The heated election campaign preceding the October 15th election in Poland has focused on fundamental issues related to the rule of law, migration, media freedom, women’s and minority rights, climate policy as well as Poland’s role on the international arena. The election outcome will determine Poland’s role in the EU and as well as the country’s future relations with Ukraine. It will also be decisive for the direction of Polish politics and the foundations of socio-economic development for many years to come. Despite these issues, the primary worries for a substantial portion of Polish households concern the domestic challenges of increasing prices and material uncertainty. With this in mind, this Policy Brief summarizes the results of CenEA’s recent analysis, which demonstrates a clear pattern in the United Right government’s policy, that in the last four years has strongly favored older groups of the Polish population. In the 2019 elections financial support directed to families with children was a key factor in securing a second term in office for the governing coalition. It remains to be seen if the focus on older voters pays off in the same way on October 15th.
The upcoming parliamentary elections on October 15th will close a very special term of the Polish Parliament, marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, a surge in prices of goods and services, as well as the full-scale, ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and the tragic consequences associated with it. An evaluation of the second term of the United Right’s (Zjednoczona Prawica) government should, on the one hand, cover the most important decisions made in response to these crises. On the other hand, the last four years have also been a time of significant decisions with important medium- and long-term consequences, both directly for Polish households’ financial situation and more broadly for the economy at large and the country’s socio-economic development.
The heated election campaign has focused on the fundamental issues related to the rule of law, migration, media freedom, women’s and minority rights, climate policy as well as Poland’s role on the international arena. The upcoming vote is likely to be decisive in regard to Poland’s relations with partners in the EU, the role it will play in the EU and – as recent government declarations have demonstrated – the development of future relations with Ukraine. The result of the October elections will be pivotal also for the direction of Polish politics and the foundations of socio-economic development for many years to come. At the same time however, recent surveys have shown that the main concern for a significant part of the Polish society lies closer to home, driven by the challenges of rising prices of goods and services and related material uncertainty.
In light of this, this policy brief summarizes the tax and benefit policies directly affecting household finances, which were implemented in the first and second term of the United Right’s rule (i.e., 2015-2019 and 2019-2023). The brief draws upon a detailed analysis published recently in the CenEA Preelection Commentaries (Myck et al. 2023 a,b,c). The results show a notable shift in the government’s focus – while families with children were the main beneficiaries of the reforms implemented in the first term, the policies over the last four years have concentrated transfers and tax advantages to older generations. As we approach election day, it seems likely that the government will further try to mobilize support from this group of voters
The United Right’s Second Term: Tax and Benefit Reforms During High Inflation
In recent years, Polish households has, apart from two major crises (the Covid-19 pandemic and the complex consequences from the Russian invasion of Ukraine), faced one of the greatest price increases in the EU. During the closing term of Parliament, from January 2020 to July 2023, prices increased by 35.6 percent and have continued to grow at a rate significantly exceeding the inflation target set by the National Bank of Poland (2.5 percent +/- 1 percentage point per year). By the end of 2023 the combined inflation rate will reach 38.7 percent. Although average wages have also been rising (nominally by 41.7 percent from January 2023 to July 2023), wage growth has not kept up with the inflation for many workers. One needs to also bear in mind that a significant proportion of Polish households rely on income from transfers and state support. At the same time households’ material conditions have deteriorated as a result of a significant reduction in the real value of their savings.
In 2022 and 2023 the government introduced a number of temporary policies designed specifically to assist households facing higher energy and food prices. Throughout the final term in office, it also adopted several reforms which – as we show below – affected some groups more than others, reflecting a clear policy preference:
a) in January 2020 and May 2022 respectively, the government legislated an additional level of support addressed to retirees and disability pensioners. These so-called 13th and 14th pensions have raised the minimum level of pension benefits.
b) in January 2022 the government implemented a major overhaul of the income tax system (the so-called Polish Deal) which significantly influenced the tax burden on most taxpayers, strongly benefitting pension recipients.
c) throughout the term of Parliament, the government has kept the values of most social benefits frozen at their nominal level. This includes its flagship program – the universal 500+ parental benefit (500 PLN, roughly 110 EUR per child per month), introduced in 2016 – as well as means tested family benefits directed to poorer families with children. As a result, both the values as well as eligibility thresholds has fallen by nearly 40 percent.
The implications of these three policy areas are reported in Table 1 for the 2019-2023 term of Parliament and contrasted with benefits and costs from government policies implemented in the first term of Parliament (2015-2019). The results have been calculated using the SIMPL microsimulation model and are based on a representative sample of over 30 000 Polish households from the 2021 Household Budget Survey (for methodological details see Myck et al., 2015; 2023c). The applied method allows for singling out policy effects from other factors affecting household incomes.
Table 1 shows a clear difference in focus; from substantial benefits directed at families with children in 2015-2019 to policies targeted at pensioners, partly at the cost of families with children, in the second term. It is also worth noting that while government policy continued to increase household incomes, the resulting gains in disposable incomes in the second term have been much more modest.
Table 1. The impact of modelled policies in the tax and benefit system on household income in the two terms of the United Right’s government.
The contrast is also visible when the totals from Table 1 are divided and allocated to specific family types, as presented in Figure 1. On average lone parent families gained about 800 PLN (170 EUR) per month as a result of policies implemented in the 2015-2019 term, while they lost 160 PLN (35 EUR) in the second term. Married couples with children gained 950 PLN (205 EUR) and lost 259 PLN (55 EUR) in each term, respectively. In contrast to this, gains of pensioner families were modest during the first term, while the policies implemented in the second term imply gains of about 310 PLN (70 EUR) per month for single pensioners and 630 PLN (140 EUR) per month to pensioner couples. Gains and losses by family type resulting from policies implemented between 2019-2023 are shown in more detail in Figure 2. Over 85 percent of single pensioners have seen gains of more than 200 PLN (45 EUR) per month, and a similar proportion of pensioner couples gained over 400 PLN (90 EUR) per month. At the same time the majority of families with children, both among lone parent families and married couples, principally as a result of benefit freezes, saw their incomes fall in real terms. The values of the universal 500+ parental benefit will be indexed in January 2024, and the government has made this indexation an important element of the campaign. However, the indexation will not compensate the losses that families experienced in the last four years, a period with high inflation. It remains to be seen if a promise of higher transfers in the future will translate into political support, as seen in the 2019 elections (Gromadzki et al. 2022).
Figure 1. The impact of modelled policies in the tax and benefit system on household income in the two terms of the United Right’s government, by family types.
Figure 2. Ranges of monthly benefits and losses resulting from the modelled policies introduced in the United Right government’s second term of office (2019-2023), by family type.
Timing and Other Tricks: Securing the Votes of Older Generations
The so-called 13th and 14th pensions are paid once per year, in May and September respectively, to recipients of public pensions, at a value equivalent to a monthly minimum pension (approximately 360 EUR). While the first is a universal benefit, the latter has a withdrawal threshold and is thus targeted at lower income pensioners. In 2023 the government decided to increase the value of the 14th pension to about 580 EUR, with the benefits paid out to pensioners in September, the month before the election. This additional bonus came at the cost of about 7 billion PLN (1.6 billion EUR) – a budget which could have paid for two years of indexation of benefits targeted at low-income families with children or financed the payment of the indexed value of the universal 500+ parental benefit for nearly four months. The decision completes the picture of a clear preference for the older generation in regard to social policy in recent years and suggests a clear focus on this group of voters prior to the upcoming election.
The government has also taken a number of steps to facilitate electoral participation among voters in smaller communities by increasing the number of polling stations and making it obligatory for local administrations to finance transportation for older individuals with mobility limitations. The government is also mobilizing voters in smaller communities with turn-out competition initiatives. Additionally, some commentators have pointed out that the choice of election day – one day ahead of the so-called ‘Papal day’, devoted to the memory of John Paul II – is also non-accidental.
The analysis presented in the recent CenEA Preelection Commentaries and summarized in this brief indicates that in the area of reforms directly affecting household incomes, pensioners are the social group that benefited most from the United Right’s government policies in the 2019-2023 term of office. This is evident both from policies that have become a permanent feature of the Polish tax and benefit system, as well as from various one-off decisions. Taking into account other policies surrounding the approaching parliamentary election, it seems clear that the government is strongly counting on the support of older generations of voters on October 15th. As election day is approaching it becomes more and more evident though, that securing their vote may not suffice to win a third term in office. Numerous policy and corruption scandals, a significant departure from judicial independence and an extreme degree of governing party dominance in public media have come to the fore of public debate ahead of the vote. According to recent polls the final outcome is still uncertain and even small shifts in support might swing the future parliamentary majority. According to Gromadzki et al. (2022), financial support directed to families with children was a key factor for securing a second term in office for the United Right coalition four years ago. It remains to be seen if the policy focus on older voters pays off in the same way on October 15th.
The authors wish to acknowledge the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) under the FROGEE and FROMDEE projects. FREE Policy Briefs contribute to the discussion on socio-economic development in the Central and Eastern Europe. For more information, please visit www.freepolicybriefs.com.
- Gromadzki, J., Sałach, K., Brzezinski, M. (2022). When Populists Deliver on their Promises: the Electoral Effects of a Large Cash Transfer Program in Poland. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4013558
- Myck, M., Król, A, Oczkowska, M., Trzciński, K. (2023a). Druga kadencja rządów Zjednoczonej Prawicy: wsparcie rodzin z dziećmi w czasach wysokiej inflacji [The second term of the United Right’s rule: support to families with children in times of high inflation]. CenEA Preelection Commentary 13.09.2023. https://cenea.org.pl/2023/09/13/wybory-parlamentarne-2023-w-polsce-komentarze-przedwyborcze-cenea/
- Myck, M., Król, A, Oczkowska, M., Trzciński, K. (2023b). Druga kadencja rządów Zjednoczonej Prawicy: kto zyskał, a kto stracił? [The second term of the United Right’s rule: who gained and who lost?] CenEA Preelection Commentary, 14.09.2023. https://cenea.org.pl/2023/09/13/wybory-parlamentarne-2023-w-polsce-komentarze-przedwyborcze-cenea/
- Myck, M., Król, A, Oczkowska, M., Trzciński, K. (2023c). Materiały metodyczne [Methodology volume]. https://cenea.org.pl/2023/09/13/wybory-parlamentarne-2023-w-polsce-komentarze-przedwyborcze-cenea/
- Myck, M., Kundera, M., Najsztub, M., Oczkowska, M. (2015). Dwie kadencje w polityce podatkowo-świadczeniowej: programy wyborcze i ich realizacja w latach 2007-2015. IV Raport Przedwyborczy CenEA. (Two terms of the tax-benefit policies: electoral promises and their realization in years 2007-2015. IV CenEA Preelection Report.) https://cenea.org.pl/pl/2015/09/03/dwie-kadencje-w-polityce-podatkowoswiadczeniowej-programy-wyborcze-i-ich-realizacja-w-latach-2007-2015/
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 2023 FREE Network Retreat, an annual face-to-face event for members of the FREE Network, gathered its representatives to share and exchange research ideas and to discuss its institutes’ respective work and joint efforts within the Network. An academic session highlighted multiple overarching areas of interest and opportunities for research collaboration and included a plenary session on topics ranging from theoretical underpinning of Vladimir Putin’s regime to climate change beliefs and to consumer behaviour in credit markets. A session addressing the respective institute’s work during the last year also demonstrated the importance and relevance of the FREE Network’s joint initiatives on gender, democracy and media, and climate change and environment: FROGEE, FROMDEE and FREECE. This brief gives a short outline of the plenary session and an overview of some further topics covered during the conference.
The Academic Day
The Academic Day consisted partly of a plenary session and partly of an academic session. The academic session was outlined to demonstrate the wide spectrum of research interests within the network and to promote and highlight the opportunities for research collaboration. Designed as a series of poster sessions, each organized around a common research theme, it allowed for an exchange of ideas between presenting researchers and the audience while displaying the overlap of the various research interests across the institutes. At the same time, the poster session combined the broad range of topics within 10 overarching subjects (trade, gender, migration and education, public economics, energy, labor, political economy and development, macro, conflict, and theory and auctions).
The plenary session further illustrated the wide variety of topics the FREE Network researchers’ work on. During the plenary session, three distinguished presentations were held, summarized in what follows.
“Why Did Putin Invade Ukraine? – A Theory of Degenerate Autocracy”
Firstly, Konstantin Sonin, Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, gave a presentation of his working paper (with Georgy Egorov, Northwestern University) in which the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine is explained through a theoretical framework on dictators’ decision-making in degenerate autocracies.
Sonin outlined how the beliefs about Ukraine in Kremlin, prior to the invasion, were factually wrong. For example, Kremlin believed that Ukraine, despite plenty of facts pointing in the opposite direction, lacked a stable government and had an incapable army. Further, it was believed that the US and Europe wouldn’t care about Ukraine and that Russian troops would be welcomed as liberators – the latter exemplified by the fact that Russia sent police and not the army during the first phase of the invasion. He also stressed that the decision to invade Ukraine is likely to have disastrous consequences for Vladimir Putin, his regime, and for Russia as a whole. This is, however, not the first example of a disastrous decision made by a leader of an autocratic regime, leading up to the question: What explains such choices that should not rationally have been made? And how can leaders make them in highly institutionalized environments where they are surrounded by councils and advisors who are supposed to possess the best expertise?
The model presented by Sonin assumes a leader in such highly institutionalized environment that wishes to stay in power and whose decisions are based on input from subordinates. The subordinates differ in level of their expertise and the leader thus chooses the quality of advice that he receives through his choice of subordinates. In turn, while giving advice to the leader, the subordinate considers two factors: the vulnerability of the leader and their own prospects should the leader fall. In equilibrium there is a tradeoff as competent subordinates are also less loyal (since a more competent person might know when to switch alliances and have better prospects if the regime changes).
The leader also has access to repression as an instrument. Repression decreases his changes to be overthrown but raises the stakes for a potential future power struggle, as a leader with a history of repression is more likely to be repressed by his successor.
This interaction creates a feedback loop. If a dictator chooses repression, he feels more endangered, and he then chooses a more loyal subordinate who is less likely to deceive him for personal gain under a potential new regime. However, this leads to the appointment of less competent subordinates whereafter the information that flows to the leader becomes less and less reliable – as illustrated by Kremlin’s beliefs about Ukraine prior to the war.
There are three types of paths in equilibrium, Sonin explained; 1. “stable autocracy”, with leaders altering in power and choosing peaceful paths without repressions 2. “degenerate autocracy” – where the incumbent and opponent first replace each other peacefully and then slide into the repression-based change of power (until one of them dies and the story repeats), and 3. “consecutive degenerate autocracy” – where each power struggle is followed by repression.
Concluding his presentation, Sonin highlighted that in a degenerate autocracy such as Russia, individual decisions by the leader are rarely crucial due to the high level of institutionalization. However, as shown by the model, the leader is inevitably faced with a situation where he is surrounded by incompetent loyalists feeding him bad intel and setting him up to make disastrous decisions – most recently displayed in Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
“Facing the Hard Truth: Evidence from Climate Change Ignorance”
Pamela Campa, Associate Professor at Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, gave the conference’s second presentation, which detailed her work (with Ferenc Szucz, Stockholm University) on climate change skepticism.
Campa opened her talk with the current paradox regarding climate change, where, in the scientific community there is a strong consensus about the existence of climate change, but in society at large, skepticism is largely prevalent. This can be exemplified by one quarter of the US population not believing in global warming in 2023, and Europeans not believing in the fact that humans are the main driver of climate change.
According to Campa, the key question to answer is therefore “Why does ignorance about climate change persist among the public – in spite of the overwhelming evidence?”. One possible explanation may be a deficit in comprehension; people simply don’t understand the complexity of climate change and thus follow biased media and/ or politicians more or less sponsored by lobbyists. However, research have shown scientifical literacy to be quite uncorrelated with climate change denial, contradicting the above explanation. The second hypothesis, and of focus in the study, instead revolve around the concept of information avoidance. To test the hypothesis that people actively avoid climate change information, the authors key in on coal mining communities in the US having been exposed to negative shocks in the form of layoffs. These communities are of interest given their strong sense of identity and the fact that they are directly affected by the green transition. Arguably, a layoff shock would negatively affect not only their economy, but also pose a threat to their perceived identity. Given the context, it can thus be assumed that these communities to a larger extent would avoid information on climate change and information post-shock to restore the threatened identity.
The authors consider US counties experiencing mass layoff (more than 30 percent of mining jobs lost between 2014 and 2017) as treated counties, finding that in these counties, learning about climate change is 30 to 40 percent lower than in counties having experienced no mass layoffs. To account for the fact that the layoff itself may cause changes in learning, the authors also consider an instrument variable analysis in which gas prices are exploited as instrument for the layoffs – once again displaying the fact that people in affected communities believe climate change to be caused by humans to a lesser extent, when compared to counties in which no mass layoffs had occurred.
Interestingly, when controlling with other industries with somewhat similar characteristics (such as metal mining), the drop in climate change learning disappears, feeding in the notion of “identity-based information avoidance”.
The lack of support for and consensus among the public of the ongoing climate change and its drivers might pose a threat for the green transition as well as reduce personal effort to reduce the carbon footprint, Campa concluded.
“Consumer Credit with Over-Optimistic Borrowers”
In the plenary session’s last presentation, Igor Livshits, Economic Advisor and Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, presented his working paper (with Florian Exler, University of Vienna, James MacGee, Bank of Canada and Michèle Tertilt, Mannheimer University) on consumer credit and borrower’s behaviour.
There has been much debate on whether and how to regulate consumer credit products to limit misuse of credit. In 2009/2010 several initiatives and regulations (such as the 2009 Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act) were introduced with the aim of protecting consumers and borrowers from arguments that sellers of credit products exploit lack of information and cognitive capacity of borrowers. There is however a lack of evaluation of such arguments and subsequent regulations, which Livshits explained to be the motivation behind the paper.
The paper differentiates between over-optimistic borrowers (behaviour borrowers) and rational borrowers (rationalists). While both types face the same risks, behaviour borrowers are more prone to shocks and are at the same time unaware of these worse risks (i.e., they believe they are rationalists). Focusing on these types of borrowers, the paper introduces a model in which the lenders endogenously price credit based on beliefs about the borrower type. Households decide whether to spend or save and if to file for bankruptcy in an environment in which they are faced with earning shocks and expense shocks.
In this structural model of unsecured lending and default, Livshits finds that behavioral borrowers’ “risky” behaviour negatively affects rationalists since both types are pooled together and, thus rationalists are overpaying to cover for the behaviour borrowers. A calibration of the model also suggests that behavioral borrowers borrow too much and file for bankruptcy too little and too late.
Livshits argued that the model does not provide evidence of the notion that borrowers need protection from lenders, but rather that borrowers need to be protected from themselves. In fact, had behaviour borrowers been made aware of the fact that they are overly optimistic about the actual state of their future incomes, they would borrow 15 percent less.
To address the increased risks behaviour borrowers take at the cost of rationalists, policies such as default made easier, taxation on borrowing, financial literacy efforts and score-dependent borrowing limits could all be considered. Such policies may lower debt and reduce bankruptcy filings but as they may also reduce welfare and exhibit scaling difficulties.
Updates from the Institutes
During the Retreat, the respective institutes shared the previous year’s work, and updates within the FREE Network’s three joint projects were also presented. These go under the acronyms of FROMDEE (Forum for Research on Media and Democracy in Eastern Europe), FREECE (Forum for Research on Eastern Europe; Climate and the Environment) and FROGEE (Forum for Research on Gender Economics in Eastern Europe), and address areas of great relevance in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Researchers from all FREE Network institutes work on these topics, with the most recent policy paper written in coordination by SITE, KSE and CenEA (with expert Maja Bosnic, Niras International Consulting). The policy paper focuses on the gender dimension of the reconstruction of Ukraine – putting emphasis on the necessity of gender budgeting principles throughout the various parts of reconstruction. An upcoming joint research paper will consider the effects of gasoline price increase on household income across the Network’s countries, written under the FREECE umbrella.
The three themes of gender, media and democracy, and environment and climate are not only purely research topics within the institutes. They also reflect developments and challenges that the institutes to a various extent face in the respective contexts in which they operate. The work focusing on the reconstruction of Ukraine is an excellent example of an area that encompasses all three.
Another example of the relevance of the three themes features prominently in one of the institutes’ most tangible contribution to their respective societies: their education programs. Nataliia Shapoval, Vice President for Policy Research at Kyiv School of Economics (KSE), emphasized how KSE has – amid Russia’s war on Ukraine – managed to greatly expand. Over the past year, KSE has launched 8 new bachelor’s and master’s programs, some of which are directly targeted at ensuring postwar reconstruction competence. On a similar note, Lev Lvovskiy, Academic Director at the Belarusian Research and Outreach Center (BEROC) mentioned the likelihood of next year being able to offer students a bachelor’s program in economics and several business courses in Vilnius – BEROC’S new location. BEROC’s effort in providing quality education in economics to Belarus’ exile youth is considered a fundamental investment in the future of the country – providing a competent leading class capable of installing democracy and fair elections in Belarus once the current regime is gone. The emphasis on education was further highlighted by Salome Gelashvili, Practice Head, Agriculture & rural policy at the International School of Economics Policy Institute (ISET-PI) who not only mentioned the opening of a master’s program in Finance at ISET but also the fact that an increasing number of students who’ve recently graduated from PhD’s abroad are now returning to Georgia. Such investments into education are necessary to counter Russian propaganda in the region all three agreed, emphasizing the need to continually stem Russia’s negative influence in the region. This investment into education is also important to hinder countries from sliding away from democratic values – realized in Belarus and threatening in Georgia.
To further delve into the issues of democratic backsliding, a tendency that has been recently observed not only in the region but also more widely across the globe, FROMDEE will organize an academic conference in Stockholm on October 13th, 2023.
The 2023 FREE Network Retreat provided a great opportunity for the Networks’ participants to jointly take part of new research and to share experiences, opportunities, and knowledge amongst each other. The Retreat also served as reminder of the importance of continuously supporting economic and democratic development, through research, policy work, and networking, in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
List of Presenters
- Konstantin Sonin, University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy
- Pamela Campa, Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics
- Igor Livshits, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia
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.
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
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.
Figure 2. Satisfaction with Democracy by Age Group.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
The subjects of political discourse are important but hard to quantify. This brief uses data from 30 years of party manifestos to study how the dominant topics in politics have evolved across Europe. Transition countries have seen the most significant shift in the content of political discourse. In the early 1990s, party manifestos in Eastern Europe focused on a distinct set of topics related to transition; by recent elections they had converged to those in Western Europe, with a heavy emphasis on the welfare state, education, infrastructure and technology. Political discourse can change rapidly in times of crisis as shown by the example of Ukraine.
“It’s the economy, stupid!”
James Carville, Bill Clinton’s strategist for the 1992 election.
The dominant topics in politics are not always as apparent as when Bill Clinton was elected US president in the midst of a recession. While it is easy to track winners across election cycles, it is much harder to know what got them elected and what they will do (or at least, promise to do) once in power. The key issues and topics that political parties and candidates talk about form as important a part in our democracies as vote shares.
In this brief, we use data collected by the Manifesto Project (Lehmann et al., 2022) to describe the development of political discourse across Europe, with a particular focus on the differences and similarities between western European countries and transition economies in Eastern Europe.
Political Manifestos as Data
In most countries, voters mainly participate in the democratic process by voting for candidates put forward by political parties. Political parties advertise themselves to voters and distinguish themselves from each other by issuing party programmes or party manifestos where they lay down their ideological and policy positions.
The Manifesto Project provides a publicly available dataset on parties’ policy platforms. The data are based on the manifestos of parties that have won at least one (Western Europe) or two seats (transition countries) in a national election. Coders manually analyse the content of the manifestos and provide the percentage of each party’s manifesto that falls into one of 56 content categories. These content categories summarise a party’s policy position on given issues, for instance, whether they favour environmental protection or an expansion of the welfare state or oppose protectionism or multiculturalism.
The Manifesto Project is an example of “text as data“. Quantitative analysis based on text is becoming increasingly important across the social sciences (Gentzkow et al., 2019) but it is particularly useful in political economy and political science given that “language is the medium of politics“ and objective numerical data are often limited (Grimmer and Stewart, 2013). Unlike many recent approaches which process data using automated text analysis tools, the Manifesto Project relies on the judgement of coders from over 50 countries who read the original text. The resultant dataset has limitations: the subjective choices made by individual coders, the to-some-extent arbitrary determination of content categories to summarise the most relevant issues across different contexts and time periods and the difficulty of imposing consistent classifications for texts written in over 40 languages. Despite these caveats, it is a unique resource for analysing the evolution of countries’ political discourse over time and across countries.
Key Issues in Political Discourse
Figure 1 summarises, through content categories, the policy positions of parliaments in Western Europe and transition countries at two points in time: the early 1990s (around the time of the first democratic elections in most transition countries) and after the latest election. We measure the importance of a policy position in a country’s parliament by weighting the importance of the relevant content category in each party’s manifesto by that party’s vote share. Over time, our measure of a policy position’s importance in political discourse may increase or decline for two reasons. First, parties may change the extent to which they emphasise a given position in their manifestos. For example, parties across the political spectrum are likely to have increased references to healthcare in their manifestos during election campaigns held during the Covid-19 pandemic. Second, as voters’ preferences shift, parties that gain support will see their issues receive greater weight in the aggregate measure relative to parties that lose vote shares. For example, if the pandemic shifted voters’ preferences towards a more comprehensive welfare system, voters could respond by voting for parties which discuss the expansion of the welfare state in their manifestos.
Figure 1. Policy positions of parties in parliament.
Some striking patterns emerge. While the policy priorities of Western European parliaments remain relatively stable over the past 30 years, those of transition countries have changed markedly. During the transition period, many parties focused on the political and economic aspects of transition. Support for democracy, freedom and human rights, as well as the free market economy, featured heavily in the manifestos of parties that formed the first democratic parliaments. Over time, policy priorities in transition countries have become more similar to those of their western neighbours, and issues such as the expansion of the welfare state, the provision of education, and the importance of technology and infrastructure, have come to the fore in all countries.
Nevertheless, some differences still remain. For instance, environmental protection is one of the most important topics in western European parliaments, though its importance has declined over time. In transition countries, the environment is slowly becoming more important, but even in the latest elections it ranked at only number 16 out of 56 issues. In contrast, support for the “national way of life” was and continues to be a prominent part of the political discourse in transition economies and it is also becoming more mainstream in the Western European countries.
Political corruption and governmental and administrative efficiency have become relatively more important issues in the parliaments of transition countries, both over time and relative to their western neighbours. Meanwhile, parties in Western Europe are devoting more of their manifesto to calls for equality and social justice.
A Closer Look at Ukraine
A country’s parliament’s policy platform can change suddenly in response to shocks. Figure 2 shows the big topic groups in the manifestos of political parties in the Ukrainian parliament from 1998 to 2019. The parliamentary election in October 2014 closely followed the Euromaidan Revolution, the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the start of the Donbas war. Compared to the previous elections, external relations became a major issue in the Ukrainian parliament, driven in particular by increased mentions of the military and the relationship with the EU. Party manifestos heavily featured appeals to Ukrainian nationhood, national solidarity, and unity (as evidenced by the increasing importance of the content category “Fabric of Society”). The trend of increasing attention to freedom and democracy also continued in this election cycle. In contrast, the previously most important issues in elections (welfare and quality of life) received much less attention in parliament at times of political upheaval and military conflict.
Figure 2. Topics in Ukrainian elections.
Distribution of Political Ideology
While the previous section discussed the main policy issues in parliament, we now turn our focus to the ideology of individual political parties that make up a country’s parliament. A commonly used summary measure of political ideology is a left-right scale (RILE), where left positions favour peace, state intervention in the economy and the expansion of the welfare state and right positions support security, traditional values and the free market economy. The Manifesto Project provides a RILE value for each party at each election (based on Laver and Budge, 1992), which is calculated by subtracting the share of a party’s manifesto devoted to left-leaning policy issues, for instance support for the welfare state, from right-leaning content, such as support for the free market economy. Condensing the complexity of party programmes into a one-dimensional measure based on fixed definitions has advantages and drawbacks. The RILE makes it possible to compare diverse political parties that campaign on different issues (for instance ecological parties compared to nationalist parties) and measure how the same party’s policy stance may have shifted over time. As the definition of left- and right-leaning issues were based on influential political theories around the 1900s, some scholars argue that this measure has become less appropriate to empirically differentiate between modern political parties, particularly in transition countries (see, e.g., Mölder, 2016). In particular, Tavits and Letki (2009) show that during the transition process many leftist parties in Eastern Europe pursued economically right-wing policies and Vachudova (2008) argues that right-wing parties in the region often appealed to a nationalist discourse.
With these caveats in mind, Figure 3 shows the distribution of all parties in parliament in the Manifesto Project database on the RILE scale, weighted by their respective vote shares. In Western Europe in the 1990s, the chart shows the prominence of both centre-left and centre-right parties, as well as smaller parties both on the more extreme left and right. In contrast, the parties in parliament in transition economies at the time were more concentrated in the centre (and slightly towards the right). Fast forward 30 years and the distribution of political ideology has changed in both the east and the west. In Western Europe, the majority of parliamentarians are now situated slightly right of centre with little mass in the more extreme tails. In contrast, in the former transition countries, there is evidence of political polarisation with party representation moving both to the left and the right on the ideological spectrum and relatively few parliamentarians occupying the centre.
Figure 3. Left-right position of parties in parliament.
What are the main topics of political discourse? Are they different across countries? Do they change over time? While there is no perfect way to quantify and track political discourse over time, this brief uses data from parties’ manifestos provided by the Manifesto Project to illustrate some broad trends across Europe over the past 30 years.
We document two kinds of changes in the subject matter of party manifestos. First, there are gradual shifts in content that reflect underlying developments in society. As democracies have matured in Eastern Europe, the content of their parties’ manifestos has evolved away from the immediate concerns of economic and political transition and converged to those of Western European parties. Second, more abrupt shifts can arise when countries experience crises or institutional upheaval. Over the past decade Ukrainians have lived through a revolution, the Donbas war, and the ongoing Russian invasion. Most of the parties that represent them in parliament are new, and the issues that feature prominently in their manifestos are now markedly different from those before the Euromaidan revolution.
Manifestos are not just about substance but also about ideology. Using the Manifesto Project’s classification of parties on a left-right scale, we show how the distribution of parties has evolved in Western Europe and transition countries. By this measure, political polarisation has been increasing in transition countries where centrist positions are less well represented than in Western European parliaments.
- Gentzkow, Matthew, Bryan Kelly, and Matt Taddy. (2019). “Text as data”, Journal of Economic Literature 57, no. 3: 535-74.
- Grimmer, J., and Stewart, B. (2013). “Text as data: The promise and pitfalls of automatic content analysis methods for political texts”. Political analysis 21, no. 3: 267-297.
- Lehmann, P., Burst, T., Matthieß, T., Regel, S., Volkens, A., Weßels, B. and Zehnter, L. (2022) The Manifesto Data Collection. Manifesto Project (MRG / CMP / MARPOR). Version 2022a. Berlin: Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB). https://doi.org/10.25522/manifesto.mpds.2022a
- Laver, M. and Budge, I. (eds.). (1992). Party Policy and Government Coalitions, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: The MacMillan Press.
- Mölder, M. (2016). The validity of the RILE left–right index as a measure of party policy. Party Politics, 22(1), 37–48. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354068813509525
- Tavits, M. and Letki, N. (2009). When Left Is Right: Party Ideology and Policy in Post-Communist Europe. American Political Science Review, 103(4), 555-569. doi:10.1017/S0003055409990220
- Vachudova, M. A. (2008). Centre—Right Parties and Political Outcomes in East Central Europe. Party Politics, 14(4), 387–405. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354068808090252
The Russian war on Ukraine has turmoiled Europe into its first war in decades and while the effects of the war are harshly felt in Ukraine with lives lost and damages amounting, Europe and the rest of the world are also being severely affected. This policy brief shortly summarizes the presentations and discussions at the SITE Development Day Conference, held on December 6, 2022. The main focus of the conference was how to maintain and organize support for Ukraine in the short and long run, with the current situation in Belarus and the region and the ongoing energy crisis in Europe, also being addressed.
War in Ukraine, Oppression in Belarus
Starting off the conference, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Leader of the Belarusian Democratic Forces, delivered a powerful speech on the necessity of understanding the role of Belarus in the ongoing war in Ukraine. Tsikhanouskaya argued that Putin’s war on Ukraine was partly a result of the failed Belarusian revolution of 2020. The following oppression, torture, and mass arrestations of Belarusians is a consequence of Lukashenka’s and Putin’s fear of a free Belarus, a Belarus that is no longer in the hands of Putin – who sees not only Belarus but also Ukraine as colonies in his Russian empire. Amidst the fight for Ukraine, we must also fight for a free Belarus, Tsikhanouskaya added. Not only Belarusians fighting alongside Ukrainians against Russia in Ukraine, but also other parts of the Belarusian opposition need support from the free and democratic world and the EU. The massive crackdowns on opponents of the Belarusian regime today and the war on Ukraine are not only acts of violence, but they are also acts against democracy and freedom. The world must therefore continue to give support to those fighting in both Belarus and Ukraine. Ukraine will never be free unless Belarus is free, Tsikhanouskaya concluded.
Johan Forssell, Minister of Foreign Trade and International Development Cooperation continued Tsikhanouskaya’s words on how the Russian attack must be seen and treated as a war on democracy and the free world. Belarus, Moldova and especially Ukraine will receive further support from Sweden, Forssell continued, adding that the Swedish support to Ukraine has more than doubled since the invasion in February 2022. Support must however not be given only in economic terms and consequently Sweden fully supports Ukraine on its path to EU-membership, which will be especially emphasized during Sweden’s upcoming EU-presidency. Support for the rule of law, democracy and freedom will continue to be essential and, in the forthcoming reconstruction of Ukraine, these aspects – alongside long term sustainable and green solutions – must be integrated, Forssell continued. Forssell also mentioned the importance of reducing the global spillover effects from the war. In particular, Forssell mentioned how the war has struck countries on the African continent, already hit with drought, especially hard with increased food prices and increased inflation, displaying the vital role Ukrainian grain exports play.
Andrij Plachotnjuk, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Kingdom of Sweden, further talked about the need for rebuilding a better Ukraine, emphasizing the importance of involvement from Kiyv School of Economics (KSE) and other intellectuals and businesses in this process. Plachotnjuk also pinpointed what many others would come to repeat during the day; that resources, time and efforts devoted to supporting Ukraine must be maintained and persevered in the longer perspective.
Economic Impacts From the War and How the EU and Sweden Can Provide Support
During the first half of the conference, the Ukrainian economy and how it can be supported by the European Union was also discussed. On link from Kiyv, Tymofiy Mylovanov, President of the Kyiv School of Economics, shared the experiences of the University during wartime and presented the work KSE has undertaken so far – and how this contributes to an understanding of the damages and associated costs. Since the invasion, KSE has supported the government in three key areas; 1) Monitoring the Russian economy, 2) Analyzing what sanctions are relevant and effective, and 3) Estimating the cost of damages from the war. For the latter, KSE is collaborating with the World Bank using established methods of damage assessment including crowd sourced information on damages complemented with images taken by satellites and drones. According to Mylovanov, the damage assessment is crucial in order to counter Russia’s claims of a small conflict and to remind the international community of the high price Ukraine is paying to hold off Russia.
The economic impact from the war was further accentuated during the presentation by Yulia Markuts, Head of the Centre of Public Finance and Governance Analysis at the Kyiv School of Economics. Markuts explained how the Ukrainian national budget as of today is a “wartime budget”. Since February 2022, the budget has been reoriented with defense and security spending having increased 9 times compared to 2021, whereas only the most pressing social expenditures have been implemented. This in a situation where the Ukrainian GDP has simultaneously decreased by 30 percent. Although there has been a substantial inflow of foreign aid, in the form of grants and loans, the Ukrainian budget deficit for 2023 is estimated to 21 percent. Part of the uncertainty surrounding the Ukrainian budget stems from the fact that the inflow from the donor community is irregular, prompting the government to cover budget deficits through the National Bank which fuels inflation and undermines the exchange rate. Apart from the large budget posts concerning military spending, major infrastructural damages are putting further pressure on the Ukrainian budget in the year to come, Markuts continued. As of November 2022, the damages caused by Russia to infrastructure in Ukraine amounted to 135,9 billion US Dollars, with the largest damages having occurred in the Kiyv and Donetsk regions, as depicted in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Ukrainian regions most affected by war damages, as of November 2022.
The infrastructural damages constitute a large part of the estimated needed recovery support for Ukraine, together with losses to the state and businesses amounting to over one trillion US Dollars. However, such estimates do not cover the suffering the Ukrainian people have encountered from the war.
The large need for steady support was discussed by Fredrik Löjdquist, Centre Director of the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS), who argued the money needs to be seen as an investment rather than a cost, and that we at all times need to keep in mind what the consequences would be if the support for Ukraine were to fizzle out. Löjdquist, together with Cecilia Thorfinn, Team leader of the Communications Unit at the Representation of the European Commission in Sweden, also emphasized how the reconstruction should be tailored to fit the standards within the European Union, given Ukraine’s candidacy status. Thorfinn further stressed that the reconstruction must be a collective effort from the international community, although led by Ukraine. The EU is today to a large extent providing their financial support to Ukraine through the European Investment Bank (EIB). Jean-Erik de Zagon, Head of the Representation to Ukraine at the EIB, briefly presented their efforts thus far in Ukraine, efforts that have mainly been aimed at rebuilding key infrastructure. Since the war, the EIB has deployed an emergency package of 668 million Euro and 1,59 billion for the infrastructure financing gap. While all member states need to come together to ensure continued support for Ukraine, the EIB is ready to continue playing a key role in the rebuilding of Ukraine and to provide technical assistance in the upcoming reconstruction, de Zagon said. This can be especially fruitful as the EIB already has ample knowledge on how to carry out projects in Ukraine.
During a panel discussion on how Swedish support has, can and should continuously be deployed, Jan Ruth, Deputy Head of the Unit for Europe and Latin America at Sida, explained Sida’s engagement in Ukraine and the agency’s ambition to implement a solid waste management project. The project, in line with the need for a green and environmentally friendly rebuild, is today especially urgent given the massive destructions to Ukrainian buildings which has generated large amounts of construction waste. Karin Kronhöffer, Director of Strategy and Communication at Swedfund, also accentuated the need for sustainability in the rebuild. Swedfund invests within the three sectors of energy and climate, financial inclusion, and sustainable enterprises, and hash previously invested within the energy sector in Ukraine. Swedfund is also currently engaged in a pre-feasibility study in Ukraine which would allow for a national emergency response mechanism. Representing the business side, Andreas Flodström, CEO and founder of Beetroot, shared some experiences from founding and operating a tech company in Ukraine for the last 10 years. According to Flodström there will, apart from a huge need in investments in infrastructure, also be a large need for technical skills in the rebuild. Keeping this in mind, bootcamp style educations are a necessity as they provide Ukrainians with essential skills to rebuild their country.
A recurring theme in both panel discussions was how the reconstruction requires both public and private foreign investments. Early on, as the war continues, public investments will play the dominant part, but when the situation becomes more stable, initiatives to encourage private investments will be important. The potential of using public resources to facilitate private investments through credit guarantees and other risk mitigation strategies was brought up both at the European and the Swedish level, something which has also been emphasized by the new Swedish government.
Impacts From the War Outside of Ukraine – Energy Crisis and Other Consequences in the Region
The conference also covered the effects of the war outside of Ukraine, initially keying in on the consequences from the war on energy supply and prices in Europe. Chloé Le Coq, Professor of Economics, University Paris-Pantheon-Assas (CRED) & SITE, gave a presentation of the current situation and the short- and long-term implications. Le Coq explained that while the energy market is in fact functioning – displaying price increases in times of scarcity – the high prices might lead to some consumers being unable to pay while some energy producers are making unprecedented profits. The EU has successfully undertaken measures such as filling its gas storage to about 95 percent (goal of 80 percent), reducing electricity usage in its member countries, and by capping market revenues and introducing a windfall tax. While the EU is thus appearing to fare well in the short run, the reality is that EU has increased its coal dependency and paid eight times more in 2022 to fill its gas storage (primarily due to the imports of more costly Liquified Natural Gas, LNG). In the long run, these trends are concerning given the negative environmental externalities from coal usage and the market uncertainty when it comes to the accessibility and pricing of LNG. Uncertainties and new regulation also hinder investments signals into new low-carbon technologies, Le Coq concluded. Bringing an industrial perspective to the topic, Pär Hermerèn, Senior advisor at Jernkontoret, highlighted how the energy crisis is amplified by the increased electricity demand due to the green transition. Given the double or triple upcoming demand for electricity, Hermerèn, referred back to the investment signals, saying Sweden might run the risk of losing market shares or even seeing investment opportunities leave Sweden. This aspect was also highlighted by Lars Andersson, Senior advisor at Swedenergy, who, like Hermerèn, also saw the Swedish government’s shift towards nuclear energy solutions. Andersson stated the short-term solution, from a Swedish perspective, to be investments into wind power, urging policy makers to be clear on their intentions in the wind power market.
Other major impacts from the war relate to migration, a deteriorating Belarusian economy and security concerns in Georgia. Regarding the latter, Yaroslava Babych, Lead economist at ISET Policy Institute, Georgia, shared the major developments in Georgia post the invasion. While the Georgian economic growth is very strong at 12 percent, it is mainly driven by the influx of Russian money following the migration of about 80 000 Russians to Georgia. This has led to a surge in living costs and an appreciation of the local currency (the Lari) of 12,6 percent which may negatively affect Georgian exports. Additionally, it may trigger tensions given the recent history between the countries and the generally negative attitudes towards Russians in Georgia. Michal Myck, Director at CenEa, Poland, also presented migration as a key challenge. While the in- and outflow of Ukrainian refugees to Poland is today balanced, the majority of those seeking refuge in Poland are women and children and typically not included in the workforce. To ensure successful integration and to avoid massive human capital losses for Ukraine, Myck argued education is key, pointing to the lower school enrollment rates among refugee children living closer to the Ukrainian border. Apart from the challenges posed by the large influx of Ukrainian in the last year, the Polish economy is also hit by high energy prices, fuel shortages and increasing inflation. Lev Lvovskiy, Research fellow at BEROC, Belarus, painted a similar but grimmer picture of the current economic situation in Belarus. Following the invasion, all trade with Ukraine has been cut off, while trade with Russia has increased. Belarus is facing sanctions not only following the war, but also from 2020, and the country is in recession with GDP levels dropping every month since the invasion. Given the political and economic situation, the IT sector has shrunk, companies oriented towards the EU has left the country and real salaries have decreased by 5 percent. At the same time, the policy response is to introduce price controls and press banknotes.
Consequences of War: An Academic Perspective
The later part of the afternoon was kicked off by a brief overview of the FREE Network’s research initiatives on the links between war and certain development indicators. Pamela Campa, Associate Professor at SITE, presented current knowledge on the connection between war and gender, with a focus on gender-based violence. Sexual violence is highly prevalent in armed conflict and has been reported from both sides in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2014 and during the ongoing war, with nearly only Russian soldiers as perpetrators. Apart from the direct threats of sexual violence during ongoing conflict and fleeing women and children risking falling victims to trafficking, intimate partner violence (IPV) has been found to increase post conflict, following increased levels of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While Ukrainian policy reforms have so far strengthened the response to domestic violence there is still a need for more effective criminalization of domestic violence, as the current limit for prosecution is 6 months from the date crime is committed. An effective transitional justice system and expertise on how to support victims of sexual violence in conflict, alongside economic safety measures undertaken to support women and children fleeing, are key policy concepts Campa argued. Coming back to the broader topic of gender and war, Campa highlighted the need for involvement of women in peace talks and negotiations, something research suggests matter for both equality, representativeness, and efficiency.
Providing insights into the relationship between the environment and war, Julius Andersson, Assistant Professor at SITE, initially summarized how climate change may cause conflict along four channels: political instability and crime rates increasing as a consequence of higher temperatures, scarcity of natural resources and environmental migration. Conflict might however also cause environmental degradation in the form of loss of biodiversity, pollution and making land uninhabitable. As for the negative impact from the war in Ukraine, Andersson highlighted how fires from the war has caused deforestation affecting the ecosystems, that rivers in conflict struck areas in Ukraine and the Sea of Azov are being polluted from wrecked industries (including the Azovstal steelworks) and lastly that there is a real threat of radiation given the four major nuclear plants in Ukraine being targeted by Russian forces. Coming back to a topic mentioned earlier during the day, Andersson also emphasized potential conflict spillovers into other parts of the world due to the war’s impact on food and fertilizer prices.
Concluding the session, Jonathan Lehne, Assistant Professor at SITE, reviewed how war and democracy is tied to one another, highlighting that while studies have found that democracies per se are not necessarily less conflict prone, it is still the case that democratic countries almost never fight each other. As for the microlevel takeaways from previous research, it appears as if individuals and communities having experienced violence and casualties actually reap a democratic dividend in some respects, such as greater voting participation. On the other hand, while areas with a large refugee influx also experience an increased voter turnout, voting for right-wing parties also increase with politicians exploiting this in their communication.
Book Launch – Reconstruction of Ukraine: Principles and Policies
The Development Day was also guested by Ilona Sologoub, Scientific Editor at VoxUkraine, Tatyana Deryugina, Associate Professor of Finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Torbjörn Becker, Director of SITE, who presented their newly released book “Reconstruction of Ukraine: Principles and policies”. Sologoub started off by giving an overview of the mainly economic topics covered in the book and pointing out that the main purpose of the book is to inform policy makers about the present situation and to suggest needed reforms and investments. Becker outlined the four key principles recommended to stem corruption during reconstruction; 1) Remove opportunities for corruption and rent extraction, 2) Focus on transparency and monitoring of the whole reconstruction effort, 3) Make information and education an integral part of the anti-corruption effort, and 4) Set up legal institutions that are trusted when corruption does occur. Deryugina focused on the energy sector and related back to what had previously been discussed throughout the day, the need to “build-back-better”. Deryugina mentioned that Ukraine, previously heavily reliant on coal and gas imports from Russia, now have the opportunity to steer away from low energy efficiency and bottleneck issues, towards becoming a European natural gas hub. The book is available for free here. There will also be a book launch on the 11th of January 2023 at Handelshögskolan.
Via link from Kiyv, Nataliia Shapoval, Head of KSE Institute and Vice President for Policy Research at Kyiv School of Economics closed the conference by emphasizing the urgency of continued education of Ukrainians in Ukraine and elsewhere to avoid loss of Ukrainian human capital. Shapoval also stressed how universities can act as thinktanks, support policy makers in Ukraine and Europe to come up with effective sanctions against Russia and provide a deeper understanding of the current situation – a situation which will linger and in which Ukraine needs continued full support.
This year’s SITE Development Day conference gave an opportunity to discuss the need for continued support for Ukraine and the implications from the war in a global, European, and Swedish perspective. Representatives from the political, public, private and academic sectors contributed with their insights into the challenges and possibilities at hand, providing greater understanding of how the support can be sustained, with the goal of a soon end to the war and a successful rebuild of Ukraine.
List of Participants in Order of Appearance
- Anders Olofsgård, Deputy Director at SITE
- Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Leader of the Belarusian Democratic Forces
- Johan Forssell, Minister of Foreign Trade and International Development Cooperation
- Andrij Plachotnjuk, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Kingdom of Sweden
- Tymofiy Mylovanov, President of the Kyiv School of Economics (on link from Kyiv)
- Yuliya Markuts, Head of the Centre of Public Finance and Governance Analysis, Kyiv School of Economics
- Jean-Erik de Zagon, Head of the Representation to Ukraine at the European Investment Bank
- Cecilia Thorfinn, Team leader of the Communications Unit at the Representation of the European Commission in Sweden
- Fredrik Löjdquist, Centre Director of the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS)
- Jan Ruth, Deputy Head of the Unit for Europe and Latin America at Sida
- Karin Kronhöffer, Director of Strategy and Communication at Swedfund
- Andreas Flodström, CEO and founder of Beetroot
- Chloé Le Coq, Professor of Economics, University Paris-Pantheon-Assas (CRED) & SITE
- Lars Andersson, Senior advisor at Swedenergy
- Pär Hermerèn, Senior advisor at Jernkontoret
- Ilona Sologoub, VoxUkraine scientific editor (on link)
- Tatyana Deryugina, Associate Professor of Finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (on link)
- Torbjörn Becker, Director at SITE
- Michal Myck, Director at CenEa, Poland
- Yaroslava Babych, Lead economist at ISET Policy Institute, Georgia
- Lev Lvovskiy, Research fellow at BEROC, Belarus
- Pamela Campa, Associate Professor at SITE
- Julius Andersson, Assistant Professor at SITE
- Jonathan Lehne, Assistant Professor at SITE
- Nataliia Shapoval, Head of KSE Institute and Vice President for Policy Research at Kyiv School of Economics (on link)
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.
This year marks 30 years since the first post-communist election in Poland and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Key events that started a dramatic transition process from totalitarian regimes towards liberal democracy in many countries. This brief presents stylized facts from this process together with some thoughts on how to get this process back on a positive track. In general, the transition countries that joined the EU are still far ahead of the other transition countries in terms of democratic development.
The recent decline in democratic indicators in some EU countries should be taken seriously as they involve reducing freedom of expression and removing constraints on the executive, but should also be discussed in light of the significant progress transition countries entering the EU have shown during the first 30 years of transition. The brief shows that changes in a democracy can happen fast and most often happen around elections, so getting voters engaged in the democratic process is crucially important. This requires politicians that engage the electorate and have an interest in preserving democratic institutions. An important question in the region is what the EU can do to promote this, given its overloaded political agenda. Perhaps it is time for a Greta for democracy to wake up the young and shake up the old.
This brief provides an overview of political developments in transition countries since the first post-communist elections in Poland and the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago. It focuses on establishing stylized facts based on quantitative indices of democracy for a large set of transition countries rather than providing in-depth studies of a small number of countries. The aim of the brief is thus to find common patterns across countries that can inform today’s policy discussion on democracy in the region and inspire future studies of the forces driving democracy in individual transition countries.
The first issue to address is what data to use to establish stylized facts of democratic development in the region. By now, there are several interesting indicators that describe various aspects of democratic development, which are produced by different organizations, academic institutions and private data providers. In this brief, three commonly used and well-respected data providers will be compared in the initial section before we zoom in on more specific factors that make up one of these indices.
The big picture
The three indicators that we look at first are: political rights produced by Freedom House; polity 2 produced by the Polity IV project; and the liberal democracy index produced by the V-Dem project. Figures 1-3 show the unweighted average of these indicators for two groups of countries. The EU10 are the transition countries that became EU members in 2004 and 2007 and include Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The second group, FSU12, are the 12 countries that came out of the Soviet Union minus the three Baltic countries in the EU10 group, so the FSU12 group consists of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
Figure 1. Freedom House
Source: Freedom House and author’s calculations
Note: Scale inverted, 1 is best and 7 worst score
Figure 2. Polity IV project
Source: Polity IV project and author’s calculations
Note: Scale from -10 (fully autocratic) to 10 (fully democratic)
Figure 3. V-Dem
Source: V-Dem project and author’s calculations
Note: Scale from 0 to 1 where higher is more democratic
All three indicators convey the message that the democratic transformation in the EU10 group was very rapid in the early years of transition and the indicators have remained at high levels since the mid-90s only to show some decline in the most recent years for two of the three indicators. The FSU12 set of countries have made much less progress in terms of democratic development and remain far behind the EU10 countries in this regard. Overall, there is little evidence at the aggregate level that the democratic gap between the EU10 and FSU12 groups is closing. While the average EU10 country is more or less a full-fledged democracy, the average FSU12 country is at the lower end of the spectrum for all three democracy measures.
The average indicators in Figures 1-3 obviously hide some interesting developments in individual countries and in the following analysis, we will take a closer look at the liberal democracy index at the country level. We will then investigate what sub-indices contribute to changes in the aggregate index in the countries that have experienced significant declines in their liberal democracy scores.
For the first part of the analysis, it is useful to break down the democratic development in two phases. The first phase is from the onset of transition (1989, 1991 or 1993 depending on the specific country) to the time of the global financial crisis in 2009 and the second phase is from 2009 to 2018 (the last data point).
Figure 4. Liberal democracy, the first phase
Source: V-Dem project and author’s calculations
Figures 4 and 5 compare how the liberal democracy indicator changes from the first year of the period (measured on the horizontal axis) to the last year of the period (on the vertical axis). The smaller blue dots are the individual countries that make up the EU10 group while the red dots are the FSU12 countries. The 45-degree line indicates when there is no change between start and end years, while observations that lie below (above) the line indicate a deterioration (improvement) of the liberal democracy index in a specific country.
In the first phase of transition (Figure 4), all of the EU10 countries increased their liberal democracy scores and the average increase for the group was almost 0.5, going from 0.26 to 0.74. This was a result of many of the countries in the group making significant improvements without any countries deteriorating. The FSU12 group had a very different development with the average not changing at all since the few countries that improved (Georgia and Ukraine) were counterbalanced by a significant decline in Belarus and a more modest decline in Armenia.
Figure 5. Liberal democracy, the second phase
Source: V-Dem project and author’s calculations
The very rapid improvement in the liberal democracy index in the EU10 countries in the first phase of transition came to a halt and also reversed in several countries in the second phase of transition. Of course, as they had improved so much in the first period, there was less room for further positive developments, but the rapid decline in some of the countries was still negative news. However, it does point towards that reform momentum was very strong in the EU accession process, but once a country had entered the union, the pressure for liberal democratic reforms has faded.
Overall, the EU10 average fell by 0.1 from 2009 to 2018. This was a result of declining scores in several countries. The particularly large declines in this period have been seen in Hungary (-0.28), Poland (-0.27), Bulgaria (-0.14), the Czech Republic (-0.14), and Romania (-0.12). Again, the average FSU12 score did not change much, although Ukraine (-0.2) put its early success in reverse and lost as much in this period as it had gained earlier.
Since much of the current discussion centers on how democracy is being under attack, the figures name the countries that have seen significant declines in the liberal democracy score in the first or second phase of transition. Figures 6 and 7 show the time-series of the liberal democracy index in the countries with significant drops at some stage of the transition process.
Figure 6. FSU12 decliners
Source: V-Dem project and author’s calculations
In many countries, the drop comes suddenly and sharply, with the first and most prominent example being Belarus. There, it only took three years to go from one of the highest ranked FSU12 countries to fall to one of the lowest liberal democracy scores. In Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Armenia, the process was also very rapid and significant changes happened in 2-3 years.
Figure 7. EU10 decliners
Source: V-Dem project and author’s calculations
In the Czech Republic and Hungary, the period of decline was much longer and in the case of Hungary, the drop was the most significant in the EU10 group. Ukraine stands out as more of an exception with a roller-coaster development in its liberal democracy score that first took it up the list and then back down to where it started. For those familiar with politics in these countries, it is easy to identify the elections and change in government that have occurred at the times the index has started to fall in all of these countries. In other words, the democratic declines have not started with coups but followed election outcomes where in most cases the incumbent leaders have been replaced by a new person or party.
How democracy came under attack
We will now take a closer look at what has been behind the instances of decline in the aggregate index by investigating how the sub-indices have developed in these countries. The sub-indices that build up the liberal democracy index are: freedom of expression and alternative sources of information; freedom of association; share of population with suffrage; clean elections; elected officials; equality before the law and individual liberty; judicial constraints on the executive; and legislative constraints on the executive (the structure is a bit more complex with mid-level indices, see V-Dem 2019a).
Table 1 shows how these indicators have changed in the time period the liberal democracy indicator has fallen significantly (with shorter versions of the longer names listed above but in the same order). The heat map of decline indicated by the different colours is constructed such that positive changes are marked with green, smaller declines are without colour, declines greater that 0.1 but smaller than 0.2 are in yellow and larger declines in red. Note that the liberal democracy index is not an average of the sub-indices but based on a more sophisticated aggregation technique (see V-Dem 2019b). Therefore, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria can have a greater fall in top-level liberal democracy index that what is indicated by the sub-indices.
Table 1. Changes in liberal democracy indicators at times of democratic decline
Source: V-Dem project and author’s calculations
For the countries with the largest changes in the liberal democracy index, it is clear that both freedom of expression and alternative sources of information have come under attack together with reduced judicial and legislative constraints on the executive. Among the EU10 countries, Hungary and Poland stand out in terms of reducing freedom of expression, while Romania has seen most of the decline coming from reducing constraints on the executive. Not surprisingly, Belarus stands out in terms of the overall decline in liberal democracy coming from reducing both freedom of expression and constraints on the executive in the most significant way.
On a more general level, the attack on democracy does differ between the countries, but in the cases where serious declines can be seen, the attack has been particularly focused on information aspects and constraints on the executive. At the same time, all countries let all people vote (suffrage always at 1) and let the one with the most votes get the job (elected officials).
This brief has provided some stylized facts on the first 30 years of liberal democracy in transition and some details on how democracy has come under attack in individual countries. It leaves open many questions that require further studies and some of these are indeed ongoing in this project and will be presented in future briefs and policy papers here.
Some observations have already been made here that can inform policy discussions on liberal democratic developments in the region. The first is that changes can happen very rapidly, both in terms of improvements but also in terms of dismantling important democratic institutions, including those that provide constraints on the executive or media that provides unbiased coverage before and after elections. What is also noteworthy is that these changes have almost always happened after an election where a new person or party has come to power, so the democratic system is used to introduce less democracy in this sense.
It is also interesting that in all of the countries, the most easily observed indicators of democracy such as suffrage and having the chief executive or legislature being appointed by elections are given the highest possible scores. In other words, even the most autocratic regime wants to look like a democracy; but as the old saying goes, “it is not who votes that is important, it is who counts”.
The regime changes at election times that have led to declining liberal democracy scores have also in many cases come as a result of the incumbents not doing a great job or voters not turning up to vote. It was enough for Lukashenko in Belarus to promise to deal with corruption and rampant inflation that was a result of the old guard’s mismanagement to turn Belarus into an autocracy. In Hungary, the change of regime came after the Socialist leader was caught on tape saying he had been lying to voters. While in Romania, only 39% voted in the 2016 election. And in Bulgaria, around half of the voters stayed at home in the presidential election the same year.
In sum, both incompetent and corrupt past leaders and disengaged or disillusioned voters are part of the decline in a liberal democracy that we have seen in recent years. It is clearly time for policy makers that are interested in preserving liberal democracy in the region and elsewhere to think hard about how democracy can be saved from illiberal democrats. Part of the answer clearly will have to do with how voters can be engaged in the democratic process and take part in elections. It also involves defending free independent media and the thinkers and doers that contribute to the liberal democracy that we cherish. The question is if the young generation will find a Greta for democracy that can kick-start a new transition to liberal democracy in the region and around the world.
For those readers that want to participate more actively in this discussion and have a chance to be in Stockholm on November 12, SITE is organizing a conference on this theme which is open to the public. For more information on the conference, please visit SITE’s website (see here).
- Freedom house data downloaded on Oct 4, 2019, from https://freedomhouse.org/content/freedom-world-data-and-resources
- Freedom house methodological note available at https://freedomhouse.org/report/methodology-freedom-world-2018
- Polity IV project data downloaded on Oct 4, 2019, from http://www.systemicpeace.org/inscrdata.html
- Polity IV project manual available at http://www.systemicpeace.org/inscr/p4manualv2018.pdf
- V-Dem project data downloaded on Sept 24, 2019, from https://www.v-dem.net/en/data/data-version-9/
- Coppedge, Michael, John Gerring, Carl Henrik Knutsen, Staffan I. Lindberg, Jan Teorell, David Altman, Michael Bernhard, M. Steven Fish, Adam Glynn, Allen Hicken, Anna Lührmann, Kyle L. Marquardt, Kelly McMann, Pamela Paxton, Daniel Pemstein, Brigitte Seim, Rachel Sigman, Svend-Erik Skaaning, Jeffrey Staton, Steven Wilson, Agnes Cornell, Lisa Gastaldi, Haakon Gjerløw, Nina Ilchenko, Joshua Krusell, Laura Maxwell, Valeriya Mechkova, Juraj Medzihorsky, Josefine Pernes, Johannes von Römer, Natalia Stepanova, Aksel Sundström, Eitan Tzelgov, Yi-ting Wang, Tore Wig, and Daniel Ziblatt. 2019a. “V-Dem [Country-Year/Country-Date] Dataset v9”, Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem)
- Pemstein, Daniel, Kyle L. Marquardt, Eitan Tzelgov, Yi-ting Wang, Juraj Medzihorsky, Joshua Krusell, Farhad Miri, and Johannes von Römer. 2019b. “The V-Dem Measurement Model: Latent Variable Analysis for Cross-National and Cross-Temporal Expert-Coded Data”, V-Dem Working Paper No. 21. 4th edition. University of Gothenburg: Varieties of Democracy Institute.
Author: Aleh Mazol, BEROC.
This policy brief summarizes the results of our research on the development of local self-governance in the Republic of Belarus. The aim of this study was to analyze the existing system of local self-governance in the Republic of Belarus and to suggest directions for its improvement. The results show that the development of local self-governance should be directed to the reduction of concentration of the administrative-territorial division, real empowerment of local Councils of Deputies, improvement of the mechanism of alignment and balancing of local budgets, as well as the development of a financial base of local financial management and intergovernmental relations.
In a new paper (Meyersson, 2015) I examine the development effects of military coups. Coups overthrowing democratically elected leaders imply a very different kind of event than those overthrowing autocratic leaders, and these differences relate to the implementation of authoritarian institutions following a coup in a democracy. Although coups taking place in already autocratic countries show imprecise and sometimes positive effects on economic growth, in democracies their effects are distinctly detrimental to growth. Moreover, when coups overthrow democratic leaders, they fail to promote economic reforms, stop the occurrence of economic crises and political instability, as well as have substantial negative effects across a number of standard growth-related outcomes including health, education, and investment.
Do military coups matter for economic development? After all, successful coups – i.e. where the military or state elites have unseated an incumbent leader – have occurred 232 times in 94 states since 1950 (see Figure 1). Moreover, around a quarter of these overthrew democratically elected governments (Powell and Thyne, 2012). The prevalence of military coups has not been lost on researchers, yet despite an abundance of research aiming to explain the occurrence of coups (see for example Acemoglu and Robinson, 2001; Collier and Hoeffler, 2006 & 2007; Leon, 2014; Svolik, 2012) much less research has focused on its economic effects (two exceptions are the papers on covert US operations during the Cold War by Dube, Kaplan, and Naidu, 2011 and Berger, Easterly, Nunn, and Satyanath, 2013). Olsen (1963), for example, claimed that coups “often bring no changes in policy.” Londregan and Poole (1990), in their panel-data analysis, find no effects of coups on income.
By now, there is mostly a consensus that significant military influence in politics is detrimental for democracy (Dahl, 1971; Huntington, 1965; Linz and Stepan, 1996). Nonetheless, military coups overthrowing democratically elected governments are often met with ambiguity. Western governments have a long history of tacit support for military coups overthrowing democratic governments, be it left-leaning governments in Latin America or Islamist governments in the Middle East and North Africa (Schmitz 2006). Commentators expressing support for coups often do so invoking extreme outcomes to represent the counterfactual to the military coup; if Pinochet had not overthrown President Allende, the latter would have created a Castro-style regime in Chile; if the Algerian army hadn’t annulled the elections in 1992, the Islamist FIS would have turned Algeria into an Islamist dictatorship in the Maghreb, and so on (Los Angeles Times 2006, Open Democracy 2013). Similarly, the fault for the coup and preceding problems fall invariably upon the ousted leader, with the coup constituting an unfortunate, but necessary, means to rid the country of an incompetent, if not dangerous, leader (Foreign Policy, 2013).
Other commentators have pointed out the risks of allowing a military to intervene and dictate post-coup institutions to their advantage; a “Faustian” bargain likely to bring regime stability but no solution to the real underlying problems behind the conflict in the first place. Yet others lament the human rights abuses following coups, and the inherent ineptitude of military leaders in running the economy (NYT, 2013; New Republic, 2013; Washington Post, 2013).
Figure 1. Successful and Failed Coup Attempts by Country and Year
Notes: The graph shows successful (solid circles) and failed coup attempts (hollow circles) by country and year, and aggregated by country (right graph) as well as by year (top graph). A circle in blue means the political regime was classified by Cheibub et al 2010 as a democracy in the year before the attempt and a red circle means they classified the regime as an autocracy.
Military coups tend to be endogenous events, and establishing a causal relation between coups and development is therefore a challenge. The unobservable likelihood of a coup – often referred to as coup risk (Collier and Hoeffler, 2006 & 2007; Londregan and Poole, 1990; Belkin and Schofer, 2003) – may be driven by many factors also affecting a country’s development potential, such as weak institutions, the military’s political power, social conflict, and economic crises etc.
In order to address this problem, I employ several empirical strategies including comparing successful versus failed coup attempts, matching methods, as well as panel data techniques, using a dataset of coup attempts during the post-World War II era. These methods facilitate, in different ways, comparisons of development consequences of coups in situations with arguably more similar degrees of coup risk.
Of significant importance is distinguishing coups when they occur in clearly autocratic settings from those where they overthrow democratically elected governments. I show that a military coup overthrowing a regime in a country like Chad may have very different consequences than a military leader overthrowing a democratically elected president in a country like Chile. In the former, a coup appears to constitute the manner in which autocracies change leaders. In the latter, coups typically imply deeper institutional changes with long-run development consequences.
I find that, conditional on a coup-attempt taking place, the effect of coup success depends on the pre-intervention level of democratic institutions. In countries that were more democratic, a successful coup lowered growth in income per capita by as much as 1-1.3 percent per year over a decade. In more autocratic countries, I find smaller and more imprecisely estimated positive effects. This effect is robust to splitting the sample by alternative institutional measures, as well as to a range of controls relating to factors such as leader characteristics, wars, coup history, and natural resources. As Figure 2 illustrates, the economic effect of coups tend to worsen over time. Extending the analysis to matching and panel-data methods reveal these results to be highly robust.
Figure 2. Relationship between a Successful Coup and Growth in GDP per capita
Notes: The three graphs represent the coefficient on a successful coups on growth in GDP per capita (PPP) between year t-1 and t+s with s given by the x-axis for all regimes(left), autocracies (middle), and democracies (right). Controls include period t-1 values of log GDP per capita, annual growth, log population, PolityIV index, annual change in the PolityIV index military expenditures as a share of GDP, annual change in military exp/GDP, military personnel as a share of population, years since the last coup, total number of previous coups, social unrest, leader tenure, as well as continent and year dummies respectively. See Meyersson (2015) for details.
A commonly held view is that coups overthrowing democratically elected leaders often provide an opportunity for engaging in unpopular but much needed economic reforms. Not only do I show that coups fail at this, but also that they tend to reverse important economic reforms, especially in the financial sector, while also leading to increased indebtedness and an overall deteriorating net external financial position, and an increased propensity to suffer severe economic crises. A documented reduction in social spending suggests a shift in economic priorities away from the masses to the benefit of political and economic elites.
Whereas coups occur mostly in dire situations, their prescriptions, as shown, rarely constitute adequate remedies to the underlying problems, as the institutional changes brought by these events show clear detrimental development consequences. Any short-lived benefit of regime stability a coup brings, comes at a steep economic, political, and human cost in the longer run.
- Acemoglu, Daron and James A. Robinson, “A Theory of Political Transitions,” The American Economic Review, Vol. 91, No. 4 (Sep., 2001), pp. 938-963
- Berger, Daniel, William Easterly, Nathan Nunn, and Shanker Satyanath. 2013. ”Commercial Imperialism? Political Influence and Trade during the Cold War.” American Economic Review, 103(2): 863-96.
- Belkin, Aaron, and Evan Schofer, 2003,“Toward a Structural Understanding of Coup Risk”, Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 47 No. 5, October 2003 594-620
- Cheibub, Jos ́e Antonio, Jennifer Gandhi, and James Raymond Vreeland, 2010, “Democracy and dictatorship revisited,” Public Choice (2010) 143: 67-101.
- Collier, Paul and Anke Hoeffler, 2006, “Grand Extortion: Coup Risk and the Military as a Protection Racket,” working paper
- Collier, Paul and Anke Hoeffler, 2007, “Military Spending and the Risks of Coups d’ ́etat,” working paper.
- Dahl, Robert A., Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition, Yale University Press 1971.
- Dube, Arindrajit, Ethan Kaplan, and Suresh Naidu, “Coups, Corporations, and Classified Infor- mation”, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2011 (Vol. 126, Issue 3)
- Foreign Policy, “Blame Morsy,” Michael Hanna, July 10 2013,
- Huntington, Samuel P., 1965, “Political Development and Political Decay,” World Politics, 386- 429
- Leon, Gabriel, 2014, “Loyalty for Sale? Military Spending and Coups d’Etat,” Public Choice 159, 363-383
- Linz, Juan, and Alfred Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe, Johns Hopkins University 1996
- Los Angeles Times, “Iraq needs a Pinochet”, Jonah Goldberg, December 14, 2006
- Londregan, John B and Kenneth T. Poole, “The Coup Trap, and the Seizure of Executive Power,” World Politics, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Jan., 1990), pp. 151-183
- Meyersson, Erik, 2015, Political Man on Horseback – Military Coups and Development, working paper, http://erikmeyersson.com/research/
- Olsen, Mancur, “Rapid Growth as a Destabilizing Force,” The Journal of Economic History, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Dec., 1963), pp. 529-552
- Open Democracy, February 11 2013, https://www.opendemocracy.net/arab-awakening/hicham-yezza/how-to-be-different-together-algerian-lessons-for-tunisian-crisis.
- Powell, Jonathan M, and Clayton L Thyne, 2012, “Global instances of coups from 1950 to 2010: A new dataset,” Journal of Peace Research 48(2) 249-259
- Schmitz, David F. “The United States and Right-Wing Dictatorships”, Cambridge University Press 2006
- Svolik, Milan W., The Politics of Authoritarian Rule, Cambridge University Press 2012.
- The New Republic, “Egypt Officially Declares What Is and Isn’t Important”, Nathan J. Brown, July 9 2013, http://www.newrepublic.com/article/113792/egypt-president-adli-mansour-makes-constitutional-declaration.
- The New York Times, “A Faustian Pact: Generals as Democrats”, Steven A. Cook, July 5, 2013