The European Commission has given the Croatian group Fortenova a concentration approval in the Mercator case. Thus, yet another condition has been met for the transfer of the Slovenian retailer from insolvent Agrokor to its successor Fortenova, which still needs an approval from Mercator bank creditors and the Serbian anti-trust watchdog.
Fortenova expects the transfer to be carried out by the end of the year.
"We are pleased with the decision of the European Commission to approve the transfer of Mercator from Agrokor to Fortenova Group. We expect that the approval from the Serbian Commission will follow shortly," Fabris Peruško, CEO of Fortenova Group, was quoted as saying by Mercator.
"This has paved the way for the transfer of Mercator to be realised by the end of this year and for Fortenova Group's retail as of 2021 to start acting on the market as a common, regional group, whose operations are in the interest of all stakeholders - from employees through suppliers and shareholders to the entire economic environment, both on the national level and region-wide," he said.
For Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia the concentration was filed with the competent local market competition regulators and all national authorities except for the Competition Commission of Serbia have now approved the concentration, Mercator said in a press release published on the web site of the Ljubljana Stock Exchange.
Tomislav Čizmić, president of Mercator's management board, said a "strong owner will enable Mercator's further growth and development, and support Mercator's strategic projects, including the EUR 130 million investment into a new logistics centre in Ljubljana".
The transfer was expected already at the end of last year, but it dragged out due to a failure to obtain consent from Mercator's creditor banks, including the Slovenian state-owned SID Bank. Slovenia's biggest grocer, which was sold to Agrokor in 2014, owes over EUR 100 million to creditors and the loans will need to be rescheduled in mid-2021. Mercator's management expects no problems there.
Slovenia has also sought a special agreement to protect Slovenian suppliers of Mercator under the new owner, but the fate of the agreement remains unclear.
Representatives of Fortenova, whose biggest owner is the Russian bank Sberbank, promised Slovenian suppliers this summer that their products would stay on Mercator store shelves, something they said would depend on Mercator's being transferred to Fortenova as soon as possible.
Visiting Pivka on Tuesday, Slovenian Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said he was pleased with good communication between Fortenova and Slovenian suppliers. "I believe they will upgrade this communication shortly with a long-term project agreement within the scope of law," he said.
He indicated the state would not oppose the transfer of Mercator as part of approval required from creditor banks, as long as agreement for Slovenian suppliers is clinched: "I have recently been more upbeat about Mercator's future in the new company, one that is based on different foundations."