The countries of the Western Balkans – which include the states of the former Yugoslavia, along with Albania – are not exactly world-famous for their entrepreneurial spirit. Yet if you look at their societies more carefully, you’ll soon find a surprising number of new companies dotted throughout the Western Balkans. They’re already setting their sights beyond smaller domestic markets: They’re looking to Europe, and the world.
When you are young and still in school, it’s hard to think of ways you can change people’s thinking at the global level. But sometimes, all you need is a video camera and Internet access.
Today, the winners of the European Development Days video contest “Young voices against poverty,” are being recognized for their contributions to the dialogue on global poverty.
You’d probably be skeptical if I told you that the Western Balkans – a region that has long suffered from social and ethnic fragmentation – now has a strong opportunity to boost shared prosperity by promoting research, innovation and entrepreneurship. Your views might not even change if I showed you that such idea is validated by preliminary studies linking research and innovation to the performance of firms and countries in the region.
You might be surprised – yet your initial assumption might be unchanged – if I told you about the kind of companies that are starting to build a different economic landscape in the region: firms like UXPassion, Pet Minuta, Strawberry Energy or Teleskin, which are all technology-based startups created by young researchers who became entrepreneurs. Click on this link (http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/video/2013/10/22/western-balkans-research-and-development-for-innovation), or on the video embedded below, to meet them and other innovators from the Western Balkans.
Indeed, the transition to a market economy and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia starting in 1991 had a severe impact on the research and innovation sector in the Western Balkans. Research capacity narrowed significantly, and R&D’s links to the productive sector of the economy disappeared. The new industrial structure has naturally a lower propensity to invest in research while the current business environment promises low returns to the enterprise investments in innovation. Efforts to revamp the region's research and innovation sector were most of the time short-lived.
As a result, the performance of the research and innovation sector in the Western Balkans is gloomy. The region’s current investment in R&D are roughly the same amount as the investment by just the second-largest university in the United States. (In 2012, for example, only 38 patents from the region were registered with the U.S. Patent and Trade Office – compared to the average of 27 patents registered by each American university.) At the same time, very little of those investments are efficiently transformed into wealth. For example, for each invention that received a patent, the region spent, on average, three times more in R&D resources than does the United States.
Building on a continuing series of efforts to reform their national innovation systems, in the hope of changing their gloomy prospects, the Western Balkan countries in 2009 committed to develop a joint regional research and innovation strategy. That strategy, developed between 2011 and 2013, was formally endorsed last month by the ministers responsible for science and education from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. The preparation of the strategy, which benefited from technical assistance by the World Bank and from the financial support of the European Commission, involved representatives from the region’s leading universities, research institutes, private sector firms and government agencies. Discussions of the draft proposal were pursued in all seven countries as part of a large outreach exercise.
Sovereign difficulties have divided financial markets in the Euro area, thereby increasing differences in bank lending rates across countries. Policy makers in both Brussels and Frankfurt are concerned about an uneven transmission of policy interest rate cuts by the European Central Bank (ECB) to bank lending rates across the region.
Based on this situation, a key question stands out: is the link between official, market, and retail interest rates broken?
When markets are functioning properly, interest rates on loans follow the policy rate in a uniform way across countries (granted with some lag). But, in the context of the ongoing crisis, markets became somewhat irresponsive – resulting in ECB rate cuts being unevenly passed on to borrowers across Euro-area countries. This uneven distribution has meant that those countries facing greater financial difficulties had to endure tougher financing conditions than those facing fewer difficulties – as exemplified when comparing Spanish and Italian retail rates to the much-lower French and German ones.
So far, the economic literature has been relatively robust in arguing that government bond yields or credit default swaps (CDSs), given their stability, do not exert much influence on the way banks set their interest rates for their clients. However, the crisis has shown that because of the interconnectedness of central bank and sovereign balance sheets, developments in sovereign markets affect retail interest rates.
How has this played out in the EU11 countries? Have retail interest rate decreased in those countries where central banks reduced their policy rates? Or, was this a reaction on downward movement of CDSs?
Figure 1. Interest rates on new lending to enterprises (in Percent) and CDS spreads (in basis points) in selected EU11 countries
An injection of much-needed investment funds awaits Croatia when it joins the European Union on July 1: An amount equivalent to about 4 percent of the country’s GDP will become available to Croatia through the EU Cohesion Policy when it becomes the EU’s 28th member nation. The funds offer Croatia a unique opportunity for financing strategic investments, aiming to restore the country’s growth prospects and generate better employment opportunities.
Experience shows, however, that seizing this opportunity is not easy: New member countries of the EU have often allocated those funds to projects with low economic and social returns, or have simply failed to effectively deploy these funds.
Emerging Europe and Central Asia (ECA) is an interesting region because what you expect is not always what exists. Since this is written in honor of International Women's Day, discussing women’s labor market participation seems appropriate. The standard indicator used for this is the “female labor force participation” (LFP) rate, which is the proportion of all women between 15-64 years who either work or are looking for work.
Since much of the region has a common socialist legacy, you would expect to see similar labor market behavior among women. However, the proportion of women who work ranges from a low of 42 percent in Bosnia and Herzegovina to 74 percent of adult women in Kazakhstan. And it wasn’t 20 years of social and economic transition that led to this divergence. Even in 1990, the range was about the same. The exception was Moldova which saw a 26 percentage point decline.
- Russian Federation
- Kyrgyz Republic
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Europe and Central Asia
- Labor and Social Protection
- Social Development
- Macroeconomics and Economic Growth
- labor market
- international women's day
Eleven of the less prosperous members of the European Union – Bulgaria, Croatia1, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia (EU11)—have remained attractive destinations for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). The Czech Republic, Estonia, and Slovakia witnessed FDI levels in 2012 similar to pre-crisis levels. Poland and Bulgaria also experienced large gains in FDI in 2012.
It is uncontroversial that the resources governments spend belong to the people. How these resources get allocated varies from country to country at the national and local levels. Debates and deliberations surrounding the budgetary process are usually technical, tedious, and time-consuming. Nonetheless, budgeting in the public sector is a critical entry point for the demand for better public goods and services and, more broadly, meaningful and effective citizen engagement. If citizens could exercise their voices in the prioritization of public sector spending, then government programs would have a higher likelihood of reflecting the needs and wants of constituents. So a key challenge and opportunity in this area is finding a judicious balance between solid technical analysis and meaningful citizen participation.