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Lessons from Reducing Energy Subsidies

Mamta Murthi's picture

A view from Central Europe and the Baltics

Energy subsidies are common throughout the world.  The bulk of subsidies are paid in the Middle East and North Africa where my colleague, Shanta Devarajan, has eloquently blogged about their corrosive impact on economic growth, on employment, on human health and on water conservation.  Where I sit, in Central Europe, many countries are in the process of liberalizing their market for energy and bringing subsidies to an end.  What lessons does the experience of energy price liberation in this group of countries offer to their neighbors in the south?  Based on the work of my colleagues, Nistha Sinha and Caterina Ruggieri, I would draw five lessons.

The Geography in Ageing

Mamta Murthi's picture

A view from Central Europe and the Baltics

A Romanian elderly woman selling flowers Being busy with everyday life many of us, including myself, do not spend much time thinking how our lives will look like in 20 or 30 years. However, when I travel to the countries I work on, I see the challenges faced by the elderly, especially in rural areas.  These challenges include poor access to social and health services, exclusion and simply loneliness.

The countries in Central Europe and the Baltics are ageing.  As a result, the size of the working age population is shrinking, creating labor shortages which could potentially challenge future growth.  Ageing is also putting government budgets under pressure from the rise in age-related spending on pensions and healthcare, and the shrinking base of tax contributors.
   
All of this is well known.  Less appreciated, however, is the fact that in many countries there is a distinct geographical pattern to ageing.  Sparsely populated rural areas are seeing an increasing share of elderly people, while urban areas still attract most of the young generation.   The greying of the rural population creates a challenge for public policy as rural municipalities often have fewer resources with which to address the needs of their elderly population.

Why Serbia Needs to Start its Export Engine

Dusko Vasiljevic's picture

City square in Belgrade This is the story of a country located next to the largest and most connected economic block in the world, with fairly low labor costs and a relatively well educated workforce. You would expect that country to do well. However, the state of Serbia’s economy is problematic. Today, Serbia’s output is below what it was in the 1980s (in the time of Yugoslavia) and only half of its working age population has a job in the formal sector.

At the heart of Serbia’s problems are two interconnected imbalances, which explain why the country appears to be stuck on its path to prosperity. First, the economy is running on domestic consumption, which was fueled by financial inflows since 2000, while exports remain well below potential. Second, employment is driven by the state, not the private sector, with almost half (45%) of all formal jobs in the government or State Owned Enterprises.

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.
 

Moving Toward Gender Equity: It Takes Strategy and Opportunity

Sammar Essmat's picture



“Maybe in the Middle East … but in our part of the world, there is no gender inequity.” As an Egyptian, I wasn’t surprised to hear such assertions from colleagues when I arrived in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region to deliver a program aimed at creating opportunities for women in the private sector. With its socialist legacy, the region prided itself on gender equality. Women were historically well-represented in the state-run economic systems. I looked at legal frameworks and the Women, Business and the Law indicators and found little evidence of discrimination. Laws on the books were overwhelmingly gender-neutral. I was puzzled.
 
Then I studied data from the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys: Women’s rates of participation in the private sector told a different story. Women’s status seemed to be collapsing with the state systems and falling as markets started opening. For instance, now, only 36% of firms in the region are owned by women; that is a lower percentage than in East Asia (60%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (40%). Only 19% of companies in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have female top managers, compared to 30% in East Asia and 21% in Latin America and the Caribbean.
 
So I faced the daunting task of delivering a gender program in a region where few believe that there are gender issues to address.

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.

Looking at Shared Prosperity in Romania: Video Blog by Laura Tuck, Vice President of the Europe and Central Asia Region at the World Bank

Laura Tuck's picture

Laura Tuck, Vice President for the World Bank’s Europe and Central Asia Region, talks about growth in Romania and looks at the country's commitment to the shared prosperity agenda.

Can Tax Reforms Help Create Jobs?

Sebastian Eckardt's picture

Europe faces a significant job challenge. At an average of 11 percent, unemployment remains stubbornly high while labor force participation, at 58 percent of the working age population, lags behind most other regions of the world. This means, that only every second person in working age currently has a paying job across the region. Addressing the job challenge requires multifaceted labor market policies. We argue however that reducing the tax burden on labor, which remains high across the region, holds the promise of improving labor market outcomes. Such tax cuts could especially target low-wage workers, which often face the highest marginal tax rates and very elastic labor demand and are therefore most likely to be priced out of the formal labor market.

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).


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