The arrest of a former mining boss on the Macedonia-Greece border might seem far from the corridors of Brussels, but the desire for EU membership takes many forms.

Serbian police in the last two days have arrested Dragan Tomic, the former head of Kolubara coal mine and 16 others for alleged embezzlement over equipment leasing. Tomic, who headed the state-owned mining company in 2004-08, was arrested on the border while apparently trying to flee to Greece. Read more

The sight of roadblocks and razor wire on the evening news naturally makes investors in the Balkans nervous. To take the current example, a tense stand-off in northern Kosovo drags on, with ethnic Serb protestors showing no sign of lifting their blockade around two hotly contested customs gates.

But investors in Serbia – the largest market in the former Yugoslavia – are less concerned about the (remote) dangers of renewed inter-ethnic fighting than about the (real) risk of a protracted trade war. Read more

Sec_sickbricsSerbia’s long-debated law to restrict public smoking, which went into effect last November to please the European Union, appears to be helping to curtail the public’s craving for tobacco.

More than a third of Serbian adults are smokers, according to pre-ban statistics, among the highest in Europe. While the resulting health benefits will take time to materialise, the immediate economic impact has been hard for tobacco producers and retailers, as the demand for cigarettes – normally a dependably profitable fast-moving consumer product – falls in already difficult times. Read more

Serbian customer takes money from an ATM in BelgradeSerbia’s swift conclusion of a €1bn precautionary agreement with the International Monetary Fund this week has boosted confidence in the Balkan state despite the general economic gloom.

Belgrade says it’s only a just-in-case arrangement which it has no intention of using unless unforeseen shocks strike. But it’s a wise move – Serbia needed IMF support after 2008 and may need it again if the international enviroment gets any worseRead more

Serbia is planning to issue €2bn worth of special long-term bonds in order to finally put to rest the question of properties seized by the communist regime after the second world war.

The “significant but manageable” bond issue – worth around 6 per cent of GDP – will allow compensation for victims of nationalisation over 60 years ago without bankrupting the modern state, said Bozidar Djelic, deputy prime minister for EU integration. Read more

The capture of Goran Hadzic, the Croatian Serb war crimes suspect extradited to The Hague on Friday, closes a big chapter in the book of tensions between the two biggest former Yugoslav republics.

Serbia’s failure to find him until this week was a constant irritant for Croatia, among other lingering grievances since the 1990s break-up. Read more

“Try your Big Mac”, a giant billboard advises patrons in Sarajevo, as the hours tick down to one of the biggest events since the Dayton peace accords. Nearly sixteen years after the war ended, the Bosnian capital has attained the ultimate sign of modernity: a McDonald’s on the main central thoroughfare, Marshal Tito Street. Read more

Silvio Berlusconi, Italian prime ministerThe Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, cancelled his visit to Serbia on Friday on short notice to put his own country’s finances into order.

He had been meant to headline an Italian-Serbian business forum – an event eagerly anticipated in  Belgrade, partly for Berlusconi’s celebrity presence and partly for the attention he would draw to Fiat, the Turin-based car maker, which, after long delays, looks set to get production going in a big way in Serbia this year. Read more

Opportunity is in the eye of the beholder. The global investors who never spare a thought for the Balkans are going to miss out on some great money-making prospects, says Philip Khoury, am Istanbul-based “frontier” market specialist.

Khoury, managing director at boutique asset manager Impera Capital has – by his own admission – not set foot in either Serbia or Montenegro for 22 years, since a youthful bicycle tour just before the Yugoslav wars. Yet he flags up both countries, among other neglected Eurasian emerging markets in his latest newsletter. Read more

Novak Djokovic, Wimbledon tennis champion 2011Novak Djokovic’s victory at Wimbledon on Sunday, besides underlining his rank as the world’s top tennis player, has confirmed him as the best public relations asset available to his home country, Serbia.

Over 100,000 people turned out in central Belgrade to welcome him back on Monday night, although he now spends most of his time abroad. Djokovic has made the troubled country feel better about itself and its prospects, and might also help others see Serbia in a more positive light. Read more

Serbia coal fired plantItalian energy company Edison has reached a deal with Serbia’s state-owned power company, Elektroprivreda Srbija (EPS) to build a new coal-fired plant, sources close to the deal confirmed to beyondbrics.

The project’s value could reach €1.5bn and would bring state-of-the-art technology to the ex-Yugoslav country, which for now makes do with power plants pre-dating the 1990s wars and just enough residual engineering talent to keep them running. Read more

Nestlé, the Swiss-based coffee and confection giant, says it has bought Serbia’s locally loved “C” brand for packaged soups and spices.

The takeover – blending multinational investment muscle with familiar Balkan seasonings – guarantees brisk competition as Croatia’s Podravka gears up for expansion in the European Union.  Read more

Podravka – the spice maker at the heart of Croatia’s biggest corruption trial to date – hopes to bounce back to rapid growth, boosted on the country’s imminent accession to the European Union.

With Croatia seemingly poised to become the EU’s 28th member state in July 2013, the resuscitated company plans to spend up to €100m on expanding and upgrading its factoriesRead more

Croatian tennis star Mirjana LucicCroatia has received its eagerly-awaited green light – the recommendation from European Union officials to wrap up membership talks in just two more weeks.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, proposed closing the negotiations and opening the door for Croatia to become the bloc’s 28th member state on 01 July 2013. That’s good news for Zagreb, for the rest of the former Yugoslavia, and for the region’s fragile economies. Read more

New listings have caused the Belgrade stock exchange to shoot up rapidly this year, bringing a ray of hope to a trading floor battered by the global crisis.

The Belex 15 – the index of the market’s largest companies – has gained 100 points, or roughly 15 per cent in value, since the start of the year thanks mainly to Petroleum Industry of Serbia (NIS) and to a lesser extent the Belgrade airport companyRead more