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The Balkans: Not Enough Skills or Not Enough Work?

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

City bus arrives at a station World BankIn many economies of the Balkans high formal unemployment is often blamed on insufficient skills in the labor force. But this intuitive diagnosis glosses over two fundamental questions, namely: why are workers not training themselves to find jobs, and why aren’t firms investing in upgrading the skills of their employees? In other words, the market seems to be failing by not allocating resources where high returns can be found. In this blog post, we cast doubt on the diagnosis and look beyond the skills gap explanation to high unemployment in the Western Balkans. But this is not unique to the Balkans. Take the US construction industry, which is among the most productive in the world even though it employs many relatively low skilled workers, often immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries, who improved their individual productivity several fold by migrating – not upgrading skills.

There is no doubt about the problem as throughout the region unemployment – particularly formal – remains unacceptably high. Serbia is a case in point: Out of a population of 7.2 million people and a workforce of 4.5 million, only 710,000 Serbians have a formal, private sector job. If you add some 380,000 ‘sole proprietors’ – basically people who run mini-shops – you get to around 1.1 million people in the formal private sector. That means that the livelihood of the whole country is built around this 15 percent of the population. Can it really be that firms are still not able to find sufficiently skilled employees in the large remaining pool, especially given that Serbia has decent education results? If finding skilled workers in Serbia is like looking for needles in a haystack, there are surely a lot of needles to be found.
 

Has EU Membership Benefitted New Entrants?

Mamta Murthi's picture

A view from Central Europe and the Baltics

Ten years ago this month the European Union expanded to include 10 new members - Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovak Republic and Slovenia. It was the largest expansion in the EU's history in terms of population and area, and of historic importance in that it brought into one Union countries that had formerly been on different sides of the Iron Curtain.

Given the Eurozone crisis from which the EU is slowly recovering, it is natural to ask if EU membership has benefitted the 2004 entrants.
 

Are Second Pillar Pensions Robust in the Face of Economic Shocks?

Mamta Murthi's picture

A view from Central Europe and the Baltics

An elderly Roma woman Saving for old age is important in countries where longevity is increasing. Countries in Central Europe and the Baltics emerged from the economic transition of the 1990s recognizing that they needed to encourage their workforce to retire later and save more in order to be comfortable in old age. To this end, they modified their pay as you go pension systems which collects taxes from workers to pay retirees (the "first pillar") to create an additional or "second pillar" of individual pension accounts funded by taxes. As these second pillar pension accounts were the private property of individual workers, they were expected to encourage saving. Over time as these savings grew, it would be possible to reduce the pensions paid by the government from the first pillar without reducing the standard of living for pensioners who would be able to rely on complementary pensions from their private saving in the second pillar. Typically, a share of payroll tax receipts  was redirected to finance individual pension saving accounts. This resulted in revenue shortfalls in pay as you go you pension schemes, and most governments raised additional debt to meet their obligations which was in turn held by the companies who were managing the pension savings on behalf of employees. However, since the economies were growing rapidly, fiscal deficits were generally kept manageable, easing concerns about additional debt.

Is Economic Growth Good for the Bottom 40 Percent?

Mamta Murthi's picture

Lessons from the recent history of Central Europe and the Baltics


Economic growth has returned to Central Europe and the Baltics. With the exception of Slovenia, all countries are expected to see positive growth in 2014 - ranging from a tepid 0.8% in Croatia, to more respectable growth rates of 2.2% in Romania and 2.8% in Poland, to highs of 3-4.5% percent in the Baltic Republics. Europe, more broadly, is also turning the corner and is expected to grow at around 1.5%.

Amidst this much welcome growth, however, one question remains: will economic growth be good for the bottom 40 percent and can they expect to see their incomes grow?

PISA 2012: Central Europe and the Baltics are Catching Up – but Fast Enough?

Christian Bodewig's picture

9th Grade student Shahnoza School. Tajikistan When the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) launched the results from the most recent assessment of mathematics, reading, and science competencies of 15 year-olds (the Program for international Student Assessment, PISA) last December, it held encouraging news for the European Union’s newest members. Estonia, Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic scored above the OECD average and ahead of many richer European Union neighbors. Compared to previous assessments, the 2012 scores of most countries in Central Europe and the Baltics were up (as they were in Turkey, as Wiseman et al highlighted in this blog recently). Improvements were particularly marked in Bulgaria and Romania, traditionally the weakest PISA achievers in the EU, as well as well-performing Poland and Estonia. Only Slovakia and Hungary saw declines (see chart with PISA mathematics scores).

Long Live The Internal Market! (But How Competitive is the EU?)

Matija Laco's picture
A vibrant private sector - with firms investing, creating jobs, and improving productivity - is absolutely essential for promoting growth and expanding opportunities. In order to support the private sector, however, governments need to step in and remove obstacles to growth and job creation. Although macroeconomic stability and sustainability are unquestionably necessary for spurring business activity, the quality of the business regulation also matters.
Collectively, the 10 indicators in Doing Business 2014 are a great tool for assessing the ease of doing business in countries and measuring the quality of their regulations.

The results can be surprising for some countries in the European Union (EU): Would you ever consider that the most difficult country to start a business in the EU is Austria? That Italy is the worst place to pay taxes? That one of the top countries in protecting investors is Slovenia? Or that Poland is the global runner-up in providing information about credit?

Meet the Innovators: Tech Entrepreneurs Forge a New Future for the Western Balkans

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.

Youth Video Contest Winners Offer Solutions to Poverty

Liviane Urquiza's picture

Youth Video Contest Winners Offer Solutions to Poverty

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.

Western Balkans: Through Science, Innovation and Collaboration, a Program for Shared Prosperity

Paulo Correa's picture


 

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.

The Supply Side of the Coin: Is Monetary Policy (Where There Is One) Passing Results?

Matija Laco's picture

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


 


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