as of January 1996. Slovenia is a full member of the TRIPS Council and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). Slovenia has ratified the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the Cyber Crime Convention.

Slovenia’s Intellectual Protection Office actively participates in the Council of Europe’s Intellectual Property Working Group, the Trademark Committee, and other EU bodies engaged in the formulation of new EU IPR legislation. The Copyright and Related Rights Act, as amended in 2015 and 2016, deals with all aspects of modern copyright and related laws, including traditional works and their authors, computer programs, audiovisual works, and rental and lending rights. The act also takes into account new technologies such as storage and electronic memory, original databases, satellite broadcasting, and cable re-transmission. Slovenia’s 2004 harmonization with EU legislation introduced a new system of collective management of IPR compliant with the latest directives.

The 1994 Law on Courts gives the District Court of Ljubljana exclusive subject matter jurisdiction over IPR disputes. The aim of the law is to ensure specialization of judges and efficiency of relevant proceedings. For enforcement of TRIPS provisions, the law provides a number of civil legal sanctions, including injunctive relief and the removal of the infringement, seizure, and destruction of illegal copies and devices, publication of the judgment in the media, compensatory and punitive damages, border and customs measures, and the securing of evidence and other provisional measures without the prior notification and hearing of the other party. These infringements also constitute a misdemeanor charge, with fines ranging from EUR 400 (USD 470) to EUR 45,000 (USD 53,000) for legal persons and from EUR 40 (USD 47) to EUR 2,000 (USD 2,400) for supervisors of individual offenders, provided that the reported offenses are not criminal in nature. In criminal cases, Slovenia’s Criminal Code applies, which may result in fines or imprisonment. While laws regarding IPR are clearly defined, foreign investors have complained that the court system is too slow.

Since the enactment of the Law on Copyright and Related Rights Act, there have been relatively few reported prosecutions regarding copyright infringements and violations. The most notable cases usually involve computer software piracy. In 2004, a long-running software piracy court case ended with a prison sentence and monetary fine. Slovenia has dedicated resources to training prosecutors and public authorities. Slovenia also continues to address the preservation of evidence in infringement procedures and border measures through amendments to existing legislation. The Ministry of Culture has established the Intellectual Property Fund, the Slovenian Copyright Agency, and the Anti-Piracy Association of Software Dealers to combat the problem of piracy in a collective manner.

Slovenia is not included in USTR’s Special 301 Report or Notorious Markets List.

The Law on Industrial Property grants and protects patents, model and design rights, trademark and service marks, and appellations of origin. The holder of a patent, model, or design right is entitled to exclusively profit from the protected invention, shape, picture, or drawing; exclusively market any products manufactured in accordance with the protected invention, shape, picture, or drawing; dispose of the patent, model, or design right; and prohibit the use of a protected invention, model, or design by any person without consent.

The holder of a trademark has the exclusive right to use the trademark to designate products or services in the course of trade. The authorized user of a protected appellation of origin has the right to use the appellation in the course of trade for labeling products to which the appellation refers.

The patent and trademark rights granted by the Law on Industrial Property take effect from the date of filing the appropriate applications. Patents are granted for 20 years from the date of filing, and model and design rights are granted for 10 years. Trademarks are granted for 10 years but may be renewed an unlimited number of times. The term of an appellation of origin is unlimited. All patents and trademarks are registered through the Intellectual Property Office, and all registers are open to the public. Patent and trademark applications filed in member countries of the International Union for the Protection of Industrial Property are afforded priority rights in Slovenia. The priority period is 12 months for patents and six months for model and design rights.

Any person who infringes upon a patent or trademark right may be held liable for damages and prohibited from carrying on the infringing acts.

The Ministry of Finance, through the Customs Authority, tracks and reports on seizures of counterfeit goods in accordance with the European Parliament decree 608/2013. All data on seized goods are stored on a central database at the European Commission. The Commission publishes an annual report on seized goods from all countries, available at https://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/business/customs-controls/counterfeit-piracy-other-ipr-violations/ipr-infringements-facts-figures_en .

The Law on Industrial Property also provides for the contractual licensing of patents, model and design rights, and marks. All license agreements must be in writing and specify the duration of the license, the scope of the license, whether the license is exclusive or non-exclusive, and the amount of remuneration for use of the patent, model and design rights, and marks.

Compulsory licenses may be granted to another person when the invention is in the public interest or the patentee misuses rights granted under the patent. A misuse of a patent occurs when the patentee does not use or insufficiently uses a patented invention and refuses to license other persons to develop or make use of the protected invention, or imposes unjustified conditions on the licensee. If a compulsory license is granted, the patentee is entitled to compensation. Slovenian industrial property legislation fully complies with EU standards.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IPR offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at  http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Capital markets remain relatively underdeveloped given Slovenia’s level of prosperity. Enterprises rarely raise capital through the stock market and tend to rely on the traditional banking system and private lenders to meet their capital needs.

Established in 1990, the Ljubljana Stock Exchange (LSE) is a member of the International Association of Stock Exchanges (FIBV). In 2015, the Zagreb Stock Exchange acquired the LSE. However, the number of companies listed on the exchange is limited and trading volume is very light, with annual turnover similar to a single day’s trading on the NYSE. Low liquidity remains an issue when entering or exiting sizeable positions.

In 1995, the Central Securities Clearing Corporation (KDD) was established to provide central securities custody services, clear and settle securities transactions, and maintain the central securities registry on the LSE electronic trading system. In 2017, KDD successfully aligned its procedures to that of the uniform European securities settlement platform TARGET2-Securities (T2S).  In 2019, Slovenia’s Securities Market Agency (ATVP) licensed KDD to operate under the EU’s Central Securities Depository Regulation (CSDR) and provide services as a Central Securities Depository (CSD), pursuant to Article 17 of the Regulation (EU) 909/2014 on improving securities settlement in the European Union and on central securities depositories.

Established in 1994, the ATVP has powers similar to those of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and supervises investment firms, the Ljubljana Stock Exchange (LSE), the KDD, investment funds, and management companies. It also shares responsibility with the Bank of Slovenia for supervision of banking and investment services.

Slovenia adheres to Article VIII of the International Monetary Fund’s Article of Agreement and is committed to full current account convertibility and full repatriation of dividends.

The LSE uses different dissemination systems, including real-time online trading information via Reuters and the Business Data Solutions System. The LSE also publishes information on the Internet at  http://www.ljse.si/ .

Foreign investors in Slovenia have the same rights as domestic investors, including the ability to obtain credit on the local market.

Money and Banking System

There is a relatively high degree of concentration in Slovenia’s banking sector, with 11 commercial banks, three savings banks, and two foreign bank branches in Slovenia serving two million people. All commercial banks are private as of January 2021, and most have foreign owners and shareholders. SID Bank (Slovenian Export and Development Bank), which supports Slovenian companies’ export activities and provides financing for economic development, remains state-owned. In 2008, the combined effects of the global financial crisis, the collapse of the construction sector, and diminished demand for exports led to significant capital shortfalls. Bank assets declined steadily after 2009 but rebounded in 2016 and have remained steady since then. Since the crisis, most banks have refocused their business activities towards SMEs and individuals/households, prompting larger companies to search for alternative financing sources. According to European Banking Federation data, Slovenia’s banking sector assets totaled EUR 41.2 billion (USD 49.4 billion) at the end of 2019, equaling approximately 86 percent of GDP, still EUR 8.2 billion less than the total banking assets volume at the end of 2009, when banking sector assets equaled 146 percent of GDP.

Slovenia’s banking sector was devastated by the 2009 economic crisis. Nova Ljubljanska Banka (NLB) and Nova Kreditna Banka Maribor (NKBM) faced successive downgrades by credit rating agencies due to the large numbers of nonperforming loans in their portfolios. In 2013, the government established a Bank Asset Management Company (BAMC) with a management board comprised of financial experts to promote stability and restore trust in the financial system. In exchange for bonds, BAMC agreed to manage the nonperforming assets of three major state banks, conducting three such operations from December 2013 through March 2014. The government also injected EUR 3.5 billion (USD 4.2 billion) into Slovenia’s three largest banks, NLB, NKBM, and Abanka. These measures helped recapitalize and revitalize the country’s largest commercial banks.

According to World Bank data, 2.8 percent of NLB’s total assets and an estimated 3.4 percent of all Slovenian banking assets were non-performing as of the end of 2019. According to European Bank Authority statistics, 5.3 percent of all loans in Slovenia were past due in June 2019, a marked turnaround from the post-crisis period.

NLB, the country’s largest bank, was privatized in 2019, although the government remains a major shareholder with a 25 percent plus one share stake. Of the remaining shares, more than fifty percent are spread among several international investors on fiduciary account at Bank of New York, while a number of Slovenian institutional and private investors purchased the remainder. The country’s second largest bank, Nova Kreditna Banka Maribor (NKBM), was sold to an American fund (80 percent) and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) (20 percent) in 2016. In 2020, NKBM acquired the country’s third largest state-owned bank, Abanka. As of January 2021, the banks have been fully merged. With a total asset of EUR 9.2 billion (USD 11 billion) and approximately 22 percent market share, NKBM is on par with the country’s largest commercial bank NLB.

Banking legislation authorizes commercial banks, savings banks, and stock brokerage firms to purchase securities abroad. Investment funds may also purchase securities abroad, provided they meet specified diversification requirements. The Slovenian government adopted in March 2021 a draft banking legislation, which transposed provisions of an EU directive on exempted entities, financial holding companies, mixed financial holding companies, remuneration, supervisory measures and powers, and capital conservation measures. The new legislation also addresses the 2019 Constitutional Court decision that invalidated a provision that exempted banks from worker representation requirements in corporate governance. Under the proposed legislation, workers will be entitled to at least one seat of a bank’s supervisory board, but these workers’ representatives must meet professional qualifications of the supervisory board. The banking legislation is expected to be finalized by the National Assembly in summer 2021.

Despite Slovenia’s vibrant blockchain technology ecosystem and several global blockchain companies headquartered in the country, Slovenian banks have been slow to adopt blockchain technologies to process banking transactions.

The Bank of Slovenia, established on June 25, 1991, is Slovenia’s central bank. The Bank of Slovenia has been a member of the European System of Central Banks (ESCB) since Slovenia joined the European Union in 2004. The Bank of Slovenia gave up responsibility for monetary policy to the Eurosystem when Slovenia adopted the euro as its currency in 2007. As a member of the Eurosystem, the Bank of Slovenia coordinates with other EU central banks to implement the common monetary policy, manage foreign exchange reserves, ensure the smooth functioning of payment systems, and issue euro banknotes.

Slovenian law allows non-residents to open bank accounts in Slovenia on presentation of a passport, a Slovenian tax number, and a foreign tax number. Company owners must be present to open a business bank account.

Slovenia’s takeover legislation is fully harmonized with EU regulations. In 2006, Slovenia implemented EU Directive 2004/25/ES by adopting a new takeover law. The law was amended in 2008 to reflect Slovenia’s adoption of the euro as its currency. The law defines a takeover as a party’s acquisition of 25 percent of a company’s voting rights and requires the public announcement of a potential takeover offer for all current shareholders. The acquiring party must publicly issue a takeover offer for each additional acquisition of 10 percent of voting rights until it has acquired 75 percent of voting rights. The law also stipulates that the acquiring party must inform the share issuer whenever its stake in the target company reaches, surpasses, or drops below five, 10, 20, 25, 33, 50, or 75 percent. The law applies to all potential takeovers.

It is common for acquisitions to be blocked or delayed, and drawn out negotiations and stalled takeovers have hurt Slovenia’s reputation in global financial markets. In 2015, the privatization of Slovenia’s state-owned telecommunications company, Telekom Slovenije, failed in large part due to political attempts to discourage the sale of a state-owned company. Slovenia’s biggest retailer, Mercator, faced similar challenges in 2014 when a lengthy and arduous process and strong domestic opposition preceded its eventual sale to a Croatian buyer. The U.S.-owned Central European Media Enterprises dropped its politically controversial sale of Slovenian media house Pro Plus to then-U.S. owned United Group in January 2019 after the Competition Protection Agency failed to issue a ruling on the proposed acquisition despite reviewing the case for more than 18 months. The government has also struggled to meet its commitment to open Slovenia’s economy to international capital markets.

Thirteen insurance companies, two re-insurance companies, three retirement companies, and five branches of foreign firms operate in Slovenia. The three largest insurance companies in Slovenia account for over 60 percent of the market, with the largest, state-owned Triglav d.d., controlling 37 percent, while foreign insurance companies constitute less than 10 percent. In 2016, two Slovenian and two Croatian insurance companies merged into a new company, SAVA. Insurance companies primarily invest their assets in non-financial companies, state bonds, and bank-issued bonds.

Since 2000, there have been significant changes in legislation regulating the insurance sector. The Ownership Transformation of Insurance Companies Act, which seeks to privatize insurance companies, has stalled on several occasions due to ambiguity over the estimated share of state-controlled capital. Although plans for insurance sector privatization have been under discussion since 2005, there has been no implementation.

Slovenia currently has three registered health insurance companies and a variety of companies offering other kinds of insurance. Under EU regulations, any insurance company registered in the EU can market its services in Slovenia, provided the insurance supervision agency of the country where the company is headquartered has notified the Slovenian Supervision Agency of the company’s intentions.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Slovenia adheres to Article VIII of the IMF Article of Agreement and is committed to full current account convertibility and full repatriation of dividends. To repatriate profits, joint stock companies must provide evidence of the settlement of tax liabilities, notarized evidence of distribution of profits to shareholders, and proof of joint stock company membership (Article of Association). All other companies must provide evidence of the settlement of tax liabilities and the company’s act of establishment.

For the repatriation of shares in a domestic company, the party must submit its act of establishment, a contract on share withdrawal, and evidence of the settlement of tax liabilities to the authorized bank.

Slovenia replaced its previous currency, the Slovenian tolar, with the euro in January 2007. The Eurozone has a freely floating exchange rate.

Remittance Policies

Not applicable/information not available.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Slovenia does not have a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Private enterprises compete on the same terms and conditions as public enterprises with respect to access to markets, credit, and other business operations.

State-owned and partially state-owned enterprises (SOE) are present across most industries in Slovenia.  The state has never undergone a wholesale privatization program and has retained significant ownership shares in many large companies since independence.  According to a 2017 OECD report on SOEs, 37 companies with a total value of USD 12.5 billion and employing 47,000 people were majority state owned. In 2020, an OECD report assessed that privatization has progressed slowly, with the Slovenian Sovereign Holdings (SSH) maintaining controlling shares in most SOEs. Most state-owned companies are in the energy, transportation, public utilities, telecommunications, insurance, and financial sectors, although the government successfully completed the privatization of the three largest state-owned banks by 2020.  Other economic sectors, including retail, entertainment, construction, tourism, and manufacturing, include important firms that are either wholly state-owned or in which the state maintains a controlling interest by virtue of holding the largest single block of shares.

In general, SOEs do not receive a greater share of contracts or business than private sector competitors in sectors that are open to private and foreign competition.  SOEs acquire goods and services from private and foreign firms.  SOEs must follow strict government procurement agreements which require transparent procedures available to all firms.  Private firms compete under the same terms and conditions with respect to market share, products, and incentives.  All firms have the same access to financing.

SOEs are subject to the same laws as private companies and must fully comply with all legal obligations.  They must submit to independent audits and publish annual reports if required (for example, if the SOE is listed on the stock exchange or the size of the company meets a certain threshold).  Reporting standards are comparable to international financial reporting standards.

Slovenia is an active participant in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Working Party on State Ownership and Privatization Practices and adheres to the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance for SOEs.

Following OECD recommendations, the government established the Capital Asset Management Agency (AUKN) in 2010 to increase transparency and promote more efficient management of SOEs.  In 2013, authorities transformed the AUKN into the Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SSH), which is charged with simplifying and shortening the administrative process of privatizing state assets.  SSH took over all AUKN portfolios as well as the portfolios of two other smaller state-owned funds.  More than 95 percent of SSH funds are invested domestically.  SSH is an independent state authority that reports to the National Assembly.  It provides the National Assembly with annual reports regarding the previous year’s implementation of the Annual Plan of the Corporate Governance of Capital Investments.  The government then adopts the Annual Plan of the Corporate Governance of Capital Investments based on SSH’s proposal.

A list of SSH’s SOEs is available at https://www.sdh.si/en-gb/asset-management/list-of-assets .

Privatization Program

Foreign investors may participate in the public-bidding processes on an equal basis.  However, interested parties often describe the bidding process as opaque, with unclear or unenforced deadlines.

In 2015, the government prepared an asset management strategy that classified state-owned assets as strategicimportant, or portfolio assets.  In companies classified as strategic, the state will maintain or obtain at least a 50 percent plus one share.  In companies classified as important, the state will maintain a controlling share (25 percent plus one share).  In companies classified as portfolio, it is not mandatory for the state to maintain a controlling share.  The government reclassified the list of companies in 2017.

SSH publishes online the latest list of state stakes for sale. It is available in Slovenian at https://www.sdh.si/sl-si/prodaje-nalozb/kapitalske-nalozbe-v-postopku-prodaje .

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.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

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. 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.

Resources to Report Corruption

Contact at the government agency or agencies that are responsible for combating corruption:

Robert Šumi
President
Commission for the Prevention of Corruption
56 Dunajska cesta
1000 Ljubljana
Slovenia
Tel: +386 1 400 5710
Fax: +386 1 400 8472
E-mail: anti.korupcija@kpk-rs.si
Web:  www.kpk-rs.si/en 

Contact at “watchdog” organization:

Alma Sedlar, Ph.D.
Acting President
Transparency International Slovenia
Vožarski pot 12, 1000 Ljubljana
Tel +386 1 3207325 info@transparency.si 

Assistance for U.S. Businesses: The U.S. Department of Commerce offers several services to U.S. businesses seeking to address business-related corruption issues. For example, it may assist U.S. companies in conducting due diligence as part of the company’s overarching compliance program when choosing business partners or agents overseas. The U.S. Foreign Commercial Service may be reached through its offices in major U.S. and foreign cities, or through its website at  http://www.trade.gov/cs .

The Departments of Commerce and State provide worldwide support for qualified U.S. companies bidding on foreign government contracts through the Commerce Department’s Advocacy Center and State’s Office of Commercial and Business Affairs. U.S. companies may report problems encountered in seeking such foreign business opportunities, including alleged corruption by foreign governments or competitors, to appropriate U.S. officials at the U.S. Embassy and the Department of Commerce Trade Compliance Center’s “Report a Trade Barrier” website at http://tcc.export.gov/Report_a_Barrier/index.asp .

Guidance on the U.S. FCPA: The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) FCPA Opinion Procedure enables U.S. firms and individuals to request a statement on the Justice Department’s present enforcement intentions under the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions regarding any proposed business conduct. The details of the opinion procedure are available on DOJ’s Fraud Section Website at  http://www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa . Although the Department of Commerce has no enforcement role with respect to the FCPA, it supplies general guidance to U.S. exporters who have questions about the FCPA and international developments concerning the FCPA. For further information, see the website of the Office of the Chief Counsel for International Counsel, U.S. Department of Commerce, at https://ogc.commerce.gov/. 

Exporters and investors should be aware that virtually all countries prohibit the bribery of public officials and prohibit officials from soliciting bribes under domestic laws. As party to various international conventions, most countries are required to criminalize such bribery and other acts of corruption.

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.

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) 2019 $54.152 2019 $54.174 https://data.worldbank.org/country/slovenia
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical sou