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Managing EU Funds – What We Can Learn from Slovenia

Maya V. Gusarova's picture
Effective management of European Union (EU) funds is not only high on the agenda of the new EU member states but also of the Western Balkan countries that are progressing in the EU integration process. As such, these countries face several important challenges and questions today.

On becoming an EU member, how much will the budget calendar and its preparation need to change? How best to plan and execute projects which are pre-financed? How to record unspent EU funds in the next fiscal year? To what extent should the Ministry of Finance be involved in the process before the signing of financial agreements with the EU? These and other questions arise in relation to the impact on a country’s fiscal position, co-financing obligations, pre-financings and bridging resources, and payment of errors.

The Best School for Entrepreneurship is on the Job, Not in the Classroom

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

This has been a very engaging debate and I want to thank Omar as well as the organizers and contributors. In this concluding statement, I’d like to highlight both those areas where we agree and those where we still end up with different perspectives.

We can agree on the following:
 

Skills Gaps and Jobs Strategies

Omar Arias's picture
Working at a call center in Romania The blog I posted to debate with my Bank colleague Wolfgang Fengler the chicken-and-egg question of which comes first, skills or jobs, generated a rich exchange and contributions. While the question was framed around tackling the problem of unemployment in the Western Balkan countries, it naturally applies to almost any country. I want to thank all of those who took the time to write, whether or not they agreed with my main thesis: that countries should invest and strive to develop the basic skills that lay the foundation for the technical or job-specific skills that should be in turn acquired a la par with the changing needs of labor markets.
 

How to Break the Curse of Unemployment: Jobs First or Skills First?

Omar Arias's picture

Some Skills should Come Before Jobs, Others Develop with the Job
 
Students work on an engine at Sisli Vocational High School To be clear from the onset: I will not oversimplify the unemployment (or inactivity) problem in the Western Balkan countries as solely due to a lack of skills in the population. Low employment rates result from both insufficient creation of jobs by enterprises and too-high a fraction of the workforce that is ill-equipped to take on the jobs that a modern economy creates. Both issues are intertwined. Solutions, therefore, require efforts on several fronts to enable a more vibrant private sector –including improvements in the business environment, enterprise restructuring, integration in global markets and promoting entrepreneurship— as well as to prepare workers for new job opportunities.

Why Jobs Need to Come Before Skills

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

The Western Balkans Case

When I travel to the Balkans for work, the journey typically begins with a cab ride to the airport from my home in Vienna. The taxi company I use is run and operated by Serbs living in Austria. It’s a great company: very reliable, clean cars and friendly drivers who are always keen to discuss the politics and economics of the Balkans. When I arrive in Belgrade, I’m picked up by drivers who have very similar skills to those of their compatriots in Vienna. However, the former have better salaries and opportunities simply because the company they work for operates in an environment that is much more conducive to nurturing and growing a business. In Austria, unlike in Serbia, a company can operate efficiently, is subject to a relatively fair tax treatment and knows the industry standards it needs to comply with. In turn, this explains to a large extent why workers, at any given levels of skills, are more productive in Austria – a basic intuition which William Lewis develops in his book The Power of Productivity, projecting the gains that Mexican construction workers make when moving to the USA.

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.

Identifying poor-rich gaps in accessing maternal health care

Haruna Kashiwase's picture

The most recent data show significant strides in reducing maternal mortality at the national level over the past 20 years.  Improvements in access to maternal health care, especially in skilled birth assistance, have contributed to the reduction of maternal mortality. 

While these improvements are impressive, the national level data often mask inequalities in skilled birth assistance within countries. There may be gaps within a country, for example, where wealthy women might have better access than women from poor households. According to the World Health Organization, "The high number of maternal deaths in some areas of the world reflects inequities in access to health services, and highlights the gap between rich and poor."

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.
 

World Bank Helps With Flood Recovery Efforts in Serbia

Laura Tuck's picture

Laura Tuck, Vice President for the Europe and Central Asia region for the World Bank, discusses the World Bank's role in assisting Serbia with recovery and reconstruction following recent floods, and other economic reforms in the country.

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.


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