Aug 20, 2009

IMF blogger puzzled by Central Europe and Baltic experience in crisis

By Zdenek Kudrna

Ajai Chopra, Deputy Director of the IMF’s European Department, is puzzled by the different performance of Central European 3 (CE3 - Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary) and Baltic 3 (B3 - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) in the current crisis. He provides an elegant macroeconomic analysis and contrasts their experience to that of the Asian Crisis a decade ago. However, his analysis fails to note important differences in CE3 and B3 industrial structures that influence the sustainability of their respective economic models throughout the crisis and subsequent recovery. Over the last two decades, the CE3 economies developed traditional economic model based on manufacturing that makes them less vulnerable to financial crisis then is the service-led model of the B3.

Chopra finds that CE3 avoided the much greater currency collapses witnessed in East Asia by ‘luck’ stemming from:

  • First, in contrast to the soft pegs in Asia, the CE3 currencies were floating.
  • Second, the CE3 economies never suffered a full “sudden stop” of capital inflows as in Asia. Wholesale funding markets dried up, but western European parent banks maintained credit lines to their central European subsidiaries. In addition, bank supervision and capital levels in emerging Europe have been better than in Asia in the 1990s, helping limit financial sector strains.
  • Third, the task for external financial assistance was therefore mostly limited to replacing temporarily impaired wholesale funding markets.
  • And fourth, EU membership may have instilled confidence in the region’s long-term stability and catch-up potential due to an accelerated convergence process.
He then turns attention to the question why Baltics 3 have not been similarly ‘lucky’ and finds the key difference in:
  • Hard currency pegs and expectations of early euro entry had helped attract large capital inflows, but these often fed real estate bubbles, caused heavy exchange rate overvaluations, and fostered a substantially larger accumulation of foreign-currency denominated private debt than in any other region.
  • Current account deficits not only dwarfed those in central Europe, but also those in Asia in the late 1990s.
These explanations scratch the surface of the more important differences that stems from export structures. It is true that 2 of the 3 Baltic countries operated euro pegs, but this hardly justifies their higher suggested propensity to (i) join euro, (ii) attract capital inflows, (iii) borrow in foreign currencies. The CE3 currencies were reasonably stable in pre-crisis years, likelihood of joining euro was not substantially different, capital inflows comparable and, at least in case of Hungary, unhedged forex borrowing by households was equally prevalent. Thus we are left with the current account deficit to explain the difference in CE3 and B3 crisis experiences.

The difference in past current account deficits as well as present crisis experiences has a lot to do with different proportions and types of manufacturing established in these economies. Over the last two decades, Baltic countries were busy building service oriented economies, much to the applause of the outside world. They were providing logistical services to booming Russian exports and turned capital inflows into asset bubbles. They inflated their amicable growth rates by selling overvalued real estate to each other. Such growth drivers all but evaporated in the crisis and they offer limited opportunities for export-led recovery that are already hampered by the need to sustain the currency peg.

The CE3 built old fashion manufacturing economies that produced “stuff” for exports. Much of the capital inflow were direct investments into export-oriented production facilities. They have also achieved some progress in upgrading into more sophisticated export goods and are thus more tightly integrated into global supply chains. In crisis their industries proved more susceptible to stimulus packages in their export markets (such as cash for clunkers subsidies in Germany) and to replenishment of inventories that seem to drive the recent “green shoots”. Moreover, depreciation of their currencies puts their export industries into a promising position for export-led recovery once their export markets (Germany) start to recover.

The scholars who stubbornly insisted that there is no sustainable development without industrialization and industrial upgrading seem to be vindicated by this comparative experience.

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Jul 26, 2009

Crisis and funding of research

By Katka Svickova

In normal times, politicians of all strands are unanimously committed to the support of education, research and development. They never forget to stress how important these areas are to secure future prosperity. In crisis times, the “now” becomes more important than the future prosperity as governments are confronted with hard choices how best to use public funding to alleviate the negative effects of the economic crisis and help to re-start the up-cycle. Instead of the promised growth, public budgets for education and research either stagnate or fall in several Central and Eastern European countries (and as might be the case elsewhere in Europe, too).

A few months ago, investing in research and development was still promoted as one of the solutions to the economic crisis. Accordingly, the Czech national anti-crisis plan committed to increasing the R&D public spending over the next three years. Originally, the spending on research should grow by 8 % in 2010. Yet at the end of June, the government decided to freeze the annual outlays on research over the next three years at the level of 2009.

In addition to this, the Czech university and research community is in a sharp dispute over the allocation of these research funds. The conflict in essence boils down to rebalancing the spending to favor applied at the expense of basic research. The prevailing “now before then” logic favors the applied research – as a means to give a boost to industrial innovations. The funding allocations should be more result - and performance - oriented but the criteria, according to which the evaluation of performance is done, are far from perfect and heavily disputed.

Within Central and Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic actually belongs to countries with comparatively high governmental outlays to research: in 2007, it was 0,58 % of GDP as compared to the CEE average of about 0,4 % of GDP. However, both Czech Republic as well as the region are below the EU-27 average of 0,67 % of GDP spent on research from public funds (comparisons and calculations are based on available Eurostat data).

The education and research budget is now under strain not only in the Czech Republic. In Latvia, for example, the spending was reduced by about 65 million EUR affecting teachers’ salaries and resources to vocational schools, scientific institutions, state universities and colleges. The cuts were adopted under the pressure to trim the public budget in a country perhaps most stricken by the economic crisis in Central and Eastern Europe so far. They brought students and teachers to demonstrate in the streets in the course of spring. Also in Poland, discussions are under way to cut educational and research spending.

The developments show that despite the continuous mantras about the importance of research and development, these sectors are also subject to economic cycles and the workings of politics. A question that emerges from the Czech debate and governmental action is whether the cuts as well as the new rules for dividing public funding for research were passed after a profound weighing of short-term and long-term consequences of these decisions. To the most important consequences of the current decisions affect the capacity to engage in basic research. The abrupt shift of funding from research institutions such as Academy of Sciences (and to lesser extent universities) that are focused on basic research to institutes of applied research that are connected to various ministries and major industrial firms, may in the long term undermine both.

From the short-term perspective, more support to applied research in the situation when the budgets of the private sector are strained might bring more immediate results and help to increase the competitiveness of the industry. However, the private sector is also more likely to finance this type of research itself after the worst effects of the crisis on firms are over. On the other hand, basic research requires a lot of funds with uncertain and long-term results, and is thus not so attractive for the private sector. Moreover, the institutes focused on basic research are fundamental for creating the necessary human capital that allows applied research institutes to operate successfully within the global research networks. It is therefore here where public funding plays a crucial role.

Making public choices about educational and research priorities, and subsequent reforms of the system, including how public funds are allocated, are relevant in all conditions. However, the “now” perspective of crisis times should not prevent a decision-making based on sound weighting of both short-term and long-term consequences of the different options.

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Jul 19, 2009

The Political Economy of Managed Migration by Georg Menz (book review)

by Lucia Kurekova

Georg Menz. The Political Economy of Managed Migration. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 298 pp. ISBN: 978-0-19-953388-6. Forthcoming in Acta Oeconomica.

Migration continues to represent an important academic and policy issue, not least due to its critical implications for political, economic, social, demographic and cultural aspects of life of individuals as well as societies. Before the 2008 world economic crisis loomed in, labor and skill shortages in booming European economies incited ‘war on talent’, forcing the European governments to redefine the basic principles of their migration policies. A recent book by Georg Menz “Political Economy of Managed Migration” addresses a topical issue of development of migration policy in the EU, both at the level of the countries and at the level of the European Union, proposing a paradigmatic shift towards ‘managed migration’. His analysis of a range of traditional immigration countries - Germany, France and the United Kingdom – together with new immigration states - Italy, Ireland and Poland is a significant contribution to migration studies, international relations and Europeanization literature and to the field of political economy. Both the novelty in respect to theoretical cross-fertilization of different fields and the breath and depth of the evidence that the author assembles and presents about the issue of active migration policy make the book an important social science read.

The first part of the book engages with explaining and connecting the rationale of the three analytical angles: political economy angle, non-state actors angle and multiple arenas (Europeanization) angle. Acknowledging that migration in the EU takes on both security and economic dimension, an important contention of the book is that the states have moved towards ‘managed migration’ of labor while simultaneously taking more restrictive stand towards other forms of migration. The most crucial novelty that the work offers is an account of the factors that determine different predilections of the states in respect to preferred types of migrants in terms of their skill levels and occupational profiles. Advocating the competitive state thesis which is behind the convergence towards more open national-level labor migration policies, the author argues that regulation of migration is strongly influenced by differences in the systems of political economy across countries, namely the nexus of production strategies of corporations, the sectoral composition of the economy and labor market regulation. The major differences between prototypical liberal market economies (LMEs) and coordinated market economies (CMEs) are embodied in the preferences of labor market institutional actors, namely the employers associations and unions embedded in different systems of political economy that will seek to influence governments to adopt labor migration policies reflecting the profile of migrants deemed complementary to national production strategies. Along these lines, the active migration policy is treated as a case study of Europeanization processes where multiple arenas in which the governments play the games can be powerfully established but which essentially provides multitude of evidence of the bottom-up Europeanization and parallel rather than sequenced timing of the games.

After outlining the argument and methodological choices in the introductory chapter, chapter two engages with past legacies and experiences of the countries which play an important role in defining migration policies currently. However, the author deems traditional typology of post-colonial versus guest worker legacies in major immigration countries outdated. He contends that from a political economy angle, the similarities in labor migration regulation across countries are remarkable already in the after-war economic boom period, giving compelling examples of how (French) Renault, (German) Mercedes Benz and (British) London Underground conducted extremely similar recruitment activities in Algeria, Turkey and Barbados respectively. His analysis at this stage, however, makes the reader wonder in which way managed migration of the 21-st century is “a new paradigm” as he repeatedly argues throughout the work. The author’s own propositions suggest that if an attempt is made to understand migration policies in the context of economic conditions and fundamentals, it becomes evident that specific external and internal economic pressures make all governments susceptible to cater to the needs of big employers and drivers of job creation and economic growth.

Third chapter, a core of the book, outlines the logic of his two main hypotheses related to his innovative framework: 1) the varieties of capitalism and skill hypothesis and 2) the sectoral hypothesis. Using the extended typology of Hancke et al (2007), he anticipates that gradual innovation and concentration on high value added production in CMEs and relative to that more radical innovation in LMEs will induce the CME economies to be interested in migrants with specific skills and the LME employers rather to seek migrants that have general and transferable skills which are able to respond more readily to flexible corporate strategies. Further, the employers in the mixed and the emerging market economies (MMEs and EMEs) will resemble more divided strategies and their preferences will reflect the model that they are approaching. Sectoral hypothesis further contends that the employers will take into account the relative size of component sectors of the economy (primary-secondary-tertiary) and the relative importance of these sectors will affect the profile of economic migrants deemed desirable by employer associations. He sets out to evidence the predictions in the next two chapters. The author, however, succeeds only partly in providing sufficient evidence and clarity to his argumentation, which is partly due to a great density of information that he provides on each country study. In addition, an endogeneity issue of the sectoral hypothesis in relation to the varieties of capitalism theory needs to be raised – different preponderance towards secondary versus tertiary sector between the types of political economies is part of the VoC framework, deeming a separate hypothesis related to the effect of the size of sectors on migration policies essentially redundant and nearly inseparable from the first one.

In the fourth chapter the author looks at the traditional immigration countries – Germany, France and the United Kingdom and offers a careful overview of how migration policy evolved overtime and across issues (labor, asylum seekers, and family reunion). He carefully traces the positions of interests groups and NGOs within the countries and maps the trajectories of more or less successful representation (depending on their organizational capacities, domestic actor coalitions and other issues) of their interests vis-à-vis home governments and potentially the EU level institutions through the governments. Chapter four carries out similar analysis for the new immigration countries: Ireland, Italy and Poland which was chosen as a representative case from among the new accession states. The chapter argues that organizational power of interest groups has critically shaped national strategies which, however, has been much less the case in the new accession countries where a strong tendency to adopt acquis communitaire in the area of migration and asylum policies, in spite of some clearly negative implications for these countries, has prevailed. Mimicking of policy choices has taken place more generally in the new immigration countries which, the author claims adding refinement to the argument, tend to look for policies and solutions to their neighbors which are structurally similar. In that respect, his contention that the new accession countries adopt measures similar to CME economies, namely Germany, is particularly interesting and potentially creates an interesting avenue for further enquiry.

The two chapters with country studies are critical to the testing of the book’s framework. While his carefully gathered material univocally confirms that economic perceptions of migration have prevailed, clearly due to the active input of employers and support of unions who have changed their no immigration stance, the most innovative parts of his theory are not evidenced sufficiently. While his argument goes that Germany (or France) should want to attract ‘specific’ skills while liberal market economies such as the UK (or Ireland) should frame policies which favor generic skills, it rather seems to be the case that while low-skilled immigration is left to be regulated by the market, the governments irrespective of its political economy fundamentals have converged on explicit policies towards bringing in highly skilled migrants, regardless of their skill specificity. This critique can be proposed not only because of the evident gap between the designed active migration policies and the success of their implementation (Germany but also the Czech Republic provide ample evidence of the policy ‘failure’) but also because the author failed to provide any hard data about the skill profiles of the incoming migrants into at least the prototypical cases of varieties of capitalism that he scrutinizes.

The evidence about the incoming migrants seems to be crucial in order to substantiate the major argument about different skill cohorts being attracted based on the underlying political economy structures and institutions of host countries. Leaving such evidence out shows that the author has committed an unfortunate fallacy in failing to acknowledge that migration is a dyadic relationship and that sending countries matter as much as the receiving countries in determining the profiles (skill, education) of incoming migrants. To be fair with the author, in this respect he can only be blamed for not advancing the boundaries of migration policy studies which tend to vastly underestimate both structural and institutional home country parameters in the analysis of migration patterns. Nevertheless, the overview of the structure of East-West after-accession migration provides ample evidence of the above claim and is in contradiction to the predictions of Menz’ framework. For example, evidence suggests that relative not only to domestic population but also to the other migrant groups, a bulk of EU8 migrants in the UK and Ireland have gained employment in secondary tier of economy (manufacturing industry and construction). Further, important differences in terms of migrant sectors of employment can be drawn if sending country is accounted for (CSO, 2008; Accession Monitoring Report, 2008; European Commission, 2008).

In sum, the weaknesses of Menz’s book are a corollary of his ambitious attempt to perhaps answer too many questions, at the expense of fleshing out his main arguments about the uniqueness of managed migration in the new millennium and about the implications of various political economy structures and institutions on the active migration policy sufficiently. First, while the evidence that the current world economic crisis is providing about migration policies supports his point about the crucial weight of ‘economics’, it also seems to elucidate that it is economic fundamentals such as growth and job creation rather than economic structures that are substantial determinants of the form and shape of migration policy. Second, it is somewhat paradoxical that while the author at one hand validly and interestingly brings the agency in through the role he assigns to labor market associations, he at the same time leaves it out via failing to attribute necessary attention to the account of the actual (rather than hypothesized) migrant profiles and to take seriously the push side of the migration equation. Third, while he contends that migration policy reveals that state and state policies continue to matter and that the state has not retreated but rather “a recast state with new priorities is playing role in engineering the construction of regulatory regimes ensuring a steady labor supply of desirable talent and skill portfolio” (p.37), his evidence partly suggest that state is hardly insulated from interest groups. This is particularly clear through his ample reference to dilemmas and even conflicts attached to allocating private but also public resources to retraining and upskilling domestic labor versus importing foreign labor which have important implications for future economic and social development of host (and home) countries.

Against this critique, however, the pioneering and innovative aspects of author’s research, partly introduced in his earlier contributions, must be fully acknowledged. The inter-disciplinary nature of the book as well as a serious attempt to conduct comparative work not only across (six!) cases but also overtime make the book everything that the migration discipline has been calling for. I have no doubt that the book is likely to entice rich scholarly as well as policy debate across different research areas that the author draws on and valuably contributes to.

Accession Monitoring Report. 2008. May 2004 – December 2007. A Joint Online Report by the Home Office, Department for Work and Pensions, HM Revenue & Customs and Communities and Local Government.

CSO (Central Statistical Office). 2008. Census 2006. Non-Irish nationals living in Ireland. Government of Ireland. June.

European Commission. 2008. Employment in Europe 2008. DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. Brussels.

Hancke, Bob, Martin Rhodes and Mark Thatcher. 2007. Beyond varieties of capitalism. Conflict, contradictions and complementarities in the European economy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Jul 14, 2009

The complicated politics of free movement

by Chris Wright, guest author
PhD Candidate, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom,

Public policy-making invariably involves weighing the potential benefits derived from anticipated policy outcomes against the possible costs. This is particularly the case with labour immigration, which depending on the attributes of immigrants and the labour requirements of receiving economies, can deliver substantial macroeconomic benefits to host countries. But expansionary labour immigration policies can also deliver a range of unanticipated outcomes, and tend to be electorally unpopular. The balancing act between economic benefits and political costs was particularly apparent in the deliberations of the 15 Western European member states of the European Union (‘the EU-15’) when 10 Central and Eastern Europe states joined the EU in 2004 and 2007. The EU-15 states were permitted to restrict nationals from the new member states from freely working in their labour markets for up to seven years, but the transitional measures used by EU-15 governments were mixed and varied.

On the accession of the eight states that joined in on 1 May 2004 – the ‘A8’ states – Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom were the only three EU-15 states to allow free movement from the outset. When the EU further enlarged three years later to include Bulgaria and Romania (the ‘A2’ states), only Sweden and Finland opened their labour markets from the date of accession.

There is no straightforward explanation for the varying responses of EU-15 states to free movement, but domestic political pressures and economic institutional factors – not to mention the policy positions of other member states (1)– certainly played a part. This is evident in the case of the UK, which was the only large member of the EU-15 to allow A8 nationals to freely work, but subsequently prevented A2 nationals from being able to do so.

The majoritarian nature of Westminster democracy meant that Blair government had few political constraints in implementing a policy of free movement in 2004. This was a privilege that would not have been offered by the political systems of many other EU-15 states, but perhaps meant that the Blair government was more shielded from any discernable political costs, which were no lesser than elsewhere.

Nonetheless, economic considerations had the greatest bearing over the Blair government’s decision to opt for a policy of free movement. Labour shortages arising from low unemployment fuelled by over a decade of sustained economic growth meant that the competition for jobs between A8 nationals and UK residents was likely to be less of a problem than in other EU-15 labour markets. But whereas most EU-15 governments saw free movement as having a potentially adverse economic impact, the Blair government justified its position in terms of the benefits that could be delivered.

When announcing the Blair government’s intention to allow A8 nationals to work freely in December 2002, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said such a move was “in the UK’s interest” because it would “attract workers we need in key sectors”(2). By contrast, the language used by leaders of the EU-15 states that imposed restrictions was often couched in terms of the potential costs that would otherwise be imposed on their more protectively regulated labour markets. For instance, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said that domestic labour markets, particularly those in areas bordering the accession states, would not be able to accommodate a large inflow of workers (3).

This contrast was also evident in the way that interest groups and the broader community responded to the prospect of free movement. While business groups and trade unions were hostile to such a position in states such as Germany and Austria, in the UK these groups were supportive. And although public opinion and press coverage towards immigration was similarly ambivalent in the UK and Germany, concerns about labour market impact were more apparent in the latter (4).

This was not simply a question of job vacancies and unemployment; there are also structural explanations for why free movement was a more appealing prospect in the UK than elsewhere. Rates of unemployment and/or labour market inactivity were in fact lower in a number of other EU-15 states that adopted restrictive policies – such as Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – than in the UK (5). But the more flexible nature of the UK labour market meant that it was better placed to absorb more workers without an accompanying increase in unemployment (6).

Despite both adopting open labour market policies with similarly low levels of unemployment, over 200,000 A8 nationals came to work in the UK each year following enlargement, compared with only around 5,000 to Sweden (7). While strong demand for labour in the UK was one reason for these disparities (8), weaker labour market regulation enabled employers to hire migrant workers on relatively lower wages and conditions, particularly compared with Sweden, where much stronger regulation afforded no such scope (9).

Moreover, various ‘system effects’ of the UK’s economic institutions had eroded the capacity of the government and employers to respond to labour shortages through orthodox strategies such as increasing wages, investing in labour-saving technology or training resident workers. As Anderson and Ruhs have argued, the self-reinforcing nature of the UK’s lightly regulated labour markets meant that many employers have been ‘unable or unwilling to train’ new staff, in part due to ‘a fear of poaching, the rise of self-employment and the consequent importance attached to on-the-job training and learning by doing’(10).

The decision of EU-15 states that imposed barriers to A8 nationals in the form of restrictions or quotas can perhaps therefore be interpreted as protectionist measures consistent with the regulatory characteristics of their labour markets, whereas the UK’s liberal stance was compatible with its more laissez-faire approach to market regulation. But why then did the UK opt to restrict free movement to A2 workers when the EU further expanded in 2007? Essentially because this time around, the Blair government saw the potential political costs as being greater than the economic benefits that it expected to garner.

Before the 2004 enlargement, the government had commissioned a report to predict the likely size of the migration flows from the A8 states. The authors of the report estimated, that between 5,000 and 13,000 people would arrive per year, but strongly warned that because of a ‘lack of good data’, there was, ‘a large potential error’ in their analysis (11). Nonetheless, these estimations gained much media attention, and indeed turned out to be rather inaccurate. The underestimation made the Blair government much more cautious about free movement for Bulgarians and Romanians.

Opposition was more widespread and vocal to the prospect of free movement than it had been in 2004, and although the institutional capacity of the government to override this opposition was no weaker, the economic benefits were less obvious than they had been three years earlier. The Blair government saw the economic impact of A8 workers as positive and a reason to consider continuing a policy of free movement. But it believed that changes in the UK economy, and different attributes of Bulgarian and Romanian workers, meant that the economic case for opening the labour market once again was less compelling.

Ultimately, the response of the UK and other EU-15 governments shows the complex and often entangled considerations that inform labour immigration policy-making. While such decisions invariably involve balancing anticipated economic and political benefits and costs, these benefits and costs are more apparent in some circumstances than others.

(1) Kvist, Jon (2004) ‘Does EU enlargement start a race to the bottom? Strategic interaction among EU member states in social policy’, Journal of European Social Policy, 14(3): 301-318
(2) Quoted in The Independent (2002) Castle, Stephen, ‘UK lifts bar on workers from new EU countries’, 11 December: 12
(3) Jileva, Elena (2002) ‘Visa and free movement of labour: The uneven imposition of the EU acquis on the accession states’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 28(4): 694
(4) Boswell, Christina, Chou, Meng-Hsuan and Smith, Julie (2005) Reconciling Demand for Labour Migration with Public Concerns about Immigration: Germany and the United Kingdom, Anglo-German Foundation for the Study of Industrial Society: London, 27
(5) OECD (2005) Employment Outlook, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development: Paris, 237-239
(6) Somerville, Will and Sumption, Madeleine (2009a) Immigration and the labour market: Theory, evidence and policy, Equality and Human Rights Commission/Migration Policy Institute, available at:, 13
(7) Drew, Catherine and Sriskandarajah, Dhananjayan (2007) ‘EU enlargement in 2007: No warm welcome for labor migrants’, Migration Information Source, 1 January, available at:
(8) Krings, Torben (2009) ‘A race to the bottom? Trade unions, EU enlargement and the free movement of labour’, European Journal of Industrial Relations, 15(1): 54
(9) Ruhs, Martin (2007) ‘Greasing the wheels of the flexible labour market: East Central European labour immigration in the United Kingdom’, in Smith-Bozek, Jen (ed) Labour Mobility in the European Union: New Members, New Challenges, Center for European Policy Analysis: Washington DC, 24
(10) Anderson, Bridget and Ruhs, Martin (2008) A need for migrant labour? The micro-level determinants of staff shortages and implications for a skills based immigration policy, Paper prepared for the Migration Advisory Committee, September, available at: www.ukba.home, 38-42
(11) Dustmann, Christian, Casanova, Maria, Fertig, Michael, Preston, Ian and Schmidt, Christop M. (2003) The impact of EU enlargement of migration flows, Home Office Online Report 25/03, available at:, 58

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May 10, 2009

Observations about the administration of EU Structural Funds (in CEE)

By Lucia Kurekova

The experience of several old(er) EU member states shows that the EU structural funds are an important developmental tool for the less developed parts of Europe. In relation to the administration of the EU funds, Slovakia has recently been dealing with the so called ‘notice board tender’ (nastenkovy tender) which is an appalling case of the fraud of EU structural funds along party cronyism lines connected to the Ministry of Development and Construction and the Slovak National Party. The scandal broke out in full speed already last October but it was not until Brussels blew the whistle loud enough, threatening to stop the flow of the EU funds to the country, that some political accountability and redress were taken. What is interesting about the notice board case is the fact that the irregularities were pointed out very early on by a member of the Monitoring Committee for the Operational Program Technical Assistance 2007-2013 in the framework of which the tender took place. Rather than discussing the controversiality of the politics of the above developments, I would like to talk about Monitoring Committees which is a mechanism that allows scrutinizing the ways of EU funds allocation, but due to various reasons is not used to its fullest potential.

Monitoring Committees (MCs) are organs that exist alongside each Operational Program (OP) in every EU member state. The existence of MCs is stipulated by the Council Regulation (EC) 1260/1999 which defines basis principles on which it should be organized. However, an individual Ministry that runs the OP and to that related MC (Managing Authority) has much discretion in respect to the composition of the MC, the execution of its roles and the level of internal democracy. Because the MC is required to have members from local and regional governments but also representatives from the civic sector, one of important potential side-effects of the MC lies in the establishment of partnership principle. The general idea behind the work of the MCs, however, is to create national-level mechanism of accountability and control over the management and distribution of EU structural funds. The MCs usually meet several times a year. The minutes from the meetings are normally available publicly on the web pages of particular OPs. In the case of ‘notice board’ scandal, the minutes from June 2008 provide evidence of how a representative of the NGO sector in the MC demanded more information about the tender and was silenced by the Chair.

As part of a research project conducted at CEU, I had a chance to inquire into how a particular MC which distributes finances from the European Social Fund in Slovakia functions and I would like to share with you a set of general findings. The research revealed that the perceptions about the functions of the MC and understanding of what ‘monitoring’ means differ widely among the members of that MC. It was interesting to discover that the members seem to have internalized some of the not necessarily transparent aspects of how the MC functioned, which included non-accessibility of the minutes from their meetings to public. Generally, the members were not in favor of revealing what the problems and deficiencies in the administration of the ESF were to the wider public, justifying their stand on the grounds of disinterest on the part of the public and/or incapability to understand complex processes of EU funds administration. For most of them, efficiency (allocating as much funds as possible) seemed to be more important than transparency. Surprisingly, however, this relative stealth co-existed with a great degree of internal critique in respect to the Managing Authority from the non-governmental side but also from the other ministries that were members of the MC.

For the non-governmental members, the presence in the MC has proven crucial in lobbying for the interests of the groups of society they were representing and for most of them, unfortunately, that is how far their input into the monitoring part went. Interestingly, some members pointed out that the rate of activity and substantive input of the representatives from non-governmental sector has decreased with time and is generally much lower in the second programming period than it was in the first one (2004-2006). Nevertheless, part of the NGO sector took their potential effect in MCs seriously and proactively addressed the government when the MCs for the new programming periods were being created. The government responded in a very lukewarm fashion to the proposals of NGO sector for independent nominations to the MC and in several cases the ministries selected members of (marginal) NGOs with favorable leaning towards the current Slovak government, proactively ‘preventing’ problems that might arise by too active scrutiny from the more critically tuned NGOs.

In sum, it seems that while the MCs have the potential to be a tool of effective control over the administration of the EU funds and to connect different levels of the society, it is not fully utilized towards making the EU funds work better, with greater transparency and more efficiently. It seems that in this instance clearer and more specific guidelines on the part of the EU regulation in respect to the rules of the composition of Monitoring Committees could actually serve well. Making Monitoring Committees real watchdogs over accountability, control and dialogue leading to greater efficiency and transparency should therefore become a real effort.

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May 7, 2009

Philosophy, hope and crisis

by Lucia Kurekova

If you felt some disillusionment or even depresion after reading a recent post in The Economist about the world economic crisis dubbed "A glimmer of hope", perhaps you will find appealing (or even inspiring) the opinion piece by Alain de Botton in the last week Financial Times issue in which he tells us what we can adopt from the Roman Stoic philosophy and Christianity when dealing with crisis. Enjoy both.

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May 6, 2009

Two new books on energy in Central Europe

By: Andrej Nosko

The following review was originally published in the CEU Political Science Journal Vol. 4, Issue 2, April 2009.

Balmaceda, Margarita M.: Energy Dependency, Politics and Corruption in the Former Soviet Union: Russia’s Power, Oligarch’s Profits and Ukraine’s Missing Energy Policy, 1995-2006. London: Routledge, 2008, 222pp; includes tables, maps, ISBN: 978-0-415-43779-0 (Preview at
Orbán, Anita: Power, Energy, and the New Russian Imperialism. Praeger Security International, 2008, 264pp, includes tables, maps, chronological timeline, ISBN: 978-0-313-35222-4

The year 2009, unsurprisingly, started with a traditional gas row between Ukraine and Russia. What was surprising, however, was that it was not only a mild nuisance as in prior years. This year, for the first time in the 40-years history of gas trade between Russia and Europe, there was no gas coming from Russia through Ukraine. As a result of dependence on the single supplier, and the single supply route, for the first time in history two EU member states, Bulgaria and Slovakia, were on the brink of a comprehensive blackout. Politicians in the affected countries were competing in blaming either Ukraine or Russia, or those more diplomatic blamed them both. Blame helps no one's understanding of the problem, and it always takes two to tango, not only in the Russian-Ukrainian energy relations, but also in the wider post-socialist-bloc energy dependence. Students of Central Europe who want to understand how Russia and her former vassals in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have been dancing now have a unique opportunity to find answers to these questions in two books published last year.

Two knowledgeable experts on the CEE region, Margarita Balmaceda, associate professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at Seton Hall University, and an Associate of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute and of the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Harvard University (PhD from Princeton University); and Anita Orbán, director of Constellation Energy Institute in Budapest, (PhD from Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in Boston), in their books provide complementary views on the underlying aspects of energy policy in the region. These two books are excellent guides not only for students of international relations or transition studies wanting to understand energy policy in CEE region, but also for policymakers, journalists, or practitioners in the energy business and PR companies.

There are two major questions to the post-socialist tango. First, how is it possible that these countries, which share part of their history, large sections of energy infrastructure, and set out on the path of transition at around same time, differ so much in how they manage their energy dependency? Why some are very picky about dancing with Russia, while others dance just like Russia wants them to? Second, why is it that Russia has been more assertive in this dependence tango at some times and not others? At times being very pushy about dancing in Central Europe, while at others minding just its own business? Answers to these questions are not only relevant to understanding relations between Russia and Ukraine, which is the focus of Balmaceda’s book; or relations between Russia and Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, analysis of which is offered by Orbán. Answers to these questions can help us not only for better understanding of post-cold-war (some say resurgent) Russia, but these answers help us also to understand the broader intricacies of post-socialist transition east of Berlin.

The presented books, despite using different cases and different theoretical approaches are exceptionally complementary in tackling these questions. Orbán on the case of economic relations between Russia on the one side and Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland on the other, focuses on the reasons why Russia, through its energy companies, succeeded in moving into Central Europe in certain times, while not in others. Since she argues that for Russia today the primary means to achieve power in international relations is through its energy companies, this perspective focuses primarily on explaining the conditions for the outcome of Russian foreign policy through economic means. She thus provides analytical means for understanding temporal variation in the relation of dependency in the theoretical context of neoclassical realism.

Balmaceda, on the other hand, using a modified institutional approach, analyzes effects of the domestic political circumstances on the management of Ukraine’s energy dependencies on Russia. The puzzle that she researched evolves around “domestic factors that stand behind Ukraine’s continued energy dependency on Russia and its apparent inability to escape it.” Balmaceda criticizes the state-as-actor perspective, which is traditional to realism, (and is modified by Orbán to include perception of elites), and offers an incentive to rethink both interest representation and policy-making in the post-soviet transition. Balmaceda points out that it is not sufficient to look at policy-making only in terms of ‘state’ vs. ‘private’ but the role of specific interests and actors should be analyzed especially in the post-soviet transition.

Orbán looks at states as influence maximizers, guided by the perceptions of their elites. Balmaceda does not question the final outcome that Orbán offers, but goes deeper and opens up the black-box-of-state for further analysis through focusing on the internal interest formation, and cross-border elite collusion, which is unthinkable in the classical realism school. While Orbán’s perspective explains well the perspective of Russia’s foreign policy goals and its variation on the side of Russia, it does not aim to explain the responses of target countries. Therefore, reader might be wondering, why is it that Russia’s foreign policy outcome in, for example Slovakia, was 1 out of 2 times Russia-friendly, even if the government was “Russia-skeptical” and the outcome was not necessarily in the interest of influence maximization for the Slovak state? The analysis offered by Balmaceda in the case of Ukraine offers a good explanation of why Ukraine was unable to rid itself of this dependency. Through extrapolation, this analysis also offers an opportunity to understand why ridding of Russian influence in the energy sector was such a rare incidence among former socialist countries.

According to Orbán’s argument, Russian energy companies expand in Central Europe, if and when Russian elites perceive Russian influence in the world as being low – giving them the will to act – and the Russian state has enough power to mobilize the necessary resources, thus providing Russia with the ability to act. Orbán tests this hypothesis during six periods, between 1991 and 2008. In the three empirical chapters, she walks the reader through six periods of Russian activity in three countries – offering together 15 events, which form the core cases. Balmaceda’s argument, on the other hand, is that the domestic political system of Ukraine created certain “windows of opportunity” for access to energy rents, which created also incentive for the involved actors to preempt changes in the system of existing suboptimal institutions that were intertwined with rents distribution. The central role in the interest formation in Ukraine, according to Balmaceda, was played by competition, struggle and accommodation between intra- as well as inter-state economic groups. This happened in the context of conflict and reintegration-attempts with Russia, over access to energy markets, supplies, transit and distribution of economic rents. The surprising conclusion that Balmaceda offers is collusion between the Russian and Ukrainian elites, which explains why Ukraine was unable to form independent energy policy, and set out on a genuine reform path. Her detailed account of the 2006 gas row sheds strong light also on the Orange-revolutionaries. After reading the accounts of gas trade and allegations of involvement of the highest political leaders, (which have also partly reemerged in the context of the 2009 gas row) the sweet ideals of the anti-corruption ticket of the pro-western Orange revolution have a somewhat bitter aftertaste. It is nonetheless important to note that author is cautious and presents publicly available allegations and supports the claims with many references to original sources in Ukrainian media or publicly made proclamations.

The research design Orbán employs is simple yet robust. The effects of the independent variable of relative distribution of power in the international system are catalyzed by two intervening variables. The domestic perception of the international system, measured through the analysis of a wide-array of media sources, and interviews; and the level of state power available for the country’s leaders, operationalized as state’s ability to collect recurring revenues, as second. She chooses to use share of tax revenues on total GDP to measure this variable. The dependent variable of the book is foreign political outcome, which is operationalized as the behavior of Russian energy companies in Central Europe. The Russian strategy, as Orbán argues, was in securing the monopoly position in the energy supply; this by first entrenching in the role of the monopoly supplier, and second by preventing diversification attempts. Russian companies were trying to gain leverage over the whole value chain through controlling companies with import rights, transmission owners, and wholesale companies, or refineries in the case of oil.

When summarizing Orbán’s results, Poland can be portrayed as Russia’s ‘bad neighbor’ with only 50% of Russian attempts to gain stronghold in its energy sector succeeding, followed by a 75% success rate in Slovakia and Hungary. Orbán further differentiates the results according to the stance of the domestic government. Thus, if a Russia-skeptical government is ruling the country, Russia still had 50% chance of getting its goals in Slovakia, while it had nil chance in Hungary, and only one out of three attempts could succeed in Poland. What is lacking in Orbán’s book, and the theoretical school that she is embedded in, is the explanation of the internal mechanics of the domestic receptiveness towards Russia. This is precisely where Balmaceda fills the gap.

Balmaceda operationalizes her variables carefully, offering a precise working definition of energy dependency (p. 16) as well as management of it, which she conceptualizes as way of handling energy supply diversification, organization of energy trade with main supplier, and energy-policy-making. The primary interest aggregators that she works with are the “Business-Administrative Groups” (BAGs, sometimes referred as ‘clans’). Balmaceda’s analysis is organized into three parts. In the first part, she sets the context and frame of reference of the interest formation, focusing on the role of energy in the relations of Ukraine with the main international partners, including EU and Russia, and provides the historical evidence for her argument. In the second part of her book, she further analyzes president Kuchma’s period and introduces the reader to the intricacies of the energy dependency rent system from 1995-2004. In the third part of the book, Balmaceda looks at energy policy and energy dependency after the Orange revolution. In the final chapter she focuses on an in-depth analysis of energy policy during Yuschenko’s rule.

An important policy conclusion that Balmaceda comes to is that the international community should not look at the problem in terms of Ukraine vs. Russia, but rather as a problem of corruption and lack of transparency. As a way out Balmaceda suggests eliminating innate features of the post-soviet energy market, such as lack of transparency, attractive arbitrage opportunities, difference between near-abroad export prices and lack of liberalization of domestic markets. She further notes Russia’s refusal to ratify the Energy Charter Treaty and her control over the exports of energy among additional problems. Finally, (p. 143) she puts energy in the context of transition, pointing out that raising energy prices and the pressure on the reform of the energy-inefficient economy could be a blessing in disguise. The feasibility of this is, nonetheless, even more questionable in the current economic situation in Ukraine.

The conclusion offered by Orbán is somewhat more alarming and sobering. She vividly demonstrates the relationship between the Russian corporate activity and the Kremlin’s foreign policy. In addition to Moscow's already observed attempts to build-up a neo-mercantilist empire in the so called near-abroad, as recently demonstrated also by the adventure in Georgia, she presents persuasive evidence of similar strategies pursued in the eastern part of the EU and NATO.

Both books are quite ‘readable,’ with sufficient theoretical basis, but not too much to ‘put-off’ the less theory-informed policy practitioners. In order to keep the depth of theoretical discussion, Orbán even offers an extension of it via 43 pages of endnotes. Both books are well illustrated with a number of lucid maps to walk even an untrained eye through potentially confusing meshwork of pipelines crossing the region. The annex of Orbán’s book also includes chronologies for her case countries, listing the most important political, and economic milestones. What might be surprising is that 68 pages of endnotes accompany Balmaceda’s book, which is all together 145 pages long. This only further exemplifies the level of detail with which she researched her case.

There are only few, forgivable beauty spots that one can notice. In Orbán’s book, due to perhaps a typographic mistake, the introduction of the main argument confuses reader, when in the introductory chapter (p. 5) the main hypothesis is introduced reversely from what the she later illustrates in a table (p. 32), and what she proceeds with testing, and concluding. It is also regretful that many of the hyperlinks listed in Balmaceda’s endnotes do not work, which might be partly because they are ‘dynamic’, stretching over many lines, and thus more susceptible to typographic errors. The solution, useful also for other authors wishing to list the complete uniform resource locator (URL) to the electronic source they are citing, could be in using ‘URL shortening services’.

Overall, both books are well-researched works, enriching not only understanding of energy policymaking in CEE, relations between Russia and its western neighbors, but also transition studies in general. Both books significantly contribute to their respective theoretical schools, while also generating new research avenues to be followed. Either on the side of neoclassical realism, where Orbán’s research design could be replicated in the so-called near abroad, and tested on the case of Ukraine, or Balmaceda’s research design which could be tested on the cases of Poland, Slovakia and Hungary.

It is also pleasantly surprising for a well-informed student of CEE region to find two books presented in English that master the local cross-country context and empirical evidence with such a high level of detail and insight. Both of these books not only offer ready-to-use policy advice for the governments of the case-study countries, EU as well as USA, they also stand as an excellent reference for journalists covering Central and Eastern Europe, and Russia. Finally, thanks to their academic rigor, well-grasped theoretical context, and empirical richness, they are an indispensable resource for students and researchers of economic relations in the CEE region during the first two decades of transition.

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Apr 3, 2009

G20 summit, crisis measures and what is in it for EU10

By Zdenek Kudrna

The G20 leaders agreed on their London summit to the following commitments:

Restore confidence, growth, and jobs by:

  • fiscal expansion in 2009 of up to $5 trillion, plus $1 trillion package added at the summit;
  • exceptional easing of monetary policy by central banks;
  • recapitalisation, liquidity and impaired assets removal from banks;
  • commitment to cooperation in order to return to trend growth;
  • promise of credible exit strategies to ensure long-term fiscal sustainability and price stability of the above;
  • commitment to refrain from competitive devaluations.
Repair the financial system to restore lending by:
  • establishing a new Financial Stability Board (FSB) with a strengthened mandate including all G20 countries, Financial Stability Forum (FSF) members, Spain, and the European Commission;
  • ensuring that the FSB collaborates with the IMF to provide early warning of macroeconomic and financial risks and the actions needed to address them;
  • reshaping regulatory systems so that the authorities are able to identify and take account of macro-prudential risks;
  • extending regulation and oversight to all systemically important financial institutions, instruments and markets, including systemically important hedge funds;
  • endorsing and implementing the FSF’s strict new principles on pay and compensation and supporting sustainable compensation schemes;
  • taking action, once recovery is assured, to improve the quality, quantity, and international consistency of capital in the banking system so that regulation prevents excessive leverage and require buffers of resources to be built up in good times;
  • ending the era of banking secrecy by taking action against non-cooperative jurisdictions (on OECD black list), including tax havens to protect public finances and financial systems;
  • calling on the accounting standard setters to work urgently with supervisors and regulators to improve standards on valuation and provisioning and achieve a single set of high-quality global accounting standards; and
  • extending regulatory oversight and registration to Credit Rating Agencies to ensure they meet the international code of good practice, particularly to prevent unacceptable conflicts of interest.
Strengthen financial regulation to rebuild trust by:
  • providing up to $750bn of new funds to IMF which shall provide it via Flexible Credit Line and reformed lending and conditionality framework;
  • completing the next review of IMF voting quotas by January 2011 and ensure open, meritocratic selection of leadership for IMF and the World Bank;
  • deliberating on a new global consensus desirable on the key values and principles that will promote sustainable economic activity.
  • Promote global trade and investment and reject protectionism by:
  • refraining from measures that in their consequences reduce trade and investment flows (even though they may be acceptable under the WTO rules);
  • supporting trade financing with to $250 bn channeled through export credit agencies and multilateral development banks; and
  • remaining committed to Doha Round of WTO negotiations.
Build an inclusive, fair, green, and sustainable recovery by:
  • limit the impact of the crisis on poorest countries and people by sticking to pre-existing commitments for development and social financing and using additional $6 bn of IMF surplus and proceeds from gold sales to this end over next 2 to 3 years;
  • channel the stimulus funding towards sustainable green projects as much as possible.
What is in it for EU10?
  • The EU10 development models are crucially dependent on their connections to global economy via open trade and capital flows. Commitment to preserve the former and provide better institutional underpinnings for the latter must be welcome in EU10 capitals. EU10 economies are bound to benefit from increased demand for their exports that stimuli are likely to deliver, providing that their trading partners do not impose any "buy American" or "build in France" type of restrictions. This may be especially relevant in respect to stimuli focused on European car demand.
  • Given that Hungary, Latvia and Romania depend for elementary macroeconomic stability on IMF lending, beefed up IMF is good news. It is likely that more countries will have to reach for a stand-by agreements. If they can do so under more creative and flexible conditions, then reforms of IMF practices are welcome.
  • None of the EU10 economies is a member of G20 (although Czech Prime Minister was present in London as he holds the rotating EU presidency now). EU10 have limited role in global affairs and will have to adjust to whatever the new regulatory regime evolves. However, better regulation will definitely reduce the uncertainty stemming from gaping holes in the EU and global banking regulation that keeps host-country supervisors on the sidelines. In case of failures of foreign banks dominating EU10 financial sectors, the host country regulators, central banks and governments can only hope that their home-country counterparts, will succeed in restructuring and limit the spillover-effects on EU10 economies. Improvement of the international regulatory regime that would strengthen involvement of host-country authorities and define credible ex ante rules for burden sharing is better than current vagueness and uncertainty.

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Mar 24, 2009

Saving glut or… investment famine?

by Ugo Pagano

The financial crisis is often blamed on a saving glut, while protectionism is almost unanimously viewed as its most dangerous potential consequence. But it is more likely that the crisis is due to a famine of investments due partly to protectionism camouflaged behind the blessed principles of ‘intellectual property’.

The immediate causes of the crisis are often seen as being the lack of regulation and the expansionary policies of the Fed, which by keeping interest rates artificially low, has provoked an excessive supply of saving. As amply explained by the well-known models of adverse selection, the latter has in turn produced a growing pool of toxic debt, with the consequences by now evident worldwide. According to an article in the Economist of last January, a beneficial “flow” of saving has turned into a disastrous “flood”, but this flood is more due to “global imbalances” generated abroad than being an endogenous product of the American economy and policies. Governor Bernanke has long argued that the role of the Fed in credit expansion has been marginal, and that the prime cause of the crisis has been a saving glut forced on the United States by massive inflows of savings from other countries.

There is something appealingly infantile in Bernanke’s argument. For many of us (and for me at my mother’s), ‘bellyfuls’ and the indigestion which they cause are due to the excellent and over-abundant food that is served. The real weakness in Bernanke’s thesis, however, is not so much its infantilism as the inaccuracy of its content. As shown by the data set out in the Bank of France paper by Moec and Frey, there has been no overabundance of savings in other countries, but rather a famine of investments. In recent years, savings have not grown around the world; instead, and especially outside the United States, investments have diminished. In other words, the abundance of food in America has been the result of a blockage in the digestive systems of its neighbours. It can be argued that, in this situation, the Americans have generously done the digesting on behalf of other countries, and give them transfusions of pre-digested food. Part of the saving absorbed by America, in fact, has been injected in the form of direct investments in countries suffering from blockages in their digestive systems. Is it therefore not the fault of the neighbours if they have been unable to create suitable investment opportunities and if, moreover, they have poisoned the Americans with their flood of savings?

The problem is that the lobbies for the American multinationals, by applying pressure for the new architecture of international trade founded at Marrakech in 1994, have played a major role in causing the blockages of their competitors’ digestive systems. We may start from 1992, when George Bush Senior concluded a presidency replete with success in foreign policy which saw, among other things, the collapse of the socialist economies and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Yet the slogan “It’s the economy, stupid!” was enough to make him lose the elections against Clinton. The cause was not so much the economic crisis which began in 1990 as the consolidated perception that the “American model” was falling behind the alternative Japanese and German models. In the previous decade, a huge body of studies had described the miracles of Japanese management and suggested various ways in which the Americans could imitate it. By the end of the 1990s the situation had gone into reverse. The United States (and the United Kingdom) had become the model to imitate, and yesterday’s heroes (not only Germany and Japan but, after the 1997 crisis, also all the Asian tigers) strove to restructure their economies on the so-called Anglo-American model. In the meantime the Chinese economy had undergone rapid development. What had led to this unexpected reversal?

The explanation may lie in the standard liberalist refrain: only the Americans (and the British) had suddenly have rediscovered the virtues of the market, thus offering numerous investment opportunities precluded to their rigid competitors. However, on closer inspection, it was not the virtues of competition, but rather the advantages of intellectual monopoly, which enabled the United States rapidly to catch up with the other Western economies. Indeed, in the first half of the 1990s, the United States no longer had global military and political rivals. It was thus able to reorganize the world economy so as to enhance its scientific and technological leadership, and above all its monopoly positions, to the maximum.

The salient features of the new world were contained in the TRIPS agreement signed at Marrakech on 15 April 1994. Significantly, TRIPS was the 1C annex to the agreement founding the WTO. The preamble to TRIPS states as self-evidently obvious that “intellectual property rights are private rights” like all other private property rights. Yet this obviousness would have been unknown to an innovation economist of Schumpeter’s calibre, and it has been recently disputed in Boldrin and Levine’s fine book Against Intellectual Monopoly. Whilst the granting of property rights (including intellectual ones) constituted the natural basis for free trade, ratification of TRIPS necessarily created an annex to the WTO agreements, and an obligatory requisite for access to international trade. Unlike all previous international agreements on intellectual property, the inclusion of TRIPS in the WTO constitution created an efficient mechanism with which to enforce intellectual property rights. States could now be disciplined through the institutions of the WTO itself; and, in extreme cases, access to international trade by intellectual property “thieves” could be restricted.

Notwithstanding the seductive rhetoric extolling free trade and private property, the Marrakech agreement surreptitiously introduced super-tariffs such that the most extreme protectionism pales into insignificance. Since TRIPS, intellectual property rights have become global monopolies; that is, in a certain sense, customs tariffs of almost infinite magnitude. Not only are competitors of other countries not allowed to export a good to the country of the intellectual monopolist, they are also prohibited from producing it in their own country. When multinationals of some countries organize themselves into “patent pools”, the economic desertification of that sector in other countries becomes inevitable, resembling Britain’s erstwhile levies on its colonies, especially India (Marcello De Cecco, Money and Empire, Rowman and Littlefield, 1975).

With notable exceptions like Krugman, a chorus of alarm at the dangers of impending protectionism has been raised in recent months. It is claimed that one of the worse effects of financial crises is the disruption of free trade. Yet the relationship between the two phenomena has a chicken-and-egg complexity which does not admit to easy solutions. It is certainly true that the crisis is generating protectionist attitudes and the resumption of economic nationalism. But it also true that protectionism, by appropriating the blessed principle of private property rights, has helped produce the financial crisis. It initially only reduced opportunities for investment outside the United States, while the latter, thanks to direct investments by its multinationals, for a certain time also ‘digested’ for others. In fact, as Moec and Frey show, the crisis was preceded primarily by a fall of investments outside America. This fall was initially attenuated by the direct investments of multinationals endowed with an unbeatable recipe based on American intellectual monopoly and low-cost Chinese labour.

Added to the fall of investments by other countries was a gradual digestive blockage of the American multinationals themselves. Already in July 2005 an article in the Economist talked of a “corporate savings glut”, and its subtitle noted that the great corporations, more than the emerging economies, had become the world leaders of the global switch to thrift. The same article then referred to Keynes’ famous paradox of thrift whereby if everyone wants to save, they must (in the absence of investments) reduce their saving … though they naturally first go through speculative bubbles and various “financial innovations”.

In conclusion, although the financial crises have provoked protectionism, the super-protectionism of intellectual property has driven down investments. This has happened in two stages (largely overlapping in time) and through two mechanisms. The first stage after TRIPS saw the launching of the Chinese-American model and a shift to investments designed to consolidate American intellectual monopolies. As new spaces opened up for the American companies super-endowed with these “resources”, numerous opportunities for investment were closed to Japan and the former Asian tigers, which had neither America’s monopolistic endowment nor China’s lower costs. This phase culminated in the Asian crisis of 1997. In the second stage, because of the mechanisms described in the well-known tragedies of the anti-commons, world intellectual monopolies became too pervasive and began to block each other. At this point the accumulation mechanism used by the great “knowledge owners” became jammed as well. The fall in investments therefore created some of the factors that led to the financial crisis, and the latter in its turn drove investments down to further depths from which it will be difficult to re-emerge without a significant number of economic policy measures. One such measure should engender an investment super-multiplier by combining Keynesian policies, on the one hand, with the capacity for knowledge to be used infinite times without deterioration on the other. Support for aggregate demand and the re-appropriation of knowledge may constitute the two components of a single policy intended to free innovation from the cage of intellectual monopoly and to furnish greater investment opportunities for everyone.

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Mar 15, 2009

Anti-crisis policies in the Czech Republic and Slovakia: what do they have in common?

By Lucia Kurekova and Katka Svickova

Czech Republic and Slovakia have diverged in their developmental paths and policy choices over the course of transition. In spite of common institutional legacy and very similar export profiles, sixteen years after separation, the policy choices frequently differ, perhaps not least because of opposing political orientations of their governing elites during different periods of transition. This is the case also today, when individual countries are facing the world economic downturn in their local shapes and forms: Slovakia is governed by social democratic/third way SMER in coalition with centre-right HZDS and nationalist SNS while the Czech Republic is headed by a centre-right government of Miroslav Topolanek. In spite of many similarities in how the crisis has been affecting these two countries, which are both heavily dependent on automotive industry, the remedies that the governments have passed are quite different.

The governments of both countries, however, shared a similar initial denial that the global crisis might have any significant effects on their domestic economies. In both countries, too, the opposition was coining a different message and suggesting their own recipes for a remedy. And in both countries, the governments have not been really listening to these voices. While the wounds to the economies of both countries have been caused by a deep dip of external demand for their exports of consumer durable goods, the reactions of both countries in the form of adopted anti-crises measures have been different. Is the reason for these different reactions an underlying difference in the state of these economies, as persuasively argued in the last week’s issue of the Economist, or is it purely an outcome of different ideological orientations and tastes of the governments steering the countries?

To summarize, the set of Czech anti-crisis measures has a strong pro-business flavor while the Slovak government has concentrated more on supporting the ‘ordinary citizens’ and keeping employment almost at any cost. Further, while the Czech measures are partially forward-looking and have a modernizing aspect (support for environmental measures, increase of R&D investment), this can hardly be said about any of the three Slovak anti-crisis packages. While the government of Robert Fico fiercely refuted any opposition calls to decrease further the 19% flat tax rate, the “tax package” that it passed in the end will make most of working Slovaks richer by about 10 euro per month via the raised tax deductible minimum. The Czech Republic, on the other hand, will not only reduce the corporate tax by another 2% in the next two years (only reaching, however, the current Slovak level of 19 %) but has also decreased social insurance deductions on salaries for employees by 1,5%. Instead of up to 2000 euro ‘srotovne’ (bonus on buying a new car and recycling an old car) passed after its success in Germany last week also in Slovakia, the Czech Republic decided to reduce the VAT for cars. Additional changes to the administrative and institutional business environment in the Czech Republic include an amendment of the insolvency law, faster depreciations, an abolishment of the obligation to pay an advance on income tax for self-employed and small enterprises (below 5 employees) or enhancing the provision of export loans to businesses and loan guarantees for SMEs. The overall goal is to reduce the cost of labor and thus, desirably, preserve employment and facilitate the cash-flow for businesses. Fairly enough, Slovakia passed a handful of pro-business oriented measures too, among them easier book-keeping for self-employed and SMEs, faster depreciations, a quicker return of VAT to businesses or state guarantees for loans (up to 55% of the loans for companies employing less than 100 people).

However, the core of Slovak anti-crisis tools is in its ‘social package’. The leitmotif of the government is ‘keeping employment at any price’, which is not surprising in the light of the Slovak structural (read “high and persistent”) unemployment nightmare that has been present during the whole transition. Yet the set of job creation measures passed by the government is not only extremely complicated, but there are fears that many of them are very corruption-prone and might lead to more – rather than less - red tape. Measures such as state help to employers who are experiencing serious operational problems to cover the compulsory health and social insurance payments for their employees for a maximum of 60 days, or intentions to subsidize new jobs for a period of 12 months up to 15% of the costs of a new job in Bratislava region and 30% in the other regions of Slovakia are only examples of ways where crony practices and potential waste of money are likely to loom in unless the system is properly monitored and the support is given to enterprises with good prospects of future growth and innovation. The law on the support for one-man businesses started during the crisis, for example, had to be amended shortly after it came into effect following cases of its misuse.

There are a few instances, however, where the countries seem to stand out in a positive way. Bratislava has been praised for keeping its investment incentives to foreign firms - and extending them to domestic investors. Czech Republic, on the other hand, plans to invest more into R&D, a field where nearly every country has been trying to save during the crisis. Both of these measures are forward-looking. And although they are unlikely to act as immediate fire-fighters against the slump, which is projected to be the deepest in the next moths, the countries will be grateful for them in the mid-term to long-term period.

To answer our question from the beginning on the cause of the divergence of policy reactions in the two countries, the color of the governing coalitions seems to explain a lot of the outlined differences. At the same time, however, Slovakia has a long-lasting experience with high unemployment to which the society is extremely sensitive. In addition, both countries will need to deal with the issue of migration, but from very different ends: the Czech Republic is trying to figure out how to send back some of its foreign labor that has served it well until now, while Slovakia should start monitoring who and in which proportions is coming back to the country from nearer (Czech Republic) or farther abroad (Britain and Ireland). Lastly, Slovakia, now an EMU member, is not spending any of its energy on defending its currency, while the Czech Republic is less lucky in its respect. But then – it has one more tool at hands in dealing with the crisis cycle and its exporters are more competitive than the Slovaks exporters.

This brief comparison of reactions to the domestic repercussions of the world economic crisis in two Central and Eastern economies also contributes to underline a broader trend of divergence in the development of the countries from the whole Central and Eastern European region, despite a shared legacy as centrally-planned economies.

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Mar 12, 2009

5th CEU Graduate Conference in Social Sciences

PERG organizes panels on political economy at 5th CEU Graduate Conference in Social Sciences: “Old Challenges in a New Era: Development and Participation”

19-21 June, 2009
Central European University
Budapest, Hungary

2009 represents a crucial year which is testing our ability to deal with substantial political and economic challenges. Bringing a continuation of the economic crisis, the deepening of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a new American administration, and a severe energy crisis for several of the EU members, this period is proven to be a problematic reality check for our policies and theories. Reality shows to be one more time ahead of scholars’ conceptualizations, politicians’ capabilities, and policy-makers’ solutions. With the many challenges ahead, we hope to generate interdisciplinary academic debates that tackle relevant topics in their fields of research. At the same time, we hope to connect different perspectives and approaches in order to produce high standard academic works.
We encourage graduate students and young faculty to contribute with papers and panel proposals on multiple topics. The working language of the conference is English.

Political Economy Research Group (PERG) at CEU has taken over the organization of the panels related to political economy, more specifically:

• Political economy of foreign direct investment
• Diversity between forms of capitalism in the world
• Political economy of the enlarged EU
• Political economy of development and poverty

For a list of all panels visit:

We particularly welcome panels proposed by scholars coming from different institutions. A panel can be proposed using the special panel form and should be accompanied by the titles and abstracts (maximum 300 words) of five papers included in the panel. Application forms can be downloaded from All applications should be sent to

- The deadline for panel proposals is April 1, 2009.
- The deadline for paper proposals is April 15, 2009.
- Accepted applicants will be notified by April 30, 2008.
- Applications after deadlines are not be considered.

The paper applications consist of:
- Completed application form (Including the abstract – max. 250 words)
- Short CV (maximum 2 pages)
- (Optional) Applicants for travel grant: Short letter for justification (up to 300 words)

The panel applications consist of:
- Completed application form
- Short CV of the panel chair (max. 2 pages). Panel chairs have the travel costs covered up to a certain amount.

Financial support:
There is no registration fee for qualified participants. Food and
accommodation are provided by the organizers. Applicants can apply for
a partial travel grant for the cheapest means of transportation. Those
intending to apply for a travel grant should write a short letter of
justification (up to 300 words).

NOTE: In case you do not receive confirmation within 72 hours please re-send your application.

For further inquiries about the conference please e-mail to:

For more details about PERG visit:

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Mar 4, 2009

Post-Doctoral Fellowship at DISC (CEU) in Budapest

Call for Applications
The Center for the Study of Imperfections in Democracy (DISC) at Central European University is pleased to invite applications for a postdoctoral position for the 2009-2010 academic year from scholars holding a recent PhD degree in political science, economics, sociology, or other relevant social science disciplines and pursuing research that is relevant for DISC’s research agenda (

The selected candidate will further strengthen existing research on the qualities of democracy and contribute to the institutional development of DISC. Potential topics for research include: forms of political inequalities in democracies; typologies of labor market regimes; measures of social inequalities; types of capitalism and their relation to social inequalities.

The successful candidate is expected to have a solid background in comparative social research and experience in working with micro- and macro-level data. A specialization in the fields of democratization, social inequalities, and/or political economy of labor markets is welcome. Advanced knowledge of cases in either Europe (East, West, or South) or America (North, Central, or South) is of benefit.
The position is a full-time position, lasting for 10 months. Compensation is competitive and commensurable with experience. In addition, we offer a dynamic and international academic environment.

Carsten Q. Schneider, PhD
Associate Professor
Director of DISC

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Feb 16, 2009

Migrants during the economic crisis: blessing or burden?

By Lucia Kurekova

It is no secret that in times of an economic downturn, such as the one we face today, migrant-based employment serves as a buffer in dealing with needed re-adjustments in the markets. When the working opportunities decline, migrants often decide to return home or governments implement policies the goal of which is to facilitate the return of migrant labor to home economies. A look at migration in the context of no or negative growth and severe lay-offs of cross-sectoral nature around the world invites us to re-think the nature of the possible impact of migrant employment both at sending and receiving economies. This issue is particularly topical in the frame of East-West migration in the EU. Already before the bad news of world-wide crisis fully broke through, media coverage increasingly commented on Polish – and other – migrants’ increased tendencies of return migration. Let us briefly think of whether or how the return of migrants is a blessing or a burden on the home economies of Central and Eastern Europe which are escaping the crisis no less than the rest of the advanced world.

In the countries where the out-migration was one of the factors behind the record downfalls of unemployment levels after the EU accession (such as Poland and Slovakia), the economic and social impact of returning migration is not entirely clear. It however certainly requires more policy attention than it seems to have attained so far. Preparing sets of economic crisis packages, the governments in negotiations with social partners and businesses understandably concentrate on ways of how to freeze the existing levels of employment and seem to think less of ways how to integrate the returning labor. Yet, if only half of the labor migrants who had gone to the West decide to come back, we are talking about thousands of people whose homes are in the more depressed regions of these countries where unemployment problem has never been alleviated even during the time of an economic boom. While the workers who had gone to the UK or Ireland are mostly young and single, those CEE migrants who had been working in the automotive sector in the neighboring CEE countries (Slovaks, Poles or Romanians in the Czech Republic or Hungary), tend to be middle aged males with families to support. Those, again, can be counted in thousands.

Hopes that the returning migrants will be a blessing to the economy are thus potentially false. Equally questionable are also the anticipations that they will easily integrate into home labor markets after their return as they have advanced their human capital while living and working abroad. This would have partly been the case had they returned in the period of acute labor shortages which was the most severe labor market problem merely a year ago and had we continued to live in economic prosperity and prospects of growth. At that time, the prospering automotive and electronics companies were tackling the lack of available labor force by importing workers from nearer or further abroad - Central Asia to Vietnam. Unsurprisingly, these ‘imported’ workers from non-EU countries were the first ones to feel the impact of the crisis in Central and Eastern Europe. Had then the today laid-off Slovak workers from Hungarian Audi or Czech Skoda wanted to work in the KIA factory near Zilina (for example), they would have been well paid and appreciated. Today they are and will remain redundant. The degree to which the young and well-educated migrants (see my older post) who are returning from Britain or Ireland will settle back well is equally questionable. While their skills seem to be more transferable, the type of working experience – gained in low skilled and low paid jobs - is unlikely to ease their labor market integration or give them comparative advantages in the competition for relatively scarce jobs during the time of economic crisis.

To know which form and type of job creation to support in order to handle the return migration is a difficult question. Returning migrants are a great potential, if for nothing else, then for being young and wanting to work – that is what they had been doing abroad. The avenues are hence several and would range from easing and supporting the self-employment opportunities to even establishing publicly funded knowledge-intensive centers which would provide prospects for the most skilled.

Providing capital and administratively easing avenues for establishment of own businesses is likely to create a fruitful ground for the young and relatively well-educated migrants who left for the West and gained there confidence and potentially sets of new business ideas. At the same time, the CEE countries should use the crisis as a window-of-opportunity for allowing the best of the best to find at home the infrastructure that will allow them to develop further their specific high-profile skills. There are many who have been employed in research and development segments of various industries abroad and will be at risk of loosing their positions as R&D is unlikely to be supported much during the crisis. That would mean creating assets for the time after the crisis. Whether we can – both mentally and financially - look that far head is a real challenge but perhaps it is an issue to have in mind once the most urgent crisis measures are in place.

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Feb 14, 2009

Roadmap for Czech tertiary education reform

By Katka Svickova

In January 2009, the Czech government adopted the White Book on Tertiary Education, a document which defines where the Czech tertiary education should be heading in the next ten to twenty years. It foresees a complete overhaul of the Czech tertiary system in terms of structure, governance and financing. In addition to their two traditional roles of education and research, tertiary education institutions shall play a third, equally important role: in the “production of knowledge and creation of the innovation potential of the society“.

The White Book promises to let fresh wind into the whole system that faces similar problems like systems in the whole Europe (also in my post from May 2008). However, given the low proportion of tertiary educated people in the population and comparably low spending on education overall, the overhaul is particularly pertinent in the Czech Republic. How to make tertiary education more open and accessible while at the same time not to undermine the quality of teaching? How to make tertiary education more sustainable financially? How to increase the volume and quality of research and its application in the economic sphere? These are just examples of questions that the White Book promises to answer. So what does it propose?

The Czech Republic is an EU leader in inequality of access to tertiary education by social background. The proposed solution focuses on lifting the disadvantages of a student´s social background on the one hand, and broadening of the educational offer on the other. The first goal should be achieved, above all, through a change in the financing of the tertiary system – instead of all public finances going directly to the educational institutions, part of them should be redirected to the students themselves in the form of educational grants and special educational loans. This shall allow students to pay tuition fees, enable students from socially disadvantaged families that cannot afford to support their child at university to cover his or her expenses, and bring more competition for students among tertiary education institutions. The second goal of broadening the educational offer should be achieved by a greater diversification of tertiary education and expanding considerably the two and three year long bachelor programs both in terms of capacity and variety of offer. The bachelor degrees should be practice- and profession oriented.

The White Book also correctly posits, though, that the solution to the problem of accessibility lies to a large extent outside the tertiary education institutions. Decreasing the selectivity and improving the quality of primary and secondary education are also of key importance, together with spreading the culture of overall appreciation of tertiary education and the aspirations for acquiring it in all groups of the society.

The diversification and the financing reform (increase in financing from both public and private sources, the latter predominantly in the form of tuition fees, but also better spending of these resources) shall go hand in hand with a change in governance of the tertiary sector towards more autonomy. This autonomy will also relate to internal structuring of the individual institutions and allocation of funds in research-related activities inside them. The White Book also seeks to eliminate barriers between the university research and the private sector whereby higher autonomy should create the necessary space for finding the best arrangements for individual tertiary institutions.

Of course, the brief summary above cannot go into all the complexities of the reforms outlined in the strategic document. And surely, the White Book does not address all needs of the tertiary sector in sufficient detail and thoroughness. What the document does, though, is a fair attempt at an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the current system, perceiving them in their complexity and inter-relatedness. The reform outlined on this basis reflects these complexities well.

In all, the document is well thought-through and well argued, taking clear positions e.g. on the above mentioned overhaul in the financing structure of tertiary education and introduction of tuition fees, on broadening of the bachelor level education and connecting it with practice, or on the concept of universities as places of “knowledge production” for the market. This poises it to become a subject of controversy among experts and politicians – and rightly so given the pertinence of the issue. It would be a pity if the current financial crisis pushed such a debate too much into the background. A high-quality and well-functioning educational system is not only one of the essential ingredients of a sustainable, diversified and sophisticated domestic economy but can also serve as an important social cushion. Tertiary educated people have generally better chances on the labor market and so far, the lay-offs in Central Europe caused by the crisis have taken their toll predominantly among the lower educated labor force (see one of my previous blog posts on this topic). Even though this might change as the crisis unfolds, tertiary education can significantly increase one´s chances of finding another job.

The problems that the Czech tertiary education is facing and the directions proposed in the White Book do not differ substantially from the situation and debates in other European Union countries. However, hidden in the text of the document is a precondition for undertaking and success of the reforms outlined: the existence of healthy and well-financed tertiary sector institutions in which teaching as well as basic research are at high level and independent of commercial activities. Reaching this standard alone is a daunting task: yet we all should wish and care about its successful completion.

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