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Austrian Investor Willing to Build on Positive Experience (interview)

Ljubljana, 05 June (STA) - Ralph Martens, chairman of the supervisory board of Ring International Holding, has suggested that the Austrian company would make a good owner for Helios, although he would not comment on whether the company has made a binding bid to buy the Slovenian chemical group in an interview with the STA.

The Austrian company, which is reportedly bidding against PPG Industries for a 72.89% stake in Helios sold by a consortium of banks, already owns a company in Slovenia, having acquired the Železniki-based metal stationary products manufacturer Niko in 2008.

Martens would not say what Ring's advantage over PPG is, but he cited Niko as proof of how the new Austrian owner met its commitments to preserve the jobs and production and invest in the development of the Slovenian economy.

"The mayor of Domžale has publicly raised questions about the protection of the company's (Helios's) headquarters and development department in Domžale. If you look at Niko, you'll see that we operate in this way. On taking over Niko we were in a position to make commitments for the preservation of jobs.

"Looking at the issues raised by the Domžale mayor and others in public, you'll see that we have substantial competitive advantages there. You've seen where Ring is active, especially in Germany, Austria and Italy, that is in the west, while Helios is more active in the east. This is quite compelling."

A leading corporate group in stationery products and industrial coatings, Ring International is glad to have Niko based in Slovenia, "that there is so much expertise here. We have not moved anything away, but instead we have provided additional support. We aspire to that in all our strategic opportunities".

Niko also kept its management after the takeover, while the new owner supplied the tools that enabled the company to become even more successful; "They have access to technology, a larger market share, they are more open to the world". The company sells over 90% of its output abroad.

Ring International is in turn satisfied with its investment, the engineering expertise Niko has. The company's competition is in China, where the situation is completely different with low labour costs. Production at Niko is fully automated, which is why the input material must be of top quality.

Martens says that Slovenia is a very good springboard, but that Slovenians sometimes do not see their assets. "They need to be given the opportunity to realise their qualities and their ability to compete with other countries at the global level."

However, Martens also maintains that Slovenia should open up to foreign capital in order to be able to make progress faster. He also believes that most of the crisis and reform measures taken or resumed by the current government from its predecessor are right, including the bad bank.

The official believes that Slovenia has the potential to resolve its problems on its own, and that the country is a position far from Greece's; moreover, that it is doing fine even when compared to France or Spain.

But he also warns that the two-year extension of the deadline granted to Slovenia to reduce its general government deficit in line with EU rules should not be an excuse to delay the implementation of planned measures and reforms.

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