In the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, large parts of Europe have experienced skyrocketing energy prices and a threat of power shortages. The need to transition to low-carbon energy systems, driven by sustainability concerns, further adds to the pressure put on the European energy infrastructure. This year’s Energy Talk, organized by Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, invited four experts to discuss the opportunities and challenges of energy infrastructure resilience in a foreseeable future.
Energy infrastructure has an indispensable role in facilitating the functioning of modern society, and it must – today as well as in the future – be resilient enough to withstand various challenges. One of the most important challenges – the green transition: shifting towards economically sustainable growth by decarbonizing energy systems and steering away from fossil fuels – requires energy infrastructure to absorb subsequent shocks. Another, and preeminent challenge, is that, even when directly targeted and partly destroyed as in the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine, energy infrastructure should be withstanding. Additionally, energy infrastructure is increasingly subject to supply chain disruptions, energy costs increase or network congestions. How does our energy infrastructure react to these challenges? How do they affect its ability to facilitate the needs of the green transition? Which regulations/measures should be implemented to facilitate energy infrastructure resilience?
Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) invited four speakers to the 2023 annual Energy Talk to discuss the future of Europe’s Energy infrastructure resilience. This brief summarizes the main points from the presentations and discussions.
Energy System Resilience in the Baltics
Ewa Lazarczyk, Associate Professor at Reykjavik University, addressed the question of energy system resilience, focusing on the Baltic States and their dependence on Russia and other neighbors to fulfill their electricity needs.
The Baltic States are not self-sufficient when it comes to electricity consumption. Since 2009, Lithuania has become a net importer of electricity, relying on external sources to fulfill its electricity demand. Similarly, Estonia experienced a shift towards becoming a net importer of electricity around 2019, following the closure of environmentally detrimental oil fueled power plants.
The Baltics are integrated with the Nordic market and are heavily dependent on electricity imports from Finland and Sweden. Additionally, all three Baltic States are part of the BRELL network – a grid linking the electricity systems of Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – which provides stability for their electrical networks. As a result, despite the absence of commercial electricity trading between Estonia and Russia, and limited commercial trading between Russia and the other two Baltic states, the power flows between the Baltic States and Russia and Belarus still exist. This creates a noticeable dependency of the Baltics on Russia, and a potential threat, should Russia decide to disconnect the Baltics from BRELL before the planned separation in 2024/2025.
This dependency was put on trial when Russia on May 15th 2022 cut its electricity trade with Europe. On the one hand, the system proved to be relatively resilient as the cut did not lead to any blackouts in the Baltics. On the other hand, price volatility amplified in its main import partner countries, Sweden and Finland, and congestion increased as compared to 2021.
Figure 1. Price volatility in Sweden and Finland before and after the trade cut.
This increased price volatility and congestion following the Russian halt in electricity trade gives an indication that the Baltics and the Nordics are vulnerable to relatively small supply cuts even at the current demand levels.
In the future, electricity consumption is however expected to increase throughout the region as a result of the electrification of the economy (e.g., by 65 percent in 2050 in the Nordic region). This highlights the need to speed up investments into energy infrastructure of internal energy markets.
In summary; recent events have demonstrated a remarkable resilience of the Baltic State’s electricity system. While the disruption of commercial flows from Russia did have some impact on the region, overall, the outcome was positive. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the region relies heavily on electricity imports, and with increasing demand for power in both the Baltics and the neighboring areas, potential issues with supply security could arise if the demand in the Nordics cannot be met through increased production. The risk of an early disconnection from the BRELL network further amplifies this concern. However, the case of Ukraine – which managed to abruptly disconnect from Russian electricity networks – serves as an example that expediting the process of establishing new connections is feasible, although not risk free.
The Ukrainian Energy Sector and the Immediate Threat from Russia
While the Baltics are facing the effects from the Russian halt in electricity trade and the threat of a potential premature disconnection from BRELL, Ukraine’s energy networks are at the same time experiencing the direct aggression from Russia.
Yuliya Markuts, Head of the Center of Public Finance and Governance at the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE), and Igor Piddubnyi, Analyst on Energy Sector Damages and Losses and Researcher at the Center for Food and Land Use Research at KSE, both gave insight into the tremendous damages to the Ukrainian energy system from Russian attacks, the short-term solutions to cope with the damage, as well as the long-term implications and reconstruction perspectives.
Since the invasion, about 50 percent of the energy infrastructure has been damaged by shelling. In addition, several power plants are under Russian control or located in Russian occupied territories. As of February 2023, nearly 16 GW of installed capacities of power plants remained in Russian control, equivalent of the peak demand. Apart from the damages to the producing side, transmission and distribution facilities have also been severely affected, as well as oil storage facilities. In April 2023, the damages to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure were estimated to amount to $8.3 billion, almost 6 percent of the total estimated direct damages from the war.
While the damages are massive, the population did not experience complete blackouts, and the Ukrainian energy system did not collapse. This is partly due to diesel-driven generators substituting much of the damaged electricity generation and partly due to a fall in demand of about 30-35 percent in 2022, mainly driven by decreased industry demand.
In the short term, Ukraine is likely to continue to face Russian attacks. Its top energy priorities would thus be to restore damaged facilities and infrastructure like heating and clean water, increase the stocks of fuel, gas, and coal, and to try to liberate occupied areas and facilities. Another vital aspect of the Ukrainian energy infrastructure and its resilience towards the Russian goal of “freezing” the country relates to energy efficiency. Ukraine’s energy efficiency has been relatively low, with the highest rate of electricity losses in Europe, and the numbers are also high for gas supply and district heating. Here, minor changes such as light bulb switching, can have great impacts. Additionally, solar panels – especially those that can also store energy – can help alleviate the acute pressure on the transmission grid. Other vital measures involve continued donations from Ukraine’s partners, sustained efforts from energy workers – at the risk of their lives – and persistent successful deterrence of cyber-attacks currently targeting the country.
Achieving a greener energy system is currently challenging (if not nearly impossible) due to the use of diesel-driven generators, the attacks on the energy system, and the fight for control over nuclear power plants such as Zaporizhzhia, which since March 2022 is under the control of Russian forces. Damages to renewable energy production further exacerbate these difficulties.
Thus, it is crucial to ensure that the planning and reconstruction of Ukraine’s energy sector is done in accordance with the European Green Deal. By 2030, the country should have at least 25 percent renewables in its energy mix, which would require substantial installations of at least 13 GW of wind, solar, small hydro and biogas capacities. In addition, transition entails decommissioning old coal power plants to run on natural or biogas instead of coal.
While this is a tall task, investments targeted to the energy system are not only essential for Ukraine’s population to sustain through the 2023/2024 winter – but also to facilitate the green transition in Europe. The potential for export of biomethane, green hydrogen, and nuclear power from Ukraine to Europe is considerable. As Europe’s biofuel demand is expected to increase by 63 percent while Ukrainian grain exports are still proving to be challenging, biofuel production for export on the European market is a particularly likely future scenario for the Ukrainian energy market.
In summary; the Ukrainian energy sector has done remarkably well, considering the impact of the damages from the Russian aggression. As Ukrainian short-term energy priorities lie in facilitating quick and efficient responses to infrastructural damages, current measures may not be particularly environmentally friendly. However, the longer-term reconstruction of Ukraine’s energy sector has great potential for being in line with the green transition objectives.
Energy System’s Resilience in the Green Transition
Mikael Toll, Senior Advisor at Ramboll Management Consulting highlighted the importance of infrastructure resilience. He emphasized the significance of the Energy Trilemma in achieving a successful transition to greener energy systems. This trilemma implies balancing between energy security, environmental sustainability, and affordability, all representing societal goals. Focusing on the energy security aspect of this trilemma, he stressed that energy infrastructure should be part of a more holistic approach to the problem. It is essential to establish resilient supply chains and implement efficient management procedures to prevent and mitigate the negative consequences of disruptions. It entails ensuring the performant infrastructure and supply, but also fostering well-functioning markets, putting in place state-governed crisis management mechanisms, and cooperation with other states. By combining these elements, one can enhance preparedness both in normal times and during crises.
Sweden as an Example
Sweden has since long been increasing its share of renewables in the energy mix, as depicted in Figure 2. This suggests that it is relatively well-prepared to the needs of the green transition. However, electricity demand is expected to increase by 100 percent in the coming years, driven by increased electrification of the industry and transport sectors, adding pressure to Sweden’s electricity system. The need for more investments in several energy systems is tangible, and investment opportunities are numerous. However, political decisions concerning the energy system in Sweden tend to be short-sighted, even though energy infrastructures have a long lifespan – often well over 50 years. As a result, investment risks are often high and change character over time, which creates a lack of infrastructure investment. Other challenges to Sweden’s energy resilience include limited acceptance of new energy infrastructure among the public, time-consuming approval processes, and a lack of thorough impact assessment.
Figure 2. Total supplied energy in Sweden, 1970-2020.
Further, the current geopolitical context creates an increased need to consider external threats – such as energy system disruptions resulting from the Russian war on Ukraine – and increased dependency on China as a key supplier of metals and batteries required for electrification. It is also important to realize that external influence may affect not only physical infrastructure but also domestic decision-making processes. This calls for more energy and political security alongside the green transition, in combination with higher readiness against security threats and a reassessment of global value chains.
In summary; to successfully move into a greener future, it is necessary to invest in energy systems and infrastructure based on a careful multi-dimensional analysis and with the support of long-sighted political decisions. At the same time, we must push investments that also consider the security threats from and dependencies on global actors.
This year’s Energy Talk provided an opportunity to hear from leading experts on the current situation of Europe’s energy resilience. It outlined the key challenges of the green transition in the current geopolitical and economic context. Greener solutions for Europe’s energy system will require tremendous physical efforts and investments but also political will and public understanding. There are, however, immense benefits to be realized if the associated risks are not overlooked.
On behalf of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, we would like to thank Ewa Lazarczyk, Yuliya Markuts, Igor Piddubnyi and Mikael Toll for participating in this year’s Energy Talk. The presentations from the webinar can be seen here.
- Swedish Energy Agency. (2022). Energy in Sweden 2022 – an overview. https://energimyndigheten.a-w2m.se/Home.mvc?ResourceId=208766
- Lazarczyk, E. and Le Coq, C. (2023). Power coming from Russia and Baltic Sea Region’s energy security. REPORT 2023:940. Energiforsk.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
This policy brief is based on an empirical examination of the early-stage migration of Ukrainian war asylum seekers to Latvia in 2022, following the Russian invasion. The study highlights the urgent nature of their displacement and identifies the pivotal role of kinship in Latvia in the decision-making. Three categories of refugees emerge based on kinship ties, employment opportunities, and cultural affinity. The study also reveals the substantial influence of the pre-existing Ukrainian diaspora and underlines the significance of network effects in refugees’ location decisions. Contrary to previous studies, refugees didn’t necessarily settle for the first country available. The research underscores the strategy of seeking support from personal networks in acute displacement scenarios, which appears to be the most influential factor for the choice of location in the decision-making process.
Ukrainian Displaced People in Latvia
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 triggered a geopolitical upheaval in Europe and resulted in a mass exodus that had not been witnessed since World War II. With the war showing no signs of cessation, return for many of these displaced people appears difficult in the near future. Latvia, although not a bordering country, have become a haven for 36 000 Ukrainian refugees.
This brief seeks insight into Ukrainian displaced people’s preference for Latvia, using interviews conducted in March 2022, a month after the war began. With no common border between Ukraine and Latvia these refugees had to transit through other countries, making the question about the choice of Latvia as their ultimate destination particularly relevant.
Unlike during the migration crisis in 2015 and during the recent influx of Syrians and other groups, the Ukrainian refugees found themselves being welcomed with open arms, belying Latvia’s typically guarded stance towards immigrants. This unexpected warmth is influenced by a multifaceted kinship rooted in historical connections from the Soviet era, a pre-existing Ukrainian diaspora in Latvia, labor migration, and shared cultural elements.
These factors can also play a role in Ukrainian refugees’ choice of Latvia as their ultimate destination. The study underlying this policy brief seeks to explore these facets and unravel the reasons behind the Ukrainian refugees’ choice to seek safety in Latvia.
Two aspects are crucial in the analysis of migration decisions: the factors that influence refugees’ choice of destination and the process underlying this decision.
Traditional assumptions surrounding asylum-seeker migration, as emphasized by Böcker and Havinga (1997), suggest that when people are forced to flee, their primary focus is safety – not destination. However, more nuanced perspectives have evolved in recent studies (see Robinson and Sergott, 2002; Brekke and Aarset, 2009). They highlight the calculated and adaptable nature of refugee destination choices throughout the asylum-seeking migration journey, demonstrating that circumstances and journey stage significantly influence destination choices.
Research indicates that host country policies and economic conditions can both enhance and limit refugee flows (Czaika and de Haas, 2017; Ortega and Peri, 2013; Brekke and Aarset, 2009; Diop-Christensen and Diop, 2021; Kang, 2021; Suzuki,2020; Collyer, 2005). However, another line of research emphasizes that policy and economic factors are secondary to networks, cultural affinity, language, and perceptions in determining destination choices (Robinson and Sergott, 2002). Factors such as social networks (Koser and Pinkerton, 2002; Tucker 2018), kinship (Havinga and Böcker, 1999; Neumayer, 2005; Mallett and Hagen-Zanker, 2018), financial resources (Mallett and Hagen-Zanker, 2018), geography (Neumayer, 2005; Kang, 2021), destination country image (Benzer and Zetter, 2014), culture (Suzuki, 2020), and colonial links (Havinga and Böcker, 1999) have been established to be significant at various stages of migration. Economic and education opportunities are also found to have a marginal influence on destination decision-making compared to the possibility of resolving statelessness (Tucker, 2018).
These varying determinants of destination may also be contingent on the refugee journey stage. Policies may not dominate in acute cases of forced migration (Diop-Christensen and Diop, 2021). For individuals with time to prepare for migration, a cost-benefit analysis often informs their decisions. In contrast, those in urgent circumstances, such as during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, may have to take immediate refuge and put less emphasis on benefits and policies (Robinson and Sergott, 2002). Destination determinants differ by both origin and destination countries (Havinga and Böcker, 1999, Tucker, 2018, Gilbert and Koser, 2006). Thus, research on underexplored regions and countries is valuable for a comprehensive understanding of migration patterns.
Migration, voluntary or forced, involves intricate decision-making. As Mallett and Hagen-Zanker (2018) aptly state, the dynamic experiences ‘on the road’ shape refugees’ journey and destination choices. Robinson and Sergott (2002) and Brekke and Aarset, 2009 have pioneered models for asylum seekers’ decision-making, suggesting that factors such as networks, language, cultural affinity, and perceptions evolve across different stages of the asylum journey. Others, like Gonsalves (1992) and Shultz et al. (2020), have constructed models delineating stages of refugee passage and displacement, highlighting the changing needs and preferences of refugees.
While existing literature mainly focuses on the later stages of forced migration journeys, limited empirical evidence exists on the migration moves during acute displacement. Additionally, further understanding on migration induced by the war on Ukraine is needed. There is also incomplete coverage of asylum seeker and refugee topics in the Baltic countries, making such research particularly relevant. To address these gaps, this brief aims to provide qualitative findings on the decision-making and experiences of Ukrainian displaced people in Latvia.
Understanding the Decision
The research underlying this brief explored the reasons behind Ukrainian displaced people’s choice of Latvia as their migration destination during the early part of the invasion. The study is based on 34 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with displaced people conducted in March 2022. The dataset is part of a larger study that includes continuous interviews to understand Ukrainian displaced people’s lives, plans and needs in Latvia.
From the interviews, it was apparent that the predominant factor in respondents’ decision-making was the presence of kin or acquaintances in Latvia.
All but one participant had some connection to Latvia, whether through distant relatives, friends, or professional contacts. The one participant without such connections arrived from Russia and not from Ukraine, working on a contract. A minority of our participants considered staying in Ukraine. One example is Lidiia, who initially planned to move near Lviv, but redirected to Riga during the journey.
“She found a family that would host us, 100 km from Lviv… We agreed, but then our friends… called us on the way, we were leaving Kyiv under bombardment. Our train was delayed because of the air alarm. When we just arrived there, a shell exploded above the railway station… And on the way, friends from Riga called us and invited us: ‘Come, everyone will help here’. Therefore, everything changed while we were on the train, we decided everything“ (Lidiia).
Proximity of kin was not the primary concern for the interviewees; the mere fact that they had a relative in Latvia appeared more influential in their narratives. Indeed, the majority of participants had distant rather than close kin, though a few had close family in Latvia (grandparents, parents, common-law husband, and sister). As Olena explained, the presence of even distant relatives influenced her choice: “there are distant relatives, very distant… That’s why we came” (Olena). However, ties in Latvia were not the only determinants as many of the participants also had family connections in other parts of Europe.
The speed of decision-making was also striking – most decisions to migrate were not a matter of long-term planning but a reaction to the sudden crisis, often influenced by incoming offers of assistance. Nataliia remembered: “My mother said, ‘You have to leave because everything is so fatally bad. Take the children and leave.’ And literally overnight I packed up, bought the tickets. But first I went to Poland, to my brother” (Nataliia).
Maryana ended up choosing her destination only after leaving home. “At first, we thought to go to Poland, but it is completely crowded, and then we called to whoever we could. There are no relatives in other countries. No, there are relatives in other cities, but these are Luhansk, Donetsk, we are from Slobozhanska Ukraine, so all our relatives are from the side where very heavy fighting is going on now“ (Maryana). Such testimonies illuminate how, owing to the immediacy of the situation, the eventual destination of some displaced Ukrainians was not predetermined but evolved during their respective journeys.
From the interviews with the participants who knew someone in Latvia, one can identify three groups based on the main factor that determined their decision.
Network, First of All
For respondents who did not have family in Latvia, friends, acquaintances, and professional contacts in Latvia acted as anchors. Like family members, such acquaintances often reached out, offering assistance and lodging as soon as they heard the news of the war. The influx of supportive communication from Latvian acquaintances influenced the decision for many participants.
Olha decided to flee with her friend, who had a distant cousin residing in Latvia. Upon the onset of the conflict, the cousin reached out and urged them to come to Latvia. As Olha recalls: “As soon as she heard that there was a bombing in Kharkiv, she said, ‘Come’. My friend, with whom I came, Lesya, does not have a car, so she immediately told me… let’s run away’” (Olha).
Lidiia received an invitation from a Latvian friend she had met through her church, even as she was already in the process of fleeing Ukraine. Similarly, Andrii, who was vacationing abroad at the time of the war’s outbreak, remembered: “On the 25th our best friend wrote to us that, ‘There is housing, come here’ and we began to negotiate with the embassy to fly here” (Andrii).
Even in the absence of explicit messages, displaced individuals recalled having friends and family in Latvia and chose to make their way to Riga. Olena, like Lidiia, initially set off without a clear destination in mind. It wasn’t until she reached the border that she decided to head to Latvia: “Just at the border that you decided where to go?” (Olena).
Existing friendships and ongoing communication also influenced some people’s choice to opt for Latvia. Olha (2) was encouraged by her daughter to relocate to Riga due to her daughter’s friendships with Latvians that she had formed at a camp in Estonia: “Friends appeared, with whom she was in close contact for six months. That’s why for her there was no choice at all ‘Where?’. She immediately said: ‘To Riga’” (Olha (2)).
Opportunities and Realities
The turning point for many respondents was their arrival in Poland as, initially, Latvia was not the principal or only choice of destination. These respondents emphasized that, besides having friends and relatives in Latvia, they also contemplated where they might find better opportunities. Their narratives provide a contrasting perspective of Poland and Latvia. While traversing Poland, their general impression was that the country was already ‘overfilled’, which in turn kindled the notion that Latvia might harbor more possibilities. For this group of displaced individuals, the importance of employment prospects was paramount.
Nataliia took the decision to head for Latvia, choosing to stay with remote kin there rather than with her sibling in Poland, as she believed Poland lacked opportunities for her. In Myroslava’s case, a friend helped secure a job in Latvia: “We didn’t choose Latvia for any particular reason – better or worse, we didn’t care. We needed somewhere to stay, somewhere to work in order to live. Well, that’s why when a job turned up through acquaintances, they said that a person was needed here, we immediately gathered. Could not be found in Poland. In Poland, there was simply no work, no housing” (Myroslava).
Bohdan, too, mentioned the crowdedness and the high cost of living in Poland, hence deciding to move further north to Latvia: “We didn’t have a specific plan because we weren’t at all sure we would succeed. In general, my wife benefits from going to Poland, she works for an IT company operating in Poland. And we thought about getting there at first, but when we got to Poland, everything was already full. There were such expensive options, $1600 a month, we were shocked” (Bohdan).
Anastasiia echoed similar concerns: “We arrived in Warsaw, reunited there and tried to stay in Warsaw and look for a place, but there are a lot of people there, and there is no place to live, very… food, maybe cheaper than in Latvia, but there is no place to live… no place to work. And I would like to work somehow… not to be dependent” (Anastasiia).
These stories illuminate another stratum of decision-making, that beyond familial ties, participants also considered the opportunities available at their chosen destination. They accumulate information on their journey and recalibrate their destination accordingly.
Cultural Kinship, Language, Diaspora
Not all participants had prior personal experience with Latvia, even if they had relatives there. A lot of their understanding about the country stemmed from stories they’d heard or news they’d come across. This third group of participants decided on Latvia not only because they knew someone in the country, but also because they saw value in shared language, culture, and history.
Political and cultural connections played a significant role in their choice. Being able to communicate in Russian and Ukrainian in Latvia was a crucial factor, as it was associated with a smoother integration process and increased job opportunities. Nadiia, who traveled to Latvia via Poland and Budapest, elaborated on this: “And I was in Latvia and here there is an opportunity to communicate in Ukrainian, in Russian” (Nadiia).
The possibility of being accepted and integrated into the local community was also mentioned as a decision-driver. Oksana shared that her father, who had previously worked in Riga, advised her to go to Latvia: “you guys, probably go to Riga, well, because you will be accepted there, accommodated” (Oksana).
Nonetheless, choosing Latvia because of the possibility to communicate in Russian does not come without complications. Nataliia B., for instance, found the topic of language stirring up strong emotions and confessed that she doesn’t wish to speak Russian anymore: “I had such a psychological reaction – I didn’t speak Ukrainian for many years, and when all these events began, I read, I remember well how I woke up in the morning and began to speak Ukrainian. My thoughts have become Ukrainian” (Nataliia B.).
Moreover, having knowledge of the Ukrainian diaspora in the country also proved an important factor. “I also found out that there is a Ukrainian diaspora in Latvia of about 50 000 people, as I heard in the Latvian news. And this also encouraged me, I realised that I could find help from my compatriots” (Nadiia). This observation underlines the role of cultural kinship in the decision-making process regarding destination, and it can indeed be seen as a decisive factor. As the diaspora expands with the influx of more displaced people, this rationale for choosing Latvia may become increasingly common.
The study underlying this brief provided empirical insight into the initial phases of Ukrainian war asylum seekers’ journey to Latvia in 2022, enhancing our understanding of the factors that influenced the choice of Latvia over other destinations.
Ukrainians fleeing the early stage of the 2022 Russian invasion were compelled to make swift and difficult decisions due to the pressing crisis. Leaving behind their familiar lives, properties, and dear ones – often the very individuals facilitating their exodus for safety reasons – was a harrowing reality. The support from kin and acquaintances in Latvia was crucial in endorsing their decision to seek refuge in the country.
Three groups emerged among the Ukrainian refugees in Latvia, all connected by personal relationships to some degree. The factors influencing their migration ranged from the presence of kin and considerations of employment prospects, to shared language, culture, and history. The fact that the initial outreach usually originated from the Latvian side underscores the profound solidarity and active support provided by Latvians to their Ukrainian counterparts. This likely also played a significant role in the refugees’ decisions. The pre-existing Ukrainian diaspora in Latvia, estimated at around 50 000 before the invasion, also significantly influenced the choice of Latvia as a refuge.
Financially-related factors such as seeking benefits were largely absent from the narratives, likely due to the geographic proximity, relatively low costs, and the urgent nature of the displacement. The most significant determinant in choosing Latvia as the destination appeared to be the network effect, contrasting with Robinson and Sergott (2002) findings that acute asylum seekers often settle for the first country available.
Given the emergency nature of the displacement, no unambiguous pattern in the location decision could be established. The narrative varied considerably among respondents with decisions often being made, or altered, on the fly. However, in most cases, personal relationships played a primary role in shaping the choices among Ukrainian refugees in Latvia.
For policy-makers planning and responding to acute migration crises, the study highlights the importance of mapping and understanding multifaceted kinships, as well as culture and history. The mapping can be used to plan support and allocate resources to give displaced people an opportunity of a place where they feel welcomed and connected, with hopes of greater integration.
- Böcker, A. and Havinga, T. (1997). Asylum Migration to the European Union: Patterns of Origin and Destination, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
- Brekke, J. P. and Aarset, M. F. (2009). Why Norway? Understanding Asylum Destinations, Institute for Social Research, Oslo.
- Collyer, M. (2005). When do social networks fail to explain migration? Accounting for the movement of Algerian asylum-seekers to the UK. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 31(4), 699-718.
- Czaika, M. and de Haas, H. (2017). The effect of visas on migration processes. International Migration Review, 51(4), 893-926.
- Diop-Christensen, A. and Diop, L. E. (2021). What do asylum seekers prioritise—safety or welfare benefits? The influence of policies on asylum flows to the EU15 countries. Journal of Refugee Studies.
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- Havinga, T. and Böcker, A. (1999). Country of asylum by choice or by chance: Asylum‐seekers in Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK. Journal of ethnic and migration studies, 25(1), 43-61.
- Kang, Y. D. (2021). Refugee crisis in Europe: determinants of asylum seeking in European countries from 2008–2014. Journal of European Integration, 43(1), 33-48.
- Koser, K. and Pinkerton, C. (2002). The social networks of asylum seekers and the dissemination of information about countries of asylum.
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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
The labor markets of many transition countries are characterized by two features: a spike at the minimum wage level in the wage distribution and widespread use of so-called envelope wages, i.e. non-declared cash payments in addition to the official wage. In this brief, we present a body of suggestive evidence showing that tax evaders are overrepresented among minimum wage earners in Latvia.
Labor markets in many transition and post-transition countries are characterized by the prevalence of payroll tax evasion in the form of envelope wages, i.e. non-declared cash in addition to the official wage (see for instance Putnins and Sauka (2015) for Latvia, Paulus (2015) and Kukk and Staehr (2014) for Estonia and Bíró et al. (2022) and Elek et al. (2012) for Hungary).
Another defining characteristic of these transition economies is a very large peak at exactly the minimum wage in the wage distribution. To explain this phenomenon, Tonin (2011) argues that the mass of individuals at the minimum wage level is composed to a large extent of workers receiving envelope wages, where employers and employees collude and agree on reporting only the minimum wage to minimize tax liabilities while remaining under the radar of the tax authorities. In such a setup, the minimum wage policy becomes an enforcement tool for the fiscal administration, as it pushes non-compliant firms to convert part of the envelope wage into an official wage so that it reaches the new minimum wage.
However, only scarce concrete evidence shows that payroll tax evaders are overrepresented among minimum wage earners. Considering the regular minimum wage hikes in the region (e.g., a 95 percent increase in Latvia in 2010-2022 and a planned increase by another 24 percent in 2023), understanding the interaction between minimum wage policy and labor tax evasion is crucial.
In this brief, we present a body of suggestive evidence highlighting the prevalence of wage underreporting at exactly the minimum wage level in Latvia.
Data and Methodology
We use Latvian administrative employer-employee data for 2011 to 2015, covering the full Latvian employed population at a monthly rate. To identify tax evasion, we rely on the comparison between small and large firms. The literature studying tax evasion provides considerable evidence showing that small firms tend to evade more taxes than large firms. Kleven et al. (2016) provide a theoretical foundation for this result, showing that collusive evasion is more difficult to sustain in firms with more employees. Empirically, this effect has been documented in many countries (see for instance Putnins and Sauka (2015), Gavoille and Zasova (2021), and Benkovskis and Fadejeva (2022) for the results on Latvia, Bíró et al. (2022) for Hungary, Paulus (2015) for Estonia, and Kumler et al. (2020) for Mexico).
In this brief, we use a very broad definition for firm size categories and divide firms into firms employing 30 or fewer employees as small and firms with more than 30 employees as large. With such a crude definition, it is inevitable that firms below and above the threshold are highly heterogeneous, implying that some firms below the threshold are tax-compliant, while some firms above the threshold are tax-evading. For our purposes though, it is sufficient to assume that the share of evading employees in small firms is larger than that in the sample of large firms.
We begin by plotting the distribution of wages in the private sector. Figure 1 plots monthly wages in the range of 0–1000 Euros in 2011. The right most dashed vertical line in the figure marks the minimum wage (284.57 Euros per month in 2011) and the left most dashed line marks 50 percent of the minimum wage. There are clear spikes at the minimum wage (and at half of the minimum wage). The minimum level wage spike in small firms (top graph) is much more pronounced than in large firms (bottom graph), which is consistent with the idea that the spike is driven by income underreporting.
Figure 1. Gross wage distribution in the private sector in small (< 30 empl.) and large (> 30 empl.) firms in 2011.
This explanation implies that employers and employees choose to declare employment and underdeclare earnings instead of staying completely informal, which is consistent with the available evidence. Staying completely informal involves much higher risks of detection if authorities perform regular inspections of workplaces, and in many Central European countries with prevalent income underreporting, completely informal employment is not very common (OECD, 2008). In Latvia, firms have to register employees in the electronic system of the State Revenue Service before they start to work, hence the probability that an unofficially employed person is detected during a workplace inspection is very high (State Labor Inspectorate, 2010). Existing empirical evidence on Latvia also suggests that income underreporting is much more widespread than completely informal employment, which is estimated at only 2–3.5 percent (European Commission, 2014; Hazans, 2012). Hence, we interpret the spikes as indicative of tax evaders bunching at the minimum wage.
Wage Growth Among Minimum Wage Earners
Wages are expected to grow with tenure, but if minimum wage earners receive part of their income in cash, their reported wage can remain unchanged even after years of employment within a firm (as any increase would arguably go through the non-declared cash). To examine if this is the case, we exploit a period when there were no changes in the Latvian minimum wage (January 2011–December 2013). We select employees who were employed by the same firm in all months of 2011–2013, assign them to wage bins according to their wage in 2011, and in each wage bin calculate the share of workers whose wage in 2013 was the same as in 2011. We assign workers to 10-Euro bins, with the exception of minimum wage earners, whom we assign to a bin of 1 Euro.
As evident from Figure 2 minimum wage earners clearly stand out from other employees. In small firms, almost 45 percent of employees earning the minimum wage in 2011 had the same reported wage in 2013. There is also a spike at the minimum wage in large firms (28 percent), but it is less pronounced than in small firms.
Figure 2. Proportion of continuously employed workers facing no wage growth between 2011 and 2013, by wage bins, in small (< 30 empl.) and large (> 30 empl.) firms.
An alternative explanation for the large share of minimum wage earners who experience no wage growth could be that, for many of them, the minimum wage is binding. To rule this out, we perform the same calculations on a sample of young employees (24 or younger in 2011). Workers in the early stages of their careers tend to have higher returns to experience and tenure; thus, young workers are less likely to have no wage growth after three years of employment with the same firm. Figure 3 plots the results for young workers. In large firms, the spike at the minimum wage is more than twice as small as for the full sample of workers (12 percent vs. 28 percent), but in small firms it remains very high (33 percent).
Figure 3. Proportion of continuously employed young workers (aged 24 or less in 2011) facing no wage growth between 2011 and 2013, by wage bins, in small (< 30 empl.) and large (> 30 empl.) firms.
This brief documents highly prevalent tax evasion among minimum wage earners in Latvia. In such a context, the minimum wage is a powerful fiscal instrument as a higher minimum wage pushes non-compliant firms to disclose a larger share of their employees’ true earnings. In addition, wage underreporting among minimum wage earners can act as a shock absorber and cushion the negative employment effects of a minimum wage hike in countries where a large share of workers officially receive the minimum wage.
These upsides however come at a cost. The results presented in this brief by no means imply that all minimum wage earners are tax evaders; a notable share of employees receiving the minimum wage on paper do honestly earn only the minimum wage. In our paper (Gavoille and Zasova, 2022), we show that the flip side of the positive fiscal effect of a minimum wage hike is job losses among genuine low-wage earners and closures of tax-compliant firms that are affected by the hikes.
This brief is based on a recent article published in the Journal of Comparative Economics (Gavoille and Zasova, 2022). The authors gratefully acknowledge funding from LZP FLPP research grant No.LZP-2018/2-0067 InTEL (Institutions and Tax Enforcement in Latvia).
- Benkovskis, Konstantins; and Ludmila Fedejeva, 2022. “Chasing the Shadow: the Evaluation of Unreported Wage Payments in Latvia“. Latvijas Banka, Working Paper Nr. 1/2022.
- Bíró , Anikó; Dániel Prinz, and László Sándor, 2022. “The minimum wage, informal pay, and tax enforcement“. Journal of Public Economics, 215, 104728.
- Elek, Péter; János Köllő, Balázs Reizer, and Péter A. Szabó, 2012. “Chapter 4 Detecting Wage Under-Reporting Using a Double-Hurdle Model“. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Rochester, NY, pp. 135–166.
- European Commission, 2014. “Undeclared Work in the European Union“, Special EUROBAROMETER 284.
- Gavoille, Nicolas; and Anna Zasova, 2022. “Minimum wage spike and income underreporting: A back-of-the-envelope-wage analysis“, Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming.
- Gavoille, Nicolas; and Anna Zasova, 2021. “What we pay in the shadow: Labor tax evasion, minimum wage hike and employment“. SSE Riga/BICEPS Research paper No.6.
- Hazans, Mihails, 2012. “How many people are working without a contract in Latvia and neighboring countries?”. Technical Report, University of Latvia.
- Kumler, Todd; Eric Verhoogen, and Judith Frías, 2020. “Enlisting Employees in Improving Payroll Tax Compliance: Evidence from Mexico“. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 102 (5), 881–896.
- Kukk, Merike; and Karsten Staehr, 2014. “Income underreporting by households with business income: evidence from Estonia“. Post-Communist Economies, 26(2), 257-276.
- OECD, 2008. “Declaring Work or Staying Underground“. OECD employment outlook 2008.
- Paulus, Alari, 2015. “Tax Evasion and Measurement Error: an Econometric Analysis of Survey Data Linked with Tax Records“. Working Paper 2015-10. ISER Working Paper Series.
- Putnins, Talis; and Arnis Sauka, 2015. “Measuring the shadow economy using company managers“, Journal of Comparative Economics, 43(2), 471-490.
- State Labor Inspectorate, 2010. “Latvia: Annual Report 2010”
- Tonin, Mirco, 2011. “Minimum wage and tax evasion: Theory and evidence“. Journal of Public Economics, 95(11-12), 1635-1651.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.
Although much smaller than Russian exports of other energy commodities, Russian electricity exports to Europe have been a part of the European electricity systems. There are several connection points between the Russian and EU markets, but the Baltic States are the most exposed to Russian influence in the electricity sector. This brief discusses the Baltics’ dependency on Russian electricity, which currently accounts for 10 percent of the total Baltic electricity consumption. We argue that, while the Baltic states have some resilience (partly due to their connection to the Nordic countries), they are not immune to a complete halt to the Russian electricity trade, at least not in the short run.
The continuing military conflict in Ukraine and cut-offs of Russian gas to Europe are driving energy prices to unprecedented levels and creating concern about energy security all over Europe. The reliance on the Russian gas supply and the consequences of this has been profoundly discussed (for an overview, see e.g., Le Coq and Paltseva, 2022). At the same time, the topic of Russian electricity delivered to the EU has been largely left out of the current conversation.
Russia is exporting electricity directly to Europe, although at a much smaller scale than it has been exporting other energy commodities. There are several transmission connection points between the Russian and EU markets, but the situation of the Baltic States is the most precarious. They consume Russian electricity (about 10 percent of their needs) and their grids are still synchronised with Russia and Belarus. Therefore, they are exposed to some supply disruption and a desynchronization threat from Russia, potentially resulting in high market prices, severe congestion and even blackouts. Because the Baltics are connected to the leading power market in Europe, Nord Pool, any unexpected shocks may have consequences beyond the Baltic region.
Understanding how the Baltic States depend on Russia for their power consumption is an important element of the European energy security debate. This brief discusses the severity of the Baltics’ reliance on Russian electricity. We initially discuss the effect of a sudden halt to the Russian electricity trade in May 2022. We then address the potential consequences of the abrupt exclusion from the Russia-controlled transmission network. Finally, we discuss the future energy mix thought to replace Russian electricity in the Baltics.
The Baltic States’ Exposure to Indirect Imports of Russian Electricity
The Baltics’ exposure is analysed by examining the impact of a sudden stop of imports of Russian electricity to the EU in May 2022, which affected Nord Pool (https://www.nordpoolgroup.com/en/) prices as well as congestion in the Baltic States. This event cannot be qualified as an external shock, required for a rigorous empirical analysis. Nonetheless, it helps us assess the Baltics’ exposure.
On May 15th 2022, Russia broke off its electricity trade with Finland. This event is relevant to consider as Finland is increasingly a primary import source for the Baltic States. Any electricity supply disruption affecting Finland may therefore impact the Baltics’ energy system balance. To assess how the event impacted the Baltic electricity market, we compare the congestion occurrences in 2021 and 2022.
A standard way to assess the misfunctioning of a power market is to look at congestion episodes. The Nord Pool market, to which the Baltic states are connected, has several bidding areas. Prices between zones may differ in case of transmission bottlenecks. When transmission lines are saturated, no more electricity can, in that period, be transported from the cheap to the expensive areas to alleviate prices, referred to as congestion.
In the graphs below, we illustrate the congestion in the Baltics in 2021 as compared to 2022. Looking at the 2021 data for Estonia and Latvia, the countries belonged to the same price area most of the year; some price differences were observed in the summer months, but only 10 percent of the hours within those months were congested. In 2022 the price differences between the two countries grew substantially, since May reaching 20 percent, with more congested hours (Figure 1). In 2022 price differences also increased between Lithuania and Southern Sweden (region SE 4) as depicted in Figure 2.
Figure 1. Congestion between Estonia and Latvia (as percentage of congested hours out of all hours within a given month).
Figure 2. Congestion between Lithuania and Sweden (SE4) (as percentage of congested hours out of all hours within a given month).
Our aim is not to show a causal effect of the withdrawal of Russia from commercial electricity trading with the Baltic States region, but to describe some general, coincidental trends in congestion. Note that the congestion might be a result of the extreme prices observed in the Baltics – on August 17th 2022, prices reached the Nord Pool cap of 4000€/MW, the highest ever level in the region (Lazarczyk Carlson and Le Coq, 2022a).
To conclude, halting the electricity trade between Russia and Finland appears to have had some impact on the congestion in the Baltic States. Still, the consequences were not severe as the Baltics were already curtailing commercial exchanges with Russia and Belarus. Additionally, the Finnish yearly imports from Russia constituted at most 10 percent of the annual Finnish consumption.
The Baltic States’ Exposure to a Desynchronization Threat
The Baltics belong to the Moscow-controlled synchronous electrical power grid, BRELL, which connects power systems of Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This grid dependency makes it virtually impossible for the Baltic States to completely stop Russian and Belarussian power from floating into the Baltics´ territory. A desynchronization from the BRELL network is currently not feasible. Although the Baltics have invested heavily in grid extensions and upgrade, the connection to the European grid is scheduled only for 2024/2025. Therefore, even though the Baltic States have been limiting commercial trading with Russia and Belarus on the Nordic electricity market, they are still receiving Russian/Belarusian electricity.
The Baltics’ dependency on the BRELL network creates a potential threat to the Baltic electricity supply security in case Russia should decide to weaponize its electricity supply further and disconnect the Baltic States from the network ahead of the planned exit in 2024/2025 (Lazarczyk Carlson and Le Coq, 2022a). Such premature disconnection could result in severe blackouts, and immediate reactions would be required to keep the system operational. In such scenario, strong support from the Nordic countries via Finland and/or Sweden would be needed. It is however important to keep in mind that a sudden disconnection from BRELL also could harm Kaliningrad – the Russian enclave between Lithuania and Poland, on the shores of the Baltic Sea. Although Russia has invested heavily in expanding Kaliningrad generation capacities and its energy self-sufficiency, it is not clear whether the region is to this day prepared to operate in island mode without the support of the BRELL and neighbouring countries. Up to date, three successful operating exercises in island mode have been conducted in Kaliningrad, the longest lasting for 72 hours. However, the two tests scheduled for 2022 have been cancelled.
The future re-initialization of electricity trading with Russia is uncertain at this point and the role of Russian electricity has diminished over the years. The Baltics are not planning to maintain any transmission connection with Russia and Belarus after synchronising with the European power grid. However, the Finnish standpoint needs to be clarified. If the Finnish-Russian electrical power trade exchange is re-established in the future, Russian electricity might once again flow into the Baltics´ transmission grid as imports from Finland are forecasted to increase in the coming years due to a third interconnector, which should become operational in 2035.
The Baltics’ (Future) Energy Mix Without Russian Electricity
The alternatives to Russian electricity depend on the Baltics’ energy mix and transmission system. In 2021 the demand for electric power in the Baltics was 27 TWh, with Latvia representing 26 percent, Estonia 30 percent, and Lithuania 44 percent of the total demand. Consumption is forecasted to grow by 60-65 percent by 2050, due to the electrification of the economy and increasing needs within industries, housing, transportation, etc. (Nordic Energy Research, 2022).
All Baltic States are today net importers of electricity. The main import sources are Finland and, to a lesser extent, Sweden, which have jointly exported 45 TWh of electric power to the region over the years 2016-2021. Finland is itself a net importer of electricity mainly importing power from Sweden. Until May 2022, Finland’s second import source was Russia.
The Baltics are heavily dependent on fossil fuels in their electricity mix as illustrated in Table 1.
Table 1. Energy mix for electricity production (MW) in the Baltics, 2022.
The region is now trying to limit the use of fossil-fuel energy and expand its green energy potential, as extensively discussed in Lazarczyk Carlson E. and Le Coq C. (2022b). The actual installed capacity for the onshore wind is however insufficient, with 326 MW in Estonia, 87 MW in Latvia, and 671 MW in Lithuania. The current offshore wind’s capacity is non-existent. There are some plans to develop 4.5 GW in Lithuania, 7 GW in Estonia, and 14.5 GW in Latvia by 2050, but this will require substantial investments (European Commission, 2019).
The region also plans to expand solar power production, especially in Latvia and Lithuania, where the current capacity is 14 and 259 MW respectively. There are also plans to expand Latvian hydro production for storage and balancing needs; currently, Latvia has 1588 MW of installed run-of-the-river hydro capacity, the highest among the Baltic States.
Investing in nuclear power is another possibility which is currently being considered. As part of the EU accession process, Lithuania shut down its Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant, the first unit in 2004 and the second in 2009, turning the country from a net exporter into a net importer of electric power (IEA, 2021). A project of replacing the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) by a new Polish-Lithuanian Plant, the Visaginas NPP, was discussed but later abandoned. The Estonian company Fermi Energy, in collaboration with the Swedish firm Vattenfall, are currently looking into small modular reactor (SMR) technology to develop nuclear energy. This project is however in the initial phases of development.
Renewables and nuclear power are credible alternatives to limit fossil-fuel energy usage and dependency on Russian electricity. The alternatives might however not be easily implemented in the short run.
The Baltic States’ dependency on the Russian electricity supply is limited. Nevertheless, discontinuing Russian electricity deliveries is not innocuous for at least two reasons.
First, the Baltics are still part of the BRELL network, so they are still physically dependent on Russia, although they plan to desynchronize from this network in the longer run. However, a sudden desynchronization initiated by Russia may have severe consequences in the short run (e.g. blackouts).
Second, considering the forecasted future increase in the demand for electrical power in the Baltics and the Nordic countries, the Baltics will remain dependent on power imports. Today, the Baltics rely on Finland and Sweden, as all three Baltic States are net electricity importers. To limit any future dependence on Russian/Belarussian electricity, the Baltics plan to sever any transmission connections with Russia and Belarus after desynchronization, thus cutting the potential for future electricity trade with both countries. If, however, the Nordic countries re-establish commercial exchanges with Russia via Finland, it is nevertheless possible that Russian electricity will be flowing in the Baltics transmission system again.
This policy brief is based on a project funded by the Energiforsk research program.
- Benedettini, S. and Stagnaro, C. (2022), Europe’s decoupling of electricity and gas prices: the crisis is temporary, so why do it? https://energypost.eu/europes-decoupling-of-electricity-and-gas-prices-the-crisis-is-temporary-so-should-it-be-done-at-all/
- ENTSO-E Transparency platform. Accessed on the 25th of November 2022 from https://www.entsoe.eu/
- European Comission. (2019). Study on Baltic offshore wind energy cooperation under BEMIP. Final report. ENER/C1/2018-456. June 2019. Accessed on the 12th of November 2022. https://op.europa.eu/lt/publication-detail/-/publication/9590cdee-cd30-11e9-992f-01aa75ed71a1
- IEA. (2021). Lithuania 2021 Energy Policy Review. Accessed on the 12th of November 2022 from https://www.iea.org/reports/lithuania-2021
- Juozaitis J. (2021). The Synchronisation of the Baltic States; Geopolitical Implications on the Baltic Sea Region and Beyond. Energy Highlights. NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence.
- Le Coq, C. and Paltseva, E. (2022). What does the Gas Crisis Reveal About European Energy Security? FREE Policy Brief, https://freepolicybriefs.org/2022/01/24/gas-crisis-european-energy/
- Lazarczyk Carlson, E. and Le Coq, C. (2022a). The weaponization of electricity: the case of electricity trade between Russia and European Union, IAEE Energy Forum, Fourth Quarter 2022.
- Lazarczyk Carlson, E. and Le Coq, C. (2022b). Power coming for Russia and Baltic Sea region’s energy security, Energiforsk report.
- Nordic Energy Research. (2022). Baltic-Nordic Roadmap for Co-operation on Clean Energy Technologies. Accessed on the 12th of November 2022 from https://www.nordicenergy.org/publications/baltic-nordic-roadmap-for-co-operation-on-clean-energy-technologies/
- Nord Pool. Accessed on the 28th of November from https://www.nordpoolgroup.com/en/
The Covid-19 pandemic generated a massive and sudden shift towards teleworking. Survey evidence suggests that remote work will stick in the post-pandemic period. The effects of remote work on workers’ productivity are however not well understood, some workers gaining in productivity whereas others experience the opposite. How can this large heterogeneity in workers productivity following the switch to teleworking be explained? In this brief, we discuss the importance of personality traits. We document strong links between personality, productivity, and willingness to work from home in the post-pandemic period. Our results suggest that a one-size-fits-all policy regarding remote work is unlikely to maximize firms’ productivity.
The Covid-19 pandemic triggered a large and sudden exogenous shift towards working from home (WFH). Within a few months in Spring 2020, the share of remote workers increased from 8.2 percent to 35.2 percent in the US (Bick et al., 2020), and from 5 percent to more than 30 percent in the EU (Sostero et al., 2020). Surveys of business leaders suggest that WFH will stick in the post-pandemic period (e.g., Bartik et al., 2020).
The prevalence of teleworking will ultimately depend on its impact on workers’ productivity and well-being. This impact however remains ambiguous, some studies reporting an overall positive impact, some studies a negative one. Overall, the balance of these pros and cons can vary greatly across individuals. The existing literature emphasizes the importance of gender and occupation for workers’ productivity under WFH arrangements, but a large share of this heterogeneity remains unexplained.
In a recent paper (Gavoille and Hazans, 2022) we investigate the link between personality traits and workers’ productivity when working from home. Importance of non-cognitive skills, in particular personality traits, for individual labor market outcomes is well documented in the literature (e.g., Heckman et al., 2006; Heckman and Kautz, 2012). In the context of WFH, soft skills such as conscientiousness or emotional stability, are good candidates for explaining heterogeneity in relative productivity at the individual employee level.
The Latvian context provides an ideal setup for studying the effect of teleworking on productivity. First, Latvia has a large but unexploited potential for teleworking. Dingel and Neiman (2021) estimate that 35 percent of Latvian jobs could be done remotely, which is about the EU average. However, prior to the pandemic only 3 percent of the workforce was working remotely – one of the smallest figures in the EU. Second, the Latvian government declared a state of emergency in March 2020, which introduced compulsory WFH for all private and public sector employees, except for cases where on-site work is indispensable due to the nature of the work. This led to a six-fold increase in the share of remote workers within a couple of months. This stringent policy constitutes a massive exogenous shock in the worker-level adoption of WFH, well suited for studying.
To study the link between personality traits, teleworking, and productivity, we designed an original survey, implemented in May and June 2021 in Latvia. The target population was the set of employees who experienced work from home (only or mostly) during the pandemic. To reach this population, we used various channels: national news portals, social media (Facebook and Twitter) and radio advertisement. More than 2000 respondents participated in the survey, from which we obtained more than 1700 fully completed questionnaires.
Productivity and Remote Work
In addition to the standard individual characteristics such as age and the likes, we first collect information about respondents’ perception of their own relative productivity at the office and at home. More specifically, we ask “Where are you more productive?”. The five possible answers are “In office”, “In office (slightly)”, “No difference”, “At home (slightly)” and “At home” (plus a sixth answer: “Difficult to tell”). Table 1 provides a description of the answers. Roughly one third of the respondents reports a higher productivity at home, another third a higher productivity at the office, and one third do not report much of a difference. This measure of productivity is self-assessed, as it is the case with virtually any “Covid-19-era” paper on productivity. Note however that our question is not about absolute productivity as such, but relative productivity of teleworking in comparison with productivity at the office, which is arguably easier to self-assess.
Second, we ask “Talking about the job you worked at mostly remotely, and taking into account all difficulties and advantages, what would you choose post-pandemic: working from home or in office for the same remuneration (if you had the choice)?” The five possible answers are “Only from home”, “Mostly from home”, “Indifferent”, “Mostly in office”, “Only in office” (and a sixth option: “Difficult to tell”). The main aim of this question is to study who would like to keep working remotely in the post-pandemic period, irrespective of productivity concerns. Notably, the answers are much different than from the productivity question (see Table 1), which suggests the latter does not reflect preferences.
Finally, we ask respondents about the post-pandemic monthly wage premium required by the respondent to accept i) working at the office for individuals preferring to work from home; ii) working from home for individuals preferring to work at the office. Median values of these premia for workers with different preferences are reported in Table 1 (panel C). These values appear to be economically meaningful both in absolute terms and relative to the median net monthly wage in Latvia (which was 740 euro in 2021), reinforcing the reliability of the survey.
Table 1. Outcome variables
Source: reproduced from Gavoille and Hazans (2022).
Measuring Personality Traits
The survey contains a section aiming at evaluating the personality of the respondent through the lens of the so-called Five Factor Model of Personality. The psychometrics literature offers several standardized questionnaires allowing to build a measure for each of these five factors – Openness to Experience, Agreeableness, Extraversion, Emotional Stability and Conscientiousness. We rely on the Ten-Item-Personality-Inventory (TIPI) measure (Gosling et al., 2003). This test is composed by only ten questions, making it convenient for surveys, and it has been widely used, including in economics. As simple as this approach seems, the performance of this test has been shown to be only slightly below those with more sophisticated questionnaires, and to provide measures highly correlated with the existing alternative measures of personality traits.
Overall, the results indicate that personality traits do matter for productivity at home vs. at the office. The personality trait most strongly related to all three outcome variables is Conscientiousness. Controlling for a battery of other factors, individuals with a higher level of conscientiousness are reporting a higher productivity when working from home as well as a higher willingness to keep working from home after the pandemic. This link is not only statistically significant but also economically meaningful: an individual with a level of conscientiousness in the 75th percentile is 8.4 percentage points more likely to report a higher productivity from home than a similar individual in the 25th percentile. Considering that the sample average is 31 percent, this difference is substantial.
Previous studies documented a positive correlation between Conscientiousness and key labor market outcomes such as wage, employment status and supervisor evaluation. A usual concern of employers is a possible negative selection of workers in teleworking. Observing that highly conscientious workers are more willing to work from home, where they are more productive, suggests that firms do not need to exert a very strict control on employees choosing to telework.
Openness to Experience shows a similar positive relationship with productivity. Extraversion on the other hand is only weakly negatively related to productivity. The relationship between this trait and willingness to work from home is however much stronger. These findings are intuitive: workers with a high Openness to Experience are more likely to cope easily with the important changes associated with switching to WFH. On the other hand, extravert individuals may find it more difficult to remain physically isolated from colleagues.
The literature studying the relationship between WFH and productivity suggests a conditional effect based on gender. In parallel, the literature investigating the role of personality traits on labor market outcomes also documents gender-specific patterns. As our work builds on these two strands of literature, we provide a heterogeneity analysis of the personality traits/productivity relationship conditional on gender.
When disaggregating the analysis by gender, it appears that the relationship between personality traits and productivity is stronger for women than for men. Conscientiousness and (to a smaller extent) Openness to Experience have a strong positive relationship with relative productivity of teleworking for women, while Extraversion and Agreeableness feature economically meaningful negative relationships. Noteworthy, the effects of Agreeableness and Openness to Experience do not concern the probability to be more productive at the office but only the willingness to work from home after the pandemic. For men, only Conscientiousness is significant, with a much smaller magnitude than for women.
We document that personality traits matter for changes in productivity when switching to a WFH regime. In particular, individuals with high levels of Conscientiousness are much more likely to report a better productivity from home than from the office. Additionally, Openness to Experience and Extraversion also do play a role.
Taken together, these results suggest that a one-size-fits-all policy is unlikely to maximize neither firms’ productivity nor workers’ satisfaction. It also highlights that when estimating firm-level ability in switching to remote work, characteristics of individual workers should be considered. In particular, employers practicing remote work should invest in socialization measures to compensate the negative effect of teleworking on the wellbeing of more extravert workers. Finally, several surveys (e.g., Barrero et al., 2021) document that more than a third of workers in the US would start looking for a new job allowing (some) work from home if their current employer would impose a strict in-office policy. Our results support this finding but also indicate that the opposite also holds: some workers would strongly oppose to remaining in a WFH setup after the pandemic. Personality traits are important determinants of the value attached to working from home.
This research is funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA Grants. Project Title: The Economic Integration of the Nordic-Baltic Region through Labour, Innovation, Investments and Trade (LIFT). Project contract with the Research Council of Lithuania (LMTLT) No is S-BMT-21-7 (LT08-2-LMT-K-01-070).
- Barrero, J. M., Bloom, N. and Steven, D. (2021). Why working from home will stick, NBER Working Paper 28731.
- Bartik, A., Cullen, Z., Glaeser, E., Luca, M. and Stanton, C. (2020). What jobs are being done at home during the COVID-19 crisis? Evidence from firm-level surveys, NBER Working Paper 27422.
- Bick, A. and Blandin, A. (2021). Real-time labor market estimates during the 2020 coronavirus outbreak.
- Dingel, J. and Neiman, B. (2021). How many jobs can be done at home?, Journal of Public Economics, 189, 104235.
- Gavoille, N. and Hazans, M. (2022). Personality traits, remote work and productivity, IZA Discussion Paper 15486.
- Gosling, S., Rentfrow, P. and Swann, W. (2003). A very brief measure of the Big-Five personality domains. Journal of Research in personality, 37(6), pp. 504-528.
- Heckman, J., Stixrud, J. and Urzua, S. (2006). The effects of cognitive and noncognitive abilities on labor market outcomes and social behavior, Journal of Labor economics, 24(3), pp. 411-482.
- Heckman, J. and Tim Kautz. (2012). Hard evidence on soft skills. Labour Economics, 19(4), pp. 451-464.
- Sostero, M., Milasi, S., Hurley, J., Fernandez-Macias, H. and Bisello, M. (2020). Teleworkability and the COVID-19 crisis: a new digital divide?, JRC Working Papers Series on Labour, Education and Technology, No. 2020/05.
More than thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe is struck with war following the Russian aggression on Ukraine. Russia’s war on Ukraine entails lost human capital, both in actual lives lost and due to major disruptions to key functions of the society, such as education and research. In light of this, the FREE Network, together with the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA) and the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE), hosted the public conference “Higher Education and Research in War and Peace“ in Warsaw on the 10th of September 2022. This policy brief is based on the presentations and panel discussions held during the conference.
The large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted an entire society, including the education system, with Ukrainian schools just recently partially welcoming back students to the classrooms for the first time since the 25th of February 2022. Closing schools has severe impacts on a population, as highlighted by the recent Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdown and closure of schools around the world following the virus have had and will continue to have massively negative consequences globally, with severe losses in human capital due to lost years of education. This is especially in countries where access to online education is limited or of poor quality. Inequalities also rise following the closure of schools and girls return to school in fewer numbers than their male counterparts. The disruption to the Ukrainian education system will result in lost human capital and lowered levels of knowledge among the population. The war has further restricted access to relevant information for many Ukrainians but also for Russians, making people susceptible to the increased Russian propaganda and misinformation about the war on Ukraine depicted within and outside of Russia.
In light of this, the FREE Network gathered representatives from its affiliated institutions and other relevant actors in the region to discuss the relevance and necessity of continued support for higher education and research within social sciences in Ukraine, and more broadly in Eastern Europe and post-Soviet countries. The conference and the overarching theme related back not only to the original ambition of the FREE Network, namely to support outstanding academia within economics and relate it to policy work but also to the current situation in Europe and the existing threat from Russia to this objective.
This brief will initially cover the work carried out by the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) in response to the Russian aggression, followed by thoughts on Russia’s role in the evolution of knowledge and human capital in the region. The brief continues by covering the benefits and positive outcomes of investments into education and research and lastly concludes with reflections on the role of the FREE Network.
The Kyiv School of Economics’ Response to the Russian Aggression
The war on Ukraine put the spotlight on the importance of high-quality academic institutions as a safety net for the government to maintain vital functions to society. The Vice President for Policy Research at KSE, Nataliia Shapoval, gave a brief overview of how KSE’s work has changed since the Russian war on Ukraine and its implications. Shapoval initially painted a picture of the disruption to the Ukrainian society caused by the Russian aggression, explaining how KSE stepped up during the first months of the war, in some areas doing the work of ministries. While the government has mainly taken back some duties, the KSE is still providing policy advice in areas related to the effects of sanctions, estimates of damages, and food security among others. KSE is also highly active within the areas of education and health, working with Ukrainian schools through the KSE Charitable Foundation (KSE CF) to ensure students can safely return to the classrooms.
Another important aspect of the work carried out by KSE concerns spreading knowledge about and shedding light on the situation in Ukraine. Through the various networks, by talking to colleagues within academia but also to the media, KSE is trying to explain what has happened and is still happening in Ukraine. According to Shapoval, there is a need for delivering correct information and to keep attention fixed on the situation in Ukraine such that people are kept aware of what is going on in the region.
Shapoval also regularly returned to the role of education and research for the present and future Ukraine. According to Shapoval, avoiding brain drain and ensuring Ukrainians are equipped with the necessary knowledge is key to rebuilding a future Ukraine founded on well-functioning democratic institutions. To facilitate this, the KSE is offering two programs, Memory and Conflict Studies (a multidisciplinary field concerned with how the past can be understood and remembered, and how it might impact the present transformation of societies) and Urban Studies, both aimed at covering the future need for competence within these fields. Further mentioned by Shapoval is the fact that, due to the war, many Ukrainians have left the country and are being educated elsewhere. While this partially ensures intellectual human capital is not lost, these students must be kept anchored to Ukraine through networks to ensure they will return back to help rebuild Ukraine. This is especially important in order to counter the ongoing evolution in Russia.
Thoughts on the Role of Russia in the Region
While the recent developments in Ukraine have of course disrupted education and research in more severe and tangible ways, the situation for independent researchers in Russia has also deteriorated. Torbjörn Becker, Director of SITE, emphasized how several Russian colleagues in exile still collaborate with the FREE Network on policy work and research. Becker also further stressed how they will be paramount once Ukraine wins the war, as will the role of partnerships for a future transformation of the Russian society. Acknowledging that there are many Russians (especially amongst academics in exile) who oppose the war, Shapoval however stressed the disturbing fact that many Russians do seem to support the Russian aggression and that the role of Russia as a destructive force in the region cannot be understated. This was seconded by Tamara Sulukhia, Director of the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET). Sulukhia argued that Russian politics slow down and disturbs the free states within the region, and hampers organizations and countries from moving in the right direction in regard to democracy, economic evolution and integration toward Europe. Both Shapoval and Sulukhia reminded the audience that even with a Ukrainian victory, and this in a war which is defining the future of democracy in the region, Russia will persist. Russia has proven time and again, by effectively occupying 23 percent of Georgia as of 2008, with the occupation of Crimea in 2014 and with the most recent war on Ukraine, to be a real military threat to post-Soviet countries. Even though Russia losing the war would shift the power dynamics in the region, the ever-present threat of Russia is not only of a military character. Russia also attempts to impact education, research and knowledge more generally by promoting a Soviet-style education and by altering reality through propaganda and false information.
While discussing the current situation of higher education within economics in Belarus, Dzmitry Kruk, Deputy Academic Director of the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC), regularly came back to the negative impacts from Russia on the quality of education and research. Where the western style education is free but also differential, Soviet-style education is centred around learning how to fulfil instructions, according to Kruk. The Belarusian educational system is anchored to Russia and as a result Belarusians today have what Kruk referred to as a “spoilt mental map”. The necessity of free education and research outside the Russian alternative (which is mainly published in Russian and with a post-Marxist view of the world) is vital in order to equip people with the tools to respond to the new types of dictatorship evident in the region. Young people within academia who have experienced freedom and have had the opportunity of thinking for themselves will also be vital on the future path toward democracy. Kruk’s opinions were furthered by Shapoval stating how education must and should counter the risk of brainwashing in the region and in the world as a whole. Shapoval argued the necessity of countering propaganda with the help not only of education but also the legislation of media and social media and enforcement of international laws in general. The necessity of ensuring new values for intellectuals and students in times to come is of paramount value and, according to Shapoval, as important to halting the Russian imperialist visions today as it was some thirty years ago. Shapoval further argued that the threat from Russia’s ambitions should be met not only with education and research but also through installing a sense of hope and prosperity among young people.
Investments into Education and Research as a Safeguard and Development Driver
While countries within the turbulent region differ, not least in regard to overall political ambitions and structure, in most of them investments into education and research have been paying off. KSE’s expertise allowed it to work closely with the Ukrainian government, standing strong in their fight against Russia. The impact from investments into education and research in the region is also evident in both Georgia and Latvia.
Sulukhia argued ISET to be, and to have been, a key contributor to human capital among Georgians as well as others in the Caucasus region. Sulukhia argued this to be especially important when under occupation, mentioning how Georgia has, since the occupation of the two regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in all ways possible tried to ensure that the human capital of internally displaced people is not lost. ISET have ten folded its intake of students and is today providing world-class education in the Georgian language, effectively counteracting brain drain. Post-graduates are working in major institutions providing relevant knowledge and competence in key areas of not only the Georgian society but also other countries in the Caucasus. A similar picture was painted by Anders Paalzow, Rector at Stockholm School of Economics in Riga (SSE Riga). Paalzow specifically pointed out how the investments in education made in Latvia in the 1990s have truly paid off, with graduates having been absorbed into relevant parts of the Latvian society and the Baltics for decades.
Having previous students in key positions in society to ensure sound policy work (such as good fiscal and audit control of the countries in question etc.) is however not the only benefit of investing in education and research within the region. As emphasized by Sulukhia, institutes within the FREE Network and other networks alike are strategically vital in the sense that they ensure knowledge and evidence for policy makers and as they convey evidence-based messages for the general public. This is especially important in a time when the message of the developmental direction for the countries within the region has to be reinforced in order to stand against Russian misinformation and propaganda as well as voices questioning the benefits of European integration. Sulukhia emphasized how it is of importance that the relevance of education and research is rooted among the people and not only within academia to evade the risk of preaching to the choir. Vlad Mykhnenko, Fellow at St. Peter’s College at the University of Oxford, further argued it is necessary for academia to be much more policy oriented than what is the reality today. Researchers should comment on political events and public policy to ensure the outreach of knowledge and information, not just to help the public have a greater understanding of complex issues but also to help inform experts. According to Myhnenko, other researchers are keen on getting context-relevant knowledge and insights from economists working within the region.
The necessity of communicating the outcomes from investments within economics education and research and more broadly within social sciences was a recurring theme during the conference. Presenting the University’s engagement in various programs such as Erasmus+, Horizon Europe, The European Strategy for Universities etc., Professor Agnieszka Chłoń-Domińczak from the Warsaw School of Economics (WSE) outlined the importance of funding from the EU. Chłoń-Domińczak highlighted how EU support has enabled greater partnerships and internationalization and pointed out that while the transfer of knowledge and internationalization of students and researchers are of the essence, there is a need for also ensuring capacity building among other staff when building sound institutions. Internationalization through the exchange as a hedge against brain drain and as a means of improving the quality of academia was further emphasized by Michal Myck, Director of CenEA.
Chłoń-Domińczak, alongside Paalzow and the Swedish Ambassador to Poland, Stefan Gullgren, further argued the necessity to bridge between business and academia. This, especially as investments in social sciences, as compared to investments in natural sciences or technology cannot be commercialized. Additionally, the former havs payoffs in the long run which lowers investment incentives for firms making it even more crucial to communicate the large benefits to society of investments into the sphere. Ensuring consistent and continued support requires not only a good connection to businesses but also proper legal structures in place. As argued by Gullgren, the Swedish model with private businesses funding about 70 percent of research and education in Sweden, is made possible largely thanks to the fact that many investments are funnelled through foundations that are exempt from taxation when set up to finance research grants and education. Thus, one should consider not only business, academia and investors when thinking about future funding for research and education, but the legislative framework as well, especially in contexts such as the future rebuild of Ukraine.
As for how the benefits from investments into social sciences best are communicated, opinions shifted among participants throughout the day. On the one hand, Becker’s argument of being visible not only in traditional media but on social media alike was met by Shapoval, highlighting the need for a regulatory framework for both platforms. On the other hand, Myhnenko’s argument for more policy oriented and outreaching research was met by Kruk claiming there is a risk of researchers within economics deviating too far from research within the field. Kruk also addressed the argument of being available on social media by countering that in his view, researchers should refrain from work based on what generates clicks or reads.
The Relevance of the FREE Network in times of War
Considering the evidence brought forth during the conference by colleagues within the FREE Network, be it the suppression of BEROC in their efforts of founding a School of Economics in Belarus, the effects on the KSE from the war on Ukraine, or the rise of anti-European expressions in Georgia, the necessity of the network was at the end of the day perhaps clearer than ever. As highlighted by virtually all speakers during the conference, internationalization through networks such as the FREE Network fosters open minds, allows for improvements within all aspects of academia, and enables the exchange of thoughts, ideas and experiences. Although the heterogeneity of the region should not be overlooked and investments made in accordance with this, the similarities between the countries within the FREE Network outnumber the differences. The immediate threat from Russia must be met with knowledge and fact-based information as well as high-quality education and research being made available among the population in the region as a whole. To ensure a continued transition within the region, the risk of brain drain must be evaded through continuous support to the social sciences, as these have the power to truly transform nations.
The FREE Network public conference in Warsaw was the first in-person conference since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The benefits of meeting in person were however overshadowed by the ongoing Russian aggression on Ukraine and ultimately on democratic ideals, including those of independent academia. We hope to welcome all FREE Network institutes to next year’s conference in Kyiv, to further discuss how outstanding education and research can help rebuild a sovereign Ukraine.
List of Participants
- Torbjörn Becker, Director of SITE
- Agnieszka Chłoń-Domińczak, Professor at WSE
- Stefan Gullgren, Swedish Ambassador to Poland
- Dzmitry Kruk, Deputy Academic Director, BEROC
- Michal Myck, Director of CenEA
- Vlad Mykhnenko, Fellow, St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford
- Anders Paalzow, Rector SSE Riga
- Nataliia Shapoval, Vice President for Policy Research at KSE
- Tamara Sulukhia, Director of ISET
The Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) in collaboration with the FREE Network is delighted to invite you to a webinar to share insights and knowledge on different strategies implemented in vaccination, opening up the borders and the socioeconomic aspects within Sweden, Eastern Europe and the Baltic Sea region, and the Caucasus region.
Since vaccination has started across all over the world, it is vital to reflect upon the road map different countries have chosen to open up societies and economies. How will countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltic Sea region, and the Caucasus region handle the opening of their respective borders and what lies next in line to go back to a pre-pandemic societal routine?
- RSVP: Monday, June 21, 2021, 23:59 (CET, Sweden).
- Location: Online. A link to the webinar will be sent to you 4-5 hours ahead of the start of the webinar.
- Registration: Please register via the Eventbrite platform (see here).
The webinar is part of a series of online discussions aiming to provide regional overview updates as well as in-depth analysis of specific topics related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the FREE Network includes research and policy institutes in Belarus (BEROC), Latvia (BICEPS), Russia (CEFIR at NES), Poland (CenEA), Georgia (ISET PI), Ukraine (KSE) and Sweden (SITE) the upcoming webinar will provide a comprehensive regional perspective on different strategies implemented in vaccination, opening up the borders and the socio-economic aspect. Learn more about the different strategies in FREE Network countries and ask questions directly to distinguished panelists and experts.
- Jesper Roine, Professor at the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE/ Sweden)
- Iurii Ganychenko, Senior researcher at Kyiv School of Economics (KSE/Ukraine)
- Lev Lvovskiy, Senior Research Fellow at the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC/ Belarus)
- Michal Myck, Director of the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA/ Poland)
- Natalya Volchkova, Director of the Centre for Economic and Financial Research at New Economic School (CEFIR at NES/ Russia)
- Sergejs Gubins, Research Fellow at the Baltic International Centre for Economic Policy Studies (BICEPS/ Latvia)
- Giorgi Papava, Lead Economist at ISET Policy Institute (ISET PI/ Georgia)
- Anders Olofsgård, Deputy Director of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) and Associate Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE)
There are great expectations that vaccinations will enable a return to normality from Covid-19. However, there is massive variation in vaccination efforts, vaccine access, and attitudes to vaccination in the population across countries. This policy brief compares the situation in a number of countries in Eastern Europe, the Baltics, the Caucasus region, and Sweden. The brief is based on the insights shared at a recent webinar “Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic: Vaccination efforts in FREE Network countries” organized by the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics.
As of February 16, 2021, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths across the globe has reached 2.45 million according to Our World in Data (2021). Rapid implementation of vaccination programs that extend to major parts of the population is of paramount importance, not only from a global health perspective, but also in terms of economic, political, and social implications.
Eastern Europe is no exception. Although many countries in the region had a relatively low level of infections during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, all have by now been severely affected. Vaccination plays a key role for these economies to bounce back, especially as many of them depend on tourism, trade, and other sectors that have been particularly hurt by social distancing restrictions.
Figure 1. Cumulative confirmed COVID-19 cases (top panel) and deaths per million (bottom panel) in the FREE Network region
Against this background, the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics invited representatives of the FREE Network countries to discuss the current vaccination efforts happening in Eastern Europe, the Baltics, and the Caucasus (the represented countries were Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden, and Ukraine). This brief summarizes the main points raised in this event.
In Latvia, Poland, and Sweden, the second wave of infections started to pick up in November 2020 and peaked according to most COVID-19 impact measures in early 2021. As all three countries are members of the EU and take part in its coordinated efforts, they have all received vaccines from the same suppliers (i.e. Astra/Zeneca, Moderna, and Pfizer/BioNTech).
Latvia had problems early on with getting the vaccination process off the ground. The health minister was blamed for the slow start since he declined orders from Pfizer/BioNTech in the early stages, and was forced to resign. As of February 16, two doses per 100 people have been distributed primarily to medical staff, social care workers, and key-state officials.
Figure 2. Cumulative COVID-19 vaccination doses per 100 people
With the first phase starting in late December, Sweden has by February 16th, 2021, fully vaccinated 1,05% of the population while experiencing serious problems with delivery and implementation. As planning and delivery of vaccines are centralized while the implementation is decided regionally, there have been some unclarities regarding who stands accountable for issues that emerge. Guidelines, issued by the Public Health Agency of Sweden, for how to prioritize different groups have been changed a couple of times. Currently, the (non-binding) recommendation is to prioritize vaccinating people living in elderly care homes, as well as personnel working with this group, followed by those above 65 years of age, health care workers, and other risk groups.
Looking at regional statistics there are significant differences in vaccinating people across regions with an average of 70% usage rate of delivered vaccines, and with lows at 40-60%, see figure 3. Reasons for this remain unclear.
Figure 3. Distributed relative to delivered vaccines across counties (län) in Sweden.
Poland has so far been somewhat more efficient than Sweden in its vaccination efforts. Despite turbulent political events over the last couple of months, it has managed to distribute 5.7 doses per 100 people. The country has just finished the first phase of the national vaccination plan, which focused on vaccinating healthcare personnel, and has now entered the second phase with a shifted focus towards elderly care homes, people above 60 years of age, military, and teachers.
Among the countries that are not members of the EU, and thus, not taking part in its coordinated vaccination efforts, the vaccination statuses are more diverse.
Russia was fast in developing and approving the Sputnik V vaccine. The country started vaccinating in early December, although only people in the age of 18-60 in prioritized occupations such as health care workers, people living and working in nursing homes, teachers, and military. At the start of 2021, the program extended to people above 60 and, on January 16, all adults were given the possibility to register themselves and get vaccinated within one week. There are no precise data at the moment, but the fraction of the population vaccinated is likely to be higher than 1%.
Others in the region have faced greater challenges in signing contracts with vaccine suppliers. Georgia and Ukraine are still waiting to secure deliveries and have not yet started to vaccinate. Being outside the EU agreements and with public and political mistrust towards Sputnik V and Russia alternatives are being explored. Georgia has ordered vaccines through the COVAX platform (co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO) but there are concerns about potential delays in deliveries. In terms of prioritizing groups once vaccinations can start, both Ukraine and Georgia have set similar priorities as other countries, with extra focus on health-care and essential workers, age-related risk groups, and people with chronic illnesses.
While Belarus’ official figures on the death toll have been widely perceived as unrealistic from the beginning, the most accurate and recent data shows an excess deaths rate of about 20% in July. The country has no precise data on vaccinations, but some reports have emerged based on interviews with government officials in the Belarusian media. These suggest that around 20,000 imported doses of Sputnik V have been distributed mainly to medical professionals and an additional 120,000-140,000 doses have been promised by Russia.
The discussion during the Q&A session at the webinar concerned the economic and political implications of vaccinations in the region.
Pavlo Kovtoniuk, the Head of Health Economics Center at KSE in Ukraine, stressed the importance of a coordinated vaccination effort in Europe with regards to geopolitics. There is a clear EU vs Non-EU divide in the vaccination status across European countries. The limited vaccine availability in Non-EU countries such as Ukraine, Georgia, and Belarus offers opportunities for more influential nations like Russia and China to pressure and affect domestic policy in these countries.
Also highlighting the fact that no one is safe until everybody is safe, Lev Lvovskiy, Senior Research Fellow at BEROC in Minsk, noted that vaccination efforts in Europe are important for recovery in small open economies like Belarus as many of its trade partners currently have imposed temporary import restrictions.
Similar to the political crisis happening alongside the pandemic in Belarus, the challenges we see in Poland – protests against the recent developments regarding abortion rights and attempts by the government to limit free media – have deflated the urgency to vaccinate in terms of its future economic and political implications, according to Michal Myck, director of CenEA in Szczecin.
Looking forward, another major challenge for the region is vaccine skepticism. Not only do many countries have to build proper infrastructure that can administer vaccines at the required scale and pace, but also make sure that people actually show up. In Latvia, Poland, Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine, polls show that less than 50% of the population are ready to vaccinate. Sergejs Gubin, Research Fellow at BICEPS in Riga, highlighted that there can be systematic variation in the willingness to vaccinate within countries as e.g. Russian-speaking natives in Latvia have been found to be less prone to vaccinate on average. Also, most of the skepticism in Georgia has been more directed towards the Chinese and Russian vaccine than towards those approved by the EU, according to Yaroslava Babych who is lead economist at ISET in Tbilisi.
Even though vaccine skepticism is an issue in Russia too, Natalya Volchkova, Director of CEFIR at New Economic School in Moscow, pointed to the positive impact of “bandwagon effects” in vaccination efforts. When one person gets vaccinated, that person can spread more accurate information about the vaccine to their social circle, resulting in fewer and fewer people being skeptical as the share of vaccinated grows. In such a scenario vaccine skepticism can fade away over time, even if initial estimates suggest it is high in the population.
Almost exactly a year has passed since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic. The economic and social consequences have been enormous. Now vaccines – developed faster than expected – promise a way out of the crisis. But major challenges, of different types and magnitudes across the globe, still remain. As the seminar highlighted, there are important differences across transition countries. Some countries (such as Russia) have secured vaccines by developing them, but still face challenges in producing and distributing vaccines. Others have secured deliveries through the joint effort by the EU, but this has also had its costs in terms of a somewhat slower process (compared to some of the countries acting on their own) and sharing within the EU. For some other countries, like Belarus, Ukraine, and Georgia, the vaccination is yet to be started. All in all, the choice and availability of vaccines across the region illustrates how economic and geopolitical questions remain important. Finally, for many of the region countries vaccine skepticism and information as well as disinformation are important determinants in distributing vaccines. Summing up, the combination of these factors once again reminds us that how to best get back from the pandemic is truly a multidisciplinary question.
List of Participants
- Iurii Ganychenko, Senior researcher at Kyiv School of Economics (KSE/Ukraine)
- Jesper Roine, Professor at Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) and Deputy Director at the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE/ Sweden)
- Lev Lvovskiy, Senior Research Fellow at the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC/ Belarus)
- Michal Myck, Director of the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA/ Poland)
- Natalya Volchkova, Director of the Centre for Economic and Financial Research New Economic School (CEFIR NES/ Russia)
- Pavlo Kovtoniuk, Head of Health Economics Center at Kyiv School of Economics (KSE/Ukraine)
- Sergej Gubin, Research Fellow at the Baltic International Centre for Economic Policy Studies (BICEPS/ Latvia)
- Yaroslava V. Babych, Lead Economist at ISET Policy Institute (ISET PI/ Georgia)
Video of the FREE Network webinar “Addressing the Covid-19 Pandemic: Vaccination Efforts in Free Network Countries“
The world holds its breath as Covid-19 continues to spread and challenge local health care systems as well as local economies. The focus of international media has mostly been on China and then Western Europe and the US. However, countries around the Baltic Sea, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus differ from the West with respect to their socio-economic development, trade integration, and political systems. The webinar “Addressing the Covid-19 Pandemic in Eastern Europe: Policy Responses Across Eastern Europe” hosted by the the Forum for Research on Eastern Europe and Emerging Economies (FREE) Network on May 28, 2020 aimed to fill this gap in the current discourse and give voice to experts from Latvia, Russia, Georgia, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine as well as Sweden, in order to contextualize their countries’ policy choices and experiences in the crisis. Policy recommendations can only be of preliminary nature at this point of time. Yet, it becomes clear that even though transition countries have fared relatively well during the health crisis, they will not be spared from the ensuing economic crisis and will require policy tools which are adapted to the local context.
Less than six months after the outbreak of the Covid-19 crisis in China, the pandemic has spread across the globe. The epicenter has moved from Asia to Europe and the US, and in late May 2020 some voices are warning that it is now shifting towards Latin America. While the world´s eyes have been on Milan and Paris, little has been said about how the new EU member states and countries to the East of the European Union cope with the pandemic. Some observers have claimed the emergence of a new “iron curtain” in the corona crisis; Eastern Europe, the Baltic States and the Caucasus having been relatively unscathed compared to the West. Persisting differences in trade and travel patterns, demographic and socio-economic differences, as well as differences in trust levels could account for such an observation.
Yet, the most recent statistics suggest that this may be a premature interpretation and the overall picture is much more heterogeneous. Infections in Russia seem to be rising quickly, Georgia by contrast has turned out to be one of the top students.
Figure 1: Total confirmed Covid-19 cases vs. deaths per million.
On May 28, 2020, the Forum for Research on Eastern Europe and Emerging Economies (FREE) Network hosted a webinar with its member institutes: BEROC in Belarus, BICEPS in Latvia, CEFIR@NES in Russia, CenEA in Poland, ISET-PI in Georgia, KSE in Ukraine, and SITE in Sweden to discuss how their countries have fared in the corona crisis so far. The webinar provided an opportunity to share experiences and to add some interpretations and insights to the crude statistics, which often become unintelligible in the current overflow of information.
Figure 2: FREE Network Countries.
The webinar started with Torbjörn Becker, director of SITE, introducing recent developments in terms of health statistics in the region and the research being done within the framework of the FREE Network.
SITE on Sweden
Jesper Roine, Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics and SITE, then presented the case of Sweden, the country which – with regards to death rates – has surpassed all other FREE Network countries by far. The Swedish case has been very controversially discussed in international media throughout the pandemic. Yet, the common claim that in Sweden everything was “business as usual” is not true, according to Roine. Compared to its direct neighboring countries Finland, Denmark and Norway, Sweden has chosen a relatively lenient approach to Covid-19, but high schools and universities have moved to distance learning since March and working from home is highly encouraged. Mobility reports show that Swedes have reduced their movement a lot, but less so than their Scandinavian neighbors. Roine confirmed that the Swedish health policy has been dominated by the public health agency, Folkhälsomyndigheten. Even though this is the default option in Swedish law, Roine stressed that this does not mean that the government’s hands are tied.
He presented two preliminary conclusions regarding the impact of the Swedish strategy: first, Sweden’s mitigation strategy has worked relatively well; the public health system is seriously strained but not overwhelmed. Yet, Roine said that the “lack of testing [remained] a mystery”, even for advocates of the current mitigation strategy. Second, in Roine’s opinion the attempt to protect the elderly has failed. The virus has spread to numerous nursing homes and excess death rates indicate that mortality has increased sharply for citizens above 65 years of age, much less for other age groups. Geographically, Stockholm has been the center of the epidemic. Other parts of the country have been affected to a much lesser degree.
BICEPS on Latvia
Sergejs Gubins, Research Fellow at the Baltic International Centre for Economic Policy Studies (BICEPS) presented the Latvian experience of the corona crisis. A small country of about 2 million inhabitants, Latvia currently presents the second lowest Covid-19 mortality rate within the EU. Gubins related this to the Latvian government’s quick and determined policy reaction. After the first cases were reported in early March, schools and universities were closed, public gatherings forbidden, international travel halted, and a two-meter social distance rule imposed. Given the success of this strategy, Latvia has started to loosen its restrictions. A “Baltic Schengen area” was announced very recently and travel among the Baltic states is now possible again. The economic support package announced by the government amounts to 45 percent of GDP and includes a large equity investment in the airline airBaltic as well as important investments in infrastructure. According to Gubins, the current policy discussion focuses on the accessibility and size of help funds, widely deemed insufficient. Furthermore, the economic outlook of the country in terms of unemployment rates and GDP growth is bleak despite its success in containing the virus.
CEFIR on Russia
According to Natalia Volchkova, Director of the Centre for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR) at the New Economic School in Moscow, Russia has pursued a “standard European strategy” in its fight against Covid-19. Two new hospitals exclusively for Covid-19 patients were created in Moscow, the current epicenter of the pandemic, and nearby. Most money spent on health care went to these new facilities, less was transferred as bonuses to medical workers. Russia has emphasized testing: around 10 million tests were performed; close to 400,000 cases of Covid-19 were confirmed. On May 27, free antibody testing was started in Moscow and is to be extended to other parts of the country. State-financed testing will serve to measure the potential degree of immunization of the population. While cases have started to decline in Moscow, other regions of Russia lag behind and are still expected to peak.
Volchkova stressed the role of the Russian shadow economy, which has been severely hit by the crisis. The size of the informal sector makes it difficult for the Kremlin to pass efficient support packages for the economy. Another policy problem lies in the weakness of the social security net, particularly unemployment benefits are hard to obtain. Therefore, most policy measures have focused on companies. Family allowances are the government’s second heavily used tool, which to Volchkova’s mind is an efficient policy choice. She concluded that the current help measures may already amount to 3 percent of GDP.
ISET-PI on Georgia
As of May 28, 2020, Georgia had only reported 12 corona deaths. According to Yaroslava V. Babych, Lead Economist at ISET Policy Institute in Tbilisi, the key explanation for Georgia’s relative success in the corona crisis is that, as in Latvia, testing started very early. She explained that even before Georgia’s neighbor Iran confirmed an outbreak of Covid-19, passengers’ temperatures were taken at the border crossing. The government in Tbilisi then soon imposed harsh quarantine measures, local quarantines in regional hotspots, a shutdown of public transport, an evening curfew and very high fines. Compliance with the measures was very high. Orthodox Easter celebrations were allowed to take place under strict hygiene measures and did not result in a spike in infection rates.
The country, largely reliant on tourism and agriculture, is now focusing on the economic consequences of the crisis. According to Babych, Georgia holds the ambition to become the first European country to open up to international tourism again from July 1, 2020. The government is also determined to avoid another meltdown of the important construction sector, as happened in 2008 – 2009. However, similar to the Russian case, Babych identified two factors which crucially weaken the Georgian economy: the lack of automatic stabilizers in the form of unemployment benefits and the large informal sector. Policymakers have therefore resorted to monthly cash payments to those who stopped paying income tax around March and fixing prices for specific food products. While the effectiveness of these measures still has to be evaluated, the policy discourse in Georgia has moved on to the socio-economic consequences of the crisis.
BEROC on Belarus
Lev Lvovskiy, Senior Research Fellow at the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC), provided an overview of the Belarusian policy measures. According to Lvovskiy, Belarus has a high number of nurses and doctors and a relatively efficient “Soviet style of fighting pandemics”. There have been hardly any restrictions to public gatherings and events, both the Orthodox and the Catholic Easter festivities were maintained, as were soccer games and the national Victory parade. Initially, the official policy was to trace and isolate cases, but this did not prove to be very efficient, supposedly due to poor enforcement. Lvovskiy said that testing is rare which is why statistics on the spread of the virus and its effects remain of questionable quality.
While Belarus disposed of a solid health care system, it was not well prepared economically, which explains why the government has not been very proactive in Lvovskiy’s opinion. The Belarusian industrial production decreased by 7 percent in April 2020 compared to the same month the year before; unemployment has started to increase, yet, there are no significant unemployment benefits. Increasing the height of unemployment pay is the key policy issue under discussion in Minsk but in the absence of international loans, the government´s hands are tied. The issue is urgent: the most recent BEROC survey suggests that 46% of individuals living in urban areas have already seen their income decrease. Lvovskiy’s preliminary conclusion is that the Belarusian policy response to the Covid-19 crisis was not as bad as expected by many international observers: the health crisis has mostly been contained. But like in the Georgian case, the socio-economic implications of the crisis are becoming more pressing now.
CenEA on Poland
Michal Myck, Director of the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA) in Szczecin, explained that Poland also successfully avoided a spike in infection rates thanks to a quick policy response. Poland was one of the first countries to impose international travel restrictions and very harsh social distancing measures, yet, infection rates remain higher than in other FREE Network countries. Since the second half of April, most measures have been lifted and the spread of the virus seems under control and concentrated in the region of Silesia.
All limitations were implemented without invoking a state of emergency. Myck suggested that the government may have made this choice because the presidential elections would have been automatically postponed otherwise, an outcome the government wanted to avoid. The elections were eventually postponed, but doubts persist with regards to the constitutional validity of the way this decision was taken. Myck stressed the persisting political uncertainty. Economic policy in Poland has focused on protecting jobs and providing liquidity to enterprises. State loans have been primarily directed to SMEs and will be partly written off, conditional on continued activity and employment. In Myck’s opinion, the economic outcome for Poland will depend on whether investments from and exports to Western Europe quickly resume or not.
KSE on Ukraine
Tymofiy Mylovanov, President of the Kyiv School of Economics and former Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture, stressed that in the first few weeks of the pandemic, Ukraine enforced harsher policy measures than its neighbors. The lock down was almost complete, with only grocery stores and pharmacies allowed to open. Compliance was high during the first few weeks but then started to decline.
The government allocated 3 percent of GDP to a Covid-19 support fund, there has been a lot of deregulation on the labor market, but the central bank’s key interest rate remains at 8 percent. Pressure for a looser monetary policy increases according to Mylovanov, as GDP has fallen by 1.2 percent and unemployment is expected to reach up to 10 percent by the end of the year.
Mylovanov’s thoughts about Ukraine’s economic prospects are mixed: average salaries continue to grow during the crisis which may be explained by the fact that low-skilled employees get laid off first, suggesting a potentially long-lasting change of the composition of the workforce. At the same time, the political situation is volatile with local elections coming up in October 2020 and public pressure mounting. As Poland, Ukraine did not declare a state of emergency. While Mylovanov thinks that the policy response could have been better, he is optimistic that Ukraine was better prepared to Covid-19 than to previous crises and will not have to resort to international loans.
It is too early to draw any definite conclusions, but undoubtedly, a lot can be learned from the very diverse experiences of the corona crisis in the region. The former Soviet countries have a different historical and political legacy than Western European countries and accordingly, have found different ways of handling the crisis. Some have been more successful than their Western neighbors. But even those countries which have not faced a large health crisis have been severely hit economically and are likely to suffer economic hardship in the future.
The lack of a strong tradition of unemployment benefits and automatic stabilizers renders countries like Georgia, Belarus and Russia particularly vulnerable to the economic crisis which will inevitably follow the Covid-19 outbreak. In some countries, the corona shock may also accelerate or trigger political changes. In the view of this, the FREE Network will organize a series of follow-up webinars and briefs on more specific corona-related topics, with the aim of contextualizing statistics and providing a wider picture of the socio-economic consequences and policy implications of the crisis.
List of Speakers
- Jesper Roine, Professor at the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE / Sweden)
- Sergejs Gubins, Research Fellow at the Baltic International Centre for Economic Policy Studies (BICEPS / Latvia)
- Natalia Volchkova, Director of the Centre for Economic and Financial Research at New Economic School (CEFIR@NES / Russia)
- Yaroslava V. Babych, Lead Economist at ISET Policy Institute (ISET / Georgia)
- Tymofiy Mylovanov, President at the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE / Ukraine)
- Lev Lvovskiy, Senior Research Fellow at the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC / Belarus)
- Michal Myck, Director of the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA / Poland)
- Torbjörn Becker, Director of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE)
In many parts of Eastern Europe, the transition towards stronger political institutions and democratic deepening has been slow and uneven. Weak political checks and balances, corruption and authoritarianism have threatened democracy, economic and social development and adversely impacted peace and stability in Europe at large. This policy brief summarizes the insights from Development Day 2019, a full-day conference organized by SITE at the Stockholm School of Economics on November 12th. The presentations were centred around the current political and business climate in the Eastern European region, throwing light on new developments in the past few years, strides towards and away from democracy, and the challenges as well as possible policy solutions emanating from those.
The State of Democracy in the Region
From a regional perspective, Eastern Europe has seen mixed democratic success over the years with hybrid systems that combine some elements of democracy and autocracy. Based on the V-Dem liberal democracy index, ten transition countries that have joined the EU saw rapid early progress after transition. In comparison, the democratic development in twelve nations of the FSU still outside of the EU has been largely stagnant.
In recent years, however, democracy in some of those EU countries, such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Romania have been in decline. Poland, one of the region’s top performers in terms of GDP growth and life expectancy, has experienced a sharp decline in democracy since 2015. Backlashes have often occurred after elections in which corruption and economic mismanagement have led to the downfall of incumbent governments and a general distrust of the political system. Together with low voter turnout, this created fertile ground for more autocratic forces to gain power helped by demand for strong leadership.
An example from Ukraine illustrated the role of media, both traditional and social, for policy-making. In some countries of the region, traditional media is strictly state-controlled with obvious concerns for democracy. This is less the case in Ukraine, where also social media plays an important role in forming political opinions. The concern is that, as elsewhere, opinions that gain traction on social media may not be impartial or well informed, affecting public perception about policy-making. A recent case showing the popular reaction to an attack on the former governor of the Central Bank suggests that those implementing important reforms may not get due credit when biased and partial information dominates the political discourse on social media.
Another case is the South Caucasian region: Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. The political situation there has been characterized as a “government by day, government by night” dichotomy, implying that the real political power largely lies outside the official political institutions. In Georgia, the situation can be described as a competition between autocracy and democracy, with a feudalistic system in which powerful groups replace one another across time. As a result, trust in political institutions is low, as well as citizens’ political participation.
In the case of Azerbaijan, there is an elected presidency, but in reality, power has been passed on hereditarily, becoming a de facto patrimonial system. Lastly, in Armenia, the new government possesses democratic credentials, but the tensions with neighbouring Azerbaijan and Turkey have given increasing power to the military and important economic powers. Overall, democratisation in these countries has been hindered by a trend for powerful politicians to form parties around themselves and to retain power after the end of their mandates. Also, the historical focus on nation-building in these countries has led to a marked exclusion of minorities and a conflict of national identities.
The last country case in this part of the conference focused on the current political situation in Russia and on the likely outcomes after 2024. The social framework in Russia appears constellated by fears – a fear of a world war, of regime tightening and mass repressions, and of lawlessness – all of them on the rise. Similarly, the economy is suffering, in particular from low business activity, somewhat offset by a boost in social payments. Nonetheless, it was argued that it is not economic concerns, but rather political frustration, that has recently led citizens to take to the street. Despite this, survey data shows that trust in Putin is still over 60%, and that most people would vote for him again. However, survey data also points out that the most likely determinant of this trust is the lack of another reference figure, and that citizens are not averse to the idea of political change in itself. Lastly, Putin will most likely retain some political power after 2024, transiting “from father to grandfather of the nation”.
Voices from the civil society in the region also emphasized the importance of a free media and an active civil society to prevent the backsliding of democracy. With examples from Georgia and Ukraine, it was argued that maintaining the independence of the judiciary, as well as the public prosecutor’s office, can go a long way in building credibility both among citizens and the international community. The European Union can leverage the high trust and hopeful attitudes it benefits from in the region to push crucial reforms more strongly. For example, more than 70% of Georgians would vote for joining the EU if a referendum was held on the topic and the European Union is widely regarded as Georgia’s most important foreign supporter.
Weak Institutions and Business Development
The quality of political and legal institutions strongly affects the business environment, in particular with regards to the protection of property rights, rule of law, regulation and corruption. Research from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) highlights that the governance gap between Eastern Europe and Central Asia and most advanced economies is still large, even though progress in this area has actually been faster than for other emerging economies since the mid-‘90s. This is measured through enterprise surveys as well as individual surveys. In Albania, for instance, a perception of lower corruption was linked to a decrease in the intention to emigrate equivalent to earning 400$ more per month. Another point concerned the complexity of measuring the business environment and the benefits of firm-level surveys asking firms directly about their own actual experience of regular enforcement. For example, in countries such as Poland, Latvia and Romania the actual experience of business regulation measured via the EBRD’s Business Environment Enterprise Performance Survey, is far worse than one would expect from the World Bank’s well known Doing Business rating.
From the perspective of Swedish firms, trade between Sweden and the region has remained rather flat in the past years, as the complexity and risks of these markets especially discourage SMEs. Business Sweden explained that Swedish firms considering an expansion in these markets are concerned with issues of exchange rate stability, and the institutional-driven presence of unfair competition and of excessive bureaucracy. Moreover, inadequate infrastructure and the presence of bribery and corruption make everyday business operations risky and costly. It was generally emphasized that countries have to create a safe investment environment by reducing corruption, establishing a clear and well enacted regulatory environment, having dependable courts and strengthening domestic resource mobilization. Swedish aid can play a part, but there is a need to develop new ways of delivering aid to make it more effective.
An interesting example is Belarus, that has seen more economic and political stability than most neighbours, but at the same time a lack of both economic and political reforms towards market economy and democracy. Gradually the preference towards private ownership, as opposed to public, has increased in recent years and the country has seen a rising share of the private sector, even without specific privatization reforms. Nonetheless, international businesses are still reluctant to invest due to high taxes, a lack of access to finance as well as to a qualified workforce, but most importantly due to the weak legal system. An exception has been China, and Belarus has looked at the One Belt One Road Initiative as a promising bridge to the EU. Scandals connected with the two main Chinese-invested projects have damped the enthusiasm recently, though.
The economic and political risks of extensively relying on badly diversified energy sources, as is the case with natural gas imports from Russia in many transition states were also discussed. It was shown how some countries such as Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania have improved their energy security by either benefitting from reverse-flow technology and the EU’s bargaining power or building their own LNG terminals to diversify supply sources. However, either of these, as well as other energy security improving solutions are likely to come with an economic cost, though, that not all countries in the region can afford.
A Government Perspective
The main focus of this section was the Swedish government’s new inspiring foreign policy initiative, “Drive for Democracy”. Drawing from a definition of democracy by Kerstin Hesselgren, an early Swedish female parliamentarian, democracy enables countries to realize and utilize the forces of the individual and draw them into a life-giving, value-creating society. It was emphasized that the values of democracy are objectives by themselves (e.g. freedom of expression, respect for human rights) but also that democracy has important positive effects in other areas of human welfare. The Swedish government views democracy as the best foundation for a sustainable society, equality of opportunity and absence of gender or racial bias.
The “Drive for Democracy” specifically identifies Eastern Europe as one of the main frontiers between democracy and autocracy, and the Swedish government promotes human rights and stability through various bilateral programmes through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida, and multilateral initiatives within the EU, such as the Eastern Partnership. It was also emphasized that democracy is a continuous process that can always be improved, as indeed experienced by Sweden. Political rights were granted to women only in 1919 followed by convicts and prisoners in 1933 and to the Roma people only in 1950. Political and democratic rights are thus never once and for all given, and it is crucial that the dividends from democracy are carried forward to the younger generation.
In sum, the day illustrated clearly how democracy engages all segments of society, from the business sector to civil society, and the potential for but also challenges involved for democratic deepening in Eastern Europe. To get more information about the presentations during the day, please visit our website.
Participants at the Conference
- PER OLSSON FRIDH, State Secretary, Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
- ALEXANDER PLEKHANOV, Director for Transition Impact and Global Economics at EBRD.
- TORBJÖRN BECKER, Director, SITE.
- CHLOÉ LE COQ, Associate Professor, SITE and Professor of Economics, University of Paris II Panthéon-Assas.
- THOMAS DE WAAL, Senior Fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
- NATALIIA SHAPOVAL, Vice President for Policy Research at Kyiv School of Economics.
- ILONA SOLOGUB, Scientific Editor at VoxUkraine and Director for Policy Research at Kyiv School of Economics.
- KETEVAN VASHAKIDZE, President at Europe Foundation, Georgia.
- MARIA BISTER, Senior Policy Specialist, Sida.
- HENRIK NORBERG, Deputy Director, Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
- YLVA BERG, CEO and President, Business Sweden.
- LARS ANELL, Ambassador and formerly Volvo’s Senior Vice President.
- ERIK BERGLÖF, Professor in Practice and Director of the Institute of Global Affairs, London School of Economics and Political Science.
- KATERYNA BORNUKOVA, Academic Director, BEROC, Minsk.
- ANDREI KOLESNIKOV, Senior Fellow, Carnegie Moscow Center.