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Navigating Market Exits: Companies’ Responses to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 led to widespread international condemnation. As governments imposed sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals tied to the war, international companies doing business in Russia came under increasing pressure to withdraw from Russia voluntarily. In the first part of this policy brief, we show what kind of companies decided to leave the Russian market using data collected by the LeaveRussia project. In the second part, we focus on prominent Swedish businesses which announced a withdrawal from Russia, but whose products were later found available in the country by investigative journalists from Dagens Nyheter (DN). We collect the stock prices for these companies when available and show how investors respond to these news.

Business Withdrawal from Russia

The global economy is highly interconnected, and Russia forms an important part. Prior to the invasion, Russia ranked 13th in the world in terms of global goods exports value and 22nd in terms of imports (Schwarzenberg, 2023). In the months following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s imports dropped sharply (about 50 percent according to Sonnenfeld et al., 2022). Before February 24th, Russia’s main trading partners were China, the European Union (in particular, Germany and the Netherlands) and Belarus (as illustrated in Figure 1). While there is some evidence of Russia shifting away from Western countries and towards China following the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the resulting sanctions, Western democracies still made up about 60 percent of Russia’s trade  in 2020 (Schwarzenberg, 2023). In the same year, Sweden’s exports to Russia accounted for 1.4 percent of Sweden’s total goods exports, of which 59 percent were in the machinery, transportation and telecommunications sectors. 1.3 percent of Swedish imports were from Russia (Stockholms Handelskammare, 2022).

Figure 1. Changes in trade with Russia, 2013-2020.

Source: IMF Direction of Trade Statistics, data until 2020. From Lehne (2022).

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2024, Western governments imposed strict trade and financial sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals involved in the war (see S&P Global, 2024). These sanctions are designed to hamper Russia’s war effort by reducing its ability to fight and finance the war. The sanctions make it illegal for, e.g., European companies to sell certain products to Russia as well as to import select Russian goods (Council of the European Union, 2024). Even though sanctions do not cover all trade with Russia, many foreign businesses have been pressured to pull out of Russia in an act of solidarity. The decision by these businesses to leave is voluntary and could reflect their concerns over possible consumer backlash. It is not uncommon for consumers to put pressure on businesses in times of geopolitical conflict. For instance, Pandya and Venkatesan (2016) find that U.S. consumers were less likely to buy French-sounding products when the relationship between both countries deteriorated.

The LeaveRussia Project

The LeaveRussia project, from the Kyiv School of Economics Institute (KSE Institute), systematically tracks foreign companies’ responses to the Russian invasion. The database covers a selection of companies that have either made statements regarding their operations in Russia, and/or are a large global player (“major companies and world-famous brands”), and/or have been mentioned in relation to leaving/waiting/withdrawing from Russia in major media outlets such as Reuters, Bloomberg, Financial times etc. (LeaveRussia, 2024). As of April 5th, 2024, the list contains 3342 firms, the companies’ decision to leave, exit or remain in the Russian market, the date of their announced action, and company details such as revenue, industry etc. The following chart uses publicly available data from the LeaveRussia project to illustrate patterns in business withdrawals from Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

Figure 2a shows the number of foreign companies in Russia in the LeaveRussia dataset by their country of headquarters. Figure 2b shows the share of these companies that have announced a withdrawal from Russia by April 2024, by their country of headquarters.

Figure 2a. Total number of companies by country.

Figure 2b. Share of withdrawals, by country.

Source: Authors’ compilation based on data from the LeaveRussia project and global administrative zone boundaries from Runfola et al. (2020).

Some countries (e.g. Canada, the US and the UK) that had a large presence in Russia prior to the war have also seen a large number of withdrawals following the invasion. Other European countries, however, have seen only a modest share of withdrawals (for instance, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands and Slovakia). Companies headquartered in countries that have not imposed any sanctions on Russia following the invasion, such as Belarus, China, India, Iran etc., show no signs of withdrawing from the Russian market. In fact, the share of companies considered by the KSE to be “digging in” (i.e., companies that either declared they’d remain in Russia or who did not announce a withdrawal or downscaling as of 31st of March 2024) is 75 percent for more than 25 countries, including not only the aforementioned, but also countries such as Argentina, Moldova, Serbia and Turkey.

Withdrawal Determinants

The decision for companies to exit the market may range from consumer pressure to act in solidarity with Ukraine, to companies’ perceived risk from operating on the Russian market (Kiesel and Kolaric, 2023). Out of the 3342 companies in the LeaveRussia project’s database, about 42 percent have, as of April 5th, 2024, exited or stated an intention to exit the Russian market. This number increases only slightly to 49 percent when considering only companies headquartered in democratic (an Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index score of 7 or higher) countries within the EU. Figure 3 shows the number of companies that announced their exit from the Russian market, by month. A clear majority of companies announce their withdrawal in the first 6 months following the invasion.

Figure 3. Number of foreign companies announcing an exit from the Russian market, 2022-2024.

Source: Authors’ compilation based on data from the LeaveRussia project.

Similarly to the location of companies’ headquarters, the decision to exit the Russian market varies by industry. Figure 4 a depicts the top 15 industries with the highest share of announced withdrawals from the Russian market among industries with at least 10 companies. Most companies with high levels of withdrawals are found in consumer-sensitive industries such as the entertainment sector, tourism and hospitality, advertising etc.

Figure 4a. Top 15 industries in terms of withdrawal shares.

Figure 4b. Bottom 15 industries in terms of withdrawal shares.

Source: Authors’ compilation based on data from the LeaveRussia project.

In contrast, Figure 4b details the industries with the lowest share of companies opting to withdraw from the Russian market. Only around 10 percent of firms in the “Defense” and “Marine Transportation” industries chose to withdraw. Two-thirds of firms within the “Energy, oil and gas” and “Metals and Mining” sectors have chosen to remain in business in Russia following the war in Ukraine.

Several sectors have been identified as crucial in supplying the Russian military with necessary components to sustain their military aggression against Ukraine, mainly electronics, communications, automotives and related categories. We find that many of these sectors are among those with the lowest share of companies withdrawing from Russia. Companies for which Russia constitute a large market share have more to lose from exiting than others. Another reason for not exiting the market relates to the current legal hurdles of corporate withdrawal from Russia (Doherty, 2023). Others may simply not have made public announcements or operate within an industry dominated by smaller companies that are not on the radar of the LeaveRussia project. Nonetheless, Bilousova et al. (2024) detail that products from companies within the sanction’s coalition continue to be found in Russian military equipment destroyed in Ukraine. This is due to insufficient due diligence by companies as well as loopholes in the sanctions regime such as re-exporting via neighboring countries, tampering with declaration forms or challenges in jurisdictional enforcement due to lengthy supply chains, among others. (Olofsgård and Smitt Meyer, 2023).

And Those Who Didn’t Leave After All

The data from the LeaveRussia project details if and when foreign businesses announce that they will leave Russia. However, products from companies that have announced a departure from the Russian market continue to be found in the country, including in military components (Bilousova, 2024). In autumn 2023, investigative journalists from the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter exposed 14 Swedish companies whose goods were found entering Russia, in most cases contrary to the companies’ public claims (Dagens Nyheter, 2023; Tidningen Näringslivet, 2023). For this series of articles, the journalists used data from Russian customs and verified it with information from numerous Swedish companies, covering the time period up until December 2022. This entailed reviewing thousands of export records from Swedish companies either directly to Russia or via neighboring countries such as Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. All transactions mentioned in the article series have been confirmed with the respective companies, who were also contacted by DN prior to publication (Dagens Nyheter, 2023b). DNs journalists also acted as businessmen, interacting with intermediaries in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, exposing re-routing of Swedish goods from a company stated to have cut all exports to Russia in the wake of the invasion (Dagens Nyheter, 2023d).

For Sweden headquartered companies exposed in DN and that are traded on the Swedish Stock Exchange, we collect their stock prices and trading volume. Our data includes information on each stock’s average price, turnover, number of trades by date from around the date of the DN publications as well as the date of each company’s prior public announcement of exiting Russia. Table 1 details the companies who were exposed of doing direct or indirect business with Russia by DN and who had announced an exit from the Russian market previously. In their article series, DN also shows that goods from the following companies entered Russia; AriVislanda, Assa Abloy, Atlas Copco, Getinge, Scania, Securitas Tetra Pak, and Väderstad. Most of the companies exposed by DN operate within industries displaying low withdrawal shares.

Table 1. Select Swedish companies’, time of exit announcement and exposure in Dagens Nyheter and stock names.


Source: The LeaveRussia project, 2023; Dagens Nyheter, 2023b, 2023c, 2023d. Note: The exit statements have been verified through companies’ press statements and/or reports when available. For Epiroc, the claim has been verified via a previous Dagens Nyheter article (Dagens Nyheter, 2023a).

In Figure 5, we show the average stock price and trades-weighted average stock price of the Swedish companies in Table 1 around the time when the companies announced that they are leaving Russia.

Figure 5. Average stock price of companies in Table 1 around Russian exit announcements.

Source: Author’s compilation based on data from Nasdaq Nordic.

There appears to be an immediate increase in stock prices after firms announced their exit from the Russian market. Stock prices, however, reverse their gains over the next couple of days. In general, stock prices are volatile, and we also see similar-sized movements immediately before the announcement. Due to this volatility and the fact that we cannot rule out other shocks impacting these stock prices at the same time, it is difficult to attribute any movements in the stock prices to the firms’ decisions to leave Russia.

The academic evidence on investors’ reactions to firms divesting from Russia is mixed. Using a sample of less than 300 high-profile firms with operations in Russia compiled by researchers at the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, Glambosky and Peterburgsky (2022) find that firms that divest within 10 days after the invasion experience negative returns, but then recover within a two-week period. Companies announcing divesting at a later stage do not experience initial stock price declines. In contrast, Kiesel and Kolaric (2023) use data from the LeaveRussia project to find positive stock price returns to firms’ announcements of leaving Russia, while there appears to be no significant investor reaction to firms’ decisions to stay in Russia.

When considering the effect from DN’s publications, the picture is almost mirrored, with the simple and trades-weighted average stock prices dipping in the days following the negative media exposure before not only recovering, but actually increasing. Similar caveats apply to the interpretation of this chart. In addition, the DN publication occurred shortly after the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7 and Israel’s subsequent war on Gaza. While conflict and uncertainty typically dampen the stock market, the events in the Middle East initially caused little reaction on the stock market (Sharma, 2023).

Figure 6. Average stock price for companies listed in Table 1 around the time of DN exposure.

Source: Author’s compilation based on data from Nasdaq Nordic.

Discussion

As discussed in Becker et al. (2024), creating incentives and ensuring companies follow suit with the current sanctions’ regime should be a priority if we want to end Russia’s war on Ukraine and undermine its wider geopolitical ambitions. Nevertheless, Bilousova et al. (2024), and Olofsgård and Smitt Meyer (2023), highlight that there is ample evidence of sanctions evasions, including for products that are directly contributing to Russia’s military capacity. Even in countries that have a strong political commitment to the sanctions’ regime, enforcement is weak. For instance, in Sweden, it is not illegal to try and evade sanctions according to the Swedish Chamber of Commerce (2024). There is little coordination between the numerous law enforcement agencies that are responsible for sanction enforcement and there have been very few investigations into sanctions violations.

Absent effective sanctions enforcement and for the many industries not covered by sanctions, can we rely on businesses to put profits second and voluntarily withdraw from Russia? Immediately after the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as news stories about the brutality of the war proliferated, many international companies did announce that they will be leaving Russia. However, a more systematic look at data collected by the LeaveRussia project and KSE Institute reveals that more than two years into the war, less than half of companies based in Western democracies intend to distance themselves from the Russian market. A closer look at companies who are continuing operations in Russia reveals that they tend to be in sectors that are crucial for the Russian economy and war effort, such as energy, mining, electronics and industrial equipment. Many of these companies are probably seeing the war as a business opportunity and are reluctant to put human lives before their bottom line (Sonnenfeld and Tian, 2022).

Whether companies who announce that they are leaving Russia actually do leave is difficult to independently verify. A series of articles published in a prominent Swedish newspaper (Dagens Nyheter) last autumn revealed that goods from 14 major Swedish firms continue to be available in Russia, despite most of these firms publicly announcing their withdrawal from the country. The companies’ reactions to the exposé were mixed. A few companies, such as Scania and SSAB, have decided to cut all exports to the intermediaries exposed by the undercover journalists (for instance, in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan). Other companies stated that they are currently investigating DN’s claims or that the exports exposed in the DN articles were final or delayed orders that were accepted before the company decided to withdraw from Russia. Another company, Trelleborg – a leading company within polymer solutions for a variety of industry purposes – reacted to the DN exposure by backtracking from its earlier commitment to exit the Russian market (Dagens Nyheter 2023b, 2023d). Wider reaction to these revelations was muted. Looking at changes in stock prices for the exposed companies, we find little evidence that investors are punishing companies for not honoring their public commitment to withdraw from Russia.

In an environment, where businesses themselves withdraw at low rates and investors do not shy away from companies contradicting their own claims, the need for stronger enforcement of sanctions seems more pressing than ever.

References

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.

Navigating Environmental Policy Consistency Amidst Political Change

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Europe, like other parts of the world, currently grapples with the dual challenges of environmental change and democratic backsliding. In a context marked by rising populism, misinformation, and political manipulation, designing credible sustainable climate policies is more important than ever. The 2024 annual Energy Talk, organized by the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE), gathered experts to bring insight into these challenges and explore potential solutions for enhancing green politics.

In the last decades, the EU has taken significant steps to tackle climate change. Yet, there is much to be done to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The rise of right-wing populists in countries like Italy and Slovakia, and economic priorities that overshadow environmental concerns, such as the pause of environmental regulations in France and reduced gasoline taxes in Sweden, are significantly threatening the green transition. The current political landscape, characterized by democratic backsliding and widespread misinformation, poses severe challenges for maintaining green policy continuity in the EU. The discussions at SITEs Energy Talk 2024 highlighted the need to incorporate resilience into policy design to effectively manage political fluctuations and ensure the sustainability and popular support of environmental policies. This policy brief summarizes the main points from the presentations and discussions.

Policy Sustainability

In his presentation, Michaël Aklin, Associate Professor of Economics and Chair of Policy & Sustainability at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, emphasized the need for environmental, economic, and social sustainability into climate policy frameworks. This is particularly important, and challenging given that key sectors of the economy are difficult to decarbonize, such as energy production, transportation, and manufacturing. Additionally, the energy demand in Europe is expected to increase drastically (mainly due to electrification), with supply simultaneously declining (in part due to nuclear power phaseout in several member states, such as Germany). Increasing storage capacity, enhancing demand flexibility, and developing transmission infrastructure all require large, long-term investments, and uncompromising public policy. However, these crucial efforts are at risk due to ongoing political uncertainty. Aklin argued that a politics-resilient climate policy design is essential to avoid market fragmentation, decrease cooperation, and ensure the support for green policies.  Currently, industrial policy is seen as the silver bullet, in particular, because it can create economies of scale and ensure political commitment to major projects. However, as Aklin explained, it is not an invincible solution, as such projects may also be undermined by capacity constraints and labour shortages.

Energy Policy Dynamics

Building on Aklin’s insights, Thomas Tangerås, Associate Professor at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics, explored the evolution of Swedish energy policy. Tangerås focused on ongoing shifts in support for nuclear power and renewables, driven by changes in government coalitions. Driven by an ambition to ensure energy security, Sweden historically invested in both hydro and nuclear power stations. In the wake of the Three Mile Island accident, public opinion however shifted and following a referendum in 1980, a nuclear shutdown by 2010 was promised. In the new millennia, the first push for renewables in 2003, was followed by the right-wing government’s nuclear resurgence in 2010, allowing new reactors to replace old ones. In 2016 there was a second renewable push when the left-wing coalition set the goal of 100 percent renewable electricity by 2040 (although with no formal ban on nuclear). This target was however recently reformulated with the election of the right-wing coalition in 2022, which, supported by the far-right party, launched a nuclear renaissance. The revised objective is to achieve 100 percent fossil-free electricity by 2040, with nuclear power playing a crucial role in the clean energy mix.

The back-and-forth energy policy in Sweden has led to high uncertainty. A more consistent policy approach could increase stability and minimize investment risks in the energy sector. Three aspects should be considered to foster a stable and resilient investment climate while mitigating political risks, Tangerås concluded: First, a market-based support system should be established; second, investments must be legally protected, even in the event of policy changes; and third, financial and ownership arrangements must be in place to protect against political expropriation and to facilitate investments, for example, through contractual agreements for advance power sales.

The Path to Net-Zero: A Polish Perspective

Circling back to the need for climate policy to be socially sustainable, Paweł Wróbel, Energy and climate regulatory affairs professional, Founder of GateBrussels, and Managing Director of BalticWind.EU, gave an account of Poland’s recent steps towards the green transition.

Poland is currently on an ambitious path of reaching net-zero, with the new government promising to step up the effort, backing a 90 percent greenhouse gas reduction target for 2040 recently proposed by the EU However, the transition is framed by geopolitical tensions in the region and the subsequent energy security issues as well as high energy prices in the industrial sector. Poland’s green transition is further challenged by social issues given the large share of the population living in coal mining areas (one region, Silesia, accounts for 12 percent of the polish population alone). Still, by 2049, the coal mining is to be phased out and coal in the energy mix is to be phased out even by 2035/2040 – optimistic objectives set by the government in agreement with Polish trade unions.

In order to achieve this, and to facilitate its green transition, Poland has to make use of its large offshore wind potential. This is currently in an exploratory phase and is expected to generate 6 GW by 2030, with a support scheme in place for an addition 12 GW. In addition, progress has been achieved in the adoption of solar power, with prosumers driving the progress in this area. More generally, the private sectors’ share in the energy market is steadily increasing, furthering investments in green technology. However, further investments into storage capacity, transmission, and distribution are crucial as the majority of Polands’ green energy producing regions lie in the north while industries are mainly found in the south.

Paralleling the argument of Aklin, Wróbel also highlighted that Poland’s high industrialization (with about 6 percent of the EU’s industrial production) may slow down the green transition due to the challenges of greening the energy used by this sector. The latter also includes higher energy prices which undermines Poland’s competitiveness on the European market.

Conclusion

The SITE Energy Talk 2024 catalyzed discussions about developing lasting and impactful environmental policies in times of political and economic instability. It also raised questions about how to balance economic growth and climate targets. To achieve its 2050 climate neutrality goals, the EU must implement flexible and sustainable policies supported by strong regulatory and political frameworks – robust enough to withstand economic and political pressures. To ensure democratic processes, it is crucial to address the threat posed by centralised governments decisions, political lock-ins, and large projects (with potential subsequent backlashes). This requires the implementation of fair policies, clearly communicating the benefits of the green transition.

On behalf of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, we would like to thank Michaël Aklin, Thomas Tangerås and Paweł Wróbel for participating in this year’s Energy Talk.

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.

Greening Politics – Navigating Environmental Policy Consistency Amidst Political Change

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The Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) and the Forum for Research on Eastern Europe: Climate and Environment (FREECE) would like to invite you to its 2024 SITE Energy Talk. This edition will address the complexities of upholding environmental policies amidst a changing political landscape.

In the ongoing battle against climate change, maintaining our environmental commitments is more crucial than ever. However, the evolving landscape of global politics, marked by shifting international relations and significant concerns regarding democratic regression, presents escalating challenges to the continuity of our environmental objectives and obligations. This year’s SITE Energy Talk will prioritize the identification of risks posed by political transitions to our environmental aspirations and explore strategies for maintaining the credibility of environmental policies in the face of political flux.

Speakers

Michaël Aklin

Michaël Aklin, Associate Professor of Economics and holder of the Chair of Policy & Sustainability (PASU) at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, who will offer a broader European perspective.

 

 

 

Thomas Tangerås

Thomas Tangerås, Associate Professor, Program Director at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN), who will address the Swedish perspective on the issue.

 

 

 

Paweł Wróbel

Paweł Wróbel, Energy and climate regulatory affairs professional. Founder of GateBrussels and Managing Director of BalticWind.EU, who will present Polish perspective on green transition in the face of European and regional challenges.

Registration

The event will take place in room Torsten, Sveavägen 65, 113 50 Stockholm (the main building of SSE) and the registration opens at 11.45 near room Torsten.

The event will also be streamed online via Zoom for those who cannot join the event in person. Please register via the Trippus platform:

NOTE: A light lunch will be provided for those who pre-register for in-person participation.

Please contact site@hhs.se if you have any questions regarding the event.

Highlights from Previous SITE Energy Talk Events

SITE Energy Talk is an annual event. The purpose is to bring together scholars and practitioners to discuss recent developments in the energy markets and regulation, such as:

How to Undermine Russia’s War Capacity: Insights from Development Day 2023

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As Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine continues, the future of the country is challenged by wavering Western financial and military support and weak implementation of the sanction’s regime. At the same time, Russia fights an information war, affecting sentiments for Western powers and values across the world. With these challenges in mind, the Stockholm Institute for Transition Economics (SITE) invited researchers and stakeholders to the 2023 Development Day Conference to discuss how to undermine Russia’s capacity to wage war. This policy brief shortly summarizes the featured presentations and discussions.

Holes in the Net of Sanctions

In one of the conference’s initial presentations Aage Borchgrevink (see list at the end of the brief for all presenters’ titles and affiliations) painted a rather dark picture of the current sanctions’ situation. According to Borchgrevink, Europe continuously exports war-critical goods to Russia either via neighboring countries (through re-rerouting), or by tampering with goods’ declaration forms. This claim was supported by Benjamin Hilgenstock who not only showed that technology from multinational companies is found in Russian military equipment but also illustrated (Figure 1) the challenges to export control that come from lengthy production and logistics chains and the various jurisdictions this entails.

Figure 1. Trade flows of war-critical goods, Q1-Q3, 2023.

Source: Benjamin Hilgenstock, Kyiv School of Economics Institute.

Offering a central Asian perspective, Eric Livny highlighted how several of the region’s economies have been booming since the enforcement of sanctions against Russia. According to Livny, European exports to Central Asian countries have in many cases skyrocketed (German exports to the Kyrgyzs Republic have for instance increased by 1000 percent since the invasion), just like exports from Central Asian countries to Russia. Further, most of the export increase from central Asian countries to Russia consists of manufactured goods (such as telephones and computers), machinery and transport equipment – some of which are critical for Russia’s war efforts. Russia has evidently made a major pivot towards Asia, Livny concluded.

This narrative was seconded by Michael Koch, Director at the Swedish National Board of Trade, who pointed to data indicating that several European countries have increased their trade with Russia’s neighboring countries in the wake of the decreased direct exports to Russia. It should be noted, though, that data presented by Borchgrevink showed that the increase in trade from neighboring countries to Russia was substantially smaller than the drop in direct trade with Russia from Europe. This suggests that sanctions still have a substantial impact, albeit smaller than its potential.

According to Koch, a key question is how to make companies more responsible for their business? This was a key theme in the discussion that followed. Offering a Swedish government perspective, Håkan Jevrell emphasized the upcoming adoption of a twelfth sanctions package in the EU, and the importance of previous adopted sanctions’ packages. Jevrell also continued by highlighting the urgency of deferring sanctions circumvention – including analyzing the effect of current sanctions. In the subsequent panel Jevrell, alongside Adrian Sadikovic, Anders Leissner, and Nataliia Shapoval keyed in on sanctions circumvention. The panel discussion brought up the challenges associated with typically complicated sanctions legislation and company ownership structures, urging for more streamlined regulation. Another aspect discussed related to the importance of enforcement of sanctions regulation and the fact that we are yet to see any rulings in relation to sanctions jurisdiction. The panelists agreed that the latter is crucial to deter sanctions violations and to legitimize sanctions and reduce Russian government revenues. Although sanctions have not yet worked as well as hoped for, they still have a bite, (for instance, oil sanctions have decreased Russian oil revenues by 30 percent).

Reducing Russia’s Government Revenues

As was emphasized throughout the conference, fossil fuel export revenues form the backbone of the Russian economy, ultimately allowing for the continuation of the war. Accounting for 40 percent of the federal budget, Russian fossil fuels are currently mainly exported to China and India. However, as presented by Petras Katinas, the EU has since the invasion on the 24th of February, paid 182 billion EUR to Russia for oil and gas imports despite the sanctions. In his presentation, Katinas also highlighted the fact that Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) imports for EU have in fact increased since the invasion – due to sanctions not being in place. The EU/G7 imposed price cap on Russian oil at $60 per barrel was initially effective in reducing Russian export revenues, but its effectiveness has over time being eroded through the emergence of a Russia controlled shadow fleet of tankers and sales documentation fraud. In order to further reduce the Russian government’s income from fossil fuels, Katinas concluded that the whitewashing of Russian oil (i.e., third countries import crude oil, refine it and sell it to sanctioning countries) must be halted, and the price cap on Russian oil needs to be lowered from the current $60 to $30 per barrel.

In his research presentation, Daniel Spiro also focused on oil sanctions targeted towards Russia – what he referred to as the “Energy-economic warfare”. According to Spiro, the sanctions regime should aim at minimizing Russia’s revenues, while at the same time minimizing sanctioning countries’ own costs, keeping in mind that the enemy (i.e. Russia) will act in the exact same way. The sanctions on Russian oil pushes Russia to sell oil to China and India and the effects from this are two-fold: firstly, selling to China and India rather than to the EU implies longer shipping routes and secondly, China and India both get a stronger bargaining position for the price they pay for the Russian oil. As such, the profit margins for Russia have decreased due to the price cap and the longer routes, while India and China are winners – buying at low prices. Considering the potential countermoves, Spiro – much like Katinas – emphasized the need to take control of the tanker market, including insurance, sales and repairs. While the oil price cap has proven potential to be an effective sanction, it has to be coupled with an embargo on LNG and preferrable halted access for Russian ships into European ports – potentially shutting down the Danish strait – Spiro concluded.

Chloé Le Coq presented work on Russian nuclear energy, another energy market where Russia is a dominant player. Russia is currently supplying 12 percent of the United States’ uranium, and accounting for as much as 70 percent on the European market. On top of this, several European countries have Russian-built reactors. While the nuclear-related revenues for Russia today are quite small, the associated political and economic influence is much more prominent. The Russian nuclear energy agency, Rosatom, is building reactors in several countries, locking in technology and offering loans (e.g., Bangladesh has a 20-year commitment in which Rosatom lends 70 percent of the production cost). In this way Russia exerts political influence on the rest of the world. Le Coq argued that energy sanctions should not only be about reducing today’s revenues but also about reducing Russian political and economic influence in the long run.

The notion of choke points for Russian vessels, for instance in the Danish strait, was discussed also in the following panel comprising of Yuliia Pavytska, Iikka Korhonen, Aage Borchgrevink, and Lars Schmidt. The panelists largely agreed that while choke points are potentially a good idea, the focus should be on ensuring that existing sanctions are enforced – noting that sanctions don’t work overnight and the need to avoid sanctions fatigue. Further, the panel discussed the fact that although fossil fuels account for a large chunk of federal revenues, a substantial part of the Russian budget come from profit taxes as well as windfall taxes on select companies, and that Russian state-owned companies should in some form be targeted by sanctions in the future. In line with the previous discussion, the panelists also emphasized the importance of getting banks and companies to cooperate when it comes to sanctions and stay out of the Russian market. Aage Borchgrevink highlighted that for companies to adhere to sanctions legislation they could potentially be criminally charged if they are found violating the sanctions, as it can accrue to human rights violations. For instance, if companies’ parts are used for war crimes, these companies may also be part of such war crimes. As such, sanctions can be regarded as a human rights instrument and companies committing sanctions violations can be prosecuted under criminal law.

Frozen Assets and Disinformation

The topic of Russian influence was discussed also in the conference’s last panel, composed of Anders Ahnlid, Kata Fredheim, Torbjörn Becker, Martin Kragh, and Andrii Plakhotniuk. The panelists discussed Russia’s strong presence on social media platforms and how Russia is posting propaganda at a speed unmet by legislators and left unchecked by tech companies. The strategic narrative televised by Russia claims that Ukraine is not a democracy, and that corruption is rampant – despite the major anti-corruption reforms undertaken since 2014. If the facts are not set straight, the propaganda risks undermining popular support for Ukraine, playing into the hands of Russia. Further, the panelists also discussed the aspect of frozen assets and how the these can be used for rebuilding Ukraine. Thinking long-term, the aim is to modify international law, allowing for confiscation, as there are currently about 200 billion EUR in Russian state-owned assets and about 20 billion EUR worth of private-owned assets, currently frozen.

The panel discussion resonated also in the presentation by Vladyslav Vlasiuk who gave an account of the Ukrainian government’s perspective of the situation. Vlasiuk, much like other speakers, pointed out sanctions as one of the main avenues to stop Russia’s continued war, while also emphasizing the need for research to ensure the implications from sanctions are analyzed and subsequently presented to the public and policy makers alike. Understanding the effects of the sanctions on both Russia’s and the sanctioning countries’ economies is crucial to ensure sustained support for the sanction’s regime, Vlasiuk emphasized.

Joining on video-link from Kyiv, Tymofiy Mylovanov, rounded off the conference by again emphasizing the need for continued pressure on Russia in forms of sanctions and sanctions compliance. According to Mylovanov, the Russian narrative off Ukraine struggling must be countered as the truth is rather that Ukraine is holding up with well-trained troops and high morale. However, Mylovanov continued, future funding of Ukraine’s efforts against Russia must be ensured – reminding the audience how Russia poses a threat not only to Ukraine, but to Europe and the world.

Concluding Remarks

The Russian attack on Ukraine is military and deadly, but the wider attack on the liberal world order, through cyber-attacks, migration flows, propaganda, and disinformation, must also be combatted. As discussed throughout the conference, sanctions have the potential for success, but it hinges on the beliefs and the compliance of citizens, companies, and governments around the world. To have sanctions deliver on their long-term potential it is key to include not only more countries but also the banking sector, and to instill a principled behavior among companies – having them refrain from trading with Russia. Varying degrees of enforcement undermine sanctions compliant countries and companies, ultimately making sanctions less effective. Thus, prosecuting those who breach or purposedly evade sanctions should be a top priority, as well as imposing control over the global tanker market, to regain the initial bite of the oil price cap. Lastly, it is crucial that the global community does not forget about Ukraine in the presence of other conflicts and competing agendas. And to ensure success for Ukraine we need to restrain the Russian war effort through stronger enforcement of sanctions, and by winning the information war.

List of Participants

Anders Ahnlid, Director General at the National Board of Trade
Aage Borchgrevink, Senior Advisor at The Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Torbjörn Becker, Director at the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics
Chloé Le Coq, Professor of Economics, University of Paris-Panthéon-Assas, Economics and Law Research Center (CRED)
Benjamin Hilgenstock, Senior Economist at Kyiv School of Economics Institute
Håkan Jevrell, State Secretary to the Minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade
Michael Koch, Director at Swedish National Board of Trade
Iikka Korhonen, Head of the Bank of Finland Institute for Emerging Economies (BOFIT)
Martin Kragh, Deputy Centre Director at Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS)
Eric Livny, Lead Regional Economist for Central Asia at European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
Anders Leissner, Lawyer and Expert on sanctions at Advokatfirman Vinge
Tymofiy Mylovanov, President of the Kyiv School of Economics
Vladyslav Vlasiuk, Sanctions Advisor to the Office of the President of Ukraine
Nataliia Shapoval, Chairman of the Kyiv School of Economics Institute
Yuliia Pavytska, Manager of the Sanctions Programme at KSE Institute
Andrii Plakhotniuk, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Kingdom of Sweden
Daniel Spiro, Associate Professor, Uppsala University
Adrian Sadikovic, Journalist at Dagens Nyheter
Kata Fredheim, Executive Vice President of Partnership and Strategy and Associate Professor at SSE Riga
Lars Schmidt, Director and Sanctions Coordinator at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Sweden

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.

How to Undermine the Russian War Effort and Support Ukraine

20231205 Development Day 2023

This year SITE’s Development Day will focus on sanctions and other strategies to curb Russian export revenues and the Russian war economy more generally, support Ukraine’s reconstruction efforts, and combat disinformation.

Conference Speakers

Håkan Jevrell, State Secretary to Minister for International Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade Johan Forssell.

Vladyslav Vlasiuk, Sanctions Advisor to the Office of the President of Ukraine and Secretary of the International Expert Group on Russian Sanctions.

Registration & Program

The program will feature both analytical presentations of the current situation and moderated panel discussions. Key topics include the effectiveness of sanctions on Russian energy exports and imports of sanctioned goods from the West, trade and smuggling through neighbouring countries, and sanctions violations of Western companies. The conference will also scrutinize efforts to release frozen Russian assets to contribute to Ukraine’s reconstruction and discuss disinformation and the hybrid war over the medial narrative.

Registration

Please proceed with your registration via the Trippus platform by clicking the following link (see here). If you have any questions regarding the event, please contact site@hhs.se.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed during events and conferences are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

The Economics of Sustainable Transport

20231201 FREECE Event

Join us for the workshop on the “Economics of Sustainable Transport” hosted by FREECE and SITE at the Stockholm School of Economics. This one-day event will delve into the complex interplay between transportation systems and environmental sustainability.

Workshop Highlights:

  • Paper Presentations: Engage with cutting-edge research on topics such as fuel taxation, air pollution, emission reductions, congestion charges, electric vehicle adoption, tax incidence, and aviation decarbonization.
  • Keynote Speeches: Gain insights from leading experts in sustainable transport economics who will share their latest findings and future directions in the field.

Call for Papers:

We invite academics to present their research at the workshop. If you are interested, please submit your paper on topics related to sustainable transport by October 27 to julius.andersson@hhs.se.

Keynote speakers

Thomas Sterner (University of Gothenburg)

Thomas is professor of environmental economics at the University of Gothenburg. His research is focused on the design of environmental policy instruments, and he has published more than 100 academic articles. Recent research focuses on issues of acceptability of policy instruments, their distributional effects, and ways of making efficient instruments such as taxes more acceptable by refunding or using revenues constructively.

Ulrike Kornek (Kiel University)

Ulrike serves as a professor of environmental and resource economics at Kiel University, Germany. Her research interests are in international climate change economics, where she analyzes the design of institution to mitigate climate change, in particular optimal carbon prices, in theoretical and numerical models. Prior to her tenure at Kiel University, she led the Governance group at MCC Berlin.

Why Attend:

  • Networking Opportunities: Connect with fellow researchers and practitioners in the field of sustainable transport.
  • Latest Research: Stay updated with the newest developments and trends in sustainable transport economics.
  • Expert Guidance: Receive valuable feedback and guidance on your research from established experts.

Registration:

Please register for the event by [insert registration link].

Contact Information:

For any questions or further information, please contact julius.andersson@hhs.se.

Registration & Program:

Please proceed with your registration via the Trippus platform by clicking the following link (see here). To see the program please click in the following link (see here). If you have any questions regarding the event, please contact site@hhs.se.

The EU Gas Purchasing Mechanism: A Game-Changer or a Storm in a Teacup?

Image of the LNG tanker in the Baltic Sea representing EU gas purchasing mechanism

Marking a milestone in the tumultuous journey towards a unified energy policy, the European Union (EU) member states have initiated joint procurement of a portion of their gas consumption. This coordinated effort has been facilitated through a gas purchasing mechanism, the AggregateEU, as of May 2023. In this policy brief we discuss the challenges this mechanism faces, given its design characteristics and the altered dynamics of the gas market following the energy crisis.

The necessity for a coordinated approach to energy security within the EU has been recognized at least since 2009, when its legal base was explicitly introduced in Article 194 of the Treaty of Lisbon. However, the de facto implementation of the solidarity principle has been lagging for many years. In response to the 2022 surge in gas prices, the EU has at last taken the solidarity approach to common energy security seriously. One of the most prominent steps is the creation of the AggregateEU mechanism, launched at the end of 2022. This mechanism aggregates the demand of registered buyers from different member states and matches it with competitive bids from external gas suppliers. It aims at improving and diversifying the EU gas supply, avoiding unnecessary buyer competition within the EU and building up the buyer power of EU member states. Furthermore, the mechanism is meant to reduce uncertainty and mitigate price volatility by providing information about accessible energy supplies. The mechanism covers both pipeline natural gas and Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) and organizes tenders every two months. While  EU member states are required to submit demand bids for 15 percent of their 90 percent storage targets for the upcoming 2023-24 season through the mechanism, there is no obligation to sign any contracts based on the resulting match (more details can be found here and here).

The first three rounds of tendering via the mechanism, which took place May-October 2023, matched approximately 34 billion cubic meters of natural gas, exceeding the anticipated initial volumes. This outcome is currently perceived as a great achievement, enabling more vulnerable countries to benefit from coordinated purchases and resulting in increased bargaining power. Driven by this success, the European Commission (EC) has considered making demand aggregation via the mechanism a permanent feature of the EU’s gas market – and even extending it to hydrogen. However, while these agreed trades are a positive development, they may not reflect the mechanism’s overall success. Demand submission obligations may increase the number of demand calls which could project into more matches, but as they are not binding the subsequent agreements may not necessarily result in finalized contracts or lower prices.

In this brief, we argue that the mechanism’s benefits remain uncertain, primarily due to the current state of the EU’s gas market and the design flaws arising from efforts to address disparities in energy security among member states. These considerations call for a direct impact assessment, which however remains impossible due to the EC’s inability (or even reluctancy?) to collect and disclose the contracted outcomes resulting from the mechanism matches. This is especially problematic in light of the EC’s intentions to extend the mechanism’s coverage.

Limited Mechanism Benefits Under New Market Trends

Over the past two years, the EU has undertaken drastic efforts to address the energy security concerns within its gas market caused by the radical reduction in Russia’s natural gas exports to Europe. The EU has managed to sizably improve the diversification of its gas imports (see Figure 1), fill its storage facilities, and lower its gas demand (see McWilliams, Sgaravatti, and Zachmann (2021) and McWilliams and Zachmann (2023)).

Figure 1. Composition of EU natural gas imports.

Source: Authors’ calculations based on McWilliams, Sgaravatti and Zachmann (2021).

As a result, a certain balance of supply and demand has been achieved, and the gas prices in the EU market have fallen to pre-war price levels (though they are still somewhat higher than their earlier long-term trend), as depicted in Figure 2. The ease of market tensions in 2023 has led many to argue that market forces are sufficient to resolve potential problems in the EU gas market and that mechanism costs would not be justified (see, e.g., Eurogas or International Association of Oil and Gas Producers opinions).

However, in the coming years the EU gas market is expected to be relatively tight due to capacity constraints both in the LNG market and for pipeline gas producers (as noted by, e.g., Bloomberg and IEA). This tightness makes the market highly sensitive to shocks, and a twofold increase in exposure to LNG – with its global liquidity – only adds to the problem. A good illustration of this concern is the recent market reaction to the Israel-Palestine war:  the fear of supply disruptions lead to a whopping 55 percent increase in the European gas tariff TTF in the second week of October and to an EC initiative to prolong the emergency gas price cap, initially introduced in February 2023. This despite the EU’s gas storage nearing 98 percent of capacity and relatively low current prices.

Such a “seller market” situation implies that buyers’ ability to exercise buyer power and negotiate down prices may be highly limited when needed the most. Specifically, buyer power would be most effective when buyers have a credible outside option, e.g., the ability to claim that their gas demand needs can be facilitated elsewhere. The tighter the market, the more difficult it would be to find such volumes elsewhere, further limiting buyers’ ability to negotiate down prices. To put it differently: current market conditions may undermine the original purpose of the mechanism.

The current “shock-sensitivity” of the gas market may also give rise to additional concerns regarding the mechanism’s mere purpose – demand aggregation for vulnerable buyers. One of the by-products of demand aggregation is that (pooled) buyers are more likely to face correlated risks, e.g., by purchasing gas from the same producer. If markets are highly shock-sensitive – as they currently seem to be – such aggregation may further increase market volatility, implying that vulnerable buyers would be affected the most.

Figure 2. Natural gas prices in the EU, January 2021-October 2023 (prices in EUR).

Source: https://tradingeconomics.com/commodity/eu-natural-gas

Mechanism Design: Constraints vs. Efficiency

Some design elements of the purchasing mechanism may also challenge the mechanism’s ability to deliver an efficient outcome. First, quantity and price under the matching process are not binding, and buyers and sellers are expected to continue negotiations individually after the matching. This feature was introduced due to the concern that it would be challenging to offer a “one size fits all” binding contract to incorporate all participants of the pooled demand. This, as argued by Le Coq and Paltseva (2012; 2022), was one of the reasons for the previous failure to implement a mutual insurance and solidarity mechanism across the EU. However, the non-binding matching outcome will likely give rise to re-negotiations, price increases, and failure to exercise consolidated “buyer power”.

Moreover, a company can act on behalf of small or financially constrained buyers, purchase gas for them, and become an “Agent-on-behalf” and “Central Buyer”. In the process, companies will inevitably exchange sensitive information. This may limit competition and increase the market power of the “Central Buyer” company. In addition, firms may choose not to participate in the mechanism for at least two reasons. First, they may fear the threat of revealing valuable private information. Second, demand aggregation may discourage market participants with stronger buyer positions from participating, as being pooled with weaker participants would undermine their bargaining power. Both these cases would create a so-called adverse selection effect, where the more performant market participants would choose to avoid the joint purchasing mechanism. As a result, the joint buyer power may be strongly undermined, and the price-suppressing effect seems uncertain. This may explain why some firms, like several large German firms, have opted to sign long-term contracts with gas suppliers directly rather than via the mechanism

Several of these concerns arise not from the mechanism design per se but rather in combination with the inherent asymmetries between EU buyers, including variations in gas demand, risk exposure, etc. To put it differently: it is well justified that a “one size fits all” approach would fail in ensuring broad (and voluntary) mechanism participation; however, the choice of a more flexible solution, as implemented by the AggregateEU mechanism, creates commitment issues and adverse selection, and may undermine an effective use of buyer power.

Impact Assessment: Necessary but Currently Impossible

The new EU gas purchasing system is a significant step towards creating a unified energy policy. However, the design of such a procurement auction raises concerns about its contribution, especially under the new gas market dynamics. The current low gas prices make the immediate cost-benefit tradeoff of the mechanism nonobvious. More importantly, the tightness of the EU gas market in the next few years makes the “seller” power unlikely to be counteracted by the EU’s buyer power. Further, the absence of legal commitment between matched participants, and increased market volatility can lead to repeated ex-post renegotiations. These elements undermine the mechanism’s role and raise doubts about its benefits. Some of the mechanism’s inherent features, such as incentives for abuse of market power, also contribute to potential efficiency loss.

Hence, while the motivation behind this tool is clear, the implementation and potential design flaws may undermine the gains. It is therefore particularly important to understand whether the mechanism is effectively meeting its objectives, especially given the recent initiative to make it a permanent feature of the EU gas market and a key solution for the European Hydrogen Bank in the future. These considerations make a strong call for an impact assessment. An unbiased measure of AggregateEU’s impact would be necessary to assess the benefits of the mechanism (and to weigh them against the bureaucratic implementation costs). Currently, however, the EC has chosen not to collect, let alone disclose, the contractual outcomes resulting from matches. In a recent interview, Matthew Baldwin, deputy director-general at the EC’s energy directorate, said, “The reality is we’ve had relatively little feedback so far because companies are not required to give that to us in terms of the deals”. One may argue that many of the potential deficiencies of the mechanism design – e.g., non-binding matching and adverse selection – are justified by asymmetries across participants and other inherent market features. However, the absence of (appropriately desensitized) data about actual outcomes resulting from mechanism matches is more difficult to justify. The lack of data prevents us from evaluating the AggregateEU’s performance and raises additional concerns about its efficiency. Thus, gathering relevant information and conducting a comprehensive impact assessment based on sensible criteria are essential prerequisites for the future use, and expansion of the AggregateEU mechanism.

References

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. 

Democracy in the Eye of the Beholder?

20230529 Democracy in the Eye of the Beholder Image 01

There is growing concern that democratic institutions in Eastern Europe are fragile. This brief compares two perspectives on the state of democracy: expert assessments and surveys of the general population. We show that while experts’ perception of some countries’ institutions has worsened in recent years, voters are increasingly satisfied with their own democracies. This trend is broad-based, encompassing almost all new EU member states and all age groups. We provide evidence that over time, survey respondents’ assessment of democracy has become more closely tied to the outcome of elections rather than actual institutional change. Where governments have imposed restrictions on media freedom or judicial independence, their supporters continue to report high levels of satisfaction with the way democracy works.

“Across the world, democracy is backsliding”

UN’s Secretary-General António Guterres, 2022

In recent years, the prevailing narrative around democracy in Eastern Europe has been negative. The reform momentum that propelled countries towards EU membership has not been sustained after accession. Discussions of global democratic backsliding frequently cite countries from the region as examples (Grillo and Prato, 2023; Chiopris et al., 2021; Mechkova et al., 2017). Following restrictions on judicial independence and media freedom, some new EU members have seen their ratings slide on indices that measure the quality of democratic institutions based on expert opinions. This brief contrasts these expert assessments with a different perspective on the state of democracy: that of the voters themselves.

Data from Eurobarometer surveys show that satisfaction with ‘the way democracy works in our country’ has been increasing in the new EU member states. This upward trend is visible for all age groups and in almost all countries – including those where experts’ assessment of democracy has worsened. We document patterns in the data that may help to explain this divergence. Survey responses increasingly reflect an instrumentalist view of democracy; respondents who are aligned politically with the winning party are more likely to feel that democracy is working well. This trend can be observed across the EU, but it is most pronounced in the new EU member states where the governing parties are right-of-centre.

Perceptions of Democracy

Expert Assessments

The quality of democracy is hard to measure. A range of indices classify countries by regime type or provide numerical ratings of institutional quality (the Polity, V-Dem, and Freedom House measures are among the most prominent). These indices have somewhat different objectives and methodologies, but they all rely on subjective judgements by expert coders.

Some academic research casts doubt on the prevailing narrative of a global phenomenon of democratic backsliding. For instance, Treisman (2023) and Lueders and Lust (2018) show that there is little consensus across indices, both in terms of individual countries and the global trend. A recent paper by Little and Meng (2023) contrasts subjective indices with more objective indicators of democratic health (e.g. the rate at which incumbents lose elections). The authors find no evidence for global democratic backsliding using the objective measures and suggest that the pessimistic narratives around democracy may have biased coders’ assessment.

There is less disagreement about the development of democracy in Eastern Europe. Treisman (2023) cites Hungary as the only example of a country that has recently been downgraded both from the status of “liberal democracy” by V-Dem and “free state“ by Freedom House. Little and Meng (2023) highlight three cases where both objective and subjective measures indicate backsliding: Hungary and Poland (as well as Venezuela). Further, Becker (2019) shows that downgrades to V-Dem democracy scores in Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania are relatively broad-based, driven by declines across multiple sub-categories including freedom of expression and constraints on the executive.

Surveys of Public Opinion

We use individual-level data from the Eurobarometer – a survey of public opinion in the EU Member States and candidate countries conducted by the European Commission. The surveys are conducted at an approximately monthly frequency and comprise of a representative sample (about 1000 face-to-face interviews) for each state. We combine data from 42 surveys, spanning 20 years (2002 to 2022), with a total of 1.3 million respondents. The main question we are interested in is: “On the whole are you very satisfied, rather satisfied, not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the way democracy works in [our country]?”

At the beginning of the sample period in 2002, around a third of respondents in Eastern European EU countries were satisfied with their respective democracies compared to close to twice as many respondents in Western Europe (Figure 1). Over the past 20 years, the share of Eastern Europeans satisfied with their democracy has grown to around 50 percent, narrowing the gap with Western Europe. Figure 2 shows that this pattern is broad based across age groups. All cohorts of Eastern Europeans are more satisfied with democracy than earlier generations and among the youngest respondents, satisfaction is almost as high as in Western Europe.

Figure 1. Satisfaction with Democracy vs V-Dem Score.

Source: Eurobarometer, V-Dem and authors’ calculations.

Figure 2. Satisfaction with Democracy by Age Group.

Notes: Each point shows the sample mean for a single year cohort. 95 percent confidence intervals in grey.
Source: Eurobarometer, authors’ calculations.

Figure 1 also shows a stark divergence in expert assessment of the state of democracy in Eastern Europe compared to public opinion in the same countries. While the V-Dem democracy scores for Eastern Europe have declined rapidly since the mid-2010s, average satisfaction with the own country’s democracy has increased. A much smaller gap between these two measures has also started to open up in Western Europe over the past couple of years.

In Figure 3, we show the same patterns of satisfaction with democracy and expert opinions for individual countries. Satisfaction with one’s own democracy has increased in almost all Eastern European countries, including in Poland and Hungary which at the same time showed the largest declines in democracy scores.

Figure 3. Satisfaction with Democracy vs V-Dem Score by Country.

Source: Eurobarometer, V-Dem and authors’ calculations.

This divergence in individual survey responses and expert assessments is not altogether surprising. First, the Eurobarometer surveys a sample of the population in each country, while V-Dem (and most other similar democracy indices) relies on country experts. Another likely explanation for the difference is the interpretation of the question. Democracy ratings tend to emphasise institutional aspects of a democracy, for instance, the V-Dem liberal democracy index is designed to capture rule of law and checks on executive power (see, e.g., Becker, 2019). In contrast, the survey responses are likely to reflect both satisfaction with the state of democracy in a country, as well as the outcomes of that democracy.

Satisfaction with Democracy and Political Alignment

In this section, we investigate whether stated satisfaction with democracy depends on the outcomes of elections and the political ideology of the respondents. A common way of measuring political ideology is the placement on a right-left scale, where the right favours a free-market economy and traditional values while the left favours economic redistribution and socially progressive policies. We compare the right-left placement of each country’s governing party as coded by the Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES), with the self-identified right-left placement of Eurobarometer respondents. We calculate the ideological distance from the government as the absolute difference between these two scores.

Figure 4. Relationship Between Ideological Distance from Government and Satisfaction with Democracy.

Source: Eurobarometer, Döring, Huber and Manow (2022) and authors’ calculations.
Notes: Each point shows the coefficient from a separate regression of satisfaction with democracy on ideological distance from government, age, gender, year fixed effects and country fixed effects. 95 percent confidence intervals in grey. Coefficient estimates for Eastern and Western EU overlap on the chart for 2019 and 2020.

We find that people are on average less satisfied with their country’s democracy when they are ideologically further from the parties in government (Figure 4). This is consistent with prior evidence (Anderson and Guillory, 1997; Ezrow and Xezonakis, 2011). The alignment effect has become stronger over time – even when taking into account average satisfaction levels for each country and demographic characteristics of the respondents, such as their age and gender. In the past three years, political alignment with the government has become a major factor in explaining satisfaction with democracy, especially in Eastern Europe. Svolik (2019) suggests that voters trade off democratic principles and partisan interests. As political polarisation increases, voters become more willing to accept a government that undermines democratic institutions, as long as it is on ‘their side’ ideologically.

Figure 5. Satisfaction with Democracy and Political Ideology. Western Europe in the Left Panel and Eastern Europe in the Right Panel.

Source: Eurobarometer, Döring, Huber and Manow (2022) and authors’ calculations.
Notes: Respondents with the most left-leaning ideology are at the extreme left of the x-axis, those with the most right-leaning ideology are at the extreme right. The sample covers the period 2002 to 2022 and excludes observations where the government is coded as centrist (scores of 5-6 in the CHES data). 95 percent confidence intervals in grey.

In Figure 5, we break down the effect of political alignment on satisfaction with democracy according to individuals’ political leanings. On the x-axis is the respondents’ left-right placement and on the y-axis there are two series of dots showing satisfaction with democracy depending on whether the government is left of centre (lighter coloured dots) or right of centre (darker coloured dots). As before, being politically aligned with the government increases satisfaction, that is, to the left of the chart, the lighter coloured dots are placed higher than the darker coloured dots and vice versa for the right of the chart. The further from centre a person’s political leanings, the less satisfied they are with a government of the opposite ideology. There is also some evidence of asymmetry across the political spectrum in Eastern Europe, with respondents on the political right reporting much higher levels of satisfaction with right-wing governments compared to voters on the left under a left-wing government.

Conclusion

Over the past decade, there has been increasing concern over democratic backsliding in some of the Eastern European countries that are members of the EU. This is reflected in commonly used democracy indices whose country experts note the worrying trends in countries’ institutions – such as the reduction of freedom of expression, the strengthening of rule of law and constraints on the executive, all hallmarks of a liberal democracy. In this policy brief, we investigate whether this erosion of institutional safeguards affects people’s stated satisfaction with democracy in one’s respective country. We find a broad-based increase in satisfaction with democracy in the Eastern European EU countries, including in the countries that have seen some of the largest declines in liberal democracy ratings. We show that stated satisfaction with democracy reflects less the institutional changes in countries, but more the outcome of democratic elections. Voters who are politically aligned with their government are systematically more likely to report that they are satisfied with the state of democracy in their country. And this effect has become stronger in the most recent years, particularly in the Eastern European EU countries. We also find that this effect is not symmetric across the political spectrum. In the Eastern European EU countries, respondents on the political right are more satisfied with right-wing governments than those on the left are with left-wing governments.

The descriptive patterns outlined in this policy brief illustrate a worrying disconnect in the minds of many voters between institutions and outcomes of the democratic process. The threat of democratic backsliding in Europe and across the globe is predominantly not due to electoral democracies being replaced by autocratic regimes. Rather, genuinely popular (and often populist) governments are democratically elected and, once in power, proceed to undermine and dismantle liberal democratic institutions, such as a free press, an independent judiciary, and a fair electoral system. This process in turn makes it more difficult for opposition parties to win future elections, further cementing the power of the rulers of these illiberal democracies. While the electorate might support these governments now, voters need to be aware that these liberal institutions are designed to safeguard their democratic future.

References

  • Anderson, C. J. and Guillory, C. A. (1997). Political institutions and satisfaction with democracy: A cross-national analysis of consensus and majoritarian systems. American Political Science Review, 91(1), pp.66-81.
  • Becker, T. (2019). Liberal Democracy in Transition – The First 30 Years. FREE Policy Brief.
  • Chiopris, C., Nalepa, M. and Vanberg, G. (2021). A wolf in sheep’s clothing: Citizen uncertainty and democratic backsliding. Working Paper.
  • Döring, H., Huber, C. and Manow, P. (2022). ParlGov 2022 Release. Harvard Dataverse. https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/UKILBE
  • Eurobarometer (multiple waves: 2002-2022), European Commission. Brussels
  • Ezrow, L. and Xezonakis, G. (2011). Citizen satisfaction with democracy and parties’ policy offerings. Comparative Political Studies, 44(9), pp.1152-1178.
  • Grillo, E. and Prato, C. (2023). Reference points and democratic backsliding. American Journal of Political Science, 67(1), pp.71-88.
  • Little, A. and Meng, A. (2023). Subjective and Objective Measurement of Democratic Backsliding. Available at SSRN 4327307.
  • Lueders, H. and Lust, E. (2018). Multiple measurements, elusive agreement, and unstable outcomes in the study of regime change. The Journal of Politics, 80(2), pp.736-741.
  • Mechkova, V., Luhrmann, A. and Lindberg, S. I. (2017). How much democratic backsliding?. Journal of. Democracy, 28, pp.162-169.
  • Svolik, M. W. (2019). Polarization versus democracy. Journal of Democracy, 30(3), pp.20-32.
  • Treisman, D. (2023). How great is the current danger to democracy? assessing the risk with historical data. Comparative Political Studies, https://doi.org/10.1177/00104140231168363.

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.

Environmental Enforcement in the EU: Insights from Administrative Cases in the US

20230523 Environmental Enforcement Image 01

In March 2023, the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee voted unanimously in favor of a proposed update to the EU Directive on environmental crimes (Directive 2008/99/EC). The update seeks to step up enforcement of environmental legislation across Members States through criminal law aimed at severely punishing very serious environmental offenses. We argue that, while laudable in its goal of strengthening enforcement of environmental regulation at the EU level, the current effort might be insufficient since moderately serious offenses might remain largely unpunished. To address this shortcoming, we propose harmonizing administrative law as well. We consider additional benefits from relying on administrative law in terms of flexibility of punishment design, based on the US experience of using environmentally beneficial projects performed in affected areas as a form of punishment in administrative environmental settlements. We discuss evidence on the merits and potential limitations of the US approach based on Campa and Muehlenbachs (2022) and conclude that such an approach is worth considering in the EU context.

While the EU has set aggressive pollution reduction targets across its Member States (European Commission, 2021a), for example pledging to reduce deaths due to particulate matters to 55 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 (European Commission, 2023a), much work remains to be done. As documented in Lehne (2021), in 2020 all countries in Europe reported PM2.5 concentrations above the World Health Organization (WHO) guideline of 5mg/m3. Six countries, including three EU Member States (Italy, Croatia, and Poland) reported levels above the EU’s annual limit value of 25mg/m3. Further, Bulgaria, Poland, Portugal, Croatia, and Romania did not meet national targets for PM2.5 reduction (European Environment Agency, 2023). Main contributors to PM2.5 pollution are transportation and industrial activity, including energy production. High concentrations of these particles are known to increase physical and mental health risks (Persico, 2022; Persico et al., 2016), and risk of premature deaths (Fuller et al., 2022).

Environmental concerns across EU Member States are also not limited to air pollution. Across the EU, 28 percent of groundwater sources are affected by pollution from agriculture, 14 percent from industrial contamination, and 7.5 percent from mining waste (Kampa et al., 2021). The persistent pollution problems in the EU and their unequal distribution across regions despite growing EU-level environmental legislation underscores the importance of law enforcement. While all EU Member States are theoretically subject to the same overarching environmental standards and regulations, the enforcement of environmental laws differs widely across countries. To address this issue, the EU Commission (henceforth EC) has recently taken steps to further harmonize environmental enforcement across EU Member States.

In this brief we consider the EC’s proposal and argue that, while commendable in the goal of strengthening enforcement of environmental regulation at the EU level, it is also quite limited in terms of enforcement tools that it considers. Specifically, we discuss potential advantages of leveraging administrative law tools to enforce environmental regulation, whereas the EC approach is currently focused on criminal law. We consider the higher probability of prosecution and the enhanced flexibility in the type of penalties allowed by administrative enforcement actions. Finally, we discuss results from Campa and Muehlenbachs (2022), which studies the use of administrative penalties for environmental violations in the US and draws some lessons for environmental enforcement in other jurisdictions.

Strengthening Environmental Enforcement at the EU Level

While environmental regulation is a shared competence of the EU, enforcement has historically been left to national environmental authorities (European Parliament, 2016). In the face of a lack of institutional capacity at the national level, a result of this arrangement are generally low levels of environmental enforcement, widely heterogeneous across Member States (Mazur, 2011). EU institutions have tried unsuccessfully over time to address this challenge and harmonize enforcement across EU Member States. An early attempt was made in 2001, when the EU put in place minimum standards for environmental inspections that Member States carry out, though these were only non-binding guidelines, and Member States could not be sanctioned for flouting them (European Parliament, 2001). Mandatory standards were then introduced in 2008, with the EU Directive on environmental crimes (Directive 2008/99/EC), which forced national governments to apply criminal sanctions to those causing “substantial damage” to the environment. However, it has typically been difficult for the EC to sanction non-abiding Member States. Moreover, the obligation is limited to areas where the EU has competence and does not include minimum penalties.

In another attempt to step up their enforcement efforts, in 2016 the EC began publishing the annual Environmental Implementation Review, where each country is evaluated on its environmental affairs and enforcement (European Commission, 2023b). Although this does not improve the EC’s ability to efficiently sanction Member States, it does increase scrutiny and visibility. In 2021, the EC tabled a proposal to update the 2008 Directive on environmental crimes (European Commission, 2021b). The proposal acknowledged the insufficient number of environmental criminal cases successfully investigated and prosecuted as well as the large discrepancies in the transposition of the 2008 Directive across Member States. Against this background, the EC proposed to enlarge the scope of the 2008 Directive, establish minimum penalties, foster cross-border investigation and prosecution, and promote data collection and dissemination on criminal enforcement actions. In March 2023, the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee voted in support of the EC proposal, extending the list of offenses that would be criminally charged and increasing the size of the minimum penalties.

Environmental Enforcement, Administrative Law and “In-kind” Punishment

The efforts of EU institutions to improve and harmonize enforcement are exclusively focused on criminal law instruments. The EC’s 2021 proposal specifically links poor enforcement in Member States to their reliance on administrative law, which limits fines and thus allegedly reduces the deterrence value of enforcement actions. Indeed, sufficiently high fines are considered crucial to deter future violations (see, e.g., Aguzzoni et al., 2013). However, we argue that reliance on administrative law also has some advantages. In particular, we consider two potential benefits of administrative law based on existing studies, namely higher probability of case initiation and more flexibility in terms of penalty design.

Probability of Case Initiation

One of the shortcomings of the current enforcement framework highlighted by the EC is the very low number of environmental criminal cases that are ultimately prosecuted. Research on enforcement tends to link the low frequency of observed criminal cases to the high cost of criminal proceedings, especially relative to more informal administrative procedures (Faure and Svatikova, 2012). The cost dimension is especially relevant for cases that are moderately serious, but that nevertheless in aggregate contribute significantly to environmental degradation. The probability of catching violations is also relevant, together with the size of the penalty. A very large penalty for a criminal case that is highly unlikely to be prosecuted might be less deterring than a moderate penalty associated with very high probability of prosecution.

“In-kind” Penalties

Federal environmental regulations in the US are enforced through a combination of administrative and criminal law. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiates administrative cases or refers them to the Department of Justice when the gravity of the violation is large. Administrative cases result in settlements where the defendant can be ordered to pay a fine, which can vary from a few thousand to a few million dollars and which is determined according to various factors, such as the magnitude of environmental harm, the firm’s economic gain from violation, its violation history, and its ability to pay. Additionally, when a fine is established, defendants are given the opportunity to volunteer to pay for an environmentally beneficial project in the affected area. The EPA encourages these projects especially in areas subject to environmental justice concerns, namely those characterized by a large share of minority and low-income households.

Campa and Muehlenbachs (2022) study the implications of using these projects in environmental enforcement cases in the US. The study reveals a large preference among the public for this “in-kind” form of penalty versus traditional fines, based on a survey of US residents. Moreover, a randomized survey experiment reveals that these environmental projects elevate the profile of the firm among the public as compared to a firm that only pays a fine, even when the penalties stem from the same violation. Similarly, the stock-market response to the announcement of these projects is positive, whereas announcing a settlement with a large penalty causes a drop in the stock-market price of the defendant. In terms of implications for environmental justice, the data analysis shows that the whitest and richest communities are the most likely to receive these projects, but the second largest share goes to communities where there are highest concentrations of minorities and low-income households.

Overall, the study finds that punishing firms through environmental projects can be beneficial for political economy reasons, given the large preference for this enforcement tool among the public and likely among firms, since firms seem to benefit from undertaking the projects. Moreover, while the targeting of environmental justice communities in the US is not perfect, tweaking the US arrangement could guarantee that the projects predominantly benefit those communities most harmed by environmental violations.

For EU adoption of environmental projects enforcement, a caveat is that the perception of these projects might be different among the public in the EU. Nonetheless, large-scale surveys modelled on those presented in Campa and Muehlenbachs (2022) can help in understanding public views in different regions. Moreover, the paper emphasizes that on the one hand, by benefiting defendants, the environmental projects might ultimately be a more lenient punishment than fines, with implications for deterrence and future environmental quality. On the other hand, environmental quality might also improve as a direct effect of the projects being implemented and due to improved monitoring in affected communities (Dimitri et al., 2006). Overall, the study finds that future environmental quality might be more likely to improve following fines rather than environmental projects. However, it cautions the reader on data limitations that causes the result to not be conclusive enough and calls for further research.

Conclusion

The persistence of environmental problems in the EU, as well as the striking differences in pollution levels across EU Member States, underscores the need for more and better environmental regulation. However, even in the presence of comprehensive and strict environmental rules, the protection of the environment is still inadequate if a proper enforcement mechanism is not in place. As observed in OECD (2009), proper enforcement ensures deterrence. Successful deterrence provides the best protection for the environment, while reducing the resources necessary to administer laws by addressing non-compliance before it occurs. EU institutions have recently taken important steps to improve and further harmonize enforcement of environmental regulation across Member States, with proposed updates to the existing Directive on the matter scheduled for Member-State discussion in upcoming months.

Specifically, the EU is seeking to step up the use of criminal law to prosecute environmental offenses across Member States, with mandatory penalties and increased cross-border coordination. We argue that the focus on criminal law has some drawbacks, which could be addressed by also harmonizing administrative enforcement across EU Member States. Researchers have previously argued that reliance on administrative law might increase the likelihood that offenses are investigated and prosecuted. We also present evidence from the use of administrative law in the US, where defendants in environmental cases can settle to pay part of their penalty “in-kind”, i.e. by performing environmental projects in areas affected by the alleged violations. The evidence suggests that the use of these projects is worth considering in other jurisdictions, including the EU, because they might be preferred by the public and could help addressing environmental justice concerns. An important caveat is that their implications for environmental protection are not clear, and more research should address this important aspect. On the subject, the existing evidence on environmental enforcement in the US, such as that presented in Campa and Muehlenbachs (2022), is established thanks to the availability of rich data sources kept by the US’ EPA. The EC’s recent proposal to systematically collect and disseminate data on environmental crimes is thus particularly welcome and should not be overlooked in the upcoming negotiations with Member States on the final content of the proposed Directive.

References

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.

Democratic Backsliding and Electoral Autocracies

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The Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) and the Forum for Research on Media and Democracy in Eastern Europe (FROMDEE) invite paper submissions to a one-day conference on “Democratic backsliding and electoral autocracies” with a keynote lecture by Arturas Rozenas (New York University).

Conference

The UN’s Secretary-General António Guterres recently observed that “across the world, democracy is backsliding”. This trend encompasses new democracies that have drifted towards electoral autocracy and established democracies where political polarization threatens institutional norms. Research can shed light on where and when democratic institutions are fragile and what can help make them resilient.

The Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) and the Forum for Research on Media and Democracy in Eastern Europe (FROMDEE) is organising a one-day conference on “Democratic backsliding and electoral autocracies” with a keynote lecture by Arturas Rozenas (New York University). The conference will take place on 13 October 2023 in Stockholm, Sweden.

Call for Papers

We would like to invite paper and extended abstract submissions, as well as expressions of interest in attending the conference by 15 June 2023 at the link below. We welcome submissions from economics and political science on threats to liberal democratic institutions, as well as other topics in political economy. We would especially like to encourage researchers working on or based in Eastern Europe to apply.

There is no conference registration fee and meals will be provided for all participants. Some funding is available for travel and accommodation, with preference given to presenters and participants from Eastern Europe.

Submission form: Click here

Download the call for paper in pdf-file: “Democratic backsliding and electoral autocracies”

Important dates:

  • 15 June 2023 – Submission deadline (full papers or extended abstracts >10 pages)
  • July 2023 – Notification of acceptance
  • 13 October 2023 – SITE Academic Conference on “Democratic Backsliding and Electoral Autocracies”

The conference is organised as part of the FROMDEE initiative – the Forum for Research on Media and Democracy in Eastern Europe supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

In case of technical difficulties, please send your submission to: site.free.conferences@gmail.com

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed during events and conferences are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.